The future of parenting: Gender neutrality?
Currently, a new style of parenting - Gender neutral parenting - is becoming more widespread and encouraged within families and parental communities. Gender neutral parenting stems from the idea of gender neutrality, where people are not distinguished by whether they are born male or female - biological sex is not made the determining factor of physical and psychological characteristics, and is detached from social roles in order to avoid fixed stereotypes on the abilities and capacities of men and women. Gender neutral parenting adopts this gender neutral ideal in the parameters of a familial setting, terminating the projection of gender onto children, which allows liberation from the traditional gender binary. In this parenting approach, children are allowed to freely explore their preferences without the restrictions of conventional gender roles, where parents appreciate and respect their children's choices and associations without imposing their original sex upon them.
Some common methods of gender neutral parenting include avoiding gender specificity in toys, such as trucks for boys and dolls for girls, and steering away from the establishment of gender roles through gendered treatment, for example, boys expected to be more assertive while girls more obedient. Gender neutral parenting is about choice. Parents allow their children to be exposed to various gender types and identities, providing them the opportunity and time to experience and eventually determine what identity they are most comfortable with.
One of the largest benefits that gender neutral parenting brings is the freedom from conforming to societal standards regarding gender expression. Children who are raised in a gender neutral environment are offered the chance to express themselves as who they perceive themselves to be, rather than what society prescribes them to be. Traditional gender norms can limit the child's own gender identity to strictly girl and boy, forcing children into labelled stereotypes that define them with typical feminine and masculine traits, so gender neutral parenting is an effective means to nurture children's self identity and recognition of their own perspective of gender. This perhaps becomes the driving factor that makes gender neutral parenting an attractive option for a child's growth, as it enables children to grow up with more interests and hobbies, more accepting of difference, and have a personal and individualized connection with their own gender identity.
Benefits such as these are apparent in reality. Evelijn, a 52 years old Dutch drama therapist, has raised her daughter Amelia, now twenty four years old and gender neutral. Evelijn herself grew up in a progressive family that inspired and encouraged free gender expression, and the freedom that she received in her upbringing became a requirement in her own parenting. In Evelijn's household, she "allowed all of my children a full range of emotional expression and to play with whatever they preferred." Amelia grew up without gender-specific colours, without gender-specific toys, and without social constructs of gender. This experience created a unique sense of self for Amelia, where rather than acknowledging the division between girls and boys, established her own idea of identity that gender could not define. She admits that, "If I had to choose between the reality [societal gender norms] or my own upbringing, I enjoyed the last one more", where she feels "very privileged for being born into this household, because I feel so free now and gender is just not a thing to me."
On the other hand, gender neutral parenting does raise considerable concerns. Though it engenders freedom of gender expression and identity, children who are raised gender neutral are known to experience confusion and uncertainty regarding their own understanding of gender as they engage with the wider community. They become prone to encountering identity crises due to lack of familiarity with the concept of gender, which is an essential component to function in society. It would be quite difficult for a gender neutral child to be assimilated into social settings as society, in reality, contains gender norms and unspoken stereotypes that are deeply ingrained into culture and way of life. In addition, there may be potential risks to gender neutral parenting caused by inappropriate parenting methods, where parents misunderstand the purpose of gender neutral parenting, ultimately resulting in the coercion of gender identities upon children, known as gender policing. Because successful gender neutral parenting requires a thorough understanding of gender nonconformity and the need for proper guidance, it is quite difficult for parents to remain completely aligned with their children's gender identity development, which may lead to the enforcement of parents' preconceived notions of gender neutrality, rather than the child's own.
Gender neutral parenting, all in all, is greatly dependent on upheld values of individual families, where some believe that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and others maintain that traditional parenting remains more conducive. It is a highly personal choice that cannot be judged as right or wrong, but more of a reflection of a shared system of beliefs, the idea that gender neutrality is crucial to social evolution. The increasing maturity of gender neutral parenting in society not only shows the progression of parental mindset, but also represents a slow but steady socio-cultural shift towards liberal ideals through the push for gender neutrality and freedom of gender identity.