Gender-neutral parenting has caught up as a popular upbringing philosophy among modern-day parents. It is an unconventional approach, which is constantly under debate. This kind of parenting allows a child not to be put into a box and grow up according to conventional gender rules. Raising a child in a relaxed gender-neutral manner is relatively new to India.
With Elon Musk and Grimes announcing their plan to raise their child named “XӔA-12” in a gender-neutral way, debates were bound to spring up. There are people both for and against this style of parenting.
What does gender-neutral parenting imply?
‘Don’t cry like a girl.’
‘Barbie for the girls, cars and guns for the boys’
‘He dresses like a girl.’
‘Girls are never so hairy.’
These are only a few examples of what we all hear as we grow. We all have become so accustomed to these lines that we don’t even realise how we are stereotyping girls and boys. Yes, boys and girls are naturally different in several ways. While some differences are because of obvious reasons, most are created by us.
Particularly in India, there have always been clear differences in the way different genders are treated, right from childhood. But, there are parents, especially in urban India, who do not want to restrict their children to gender binaries and are raising their children in a manner contrary to the belief of- “blue is for the boys and pink is for the girls.”
Gender-neutral parenting doesn’t mean that the parents should not expose the child to gender stereotypes – rather they should point out instances of gender stereotyping and make them aware of it, not letting these stereotypes influence their decisions in the future.
Is It healthy for the child? If it is, why debate?
It depends on the mindset of the people. There are two viewpoints with regards to gender-neutral parenting. One viewpoint talks about how gender-neutral parenting allows the child to grow up freely, without conforming to any of the rules that society places around gender. However, on the flip side, the other viewpoint states that children might end up feeling lost and confused about their own identity and grow up without any clarity as to who they are.
If we look at from the viewpoint of Indian culture, India is perhaps not yet ready for strict gender-Neutral parenting, where the lines of gender are blurred. However, when we look at the gender biases prevalent in India, relaxed gender-neutral parenting is much needed.
How is gender stereotyping destroying the mindsets of children?
At the end of the day, every parent wants the best for their children. But it is also the responsibility of parents to raise citizens that wake and accept the differences between them and others as completely normal.
When we tell a boy not to cry, he will find other ways to vent his frustration which may be detrimental for him and most of the time for the society as well.
Similarly, when we say that girls are more mature than boys of the same age, we are telling the boys that they can be careless and unorganized just because they are born boys. Whereas most girls grow up thinking that they are responsible, so they have to take care of the men in their life.
Why are some games only for boys? Why do we object to some boys playing the games which girls play?
Gender-neutral parenting needs to start at home
Gender-neutral parenting needs to begin as early as possible. Right from choosing the colors of their clothes to choosing their toys and books, everything needs to be done in a gender-neutral manner.
Here are some of the ways a parent in India can at least try to raise a child in a manner that makes him a human being first and a male or female later.
1 Buy them any and every color. The division of genders based on colors can never bring solidarity!! Tell your child that you are sure that blue and pink color is not for boys and girls, respectively. Tell them every shade is beautiful. Cook up whatever story you like to make them believe and buy them green, yellow, red, blue, AND pink.
2 Read the stories yourself first before starting to read for them.
Don’t read to them stories they should not become. Do not let your girl believe that there would be prince charming who would always save her from danger. Or let your son assume that it is important to look like a prince or to have a macho body.
For their fragile minds, there are many neutral stories- The Ugly duckling, The Three pigs, The Country mouse and a lot more. Look around, and you will not run short of supply in stories fit for your kids.
3 Give them the toys they like to play with.
Why Barbie for girls and cars for boys? Get them into everything by their age irrespective of their gender- kitchen sets, doctor set, cars, dolls, bat-balls and what not.
For once, when the shopkeeper asks- boy or girl while buying a toy, reply with- A kid.
And yes, buy a gun for none!!
4 Interaction with the opposite gender
Let your child get used to the other gender. This is perhaps the only way they will understand that the other gender is not alien; they don’t have different rules of living.
Don’t tell the kids that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Tell them that they belong to the earth. Tell them they are equally responsible and equally entitled.
It is high time we raise boys and girls in an equally nurturing environment. At its core, Gender Neutral Parenting is about encouraging the traits that make a good human, not a good man or woman. Both boys and girls need to be taught the same values, empathy, compassion, respect, and confidence. Only gender-neutral parenting can help to make a more tolerant and inclusive society.