Choosing One’s Gender
Storm is a child being raised with a unique opportunity. This child’s mom and dad are keeping the sex of the 4 month old a secret from their Toronto family and friends so that Storm can decide what he/she wants to be when he/she gets old enough.
A few years ago, two Swedish parents decided to do the same thing with their baby, Pop. Only those who change Pop’s diapers know the truth, and anyone who inquires about Pop’s nature is told that information is not yet available.
People’s reactions to this parenting approach are predictable. But both sets of parents believe that raising their child this way is smart because it allows the child to become what he/she feels it should be. Have these parents seen other children harmed when raised according to the gender recorded on their birth certificates? How many pediatricians do you think they would have to go through to find one who agreed that, yes, allowing your child to choose his/her gender at his/her own speed could head off some serious developmental problems?
There is no parenting philosophy practiced anywhere in human experience that holds this as beneficial. The closest thing were those ’70s parents who bought their little girls toys like dump trucks, hammers and play power saws, only to have those same girls put those trucks, hammer and power saws down for a nap after the tea party. Their boys did similarly stereotypically boy things with the gender-neutral toys they were given.
As I explain in my most recent book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininty, the possibility of raising gender-neutral kids is total illusion. There is no basis in developmental psychology or human physiology for belief. These parents hold that gender is mere social construction enforced upon children based upon the beliefs and prejudices that adults hold. There is more evidence for Noah’s Ark than for this idea.
Anthropologists employing sophisticated observation of sex differences across the majority of human cultures involving tens of thousands of people find that men and women are surprisingly similar in seemingly stereotypical ways. These scholars explain that “gender differences are modest in magnitude” but “consistent with gender stereotypes and replicable across cultures.”
Are Male and Female Really Different?
Women around the world tend to smile more, focusing more on their appearance than men. Men are nearly always the hunters. Women do more of the lighter farming close to home. Boys universally have greater athletic confidence and self-esteem than girls. Girls have greater behavioral and moral self-confidence than boys. Females do better academically and receive better grades in their schooling compared with boys, but both have the same levels of academic self-esteem. Men are more open to greater risk and more assertive. Women are more tender-minded, agreeable, warm and open to feelings. Adolescent girls have more dynamic relational instability than their male peers and show greater retaliation when their girl-friend relationships end. Girls tend to be more trusting and more disappointed by broken promises than boys. Girls universally transition into womanhood more easily and naturally than boys into healthy manhood.
Are these things generally true of the males and females that you know and observe? Research is telling us they are also true of the males and females on the far side of globe from you. If gender is a social construct, someone has a very strong, very powerful, humanly universal gender constructor. Some might call it nature.
What Science is Finding
The authors of Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women explain emphatically that “no amount of idealism or Utopian fantasy can alter the fact” that boys and girls are different, not just because of their genitalia and plumbing, but because of their brains and their DNA. They observe, “There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes – that men and women have the same brain – and what science knows – that they do not.” And as Dr. Louann Brizendine, a celebrated neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco explains,
More than 99 percent of the male and female genetic code is exactly the same. Out of the 30,000 genes in the human genome, the less than 1 percent between the sexes is small. But that percentage difference influences every single cell in our bodies – from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to the neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Essentially that 1 percent influences the very things that make us who we are. And it is either deceptively cruel or foolishly hopeless to try to hide something so naturally consequential and fundamental to who we are, as these parents are seeking to do.
The desire to be truly genderless is a very recent ideological construction, for if left to nature’s course, no individual or society becomes androgynous. You have to go to a great deal of trouble to be so, which is exactly what Storm and Pop’s mother and father are doing.
About the Author
Glenn T. Stanton is the director for family formation studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the country. Glenn is the author of four books and a contributor to nine others. He’s a huge Bob Dylan fan, loves quirky movies, and picked out and bought the first piece of clothing for himself when he was 28. Glenn and his wife, Jacqueline, have five children and live in Colorado Springs, Colo.