To enculturate or not, that is the question…

Two parents in Toronto have decided to not inform society at large the gender of their third child.  For some reason this has “society” in a tither.  Before I launch into what will surely wind up sounding like a rant it is absolutely vital to discuss the terms involved.

A person’s gender role is merely something attributed to someone socially, a set of “norms” as to how people of a certain gender act, etc.  [This is paraphrased from Wikipedia.]  A person’s gender identity is something that is internalized and considered separate from sexual orientation.  Depending upon where you’re looking you might see that this is considered separate from the biological assignment of gender, but of course all this rests upon societal definitions of gender and how we perceive healthy individuals submit to typical categorizations of the same.  That kind of throws a bit of a wrench into this one with what boils down to something that appears to be circular logic.

Now, let’s get to the story, shall we?    The parents are raising their kid in an environment where gender is not pandered to.  That’s it.  There is no mention about how the parents won’t have the anatomy conversation with their child (who happens to have two older brothers).  None.  I looked.  And, let’s face it, any parent knows about the inevitable conversations that goes something like this (at eleven seconds in or so):

Some people may think gender roles are no big deal.  There was a time in society where they were everything.  Ask the suffragettes about gender.  Or perhaps those involved in getting women more accepted and to get equal pay for equal work.  It mattered.  Why?  It was a category that had been established as inferior.  This notion, this social norm was fought tooth and nail and now many people are righteously stating how this kid being raised in a manner that encourages wholesome ego development over enculturation is wrong, ignorant, screwed up.  [Enculturation is a means of assimilating, of taking on traditional values and practices of a culture.]

While I have concerns for any individual who is abundantly different in a society which only accepts certain differences the reasons those concerns exist is NOT because of the outlier, the exceptional childThe concern exists because of the intolerance of the different that is socially acceptable.  If each of us wants to encourage acceptance, TRUE acceptance, then categories can not be the rule nor can we be looking to force our notions of “right” upon others.


4 responses to “To enculturate or not, that is the question…

  • Jan

    Well stated argument. It is always deplorable when someone wants another person to be other than they are. But it is also true that children, from the time they can see across a room, take their patterning from the adults in their lives. These patterns are the most challenging things to overcome as adults.
    I don’t believe it will ultimately matter whether or not these parents treat this child as genderless. What will matter is that if they treat themselves as gendered, and/or if they treat their other two children as gendered, they may develop a situation in which the child whose gender they do not wish to stress will grow up assuming the roles of the people they watched, i.e. momma and poppa.
    I say this because as I was raising my young sons, the ERA was being fought for. Many women said that instead of giving my sons guns, I should give them dolls. So I tried it. I had to laugh when they bent Barbie dolls in half so they could pretend that they were guns! Truth was, I was a little horrified at the time!!!
    I like to think that in spite of this, I raised caring, men who were in touch with and could show their emotions, but I don’t think that gender neutral is something that can exist. If it is the only thing sanctioned, it will simply mean that the child may subvert their own inclinations for a period of time. Of course all of this is conjecture because the hard truth is that children, unlike stem cells, have more control over what and how they take in information presented to them. A person’s life is far more dependent upon what they take out of the environment than what the environment does to them.
    This is in spite of the fact that we are all products of the environments we were raised in. Kind of an endless loop isn’t it?
    What I told my own children, and I would have to say it was true, is that I did the very best I could–if I could have done it otherwise, I would have. But I also told them that they need to take responsibility for their selves. That they are ultimately the creators of who and how they are in the world. I suspect that with most parents we will always wish we could have done more or done it differently.I suspect that every child is an experiment in life’s desire to continue.

  • Carol Kilgore

    This is probably politically incorrect, but I think those parents are clueless, will most likely have a messed up child, and wonder why because they believe they’ve done everything right. And to make it worse, they’ve added to the gene pool.

  • Hart

    I totally agree with you on this. I’d have problems with parents not accepting gender roles the kid WANTS to take on, as I think that is as dangerous as trying to change a child’s sexual orientation. But taking away any societal expectations from it is GOOD… creating a society where people like what they like and can do what they want to do… good. At some point though, there probably needs to be some preparation for what they will encounter… it is cruel not to, but letting them be what they will first, then instilling the strength to set them out to educate others and resist pressure… all good.

  • Mae

    I think this is such a fascinating ‘case’. No matter how we think, as a society, we have come we still like resorting to neat boxes and categorisation. Like Hart said, I think the parent should let the child become whatever gender role it wants. Like De Beauvoir said, ‘one is not born but becomes a woman’ which could also work for the opposite sex. 🙂

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