Chances are you've heard of gender-neutral parenting, but given the often-extreme examples that surface in the media, you still may not know what it really is. Put simply, gender-neutral parenting tries to eliminate commonly found stereotypes about gender roles that afflict our society. Allowing your preschool daughter to explore and engage in the activities that interest her (such as Legos or trucks) or letting your toddler son play with dolls are simple examples of gender-neutral parenting. By de-emphasizing the expectation that all little girls want to become pretty princesses and all little boys want to become superheroes, we can take away the inadvertent grooming that often conditions children at an age when they are the most susceptible.
Why Is It a Hot Topic?
The concept of gender-neutral parenting became a hot topic in 2015 when retail giant Target decided to phase out gender-specific signage in certain departments like toys and bedding. This seemed like a no-brainer, yet the decision was met with both appreciation and scorn as opposing view holders saw the move as another polarizing stance in the fight for (or against) gender neutrality.
Why Are Some People Opposed?
The most common misconception about gender-neutral parenting is that it aims to erase all forms of gender differences. Similar to most parenting styles, the desire to neutralize gender stereotypes can vary from mild versions to more notable cases. For example, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is often photographed dressed more like her dad, Brad Pitt, rather than her mom, Angelina Jolie. In interviews, Angelina has noted that her daughter has the choice to wear what the young child finds comfort and happiness in, noting, "She likes to dress like a boy. She wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair."
A more extreme example can be found in Canada, where a child was issued a birth certificate without a gender specified, a first in the nation.
Another frequent misconception is that gender-neutral parenting is a way to encourage homosexuality among kids. This is grossly false, as studies have shown that the vast majority of children raised without gender expectations grow up to identify as heterosexual individuals.
What Does Science Say?
A Common Sense Media study found that when children watch, read, or observe gender stereotypes, they become ingrained with masculine and feminine expectations of their own characteristics. That then translates into cultural expectations for each gender. So it's no surprise, for example, that people more often associate science-related career paths with men and not women. Of course, this way of stereotyping affects women and young girls in an adverse way, often by subconsciously discouraging them from pursuing a field like science.
So by aiming to raise children without added pressures in the home, they are allowed to cultivate their identities without the confines of preset gender expectations in a space where they feel nurtured and safe. Though there are extreme styles of this type of parenting, a more moderate approach could result in benefits not just for your own children but also for society as a whole.