i'm not going to start this blog off pulling punches. i've been wanting to write this post for months, so i need to start with it. i toyed with writing an introductory welcome or launching the site with some soft(er) content, but i'm really only here to hurl my thoughts into the universe and hope that maybe, just maybe, my constant need to articulate what i think and how i feel will affect someone's life for the better (hell, maybe it'll even be my own in that i'm not just tossing this stuff around my brain at bedtime for months until it sizzles out). i'm not here to sugarcoat my life, perfect my image or censor my thoughts. so, let's get to it.
"don't make your child a political statement."
my most despised and contemplated piece of unsolicited pregnancy advice.
let's start with context. several months ago, i made a facebook post expressing exasperation at folks who were 1) downright belligerent that we weren't finding out the sex of our baby and 2) opposed to (or, more often than not, confused by) non-binary parenting approaches. this is the post:
i keep my facebook public, because i make a point to only post things online if i'm okay with anyone seeing them. if i don't want it out there, i don't put it on the internet. a family member i've never met and am not facebook friends with commented a number of things, the summation of them being that i must not make my unborn child a political statement. she was the first, but not only, person to say or imply this to me.
to start with the specific issue, i get it... stepping away from the gender binary is confusing, and maybe even scary. my grandma isn't quite sure what it means, as became apparent after a few glasses of wine at our last family dinner (good on her for asking questions). my mother-in-law was is also unsure (and with good reason - non-binary parenting looks different to a lot of people)... she just to buy the baby a dress if it's a girl, which is and has always been fine by us. the first question most are inclined to ask pregnant women is, "so... do you know what you're having?" and what they're literally saying is "so... have you seen your child's genitals in an ultrasound?"... but it sounds (as) intrusive (as it actually is) when you put it that way. confining individuals to gender boxes is such a social norm that we start doing it before fetuses even make their way out of the womb.
something i want to add before i write anything more is that i sincerely don't believe this behaviour comes from a sinister place. i know some will read this and their first reaction will be to become defensive or angry. a mistake i made with the facebook status above was not clarifying that i'm frustrated with our society as a whole, not with individuals. it was tongue-in-cheek and sassy because that's who i am, not because i meant to tell any specific person off. it's my intent to critically evaluate and oppose the way we collectively approach gender, especially as it relates to children, not to attack specific people for specific actions. we ask these questions, apply these stereotypes and attach such importance to gender because we're conditioned to, not because we're trying to harm anyone. OF COURSE we want to envision the little person we're soon going to know and love! and since we've been given the tools to easily conjure up what a little boy or girl might look like or be interested in, we start gendering. am i uncomfortable with it? highly. do i blame you personally for it? not at all.
a second issue i want to acknowledge is that change or the unknown can be controversial. if you disagree with me about non-binary (which, to some, is seen as highly non-traditional) parenting, that's okay. if what i'm saying makes you uncomfortable, that's okay. if the idea of men and women being less confined to traditional roles has you feeling vulnerable, fearful, confused, angry, argumentative or sad, that's okay. i'm not here to change your mind. if you're of the opinion that "men should be men and women should be women", or you refuse to acknowledge sex and gender as different things, or you believe that distinct male and female presences in households/workplaces/cultures are necessary to maintain social order, then our views are absolutely and fundamentally different... and they're likely not going to be reconciled, at least not today. i'm here today to put into words how i want to raise our child, why i want to raise them that way, and why our morals aren't trivial things to be left out of our parenting. i'm not here under the impression that i'm going to instill my values into anyone who doesn't already share them.
so, what does gender-neutral parenting mean in our house? it means being conscious of the ways we treat children differently based on their sex, analyzing where that might be damaging and avoiding said damage. more specifically:
we ingrain these limitations and stereotypes into our children, and we do it without thinking, because it's what we were taught, and what our parents were taught, and what our grandparents were taught and so on (although i really do believe that each generation is less confined than the last). and we do it because society makes it easy - media and consumerism normalize the problems (see the grossly gendered toy section at any store, or the jumpers made for little boys with "i'm a boob guy" plastered on the front). we see harm in these things, so we're going to avoid them. our gender-neutral house is a house where we won't restrict or condition our child by imposing boundaries based on gender or sex.
another aspect of gender-neutral parenting is actually understanding gender and how children develop. gender is a social construct and sex is anatomy... they're different. our child will be born with a certain anatomy that will most likely, but not definitely, determine their sex as male or female at birth. then they'll come to socially and culturally understand their gender, identifying as a man, woman, more, both or neither - this will be influenced by different factors at different points throughout life. we've researched this and we're comfortable with it. i'm a non-binary/gender queer female. i figured it out when i was 21 - it was amazing and liberating. as for pronouns, we'll likely use the pronoun that corresponds with the child's sex, unless or until they ask us to address them differently, in which case we'll do so happily and with great respect for their individuality and self-awareness. raising kids in households with open, accepting and scientifically correct understandings of sex, gender and sexuality not only teaches them that it's okay to be who they are, but also to be supportive and compassionate toward others.
so, how is any of this a political statement? i assume in the same way that people bitching about their obligation to be "politically correct" are confusing said correctness for manners, empathy and basic human decency. i mean, i suppose i am a highly political person, because i care deeply about social justice issues, and i intentionally live my values. in addition, i can't form close relationships with people who don't share my values on a foundational level. no, we don't need to agree on everything, but yes, we do need to have some common pillars... a few of mine are equity, compassion and humanity.
i guess what it boils down to is that our politics are our outlook on the world, and our outlook influences our actions. choosing to separate the political from the personal is a privilege, and something i've never been willing, or in some cases able, to do. so yes, i do hope to raise a child that shares my husband and i's openness, strong morals and sense of social responsibility, both for their own happiness, and for that of others. who doesn't want to rear offspring who contribute positively to their environment? who doesn't want to leave future generations with the tools to respect each other's differences? who doesn't hope their kids feel comfortable being exactly who they are? who doesn't want to give children every opportunity to understand themselves and others? if being mindful of those things equate raising a political statement, i hope i raise the biggest political statement you've ever seen in your life.
and now, onto my final grievance: other people's right to tell me what to do as a woman and a mother. it took me a while to consider this. when i initially made the facebook post and several people in my life (or online) were absolutely indignant, my immediate response was to respond, to argue, to defend my beliefs and approaches. i didn't question whether or not i even owed that to anyone.
my sassy cousin/friend whose perspective i always enjoy and whose bluntness i appreciate maybe even more sat calmly over a bubble tea shortly after all of this happened. i explained the whole thing, justifications and all, full of emotion. she looked me calmly in the eye and said, "who cares if you make your baby a political statement, it's your guys' fucking baby. you can do whatever you want with it." and she was absolutely, 100% right (with the obvious exception of abusing or harming the child in any way).
women, new mothers especially, are constantly on the receiving end of judgement, continuously swamped with unsolicited advice, perpetually under a magnifying glass. i can't tell you how many people have given opinions about what sort of birth i should opt for. i can't tell you how many people have commented on my body since i've been pregnant. i can't tell you how many people have inquired about how i plan to raise my child, and then told me, directly or otherwise, that it's the wrong way. and i fully recognize that, as a white woman in canada, i don't have it particularly hard. sure i have my grievances about the strange ownership society takes over (pregnant) women's choices and bodies, but i know and respect that my lived experience is really just the tip of the iceberg. i can't speak for or truly comprehend the challenges faced by others and i am sincerely grateful for the many privileges and freedoms i have. but it's not one or the other... not taking sexist shit doesn't mean i'm not also counting my blessings.
in closing, i want to ask you a favour and then i want to tell you off a little bit (again, there is no specific "you" here - i'm just being my cheeky self). first, please be conscious of your gender biases and how you enforce them on the children in your life. i'm not saying that all are significant or negative - i'm asking you to think critically and to weed out the ones that are. and lastly, to paraphrase my cousin and on behalf of, i'm sure, many other mothers and parents: they're our fucking babies and we can do what we want with them. please don't offer us criticisms we didn't ask for. we probably don't care what you think about how we raise our kids and, if we do, we'll ask.