The other day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when one of my friends shared an article titled, "This Is What It's Really Like to Raise a Gender Neutral Child," published on Vice. Dani raised her child to be more gender neutral and shared their story for the world to read.
I clicked on the article not knowing what to expect – I never really had much of an opinion on raising gender-neutral children, so I knew this would be an opportunity to learn something. I knew I had to go into it with an open mind to retain more information and understand it from a perspective much different than my own, but I was curious.
When people are introduced to a topic out of their comfort zone, they are very quick to discredit it. People have this fear of being ignorant or being caught not knowing something, so instead of accepting unfamiliarity and learning about something, they settle for what they initially believe could be the right answer. Americans are also comfortable with traditional values. They don't like to step outside their comfort zone until they have to, generally speaking, of course.
When reading the article, there were many quotes that stuck out to me, one of them being, "When they hear you're pregnant, the first question people ask is whether it's a boy or a girl. Why is everyone so eager to figure out my child's genitals?" Instead of questions being asked that are more meaningful, like "How has your journey been while being pregnant?" or "Have you thought of any names yet?," we remain creatures of habit and ask the same question every time: "Boy or girl?" I don't think it's a reason enough to raise a child gender-neutral, but it's a core value often overlooked.
Upon gaining interest in their story and need for some elaboration, I decided to reach out to Dani myself. Luckily for me, I got an answer. This is what was said:
"My daughter is my daughter. She's a girl with many (what people would call) boyish interests and favourites: the colour blue, dinosaurs, fire engines, climbing, riding her scooter really fast and many more. What I'm trying to do is take those limitations 'boy' 'girl' colour/interest away and let her figure out what it is she loves. I dress her in clothes that we both like and that are comfortable or practical (and sometimes they are pretty, too). Her favourite colour right now is blue, so she has a lot of that, but all other colours are in her wardrobe, too, like pink."
Being gender neutral is not so much about defying who you are as a person, but rather, accepting yourself for everything you are and love. For Dani, it's about embracing every quirk and trait you have to step away from expectations that are set for you. Mathilda, the daughter, is being raised to feel like she can only wear pink because she's a girl, or can't like dinasaurs, again, because she's a girl.
"If she was the girliest girl ever (and some days she is), I'd still do the same, because why not? It feels right to open all the doors to her: be athletic, be artistic, be brave, be colourful. All I want for her is to have all the options (a phrase I've been saying a lot) and not limit her to only 'girl' things: being pretty, sitting still, and the colours pink, white and red (apparently, red is a girl colour. Who'd have thought it..)."
One of the most important aspects of the parenting style is being able to raise a child free of societal constraints - the way they dress is a small but valuable example. Although Dani is much more liberal with the term, the article I am writing focuses on her story, not how other parents raise their gender-neutral child. For Dani, it's not about the term, it's about raising your child to be free of constraints, to be who they want.
Although the article on Vice was written about gender-neutral parenting, Dani doesn't actually classify as being one of them. In reality, Dani doesn't really associate with the term because Mathilda is just raised to be label-free.
It’s about how you want to parent a child, not how you label their gender, and that's what makes this parenting style authentic.
So although Dani isn't a perfect example of gender-neutral parenting because it's actually not the method being used by their family, the sentiment of freedom is still there. The Vice article overall was phenomenal and for the first time, I felt like I actually understood the purpose and processes of raising a gender-neutral child, even if Dani wasn't actually meant to be the right example.
Most people are not going to be interested in having a gender-neutral child alongside me for various reasons, but just because you wouldn't practice it doesn't mean it should be abolished. For some people, this is the right option and their calling, so they deserve to follow their choices. If you don't agree with something or even if you are just ill-informed about a subject - like I was - you need to learn about it. Read books, watch videos, talk to people. Learn about it before you judge it and even if you gather as much knowledge as you can and you still don't agree, that's fine. You're entitled to your own opinion, just like everyone else is.
I don't plan on raising a gender-neutral child, but I respect people who do.