Why We're Not Raising Our Kids Gender Neutral

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I live in the SF Bay Area, home of some of the widest range of parenting practices around. About this time of year, start of school time, the issue of "gender neutral" comes back around.

Now I went to a women's college, took women's studies classes, I even TAed Intro to Women's Studies, but I'm calling shenanigans on this "raising gender neutral kids" thing.

Here's why we don't do that.

1. Our kids are not gender neutral beings

John will make anything into a weapon. Anything. Sticks are always referred to as swords, anything with a longish end and a thicker end is a rifle. He "plays cars" by smashing them together. He had not been shown car crashes, or smashing cars, or told how to play that way - he just did it. Like he had it as part of his DNA.

Those gender stereotypes didn't come from nowhere!

2. "Gender neutral" toys look an awful lot like you just picked a gender

Seriously, just search "gender neutral toys" on google images. There is one picture of a girl doing stereotypical boy play (weapons in this case). The rest are entirely focused on having boys do stereotypical girl play.

Now I believe all kids, including boys, should learn valuable life skills like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. But this tells me that boy-ness, the rough, running, and loud play of boys, is something gender neutral toys generally discourage. I pretty much agree with Simcha on this one.

3. "Gender neutral" colors seem to mean "avoid pink at all costs!"

Colors seem to suffer from the opposite problem. Here is what happens when one searches for "gender neutral colors":

The closest we get to pink is coral.

Now if you think this is just splitting hairs, may I direct your attention to the multiple shades of straight up blue.

I'm not the biggest fan of pink (seriously, my name is Kirby. This is a Kirby.) but there really is not a big range of stereotypical girl colors. Pink is kind of it. I'm not cool with just eliminating it and calling it "gender neutral".

4. I'm not into anxious parenting

I think trying to be a "gender neutral parent" lends itself to creating an  unhealthy attitude toward gender. It puts a ton of extra pressure on the parent, and makes something innocent into something that is surrounded by a lot of anxiety. I'm not into anxious parenting, and I think it's high time we got let off the hook here.

I really don't want to have to think so hard about every clothing item, toy, and color that comes into this house. Because it ultimately doesn't matter that much.

I'm not going to entice my boy to play dolls, but I'm not going to flip out if he dresses up as a princess with the girl next door. My girl will probably get a lot of rough and tumble play keeping up with her brother, but I still put her in dresses 98% of the time because diaper changes are easier that way (and it's cute).

Perhaps the idea of gender neutral parenting started out from a more innocent and well meaning place, but that's not what it is in it's current incarnation. Therefore, it's not one of the parenting labels I'm interested in embracing.


  1. Kirby, thanks for this straightforward and refreshing post! I love how you mention that you aren't into "anxious parenting." I guess I haven't really thought about it that way, but it makes sense--people that are obsessively paranoid about their child's clothing colors or toys because "oh, it could shove them into a mold," probably do create a lot of unnecessary stress, anxiety, and expectations for their child. Like you said, it's not that big of a deal in the end. For example, one of my brothers would sometimes join in with playing dolls when he was young, but he's now on a Rugby team. So obviously his occasional encounter with a doll didn't damage his masculinity haha.

    That's also interesting how you bring up pink--once, a friend of mine mentioned to me that pink used to be considered a "boy color," and I read some articles that confirmed what my friend said! I don't exactly know how it became a "girl color," but I think it's weird that "gender neutral" means "eliminate pink!" If we're going to take out pink, shouldn't we automatically disregard blue, too?

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