Friday, June 26, 2009

Pop Goes the World

Pop is a Swedish child whose parents are attempting to a gender. Pop's hairstyle changes regularly, Pop's wardrobe consists of both pants and skirts, etc. Pop's parents say that they want "Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” and that they believe it is "cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

At first when I heard of this news story I was intrigued because I do find it quite interesting in concept. The child is only two - so surely the child will figure out its gender eventually, either through media or other children. Absolutely when the child starts school there will be issues, and I can't help but wonder if the questions and experiences Pop will have in those times will be life- long scars. On the other hand, perhaps Pop will grow up to be a well-adjusted and self-confident adult the likes of which the world has never seen.

However, it seems unlikely to really last much longer. Susan Pinker, a Toronto-based psychologist says, "o
nce children can speak, males tell aggressive stories 87 per cent of the time, while females only 17 per cent." Therefore, at 2, the child is already displaying gender norms. She does go on to say in the article, that later in life there are other differences in aggression and behavior, but I am not convinced these are innate behaviors. I do think the way that boys socialize vs. the way girls socialize has a lot to do with who we are as adults and I'm not sure that that socialization would happen the same without societal norms. But I digress. What Pinker is getting at is that there are gender differences that are born into us via hormones that are part of our development during the second trimester of pregnancy. I would surmise these are also the sort of hormones that would make a child gay or straight or transgendered.

I haven't had a tonne of experience with babies, but lately people can't stop asking me if and when I am going to get pregnant. As a result, there have been many conversations about what I'd 'want' if I were pregnant, and the differences between male and female babies. I am routinely told that girl infants and boy infants are 'so different' and a 'world apart' that I can't help but wonder if Pop's parents are really achieving anything with their approach.

After all, they know the gender. They are changing the diapers. I am sure they are making every effort to avoid the gender stereotypes in their raising of the child, but if they consciously know the child is female, will they really be able to treat it the same way that they would if they knew it was male? The subconscious mind is an amazing beast - and if it can make you dream of people you haven't seen in 25 years (at 30 years old) as if a day has never passed, can it also make you treat your female child with more softness and femininity than you would if you knew deep down the child was male?

It is a well intentioned but odd approach to child-rearing. I think it would be better extended to raising the child with a more normalized gender identity. Giving your child a gender does not immediately scar the child - educating them with a healthy view on society and gender stereotypes, at an appropriate age to do so, would seem like a more normalized approach to the whole thing.

I take, for example, my sister-in-law who is 9, who just last night informed me that "Beauty Pageants are dumb because they only judge you on your looks and that is wrong." She's been taught a thing or two about the world that I had to learn much later in life. She's lucky and I think she'll be one of the strongest women I will know, because she was raised to be the sort of kid that tells off her teacher when she tells the class that "hockey is something boys play" (yes, this also happened, and resulted in suspension, believe it or not.) That right there is a healthy world view on gender. She's into hair, and bugs, and biking, and sports, and singing and dancing and makeup and art and science, because she's been told she can be anything. Telling your son it is ok to do ballet or soccer or art or music or construction or drag performances or science also sets them up to be strong adults with normalized view of who they can be. Gender is not the enemy. Trying to control who your children will become is.

I feel that trying so hard to strip your child of what is naturally present, and then talking to the media about it, (not to mention naming your child Pop) will create a difficult start to life, socialization and school. It is no different than trying to force your little tom boy into a pink princess dress. If you strip your child of both genders, will they fit in anywhere and feel a part of anything? Being different is difficult enough when you are different from 'most' people. Being different from everyone is another story altogether.

While I admire the determination of Pop's parents to change the world, and while I am sure their intentions are pure, I am wondering if they are thinking more about their own experience than that of the child's. I really think that using your children to do anything - change gender roles in society, make money as a child actor, make your partner stay in your life, negotiate divorce settlements, and so forth, is just plain wrong. Children are not lab rats and should not be treated as if they are an experiment. They deserve to feel safe, loved and cared for. I don't doubt Pop feels all these things at 2 years old. But how will Pop feel when Pop discovers it was used to promote and demonstrate the ideals of its parents?

It feels timely to think about this - Michael Jackson has died. Michael, may he rest in peace, is the ultimate example of how you can destroy a human being's soul by forcing them to have an unusual childhood - or none at all. The universal human desire to 'fit in' somewhere, with something, is the force that drives us all. Even those of us who wish to be 'different' and 'unique' wish to fit in with others who are similarly 'unique'. That feeling is the feeling of belonging, of safety, of comfort. Fitting in somewhere makes us feel safe, loved and cared for. I believe it is a basic human right. Michael had his childhood stolen from him and he never felt normal or like he fit in after that. He never felt normal, so he never acted normal. And it eventually destroyed him.

Pop is only 2 - but if this continues, Pop's chance to have a normal childhood is disappearing as well.

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