Gender Games in Parenting?

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The Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2  covered an interesting topic today, discussing an article which appeared in The Telegraph last week. Apparently a couple from Cambridgeshire are bringing up their 5-year-old child to be gender-neutral…

The child’s parents say “it’s better for him to decide when he’s grown up what gender he wants to be” which may be right however; are these parental mind ‘games’ actually storing up greater problems for the child in adult life than they seek to prevent?’

Couple raise child as ‘gender neutral’ to avoid stereotyping: A couple who raised their child as “gender neutral” for five years so the infant’s “real personality” could shine through have finally revealed he is a boy…(

Until the radio debate I have to admit, the item being reported had actually evaded my media radar, unlike many others it would seem. When I did a bit of Google research many had already commented on this somewhat emotive subject. The subject of parenting, specifically the perceived rights and wrongs, often attracts a great deal of vociferous debate. Indeed, many have made very successful careers out of the subject, let alone a great deal of money.

I always find it amusing that so many of those, often self-appointed (or indeed newly qualified ‘professional’ practitioner) ‘experts’ have a limited amount of knowledge on which to base their expertise. The espoused ‘correct’ methods for raising children often have more to do with the ‘expert’ being perceived as a ‘good’ parent by others, rather than the actual needs of the child concerned. A factor also raised by one commentator on this particular issue (see below).

She wants to be (thought of as) a progressive, to (appear to) challenge society’s rules, but being a coward she instead forces her kid to bear all of the negative consequences of this challenge.  Is she wearing a man’s suit to work?  Has she stopped shaving her legs “to hide her femininity”?  Is she willing to risk that someone will punch her in the face at the bus stop?  Is she willing to sacrifice her own carefully managed identity “to make people think a bit”? (

A lot of this ‘expert’ status about parenting actually comes from one of two sources; either the ‘expert’ is eloquent at relaying academic theory, without ever having raised children themselves, as is the case with many health visitors and child psychologists etc. That or, a type of keep up with (or preferably surpass) the Jones’ type mentality, a competition to appear better at the task than your friends and peers.

To my mind and in many ways, the boy’s mother is actually imposing her adult thought processes, beliefs and expectations upon her son, a process that to be fair to her, she states she is trying to avoid. But her personal ideologies have been formulated from 40+ years of life-experience. I would therefore raise the following questions; is it fair to trouble the child’s mind with such complex issues during his formative years? Is she not storing up even greater problems for the boy in later life? Why does she see any apparent need to create a gender issue, perceived or other wise in the upbringing of a child?

Perhaps Beck Laxton has simply but mischievously sought to create yet another paradoxical debate. One which the media have also expectedly seized upon, and turned into something a little more emotive than the facts – simply to explore the whole PC process around gender issues in our society.

On the undoubtedly important and complex concept of good parenting, there is an old adage which says; “Mum’s Know Best!” On the practicalities of that process I would mostly agree and, as Ms Laxton (see blog), describes herself as a “radical feminist” – gender is probably a far more important factor in her life, than it is actually an issue to most other people. However, as she also lists her occupation as a User Experience Architect, perhaps her aspirational desire for ‘expert’ status will actually benefit her child in future years? Let’s hope so, for the benefit of the boy, as opposed to his parents.

This minor debacle does actually serve to prove one thing; at least Ms Laxton has a genuine interest in and desire for raising her child in the best way she possibly can. Pity so many others in our society don’t devote that sort of effort to theirs!

One thought on “Gender Games in Parenting?

  1. In The Mail (290112) Suzanne Moore wrote: A little boy in fairy wings isn’t the end of the world…

    The pinkification of sexual apartheid is everywhere. Little girls used to play with dolls’ houses and Barbies. Now they are encouraged to BE a Barbie and live in an entirely pink accessorised world. Boys are left with primary colours, camouflage and an assortment of weapons.

    This is why the warnings about this crazy pursuit of androgyny as some kind of feminist plot are so hollow. It’s true we often talk about the social construction of gender in order to challenge lame stereotypes. For women and for men. These straitjackets often feel constricting – but we are about as far from androgyny as we can get. Have girls ever been girlier?

    I would have to agree!


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