Have you ever wondered how your child would be different if they grew up in a world without gender stereotypes? If so, you're not alone. In fact, many parents have wondered the same thing. This has led to the creation of a parenting style called gender-neutral parenting that's centered around that very concept. But what does it mean to be a gender-neutral parent, and how can people practice gender-neutral parenting in their own homes?
What Does Gender-Neutral Mean?
Gender-neutral is a term used for not labeling something as either masculine or feminine. Instead, when something is gender-neutral, it can be used by anyone. It means that a color, sport, way of dressing, and just about anything else can be applied equally to both males and females. It refers to the idea that society should not have gender roles or stereotypes.
Gender labels can limit people from playing certain sports, expressing themselves in a way that feels authentic, and even studying certain subjects in school. For example, researchers believe that fewer women pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) due to gender stereotypes that label these fields as "masculine."
In addition, research shows that children can already recognize and label gender stereotypes between the ages of 18- and 24-months old. This means that children can already be persuaded to avoid certain hobbies, colors, and clothing based on the influences of society.
What Is Gender-Neutral Parenting?
Gender-neutral parenting refers to the idea that some parents raise their children without the presence or influence of gender roles or stereotypes in their homes. People that follow this parenting style believe that it allows children to understand, explore, and create their own sense of identity; as opposed to having aspects of their identity influenced by gender stereotypes or expectations.
For example, one way of practicing gender-neutral parenting would be to allow your children to participate in the same activities and have the same opportunities as one another. Regardless of whether one was a boy and one was a girl. In addition, in the gender-neutral parenting style, you wouldn't inform your children that some things are meant for boys and some things are meant for girls.
Some people believe that gender-neutral parenting means painting a child's room yellow or green instead of pink or blue. However, that's not always the case. Colors like pink and blue don't need to be avoided in your house. You just need to avoid labeling them as "for girls" or "for boys."
How to Practice Gender-Neutral Parenting
There are a lot of different ways to practice gender-neutral parenting because gender stereotypes are present all over society. Any time and any way that you avoid gendering something is a way to practice this parenting style. It can be as simple as giving your child a gender-neutral name, or allowing them to play with any toy that catches their eye.
Go easy on yourself. Gender stereotypes have a big influence on the world. Sometimes these influences can feel so "normal" that it's hard to remember when something is reinforcing traditional gender roles. You might run into some pitfalls along the way, and that's okay. You're trying your best to help your children live their most authentic life.
Are you new to gender-neutral parenting, but you want to practice it in your home? If so, here are some ideas to get started.
Educate Yourself About Gender Stereotypes
Before you can actively avoid gender stereotypes in your home, you might need to do a little research so you know what to avoid. This can be difficult because society tends to label many things as either "masculine" or "feminine," which can leave you wondering what things aren't gendered.
The good news is that it doesn't really matter whether society has gendered something or not. Because you don't have to abide by those stereotypes in your home. You may, however, need to answer questions about these stereotypes for your children when they step out of their gender-neutral home and into a gendered society.
Some commonly gendered elements you may want to explore and re-think in your household are:
- Activities people are interested in, such as sports or music
- Chores, such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry
- Different jobs people have in society
- Expectations surrounding how people should act, such as being caring, bold, or kind
- Hobbies, such as painting, sewing, etc.
- Outer appearance, such as clothes, hair, makeup, etc.
- Toys that your children play with
Allow Your Child to Pursue Their Own Interests
Another way to practice gender-neutral parenting is to allow your child to pursue their own interests. For example, if your child is interested in ballet, you should let them explore the hobby, regardless of whatever sex they were assigned at birth.
In addition, try to avoid gendering interests as either "masculine" or "feminine." For example, reinforce the idea that hockey, designing clothing, playing the guitar, or cheerleading are all just different activities that anyone can do. People who play hockey simply like hockey. People who design clothing simply like designing clothing.
When activities and interests are gendered, it can persuade kids not to partake in them because they don't want to be labeled as an outsider. This can cause children to limit their potential for achievement and happiness.
Let Your Child Express Themselves However They Choose
Many forms of self-expression are gendered. Think about how most clothing stores are organized with a section that is labeled "boys" and a section that is labeled "girls." These labels limit the ways that children can express themselves when they are told that some types of clothing aren't meant for them.
One way to practice gender-neutral parenting is to allow your child to express themselves however they want. This means that any of your children can wear dresses or suits, can choose to wear makeup or not wear makeup, can grow their hair long or wear it short, or can paint their nails or not.
Walk your kids to any section in the clothing store. Then, see what they gravitate towards. Allow them to make their own decisions about how they dress and express themselves. Clothing isn't meant for "boys" or "girls," it's meant for people.
Refer to Your Child With Gender-Neutral Pronouns
Most children have an innate sense of their own gender identity that develops between the ages of three and five. This means that many children already know if they feel more like a boy or a girl on the inside at a young age.
Some people who practice gender-neutral parenting don't label their child's gender for them. Instead, parents refer to their children with gender-neutral pronouns, such as they/them/theirs. Then, when their child is old enough to decide their own gender identity, they refer to them with whatever pronouns they choose, such as she/her, he/him, or something else.
Some additional gender-neutral pronouns include:
Be Gender-Neutral Role Models for Your Child
Children look to their parents as examples of how to live life. They will follow your lead and look to you for guidance constantly as they grow up. This means that in order to bring gender-neutral parenting into your home, you have to reinforce the idea that gender stereotypes or traditional gender roles won't be present in your household.
One way to do this is to split up work evenly in the house and show your children that anyone can and should do any chore if it helps your family. For example, take turns cooking with your partner to show that providing meals doesn't just fall to one person.
Also, take turns cleaning, doing laundry, taking out the trash, and every other type of work that needs to be done. This will show your children that certain jobs, hobbies, or types of work aren't meant to be done by girls or boys, but that they're meant for anyone.
Raising a Gender-Neutral Child
As a parent, you want what's best for your child. This means you want them to be their happiest self and follow their own passions and interests. One way to do this is to practice gender-neutral parenting.
When you take away gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations, you can give your child more freedom to explore whatever they want and express themselves however they please. This can lead them to live a more authentic life that isn't influenced by society's expectations. It can help them see themselves and the world differently, maybe even for the better.