Many of you have heard about the family who is refusing to tell their friends/family/the world the gender of their baby, Storm. While I only partially understand their premise, it brought all sorts of gender issues right to the forefront. This Shavuot, I had the pleasure of being around several wonderful small children and their parents (even around here there are little Jews afoot!), the combination of which gave R & I an opening to talk about some of the gender issues surrounding parenting. As I was thinking about it, I stumbled on two related blog posts from two different blogs: 10 Myths about Gender Neutral Parenting. And Is it a Boy or a Girl?
As we contemplate the next step in our lives (moving and starting grad school), I keep thinking about that next bend in the road that will take us (hopefully) to parenthood.
It took me a while to realize that my parents attitudes about toys and clothing weren’t the norm. I got barbies, baby dolls, frilly princess dresses, the works – when I asked for them. I also got sporting equipment, a mini-toolbox and a (very, very fake looking) toy ray gun. Maybe it was the fact that there were no male siblings (or any siblings forthcoming at all). More likely, I think it was a conscious choice. My bedroom was painted blue, my bedding not stereotypically girly, even when I moved into a big kid room. I embraced a lot of it – my bedroom at my parents house is still blue, although I chose a flowery border and bedding to go with it when I got older. I clearly remember embracing all of the girly things (until we moved to Canada, I lived in dresses by my own choice),but my parents had presented the other opportunities to me – legos came in the regular colors and the pinks and pastels kind, my first “baby doll” was really a stuffed rat that I decided was a boy, and so on.
This kind of upbringing left me with this idea that no one would enforce gender stereotypes on their children. Clearly, since the women I know have some kind of occupation, whether they are currently engaging in it or not, they couldn’t buy into it! Life, however, has a way of surprising you. Several years ago, a friend had a baby girl. I am fairly certain every single thing in the child’s wardrobe is pink. As was the play kitchen she received at her second birthday, and the play laundry set as well. Not that this means that this wonderful toddler won’t grow up to be a strong woman – it just hit some kind of nerve in me. Parents are the entire world for their children at the beginning. We model every behavior and attitude, and to limit or categorize experiences from the get-go as “boy” experiences or “girl” experiences when so few of them really, truly are, seems excessive. Society’s strong gender messages will get through to the child, even if the parents aren’t reinforcing them. My parents allowed me to wear dresses and play barbies, even while encouraging other kinds of play, never labeling things. I learned later, both about the weird stereotypes Barbie plays into and that society expected me to like Barbie and my male cousin not to.
I wonder about all of this in the context of more traditional Judaism. With a bris or simchat bat in our future, our potential baby’s gender wouldn’t be a secret. Still, I don’t think I would go for the little blue or pink room based on gender. Especially given the gendered nature of our religion and lifestyle, I would want our children to be allowed to explore as much as they can so that they understand that so much of what is “feminine” or “masculine” is cultural – a skirt in Scotland could be a kilt, and a dress might be a galabiyya, etc. Not that men and women aren’t different – but that the differences are probably way less than we think they are. Maybe this is too naive a hope in a Rabbinic family, where the pressure to conform might be even stronger. At the same time, if I’m not thinking about this and hopefully setting an example…who else will?
Thoughts? Questions? Things to share? There might be more on this subject, and I’d love feedback. I’m hoping to write more regularly from here on out!