Universally, and particularly in India we have all been raised and continue to raise our young in a highly gendered environment. Blue is for boys and Pink is for girls is an ideology that gets entrenched in children’s minds from the time they are able to differentiate colours. The gender socialization has proven to be highly violent and has created a chasm between boys and girls, men and women that we are still fighting today.
To fight this conventional system of raising children some parents are taking an opposite approach by choosing to raise their children as gender neutral. Sweden, in fact, made strides towards normalizing such an approach by adding a gender-neutral pronoun “hen” to their national vocabulary. Collectives of parents in the US who firmly believe that while ones sex is biological gender exists and functions on a spectrum that must be determined by no one other than the individual themselves. Some couples in the States are now not revealing their child's gender at birth and creating a birth certificate devoid of a gender designation.
This move is inspired by the concept of not enforcing gender stereotypes at birth, and encouraging a childhood that is free of gendered ideas.
We spoke to a few children’s experts ranging from Mommy Bloggers to Kids entertainment App creators and here’s their take on the issue and whether it would be suitable for India.
Rashi Malhotra is the founder of an app, ForBacche that showcases activities for children pan India. We asked her about the dangers of gender stereotyping.
When my child asks me questions to which I could respond with gender-specific answers I make sure to give neutral answers that do not discriminate between the genders.
She shares, “Now my child goes to play tennis, and I didn’t when I was growing up. There is no difference. If I make a difference in how I bring up my daughter or tell her not to play or jump around it will play on her psyche. We’re making them understanding these concepts through our body language and through conversation. When my child asks me questions to which I could respond with gender-specific answers I make sure to give neutral answers that do not discriminate between the genders.”
On asking her whether India might be ready to bring up children in the gender-neutral format, Rashi says, “when they are old enough to make decisions like what they are comfortable with the body space they like and other preferences that makes more sense to me. I feel like at birth you have to teach children about genders and explain to them with limited usage of words. We as parents need to give them the right amount of information.”
With this being said she also mentions she doesn’t disregard this western approach to raising children. However, she doesn’t see it happening at such a young age in India.
If you're sad you’re sad, if you feel aggressive you are. I would not be in the favour of having children and not revealing their gender in their childhood.
Ruchita Dar Shah, Founder, and CEO of First Moms Club, Online Community for Indian moms feels, “that it is a bit too evolved, I am not that comfortable with it in the Indian context. For me, it is about raising your children to be a human and allowed to feel the way you do. If you're sad you’re sad, if you feel aggressive you are. I would not be in the favour of having children and not revealing their gender in their childhood. At the same time if I did have a kid who decided to dress differently or prefer another gender or express himself differently I would be ok with it and learn to understand it.”
This is too evolved for us right now, we are just getting our basics right- empowering women, respecting women.
She adds a pertinent point about our current status as a country. “I don’t think it would fly in India, because even today the most educated people their biggest dream for their girls is to get them married and have an extravagant function for it. This is too evolved for us right now, we are just getting our basics rights, empowering women, respecting women.”
Child expert and Founder of KidsStopPress.com Mansi Zaveri has a similar approach to the issue of raising kids in a gender-neutral format and outlines the issue for us in the Indian context. She thinks, “a bigger battle to fight is to ensure equality and then neutrality. Address that rather than concealing it entirely, it's ok to be known as a girl and as a boy. I think its important to pick and choose the right battles. I don’t teach my girls to equal boys but I teach them that in their gender they are able to do anything they want to. They don’t need to measure up to the stereotype of the opposite sex."
I don’t teach my girls to equal boys but I teach them that in their gender they are able to do anything they want to.
She adds “Those who are doing that I don’t want to disregard them, but for us in India we have larger battles to fight. I am not sure if that is the right answer and approach. I don’t think it’s the right solution to the problems we are fighting specifically. We need to look at not just a top-city levels but at majority of the country – there is a different battle altogether that we’re fighting. I don’t think their problems will be solved by not revealing gender in their childhood.”
While it is very difficult for parents to bring up kids in a gender fluid environment, parents are more aware of not reinforcing stereotypes.
Nidhi Dorairaj, Mom Blogger and founding editor of mumbaimom.com gives us her take on raising children to be gender neutral. “In India yes, Of course - It’s a given. From a time you are born-'ladka hai or bacchi hein', it's more pronounced in India than in the west where the boy child is given higher status. While it is very difficult for parents to bring up kids in a gender fluid environment, parents are more aware of not reinforcing stereotypes.”
"It’s a very big decision to put on kids, and the responsibility of this decision can remain with them forever”
About the dangers of having children decide their genders at in their early years she adds, “there are two very minor things. As egalitarian as the thought – kids pick up on cues other than what they are taught. Society is not going to cease to exist, it conflicts with their upbringing in the gender neutrality it can leave them confused at a very early age. Two, it’s a very big decision to put on kids, and the responsibility of this decision can remain with them forever”.
Our child-experts collectively feel that we must normalize ideas of gender equality before we raise children to be gender neutral. The other concern is regarding whether children in the first few years are fit to make a decision about their gender. At that age, kids are highly responsive to their environment and to positive feedback on their behaviours. Therefore, whether it is truly their sole decision and how it will sustain them for their lives comes into question. Our parenting experts also believe that kids should grow up in a non-gender stereotyped environment and be more focused on fighting stereotypes rather than concealing it.
Akansha Gupta is an intern with Shethepeople.TV