Sunday, May 29, 2011

Taking bets: Is Storm a boy, or a girl? האם סטורם בת, או בן

Regarding the Canadian couple who have chosen not to reveal the sex of their third child, I’m reprinting here some of the comments thereon, with my occasional responses interspersed in red. As you’ll see, the first few commenters don’t take the notion seriously at all, remarking snarkily about how much therapy the kid’ll surely need. Below the comments, I’ll offer my thoughts:

2. kris
I hope in Canada there's plenty of funding for therapy.

3. lk
These people are just setting their kids (all of them) up for years of therapy.

12. Tara Lindis
I am currently pregnant with our second child, and …as we prepare therefor, we have been searching for gender-neutral clothing and ending up frustrated by the lack of variety - or that anything remotely gender neutral is [to be found] in the “boys’” department. I believe it is indicative of the increasing disparity of gender identities.

As someone currently looking for baby clothes and as someone who did not have her first pink dress until she was six, I find the lack of primary colors in children's clothing disturbing: Everything is either pink, or camouflage.

A friend of mine from Finland tells me of a trend there wherein parents, when asked if their child is a boy or a girl, respond, "It's a person." I find this fascinating. Surely, there is some balance to be achieved between the Canadian couple and the nauseatingly limiting array of baby clothes on sale at Babies R Us? Isn't army fatigues for newborn boys and bikinis and high heels for three-year-old girls just as twisted as raising a child without any gender at all?

15. Kara
So... if I am not supposed to, or can't, use "he" or "she" to refer to this child..... do I use "it"? That is the only other pronoun available.
Uh, no, it’s not. I’ve seen: co / co’s; hizzer; hir; s/he; and others I can’t recall. Why not expand the options, instead of limiting them and ourselves?

19. Anne
It is not as if the child can be kept in the dark about its own gender much past the age of three, if that long. I doubt that a gender-neutral upbringing until then — exposing the kid to both dolls and cars — would have long-term traumatic impact. If gender identification is ingrained, then the child will eventually identify with its gender anyway. If gender identification is not ingrained — well, then they have proven their point that …societal norms rather than biology …determine who we are — and the kid will be fine.

21. jzzy55
What is the advantage of being gender-free?
I suppose the same advantage as not having to wear a yellow Star of David patch bearing the word “Jude”: It’s no one’s damn business and should be irrelevant, with the exception perhaps of the individual’s medical providers.

22. miami lawyer mama
We can only know so much about newborns, and one of the few concrete things we can know at birth IS what's between their legs (along with their weights and lengths). That's why those three things are the most asked [about]. Because seriously, what are we supposed to do? Sit down with newborns and have a conversation to "get to know" them?

Well, I suggest we can each actively make an effort to not ask the gender, or if the gender is known, not dwelling on it, and especially not making dorky and / or sexualizing comments such as [said in an artificially high voice to a girl] “Oh, such a sweetheart! She’s gonna knock ‘em dead!” / [said in an artificially low voice to a boy] “Hey, Big Guy. You’re a little man, aren’t you? Go knock ‘em dead, Bucko!”

Other suggested topics: the birth (without probing too much); nursing (without getting too intimate); how sibs are reacting, if any; the name; the weather; how ‘bout them [name sports team]? See? It’s actually easier than we think to not dwell on gender.

25. kateNonymous
While when I was a child, pink was “for girls”, today it seems as if pink is the only color “for girls”. There is relentlessness to the shade that it lacked in my own youth. Similarly, there were no babies wearing clothing printed with things like "Diva". That is not what we want to teach our daughter, or the message we want to send to the world.

I never have a problem with people who ask if she's a boy or a girl, or who refer to her in the masculine. She's a baby, and it's hard to tell at this age. But on more than one occasion I've had someone say in an accusing tone, "It's hard to tell when you dress her in blue."

My response to the next person [who says that] will be, "Really? I'm wearing blue. Can you tell I'm a girl?"

33. Hadfield:
I tried a very mild version of this. People would say "what a handsome boy!" and I'd just say, "Thank you" instead of telling them that my daughter is a girl (and vice versa with my son). But at a certain point, before they were 16 months old, my children would look at me with surprise, and some dismay, as if I weren't sticking up for them. They seemed to want the correction to be made.

While it might be crazy to ignore sex distinctions, it's equally crazy--and much more widespread--to highlight them constantly: Not all clothing, toys, haircuts, and types of play should be determined by gender. Yet marketers and parents seem to be rigid on these points--sickeningly so. I'd rather be treated as gender neutral than forced to paint my nails and wear high heels and tight shirts — and for some reason, elementary school girls are doing these things these days!

37. jh
Has it occurred to anyone that the kid could be intersex? This is actually a relatively common occurrence. If this is the case, the parents are perhaps taking a risk in being so public about rejecting binary gender for the kid, i.e., a lot of scrutiny of the family and the kid might not be so desirable either. On the other hand, what else is better? And who's to say?
I'm not saying this is definitely the case; obviously we simply don't know. Yet [it’s] worth considering before jumping all over the family’s choices. Indeed, worth considering as we think about gender, period.

43. Maggie
The tone of the commenters before me makes it completely clear to me how valuable this family’s action is. And how much I would like to see parents in general raising "children" rather than choosing to raise "a girl" this time and "a boy" next time. There is …damage in being told -- by teachers and neighbors, not just parents -- that what you are doing is 'too girly' for a boy or 'too mannish' for a girl.

Perhaps if all parents were raising gender-neutral children, as Storm's parents are, the world would be a bit safer for the kids who really aren't "boys" or "girls".

47. Tiara
While a more gender-neutral approach to raising children than our current standard would be good, a completely gender-neutral approach is impossible and unwise. That said, it's amazing how fixated we are on gender. It's the first thing asked about a baby: Boy, or girl? It shouldn't be the first thing we care about, and it shouldn't be artificially ignored.

55. sRose 1210
We're not genderless, and … these "progressive" parents aren’t doing their anon-tot any favors. If that doesn't scar them or ill prepare them for adulthood, their names surely will.
Let me guess, sRose: Your kids are named…let’s see now; what’re the trending names this year? Max and Emily? Oh no, wait: That’s so Last Decade. Or did you decide to just “blend” with Susan and Michael?

62. rh
I don't believe that a boy walks earlier and a girl has better language skills. That was made up long ago and now we’ve become to believe it. And that is how we are conditioned, and we project this on to our kids. It's time to wake up to new consciousness, and I congratulate all parents that give that freedom to their kids.

...And now back to our original programming: Commenter no. 4, slKim, basically sums it up for me:
"I can think of lots of ways to challenge gender norms [other] than this kind of veiling."

While I genuinely respect Storm’s parents and wish more would challenge gender norms and stereotypes, they may be killing their experiment with all the media attention. I’m imagining the pointing and whispering whenever they’re outside their home, and it’s just got to be hard on Storm’s siblings, if not the parents. It seems to me that they could’ve gotten the same point across by buying a dozen white onesies and having them printed with: “I’m not just a girl; I’m a person.” Or how about: “I’m not a girly-girl. I’m a kid.” For a boy: "I'm a person first, then I'm a boy." CafePress, I’ll be the first in line to buy one!


  1. Storm is certainly living up to its name! The only thing that really concerns me about this episode is that Storm's mom and dad are expecting their two other young children to keep a secret. This storm will pass.

  2. Here's a very recent and relevant move - check it out.

  3. Diana, thanks. I applaud the effort. I was proud of my daughter when as a teen, she went into a TNT and told them she wouldn't be patronizing them because of the giant ad covering the store's facade that made some eight-year-old look like a hooker. Hope we follow the UK by the time my grandchildren are teenagers!

  4. Chris (a boy, or a girl?)June 9, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    I’m thinking of making up those onesies….. great idea……

  5. Nora Ephron: "I wanted to be feminine, and feminine in the worst sense: Submissive. Dependent. Soft-spoken. Coquettish. I was no good at all at any of it, no good at being a girl; on the other hand, I am not half-bad at being a woman."

  6. My big concern with the whole thing is that people are now going to spend all their time trying to guess the child's sex, which turns it into a game.