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Parents keep child's sex a secret.
June 27, 2009 5:01 PM   Subscribe

A pair of Swedish parents are keeping their child's ("Pop") sex a secret. The parents believe that gender is a social construction, and they want to keep Pop from being placed into any categories based on his/her gender. Psychologists, medical specialists, and other researchers disagree on how this decision may affect the child, and some believe this secret is similar to the one David Reimer's family kept from him. Via Feministing.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl (196 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I were that child, I would eventually beat the crap out of both of them.
posted by HuronBob at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2009 [25 favorites]


This comes to mind.
posted by felix betachat at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2009


Interesting how the parents' argument is that gender is a social construct, yet,

Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis.


Doesn't this just re-enforce those constructs?

Men and women are different for a reason. To reiterate Decimask's sarcasm, this is not going to end well. Pray for the child.
posted by litterateur at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2009


Wait, doesn't the child know its sex? I mean, it must. If so, doesn't this end up being kind of meaningless? Once the kid starts school, if it's aware of its own sex, then it will know what sort of gender identity it's "supposed" to have.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2009


Even if gender were a "social construction" -- and the latest research shows its not -- doesn't this mean that the child won't fit into any society (which would all of them) that employ this construction? So even if the parents were correct -- which, again, the science says they emphatically are not -- they're dooming their child to a life of awkward frustration as an outsider without a sexual identity, all in order that the parents can make an ideological point. That's child abuse.
posted by orthogonality at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2009 [29 favorites]


But, will they let it know it's Swedish?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:13 PM on June 27, 2009 [18 favorites]


Name it Frank.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:15 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Doomed, the Swedes are doomed. So open-minded their brains fell out.
posted by codswallop at 5:16 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Hopefully the child doesn't turn out as odd as this Swede...
posted by elder18 at 5:17 PM on June 27, 2009


This is so full of weird ideas, I don't know where to start: "The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female." — because of course the child will not be looking at men and women, boys and girls, and noticing differences in interaction.

"'If the parents are doing this because they want to create a discussion with other adults about why gender is important, then I think they can make a point of it,' Henkel says in a telephone interview with The Local." — because that's a great way to spend someone else's childhood, making a point.

This whole thing seems like a performance art piece where the child will be raised in some remote Skinner box.
posted by adipocere at 5:17 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gender may or may not be a social construct, but this certainly shows that FUCKING IDIOTS naturally gravitate toward each other.
posted by scody at 5:19 PM on June 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


This is nothing. I knew a couple who named their son "Lazarus" and didn't talk around him because they wanted him to develop a 'natural language', communicating with him in a sign language they made up on their own.
The kid couldn't talk but damn, for a four-year old he sure did look sullen.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2009 [14 favorites]


They're clearly not going far enough. Wearing shoes on your feet instead of your hands is a social construct. Fight conformity! Hell, why not name their kid Diarrhea-Face? It's a nice gender-neutral name, and people will be inclined to interact with their unique little child as an individual, instead of some generic "Chris" or whatever they've chosen. I mean, if you goal is to raise the weirdest, most socially isolated child in human history, why employ half measures?
posted by Humanzee at 5:21 PM on June 27, 2009 [18 favorites]


"We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset," Pop's mother said. "It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

Apparently they forgot what it was like to be around other kids. Other children are hell.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:24 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


> The kid couldn't talk but damn, for a four-year old he sure did look sullen.

Please tell me you reported them to someone who could take the kid away. Please?
posted by Decimask at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Once upon a time, a baby named X was born. This baby was named X so that nobody could tell whether it was a boy or a girl. Its parents could tell, of course, but they couldn't tell anybody else. They couldn't even tell Baby X at first.

Even if gender were a "social construction" -- and the latest research shows its not
Um, citations please?

Men and women are different for a reason.
Biologically, yes. Socially, why?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


From the article: "Ignoring children's natures simply doesn't work," says Susan Pinker.

Huh? The child is free to choose its own nature. The parents aren't denying the kid any nature, they're simply providing both. Pop has dresses and trousers and is free to choose whichever one Pop wants. Should Pop end up favoring either, nothing will have been ignored. In contrast, the parents who buy their tomboy girl nothing but jewelry, makeup, dresses, and pink stuff ARE the ones ignoring children's natures.
posted by scrowdid at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2009 [38 favorites]


Am I the only one that things this won't have much impact? It'll be obvious soon enough.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just outta curiosity, is Swedish a gendered language? I'd assume so, as most European languages are, but since English ain't, I'm not sure.
posted by klangklangston at 5:29 PM on June 27, 2009


scrowdid: Agreed. All of the examples brought up by Pinker don't prove any sort of innate difference between boys and girls.

Plus, just because most Western societies have only two genders, that doesn't mean that it is the only option.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The kid couldn't talk but damn, for a four-year old he sure did look sullen.
Yes, this sounds like child abuse and neglect.

Biologically, yes. Socially, why?
As difference does not infer inferiority, our differences compliment and supplement each other to create a healthy whole.
posted by litterateur at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Um, citations please?'

http://www.metafilter.com/47410/Boys-like-trucks-girl-like-dolls-the-SSSM-takes-another-hit
posted by orthogonality at 5:31 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh? The child is free to choose its own nature. The parents aren't denying the kid any nature, they're simply providing both.

Yes, yes, yes.
I have vivid memories of my brother running around in a little wedding-dress type affair when he was five or so. He's now a member of a fraternity and likes big trucks. What really stunts a kid is what you don't offer them.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:31 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


jeffburdges: "Am I the only one that things this won't have much impact? It'll be obvious soon enough."

Yea, that's pretty much what I was going to say. And as soon as they have to register him for school, the jig will be up. I'm pretty sure that the kindergarten (or Swedish equivalent) will let them fill in "other" under the sex field in the application form.
posted by octothorpe at 5:33 PM on June 27, 2009


This is nothing. I knew a couple who named their son "Lazarus" and didn't talk around him because they wanted him to develop a 'natural language', communicating with him in a sign language they made up on their own.
The kid couldn't talk but damn, for a four-year old he sure did look sullen.


Oh my GOD. That kid may NEVER learn to talk, even after he gets away from his parents. The language skills required for proper sentence construction requires formative brain development early on. If his brain doesn't get mapped for language, he may become physically incapable of proper speech.

Please tell me you reported them to someone who could take the kid away. Please?

That's what I want to hear too. This is just as much child abuse as not feeding a child nutritious food.

About the FPP topic... I suspect this may be a non-issue once the kid gets to the age of being able to tell people what he or she is and of refusing to wear certain items of clothing. But these parents are stupid. Kids aren't science projects.
posted by orange swan at 5:35 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why not go all the way and keep it in a Skinner box until it's 18. That'll stop all that pesky social conditioning
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:35 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


>: Just outta curiosity, is Swedish a gendered language?

My Swedish coworker swore up and down that Swedish isn't gendered, and that "ett" and "en" were used like "a" and "an" in English, but according to Wikipedia it's actually got two genders: Common (comprising historically masculine and feminine objects) and neuter.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2009


This is going to be over as soon as the kid starts talking.

"So, Pop, are you a boy or a girl?"

/NON-STORY
posted by Afroblanco at 5:38 PM on June 27, 2009


What is the thought process that leads some people from "men and would should be treated equally" to "there should be no difference between men and women"? I always though this was a strawman but there are folks right there in the Feministing thread who feel quite strongly that all differences between the sexes can and should be eliminated. Why must difference be bad?
posted by Justinian at 5:38 PM on June 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


I wonder if they've read The Wasp Factory.
posted by permafrost at 5:42 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well to be fair this is sort of how most people with kids try to raise them over here. In my sisters case the whole thing blew up at around 18 months when Embla started checking out tall, dark, handsome dudes. It's hard to be gender neutral when you have a girl that just loves men and Hello Kitty.

We are a bit more hopeful for the other one. He flirts with everyone
posted by uandt at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I took a gender course many years ago where the prof said something that really stuck with me. I"m paraphrasing, of course: People who insist that gender differences are natural often behave as though they're terrified they're (the differences) not natural.

So for Pop: If it's true that males due to their Y chromosome (and their male-hormone filled uterine environments etc.) love cars, aggressive stories, guns and lame action movies, and if it's true that Pop is male, then Pop will love these things. Nobody has taken away his Y chromosome and if it's so damned innate it will happen whether anyone tells him he's a boy or treats him like a boy and regardless of when he eventually figures out he's male.

If it's true that females due to their double X chromosomes and their male-hormone-deprived uterine environments love dolls and flowers and lame romantic comedies, and if it's true that Pop is female, then she will love those things regardless. Nobody has done anything to take away the second X chromosome and if it's so damned innate it will happen whehther or not anyone tells her she's a girl or treats or like a girl and regardless of when she eventually figures out she's female.

People who think gender differences are natural and based entirely on sex should have no reason to have any problem at all with this.

On the other hand, people who think it's entirely social and those of us who think it's a blend of the two are the ones who realize that they're messing up their kid terribly and that whatever one might think of the socially constructed aspects of gender, this kid will have to grow up in a world that is gendered and may be ill-equipped to do so.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2009 [35 favorites]


I do wonder if the kid is intersex... the article kind of hints at it.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2009


Unfortunately for the parents, their experiment is not going to work. Even if we leave aside the question of how innate gender it or isn't, society itself is very gendered. The child will be able to see gendered people and gendered bodies all around them, and will probably choose a "target" to adopt. They may find one set of gender norms preferable to another, or simply find having a gender socially preferable to having none. Of course, the kid could make a "wrong" choice and find themselves trans, meaning a whole heap of problems further down the line. As for the possibility of remaining genderless their whole life: the people I've known who've been this way have suffered a lot, and are like this because it's really "them", not because they like the idea of social experiments.

I think the comparison of gender to language is actually quite apt. It's an important and necessary tool we adopt early, and serves us throughout our life. Not everybody gets on with so well, and some like to learn a new language or a new gender, but to be without either is extremely difficult.
posted by Sova at 5:50 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


"http://www.metafilter.com/47410/Boys-like-trucks-girl-like-dolls-the-SSSM-takes-another-hit"

Dude, that was a bunch of specious research shoddily presented. If you think that's what a cite looks like, you need to go back to science camp to be reeducated.
posted by klangklangston at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


I'm surprised at some of the early responses - as if Pop is going to be horribly messed up from this. Some of the parents' ideas are silly (as others have pointed out, keeping Pop's gender a secret can only last so long.) But what they're actually doing sounds fine, even good to me:

Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning.

Sounds fine to me and not terribly noteworthy - I feel it's only a story because the parents are't also declining to disclose Pop's gender (which: okay, fine by me, why should not knowing the gender of a 2-year-old be so offensive?) It's basically about letting the kid be who she or he is and not making Pop wear a dress/play with trucks if he or she doesn't want to.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Being Swedish, I'm not as surprised as I wish I would be. The whole "gender is wholly a social construct" meme is the Swedish brand of lysenkoism, taught widely and early.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2009


In the annals of hippie-parent goofiness, I don't get the sense that Pop's parents are particularly danergous specimens, or that Pop will come out any more fucked-up than the rest of us were by our own well-meaning parents. Which is to say, somewhat.

All the same. I'm not a parent yet. But when I am, my offspring will be my kids first, and my experimental socio-political guinea pigs second.
posted by bicyclefish at 5:58 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I seriously hope everything turns out alright for "Pop". Hit will run into the brick wall of the schoolhouse soon enough, where atypical behaviour will be exterminated.
posted by Decimask at 6:00 PM on June 27, 2009


orthogonality: I will refer you back to the discussion in that thread for my response (as voiced by other people). But I doubt you and I will ever see eye to eye on this. While I am not a 100% social constructionist, I think that the evolutionary psychology rush to reduce everything to biology is pretty ridiculous and simplistic. There is no denying that biology has a role to play in human behavior. But, biology (and other sciences) can be and often are colored by gender-bias (cf. Londa Schiebinger, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Emily Martin, and others); the very model used by the study you cite already has pre-determined that there are 2 gender identities and that everything must fit into them. The model dictates (to some extent) the interpretation of the empirical results. Everything else is just a statistical outlier. Well, statistics aside, that leaves very little room to recognize the diversity of human nature. It automatically assumes a mindset that defines normality in a certain already socially acceptable way and then reinforces that social definition via SCIENCE!

Now, certainly, broad gender categories have developed over time, and certain social organizations of gender seem to have proven to be more "evolutionarily advantageous" than others. But this all comes down to how human-animals interacted socially in order to meet their survival needs. Biology certainly played a part in this at the very beginning of primitive human social groups -- men being generally physically stronger meant they would be in charge of certain activities, women being able to bear and nurse children meant they would be in charge of others -- but this initial biological stratification (which I would assume was never 100% cut and dried) soon ossified into a social system that forces people into a role regardless of whether or not that individual was suited to or desired to be in it. (Gerda Lerner's The Creation of Patriarchy has an interesting theory about the development of social gender categories in pre-history.) My own personal belief is that as cultures develop and become more aware of their own operations -- how they organize individuals socially and why they do so, what the results of such divisions are, etc -- these social categories can and should become much more fluid in order to recognize and tolerate a much greater diversity of human behavior.

My own response to this "experiment" by the parents is that it will be difficult, but not because it is wrong or goes against "nature," but because of potential social ostracization. But, then again, are we supposed to raise our kids so they will conform in every way to expected behavior patterns? These people are probably, in my opinion, very idealistic, and may be biting off more than they can chew -- it would be one thing if they had a boy and took him to ballet classes, but they are going up against one of the monolithic social categories. But, I think there's a way to do this that isn't perhaps as extreme.

As difference does not infer inferiority
Not necessarily, but socially it almost always ends up that way.
Cf. "Separate but equal" and "gay civil unions vs. straight marriage"

On preview: I agree with Sova in large part about the real-world difficulties of this.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:01 PM on June 27, 2009 [10 favorites]



I'm surprised at some of the early responses - as if Pop is going to be horribly messed up from this. Some of the parents' ideas are silly (as others have pointed out, keeping Pop's gender a secret can only last so long.) But what they're actually doing sounds fine, even good to me:


It's hard to say, it depends on the parents.

In my head, the stereotype of a parent who is so serious about this that they just have to let newspapers and the world know, instead of just making a private parenting decision, may also be the type not to take the hint if the kid may start to strongly prefer their actual sex to ambiguity. It would be pretty messed up to keep making the kid wear dresses (if it is a boy) if he doesn't want to.

Forcing a kid to be in between genders is just as wrong as forcing them to be one or the other. I hope they are pretty careful with that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:01 PM on June 27, 2009


Anyway, it's pretty obvious that Pop is a boy. If it were a girl, they'd have named her Imap.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:07 PM on June 27, 2009 [43 favorites]


This reminds me of my philosophy professor. She told us about a couple she knew in Germany (also philosophy professors), who, as a language experiment, decided to raise their son with no language for pain. It was their idea that, lacking language to express or understand pain, the child would essentially lack pain responses. From what my professor told us, it worked. The boy didn't cry when he fell down. Instead, he would simply report any problems that he had, in a calm manner. Evidently, at one point, he fell, and his arm went through a window, causing a piece of glass to go through his lower arm, between the two bones. He then went to his teacher, showing her the glass impaling his arm, and told her that it was probably a bad thing, and asked what should he do. The teacher's response (screaming) signalled the beginning of the end of the experiment. As the boy continued through kindergarten, his daily interactions with other children, seeing them cry when they fell down, began to give him the language to express pain, which in turn seemed to give him the awareness of pain. By the age, I think, of 7 or 8, he was completely normal when it came to understanding and expressing pain.

When my professor and her husband (also a philosophy professor) had a daughter, they attempted to replicate the experiment, and last I knew, it had worked pretty well, again, up until kindergarten.

I'm pretty sure this goes to show that philosophy professors and child rearing don't mix.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:09 PM on June 27, 2009 [29 favorites]


I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my mom won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But when I say I am I get it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:13 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


As Nature Made Him is a good book about the Reimer case. I don't see the parallel between the two. Bruce Reimer's parents, at the direction of a then-respected doctor, treated their son as a girl in all respects, desperately ignoring the growing "Brenda's" misery and insistence that he didn't want to do xxxx or dress in xxxx way or play in xxxx way.

Seems to me that the Swedish couple's efforts to avoid gender-specific treatment in effect meet Pinker's observation that child-rearing should be about "responding to each child’s needs as an individual," though I agree with others here that rudimentary socialization will give the kid a crash course in expected gender norms.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:14 PM on June 27, 2009


Name it Frank.

I was going to ask if they'd maybe buy the family a nice doggie.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:14 PM on June 27, 2009


Anyway, it's pretty obvious that Pop is a boy. If it were a girl, they'd have named her Imap.

I am ashamed that you posted this joke and I'm even more ashamed that I get it.
posted by ixohoxi at 6:15 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Lou Reed said in a film, "Blue in the Face"
That compared to New York City, Sweden was a scary place

posted by drjimmy11 at 6:20 PM on June 27, 2009


There's a great scene in the movie "Away We Go" (in theaters now! go! you'll enjoy it!) where the expecting couple run into an old family friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is a radical feminist and a member of one of these new age family philosophy groups. They practice "family bed" and the kids don't have sugar and they wont use strollers because, "Burt. Why would I want to PUSH MY CHILD AWAY FROM ME?!"

She also breastfeeds another woman's child and continues to breastfeed her own child even though he looks like he's six. It's kind of hilarious.

Anyway, I guess I'm saying lighten up a bit. People do all kinds of fucked up things to their kids. And in the grand scheme of "how to fuck up a child" this really kind of pales in comparison to some of the more traditional methods such as, say, having sex with the kid or burning it with cigarettes.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:21 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think that sex identity and gender identity are inherently different. As many people know, sex is what we are biologically and psychologically, what our primary and secondary sex characteristics are. Gender is how our society believes that a person of that gender should be. And gender is very culturally determined. At one point (16th cent), women were believed to be more sexually driven than men; a few hundred years later (certainly by the 19th), the opposite was believed. In some cultures, it's believed that marketting, selling things outside the home, is an innately male thing; in other cultures, it's seen as a primarily female thing. I'm differentiating between sex and gender thus, because it's important that we have different words for what are two different things.

Thing is, I think that there is sex identity, and gender identity. Sex identity is that thing that just tells you "I am male" or "I am female". Trans people have a sex identity that is different from their biological sex. They don't just want to wear the other gender's colours and play with the other gender's toys, they really feel that inside they are the other sex.

For my part, my psychological sex identity has never differentiated from my biological sex - I have never had that feeling of disconnect between mind and body that trans people describe. But I find that I am often uncomfortable in my society's gender identity - in other words, I'm perfectly happy being female, just not the female that they want. Of course, this isn't a big deal - it just leads to me shopping in the men's section.

I think that this experiment might affect the child's gender identity (which is culturally shaped). But it won't have any effect on their sex identity, which will be however they have been born. It will only change the behaviour of adults towards them, as the parents intended, and that's a very good thing.

And come somewhere between 4 and 7, the child will realise that social norms dictate that it be one gender or another, and insist upon following such rules (because children that age love roles and rules), but it will grow out of that phase and go back to being a happy, well-adjusted child and then adult with a very liberal idea of gender roles.
posted by jb at 6:23 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


And honestly? That whole idea that "gender is a social construct" -- I find that it's usually put forward by people who feel closer to the center of the gender spectrum and think that everyone should act the same as they do. "I'm a masculine woman / feminine man, so obviously gender is a social construct!"

And then they'll make it out to be some kind of moral thing. Like if you think that men should be allowed to act masculine or that women should be allowed to act in a traditionally feminine way, then obviously you're some kind of anti-progressive caveman.

And yet, it's these same people who are usually staunchly in favor of equal treatment for both sexes. In their mind, "treating both sexes equally" means the same thing "as treating both sexes the same." What's interesting is that their insistence on this actually undermines their own argument. By saying that women should act in a more masculine fashion, they're basically saying that there's something wrong with femininity, making femininity "less equal" to masculinity. Likewise, by saying that men should act more like women, they're degrading masculinity.

I just think that everybody's born different. I think the whole nature or nurture argument is bullshit. The answer is that human development is a combination of nature AND nurture, and people who insist that it's one way or the other are usually ideologues who have no interest in actual reality; kind of like Libertarians and Marxists. People should be able to act however they want and be treated equally regardless.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:24 PM on June 27, 2009 [9 favorites]


If Pop gets to decide how to dress, what to play with, how to do Pop's hair, then Pop will eventually show girlish or boyish tendencies, and I don't think that's what the parents object to. They want Pop to present to the world exactly the way Pop wants to be/was meant to be, and that's what is going to happen, without any preconcieved notions.

I don't see this as forcing Pop to be between genders as long as they let Pop do what Pop wants. As long as they're not saying things like, "no no Pop, you wore a dress yesterday. GI Joe t shirt today, mama's orders." And also as long as they start to give it up as Pop grows up, and go back to using gendered pronouns/language when Pop makes it clear what Pop is.
posted by amethysts at 6:27 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Pop’s mother said. “It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”



But totally kind to raise said child in such a strange and ususual way as to virtually guarantee ostracization from "it's" peers?
posted by The Gooch at 6:32 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gender is a social construct; the name for our biological differences is sex. Thus primary sex characteristics, secondary sex characteristics, etc.
posted by jb at 6:36 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


If I were that child, I would eventually beat the crap out of both of them.

I'm guessing it'll be worse. I think Pop will grow up to be the most gendered person s/he could possibly be -- a pretty princess of a clothes-horse or a lunkheaded thug, whichever will irritate the parents most.

As supposed above, I bet the mystery won't last longer than the first day of preschool, but the kid's not going to have an easy childhood of it anyway.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:38 PM on June 27, 2009


Society is a biological construct.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2009 [20 favorites]


Having read As Nature Made Him, a remarkable history of gender determinism as practiced on David Reimer--this all seems like old news.

Kids know who they are. David Reimer did, despite everything everyone around him did to convince him otherwise. As far as the OP: I disagree with the parents' notion that gender is a social construction but if they truly honor Pop and let the child guide and determine things -- what's the big deal?

Also, Four-Eyed Girl, I'd like some back-up for your claim that "some believe this secret is similar to the one David Reimer's family kept from him." Anyone even remotely familiar with Reimer's history would know better. Is this your own embellishment?
posted by dogrose at 6:46 PM on June 27, 2009


Men and women are different for a reason. To reiterate Decimask's sarcasm, this is not going to end well. Pray for the child.

Because if we've learned anything about the world as a species it's that prayer works.
posted by odinsdream at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


the expecting couple run into an old family friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is a radical feminist and a member of one of these new age family philosophy groups strawwoman caricature.

FTFY.

Although I'm somewhat kidding, as I haven't seen the movie and it looks charming, but, you know.


That whole idea that "gender is a social construct" -- I find that it's usually put forward by people who feel closer to the center of the gender spectrum and think that everyone should act the same as they do. "I'm a masculine woman / feminine man, so obviously gender is a social construct!"

Wow, another strawman-woman argument!

By saying that women should act in a more masculine fashion, they're basically saying that there's something wrong with femininity, making femininity "less equal" to masculinity. Likewise, by saying that men should act more like women, they're degrading masculinity.

Who says women should act in a more masculine fashion? I mean, except maybe Hilary Clinton. The argument that gender is a social construct is not about how everyone should act in a gender-neutral, identical way; it is about how non-normative behavior should be accepted and allowed without being labeled as freakish, immoral, wrong, unnatural, etc.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:52 PM on June 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


Oh my GOD. That kid may NEVER learn to talk, even after he gets away from his parents. The language skills required for proper sentence construction requires formative brain development early on. If his brain doesn't get mapped for language, he may become physically incapable of proper speech.

Yeah. People should be forced to take at least one workshop on child development when they become parents. There are windows of opportunity for developing things like speech and when they're gone, they're gone.

It makes me think of Genie and shudder.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:52 PM on June 27, 2009


This child is going to be fresh meat to the children in his school, if the parents even school her. I'm assuming it's female, just because.
posted by Malice at 7:00 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a child, not an experiment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


All the same. I'm not a parent yet. But when I am, my offspring will be my kids first, and my experimental socio-political guinea pigs second.

This. Having a child is not licence to practice sociological experiments on them that can have severe social consequences once the child starts to interact with others.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


If gender performance (because that's what Pop's not having dictated) is really biological in nature, then you would expect gender performance to be the same in every society- which it is not. Furthermore, if gender performance is in fact biological in nature and not socially constructed, it doesn't matter what Pop's parents do- Pop will end up with the gender performance Pop's encoded into Pop's genes.

Of course, if you know damn well that gender performance is mostly taught and you're just bothered by deviation from the gender performance that you yourself are most comfortable with, I can see how this would bother you. It might even lead you to make hyperbolic, sexist, and even transphobic remarks on a website generally known for its liberality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2009 [46 favorites]


It's a child, not an experiment.

Having a child is not licence to practice sociological experiments on them

There is no single, agreed-upon method of raising children. All parents are taking chances and risks and experimenting. That you think of a particular method of parenting as "natural" or "default" or "normal" is due to your own personal issues and not representative of reality in any way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:07 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


In their mind, "treating both sexes equally" means the same thing "as treating both sexes the same."

Yeah! It reminds me of the people who think "treating all races equally" means the same thing as "treating all races the same." White people and black people are made differently and ignoring that is deleterious to society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:08 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is no single, agreed-upon method of raising children. All parents are taking chances and risks and experimenting. That you think of a particular method of parenting as "natural" or "default" or "normal" is due to your own personal issues and not representative of reality in any way.

Uh.. wow. Nice umm... what's the word for what you just did? I'm not quite sure, but I'm relatively certain it's not a nice one.

Could you please explain to the class how this child is not in for a world of pain as soon as they start school?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty -- either you're purposefully misconstruing what I said, or I wasn't clear enough. So I'll clarify, just to be sure.

When I said this :

In their mind, "treating both sexes equally" means the same thing "as treating both sexes the same."

What I meant was that I think people are mistaken when they say that "treating both sexes equally" means the same thing as "there's no differences between men and women except for their reproductive anatomy."

There. Happy now?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:14 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah! It reminds me of the people who think "treating all races equally" means the same thing as "treating all races the same." White people and black people are made differently and ignoring that is deleterious to society.

Someone pissed in your cornflakes today? There are nontrivial biological differences between men and women, sorry to shock you but that's the way it is. (Most) women are not as suited as (most) men to be firefighters, for example, due to lower physical stamina and less overall physical strength. Does this mean we should accept any women who wish to be firefighters? Of course not. Does this mean that requirements such as 'must be able to carry Xkg for Y time' are inherently sexist? Of course not. It's a simple reflection of a simple biological difference.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]



Yeah! It reminds me of the people who think "treating all races equally" means the same thing as "treating all races the same." White people and black people are made differently and ignoring that is deleterious to society.


Right, which is why things like affirmative action for African Americans and women not registering for the draft are wrong.

No matter what the social and biological differences, we must treat everyone the same.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:16 PM on June 27, 2009


Could you please explain to the class how this child is not in for a world of pain as soon as they start school?

Do you seriously not see how dangerous this logic is?

What I meant was that I think people are mistaken when they say that "treating both sexes equally" means the same thing as "there's no differences between men and women except for their reproductive anatomy."

And I say that people are mistaken when they say that "treating all races equally" means the same thing as "there's no differences between whites and blacks except for the colour of their skin"!

(Most) women are not as suited as (most) men to be firefighters, for example, due to lower physical stamina and less overall physical strength. Does this mean we should accept any women who wish to be firefighters? Of course not. Does this mean that requirements such as 'must be able to carry Xkg for Y time' are inherently sexist? Of course not.

When you're done fighting against misogynist fantasy feminism, I'm over here.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'm teaching my 1 yearold to bark like a dog when she wants pie. TO PROVE A POINT!!
posted by nola at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Right, which is why things like affirmative action for African Americans and women not registering for the draft are wrong.

This is fascinating. Affirmative Action is an effort to repair the social damage done by the social construction of nonwhites being considered to be inferior to whites, while women being exempted from the draft is due to the social construction where women are regarded as somehow categorically unfit for combat, and yet you regard them as equivalent.

So tell me, do you believe that blacks are inferior, or that women really are unfit for combat duty specifically because they're female?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


i think this clearly would only work for maybe 2-3 years, which are 2-3 years when i think it's fine if the kid doesn't know what sex they are. versus the typical paint-the-child's-room-pink/blue version of the first 2-3 years of life, it seems like a pretty reasonable thing to try.
posted by snofoam at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gender, schmender. Instead of being known as a male or female, s/he is going to be known for being the kid with the batshit parents.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]



This is fascinating. Affirmative Action is an effort to repair the social damage done by the social construction of nonwhites being considered to be inferior to whites, while women being exempted from the draft is due to the social construction where women are regarded as somehow categorically unfit for combat, and yet you regard them as equivalent.

So tell me, do you believe that blacks are inferior, or that women really are unfit for combat duty specifically because they're female?


I believe neither. You seem believe that treating people different for social or biological reasons is wrong. If the solution is again to treat people differently that just means you only think people should be treated differently in the ways you approve of. Two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:28 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty - very good point that gender performance is not the same in all cultures.

But what is getting confused in this thread are secondary sex characteristics (which have a biological basis) and gender performance (which has a social/cultural basis). If something doesn't differentiate between cultures, it's a secondary sex characteristic; if it does, it's gender, aka social/cultural. We have both secondary sex characteristics, and gender attributes - stuff which is affected by our sex, and stuff which is affected by how our sex is gendered by our society.

We have both - we have some innate biological and psychological differences, though all of our secondary sex characteristics (height, strength, psychological effetcs) are only on a statistical scale that has no meaning at the individual level and thus should just be ignored when it comes to individuals. And we have a whole lot of gender which is just constructed socially, and which changes from culture to culture.

In a recent thread on evolutionary psychology - and the problems thereof - I was fascinated by a finding that while men in some societies preferred women with hourglass figures, men in a couple of other societies where women are more economically independent and/or responsible for food provision preferred women with thicker waist. The scholars hypothesised that what was an ideal woman was being shaped by the culture - in some cultures, indications of strength in a woman is more attractive for many men. I think this shows a shift in their perception of the ideals of that gender.
posted by jb at 7:29 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, women should be drafted. Making only men subject to the draft is misanthropist.
posted by jb at 7:30 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


That you think of a particular method of parenting as "natural" or "default" or "normal" is due to your own personal issues and not representative of reality in any way.

Look, the statement "It's a child, not an experiment" indicates that particular method of parenting is unnatural. I have no idea what you're smoking and why you're pissed off, but could you tone it back a bit? There are a ton of places on the web for people to get fighty, let's try to be better than that here, ok?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:30 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


You seem believe that treating people different for social or biological reasons is wrong.

Oh, oh, now do "If women can choose to terminate their pregnancy at any point without the consent of the father, men should be able to refuse to support the child they've fathered".
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:30 PM on June 27, 2009


Look, the statement "It's a child, not an experiment" indicates that particular method of parenting is unnatural.

You know what, you're right. People should just follow the instructions that magically appear on the kitchen table a week after conception.

There are a ton of places on the web for people to get fighty

Metafilter: Say whatever the fuck you want, no matter how batshit or offensive, and accuse anyone who calls you on it of getting "fighty".
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2009


As for the firefighter thing: I've heard about height restrictions on firefighters being challenged on sex discrimination grounds. Which is good, because if there were height restrictions, my short brother-in-law would never have been allowed to see if he could do the job despite being only about 5'5. And he wouldn't be a firefighter today (which he is).

So maybe any physical restrictions should be based on the actual activity to be performed and no preconceived ideas on what kind of body type can do that activity - for all of our sakes.
posted by jb at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, oh, now do "If women can choose to terminate their pregnancy at any point without the consent of the father, men should be able to refuse to support the child they've fathered".

I might if I believed that but I'm too busy admiring your, "Oh shit, he got me let me just rage against my perceptions of him instead of addressing the point!" maneuver.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:33 PM on June 27, 2009


When you're done fighting against misogynist fantasy feminism, I'm over here.

Who in the what now?

Dude. You're unhinged. I suggest stepping away from the keyboard for the night.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:33 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Making only men subject to the draft is misanthropist.

Actually, it's misogynist. That it puts men directly into harm's way rather than women doesn't change the nature of the underlying reasoning.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


I might if I believed that but I'm too busy admiring your, "Oh shit, he got me let me just rage against my perceptions of him instead of addressing the point!" maneuver.

Dude, you're earnestly conflating a social construction and an effort to change a social construction and repair the damage done by its prior nature. Pardon me if I doubt your seriousness.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:36 PM on June 27, 2009


So maybe any physical restrictions should be based on the actual activity to be performed and no preconceived ideas on what kind of body type can do that activity - for all of our sakes.

Oh, agreed. That was my point. Many people, however, feel that requirements such as that are sexist. The best pop-culture example was the 'gender norming' in GI Jane.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:36 PM on June 27, 2009


Oh sheesh.
posted by agregoli at 7:37 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Many people, however, feel that requirements such as that are sexist.

Yeah, like all those crazy-ass strawman feminists I've seen in movies and TV shows!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


If Pop gets to decide how to dress, what to play with, how to do Pop's hair, then Pop will eventually show girlish or boyish tendencies, and I don't think that's what the parents object to. They want Pop to present to the world exactly the way Pop wants to be/was meant to be, and that's what is going to happen, without any preconcieved notions.

But Pop is already being conditioned by his parents to be an equally constructed agendered kid, Pop had no choice in being raised without the typical guidance of gender roles and will probably be thrown by his parents' preconceptions of "progressive parenting" into an incredibly awkward childhood. Presenting gender choices made from a position of supposed neutrality is just as preconceived a notion as traditional identification with gender roles and I imagine a society brought up on the former model of gendering would develop just as elaborate and sophisticated social constructs for maturing into a gendered identity as our own, complete with its own advantages and setbacks. It doesn't make any sense to me to say that Pop gets to make a choice and Pop has no preconceptions, it is just as constrained as a genderless kid as it would be as an "over gendered" kid, the constraints are different, not absent.
posted by doobiedoo at 7:39 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Um look. I'm really not sure whether you're drunk or mad from the heat or just spoiling for a fight or whatever. My posting history here should indicate that I am absolutely one hundred percent on the side of equality in all things. By which I mean not everyone is the same, but that if you have the ability to do a given thing then your gender (race, age, sexual orientation, religion, shoe size, hair colour) doesn't matter.

For some reason you're getting all fighty about this, and it's rich that you're complaining about strawmen when you're the one fighting them. Please stop, ok? You're doing yourself no favours here.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:42 PM on June 27, 2009


(that was for Pope Guilty, not doobiedoo, who is indeed dropping the science regarding the fact that this kid's identity is just as constructed as any other.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:43 PM on June 27, 2009



Dude, you're earnestly conflating a social construction and an effort to change a social construction and repair the damage done by its prior nature.


As long as you are stating it is okay to treat people differently based on race or gender (as long as you have good motives!) I think we are on the same page.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:45 PM on June 27, 2009


Pop is 2. Which means within the next year or so, Pop is going to announce that Pop is a penguin. Or perhaps a panda. Which will prove, once and for all, that identity -- and not merely gender -- is just a social construct.
posted by grounded at 7:46 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think all bets are off once the child hits puberty. I've had marijuana, opium, mushrooms, and salvia, but nothing has made me do more dumb shit than plain ole testosterone.
posted by kersplunk at 7:46 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


You know what, you're right. People should just follow the instructions that magically appear on the kitchen table a week after conception.

Yes, that's exactly what I said.

Metafilter: Say whatever the fuck you want, no matter how batshit or offensive, and accuse anyone who calls you on it of getting "fighty".

Dude, you dropped into the thread insinuating people have issues. If you disagree with something, say so, no need cast aspersions on a person's life.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 PM on June 27, 2009


My posting history here should indicate that I am absolutely one hundred percent on the side of equality in all things.

I'm terribly sorry. When you were arguing that the child should be taught to conform to standard gender performance and giving no reason other than to keep the kids at school from picking on the kid, I should have noticed the recognition of the importance of equality in your statement. I feel just terrible about this awful misunderstanding.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:47 PM on June 27, 2009


For those who seem to be concerned that this kid's life will be a nightmare once s/he reaches preschool, could you spell out precisely what that fear is? (Dirtynumb, you said "world of pain." Do you actually expect this child to be beaten by the other 4 or 5 year old kids for playing with trucks or not wanting to play with trucks?)
posted by nobody at 7:49 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


As long as you are stating it is okay to treat people differently based on race or gender

Look, man, I'm not sure what's difficult about the difference between trying to eliminate racial discrimination and perpetuated sex discrimination, but until you can explain how both eliminating and perpetuating discrimination are morally equivalent, I'm going to keep asking for that explanation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:49 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


My favourite quote following the original article:

"Doesn't mention anything about the father which makes me believe it's a couple of Vagitarian's"

Is that someone who eats vaginas? Or am I confused?
posted by crazylegs at 7:54 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]



Look, man, I'm not sure what's difficult about the difference between trying to eliminate racial discrimination and perpetuated sex discrimination, but until you can explain how both eliminating and perpetuating discrimination are morally equivalent, I'm going to keep asking for that explanation.


You are defending the method by defending the motive.

I'm gonna back up to explain what I'm trying to say.


Yeah! It reminds me of the people who think "treating all races equally" means the same thing as "treating all races the same."


You sarcastically posted that above. My point is that in order to treat people equally you sometimes don't treat them the same as things like affirmative action demonstrate.

Just because a parent treats a son or daughter differently based on gender does not automatically mean there is inequality in treatment, you have to examine the circumstances just as you do with affirmative action.

I hope that clears things up.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:00 PM on June 27, 2009


This is interesting. Anyone here read Bitch,PhD? She calls her son "Pseudonymous Kid" and talks a lot about how she's raising him, which is mostly to say that if he wants long hair, that's okay, but some people are going to act like it's not okay or call him a girl, but that those people are being mean/ridiculous and he's just not to pay them any mind. This post, I think, is one I was thinking of.

What people are on about is that being a kid is hard enough - kids are pretty much awful - without saddling your kid intentionally with some kind of weirdity that s/he might not otherwise have to deal with. In PK's case, he's chosen to have long hair, paint his nails, buy princess toothpaste, whatever, and he knows he's a boy (has always, as far as I can tell), they just deal with gender stuff as it comes up and continue to let him choose. Which is empowering for the kid, rather than being too much like all the OTHER shit kids put on one another, ie, being made fun of for no reason you can fathom and feeling like you have to conform. I mean, given, Bitch is a biased reporter, but it seems like he's doing fine standing up for himself and making his own choices without any elaborate set up to fool him into being the way he is.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:01 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed - this needs to go to metatalk pretty much now if you can't follow the instructions under the comment box, thank you]
posted by jessamyn at 8:02 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


My point is that in order to treat people equally you sometimes don't treat them the same as things like affirmative action demonstrate.

But the example that you give- incentivization to hire racial minorities- is not an inherently and in all cases good thing. It's not a good because there is any actual innate difference between whites and nonwhites but because of the context it takes place within- a context in which employers, left to their own devices, discriminate in favor of whites when it comes to hiring. This is different from your claim of treating the sexes differently because you are claiming that the differences between the sexes are inherent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:04 PM on June 27, 2009


I'm terribly sorry. When you were arguing that the child should be taught to conform to standard gender performance and giving no reason other than to keep the kids at school from picking on the kid, I should have noticed the recognition of the importance of equality in your statement. I feel just terrible about this awful misunderstanding.

I said no such fucking thing.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:11 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is no single, agreed-upon method of raising children. All parents are taking chances and risks and experimenting. That you think of a particular method of parenting as "natural" or "default" or "normal" is due to your own personal issues and not representative of reality in any way.

This is a completely absurd statement. While there may be no single, agreed on way of parenting, there are things that known to be wrong, dangerous, detrimental to emotional and physical health and potentially deadly. For example, never holding or touching or giving individualized attention to a baby beyond feeding and changing can literally kill-- and when it doesn't, it stunts physical, emotional and cognitive growth.

Spitzer's orphanage studies in the 40's found that something like 1/3 of kids raised in a sterile orphanage like this died-- and there's a condition called "failure to thrive" in which kids don't grow which can be caused because they aren't getting their need for physical affection met and it turns off growth hormone.

Shaking a baby-- also a pretty damn terrible idea.

Physical neglect alone increases risk for all mental illnesses and also conditions like high blood pressure. Sustained physical abuse does likewise. Uncontrollable stress is simply bad for humans and if it starts early in life, it can have lifelong consequences.

Not speaking to children enough can actually lower IQ and reading ability-- studies have found that the number of words spoken to a child directly influences how many words that child knows (which makes sense) but unfortunately, there tend to be socioeconomic differences such that kids of college educated parents tend to hear twice as many words as those in households where there is little education. By preschool, the kids of college educated have twice the vocabulary-- obviously, this makes a huge difference in their ability in school.

(and yes, this is why finding out if your child is deaf early is a very good idea-- they can have language delays otherwise)

Also, self control is something that has some genetic constraints, but it also needs to be taught-- if you fail to do this, kids obviously can have trouble in school and with peers.

So, I think it's very dangerous to say you can simply go ahead and treat kids however you like and they will be fine: abuse and neglect are known to have a high potential to cause harm and it's absurd to pretend otherwise. While there's no "one true way," there are definitely known harmful parenting practices that should be avoided and when they are not avoided, kids are at risk.
posted by Maias at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2009 [10 favorites]



But the example that you give- incentivization to hire racial minorities- is not an inherently and in all cases good thing. It's not a good because there is any actual innate difference between whites and nonwhites but because of the context it takes place within- a context in which employers, left to their own devices, discriminate in favor of whites when it comes to hiring.


I agree, again I am simply pointing out that a simplistic rejection of treating people differently is wrong. Since we are agreed on that, I don't see why we are still arguing.


This is different from your claim of treating the sexes differently because you are claiming that the differences between the sexes are inherent.


In the case of something like the draft, which is the example I brought up, there are inherent differences. A random selection of women for military service will not be as combat capable as a random selection of men.

Now, of course many women are way more capable than many men and there should be no discrimination against capable female volunteers but I would stand by the draft (as currently designed, this could certainly fixed by drafting for things other than being a soldier) as an example of different treatment being the logical choice.

In both social and biological context, there is sometimes good reasons for treating people differently and doing so cannot be rejected just because it is treating people differently.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:18 PM on June 27, 2009


orange swan: Oh my GOD. That kid may NEVER learn to talk, even after he gets away from his parents. The language skills required for proper sentence construction requires formative brain development early on. If his brain doesn't get mapped for language, he may become physically incapable of proper speech."

While I do think that's fucked up, don't forget that sign language IS a language and DOES create the formative brain development. A made-up home sign language like described in that story may not meet the same needs (or would it be like a creole without the pidgin stage??), but a language need not be verbal to be developing a child's brain.
posted by librarina at 8:36 PM on June 27, 2009


Let me get this out of the way first - the parents are well-meaning, but completely wrong-headed. That being said, one of the hardest things about parenting is trying to keep cultural gender expectations out of the mix. I've struggled with the this in regards to raising a boy, specifically the expectation that boys need to be "toughened up" so that they can "go out in the world and make it on their own." The societal pressure to do this starts when the boy is at an incredibly young age - I was hearing this tripe when my son was only about 6 months old. It'd be great if we could declare a moratorium on cultural gender expectations until a child is 5.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:57 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


My nephew was raised this way, sort of...it wasn't that no one told him he was a boy, it was just that we failed to define "boy" the way the rest of society tends to. My sister avoided getting him toys that were deliberately "boy" toys, and he never seemed to mind. He had a friend when he was small who was only interested in dinky cars, and my nephew found that incredibly boring. He had shoulder-length, curly blond hair until just recently, had dress up clothes including a tiara and little plastic heels, and he was pretty much free to do as he would. No one in the family ever said something like, "stop that, that's not what boys do." Which is the point, I think. He was, and still is, a very sensitive boy who needs lots of cuddles and one-on-one time with adults. He's learning how to manage his feelings just like anyone else, and he's not being told to "buck up" or "take it like a man" or whatever. If he needs to have a cry, he can have a cry. His progress is more organic.

Now that he's 7 he's learned what boys are supposed to do, so he's increasingly conforming. He got his hair cut. He doesn't play with "girl" toys. He's got lots of friends, he's doing well in school, and never got beat up for anything. He still prefers drawing to dinky cars. I'm glad we didn't lock him in a gender box early.

So, go ahead, tell me what a terrible parent my sister is.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:57 PM on June 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Pope Guilty, I pretty much agree with you 100% on the gender-as-social-construct thing, but you should tone down the sarcasm and condescension or no one will want to talk to you about this, which is a shame because, like I said, I agree with you. But chill out, stop being a dick, and I don't care what anyone else said that you think justifies this.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:00 PM on June 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think what these parents are doing is interesting and pretty smart. People change their attitudes to children based on gender all the time in really fucking annoying ways, essentially foisting a heap of gender expectations on them. I do not believe there is any harm in choosing to sheild your child from "flowers are red, green leaves are green."

A lot of that gender stuff gets formalised from 0 -birth to pre-K, so as long as they can keep this up that long, they'll have a very interesting little kid there. Pop's interests and preferences can develop without having all those expectations foisted on him/her, which I think is pretty cool.

FWIW, my youngest sister is named Frankie. She had one of those Buster Brown bowl-shaped haircuts as a little kid because she preferred it when I cut her hair and it was often hard to tell her gender. I very clearly remember being at Riverside Park with her when she was 3 or 4. Someone asked her name and then said to her, "And do you want to be a fireman when you grow up?"

"No," she said, "I want to be a fire WOMAN!"
posted by DarlingBri at 9:03 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The kid's growing up in Sweden; s/he'll be fine.
posted by Abiezer at 9:20 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the problem. Gender is a social construct.
posted by parmanparman at 9:20 PM on June 27, 2009


I think the earlier comment about parents "experimenting" was not said in the "therefore anything goes" sense; if you have ever parented, then you learn pretty quickly that no matter how many experts you consult, a large percentage is improvisation. Feeding, clothing, changing, is simple; determining when my child was ready to potty train felt like something I needed the Delphic oracle and some animal entrails to figure out. A kid's personality dictates so much of what you can do in raising them that you can't make hard and fast rules for all of them.

Pop's parents are experimenting in an unusual way, but I would bet they're far from the first; they're just publicizing it (or allowing it to be publicized). I think many here are making way too many assumptions about the brutal gender rule enforcements of a Swedish kindergarten, though; Pop's classmates may be largely indifferent to Pop's gender presentation, at least for a year or two, and if the teachers are supportive, they may simply accept it even if they think it odd.

If Pop is loved, cared for, and happy being gender-ambiguous, then there is nothing abusive in what his/her parents are doing. If Pop is likewise free to pick a gender presentation without any negative reactions from his/her parents, likewise.

You know, children before the age of say, six, were often treated as non-sexed in many ways; little boys and little girls alike wore dresses and had their hair long as recently as the 19th century.
posted by emjaybee at 9:23 PM on June 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Differences are not inherently inferior or superior to each other.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:28 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


they're just publicizing it (or allowing it to be publicized).
That's the only bit that really sets off any alarm bells for me - smacks of trying too hard/making a point (though of course the information we have is pretty thin, so who knows what's really happening).
I've known people whose kids were brought up with no special effort to mould their gender one way or the other who have grown up fine, but the parents were just not invested in more traditional gender roles rather than engaging on some quest.
posted by Abiezer at 9:33 PM on June 27, 2009


Yes, I can see this happening in Sweden. All sorts of silly things happen in Sweden. Perhaps the parents are being somewhat silly, however, I don't see why this deserves an extra heaping of hate.

Let's cut the shit out. All those claiming huge damage to the kid as a result of this upbringing are doing themselves no favors by being unable to specify what exactly that damage is. Maias spent multiple paragraphs outlining all kinds of damage that can happen to kids, including physical abuse, and I eagerly read on (and on and on) about what particular damage would occur in this case, and all I got is the same oblique reference to "peers at school" as other posters gave.

Bullshit.

If the best you can do, is to say that "peers" will ostracize or bully the kid, you're a moron. Really. As if kids with two dads or two moms don't have problems with peers - I don't see you running in and saying "don't give gay people equal rights, because THINK OF THE CHIIIIIIIIIILRENNNNNN!!!" And this is frankly a disgusting argument. It is the same argument I heard made here in California 20 years ago, when a co-worker of mine was dating a Chinese-American - he broke up with her, because, as he said to me "think of how a bi-racial kid would be treated at school". Racists made this argument against interracial marriages. Shame on all of you who make this argument.

Kids can be cruel, yes. They will alight on any difference - if the kid is gay, or has gay parents, or is of a different race. The only take-away from that is that we need to educate kids, and parents, and frankly discipline the bullies. We should make schools safe for all students, and environment for learning, not safe for bigots and bullies to practice social enforcement of damaging stereotypes.

So, yeah, maybe the parents are in the wrong. But I've seen no arguments so far proving such. Let's have it then.
posted by VikingSword at 9:40 PM on June 27, 2009 [26 favorites]


I have thought about what the most ethical way would be to raise an inter-sexed child. The standard seems to be removing testes / penis if present, surgically creating an artificial vaginal orifice if necessary, and raising the child as female. Perhaps letting the child have whatever combination they were born with and letting them chose external and behavioral signifiers of gender on their own would be the most ethical choice? Then, how do you answer the legal forms and documents that have two checkboxes, one for male and one for female? Wouldn't there be a publicity circus if you refused to provide this arguably private information?

Pop's parents may not be in this situation, but the issues their situation raises make me wonder how I would deal with it.
posted by idiopath at 9:45 PM on June 27, 2009


And you know, while these parents may have gone overboard, I can't help but be unimpressed by all the outrage here. Let me clue you in, my fellow Americans. You could do with some gender equality right here in the good ole U.S. of A. Because when I first came here back in the 80's - to San Francisco no less - the country struck me as extremely sexist compared to Sweden. Women's roles were - and to this day still are - amazingly constricted. It was, and to a great degree still is vicious stereotyping, and frankly misogynist across the board - from the commercials on TV (the cooing idiot housewife) to the way women are treated, the whole cheerleader phenomenon, the way men talk of "bitches" in ways which are frankly shocking, but here accepted and joked about in movies, TV and out there in neighborhoods. Not to mention power - look at your politicians, and ask if that percentage of male vs female is representative. Sweden also has a ways to go, but boy, are they eons ahead of this country. So far ahead, that like I said, I was shocked when I came here. As shocked as you would be going to Morocco. Somehow you don't see this.
posted by VikingSword at 10:05 PM on June 27, 2009 [19 favorites]


Hmmmm, does this kid have a natural ability to moonwalk or "Hee hee!"?
posted by orme at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let me tell you about Sweden...
posted by chrisgregory at 10:16 PM on June 27, 2009


If only women in sitcoms could be portrayed as intelligent like the men!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:27 PM on June 27, 2009


If Pop is loved, cared for, and happy being gender-ambiguous, then there is nothing abusive in what his/her parents are doing. If Pop is likewise free to pick a gender presentation without any negative reactions from his/her parents, likewise.

You know, children before the age of say, six, were often treated as non-sexed in many ways; little boys and little girls alike wore dresses and had their hair long as recently as the 19th century.


A lot of the hue and cry is a very American hang-up, which you'd think intelligent people here would be immune to, but no. It's the "think of the chiiiildreeennn" common sense killer. As soon as "kids" are involved, people outbid each other in declarations of fealty to the welfare of kids - and the fun begins when we start defining what that welfare is exactly. Right-wing politicians use it as an artform, but lefties are hardly above being affected. The moment someone screams "THE KIDS!!!" all thought stops. What would really be good for kids, is calm examination of ideas, not hysterical screaming and attempts at browbeating with "what, you're against kids??!!".

Here it is on perfect display. Maybe the parents ideas are silly - personally, I think what they are doing is not so much harmful, as simply ineffective; a lot of effort to no result, because it will be overwhelmed by so many other factors. So the parents are foolish. OK. But child abusers as many here claim?? Bullshit. Instead of examining what the potential effect may be, we have screams about OMG CHILD! DAMAGED! Aaah how? Never mind how: CHILD!!!! OMG CHILD!!! Wake the fuck up, chumps. Calm down and discuss things rationally, without hang-ups.
posted by VikingSword at 10:29 PM on June 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I sincerely doubt Pop's fellow five year olds are gonna give him/her any grief over this - assuming they even notice anything unusual in Pop. Kids don't really start to get mean till there about eight or nine. Hell, when I was five I had a male friend who would put on a dress and run a "perfume shop" with me. When I went to his house, I pretended to be Batman to his Joker. It'll even itself out in the end.

I'm more concerned about Pop being exposed to the debate surrounding his/her parents' decision. If it's half as heated as what's going on here, kid's gonna feel it.
posted by Partario at 10:38 PM on June 27, 2009


The parents believe that gender is a social construction.

I don't know about that, but a publicity stunt is most certainly a social construct.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:44 PM on June 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


They named their child Pop?

That's it, no more verbs! So long, Hope!
posted by Talanvor at 11:22 PM on June 27, 2009


It's a simple reflection of a simple biological difference.

There's biological difference, and then there's believing that some people watch football because they're dudes and some people read Elle because they're chicks. Society and its members pressure young males and females to adopt the roles of dudes and chicks. Those who have adopted said roles feel loyalty to a system they have bought into hence are threatened by the idea that it's socially constructed. It's a part of our biology to fit into our society, that's why we're so susceptible to peer pressure when we're young. That doesn't make the role we take "natural."

Anyway, emotional pain during adolescence comes whether you are fulfilling the gender roles people expect of you or not, so I don't see how Pop could be any worse off. I, as a male, grew up in the South, yet even though I was quiet, not into sports, and instinctively kind to others, I never had problems with bullying. I expect Pop will be fine as long as Pop's parents are attentive and available.
posted by napkin at 11:25 PM on June 27, 2009


My nephew, at 18 months, was trying to get out of his buggy, fiddling with the straps and pressing all the buttons.

"Isn't he clever? He'll make a wonderful engineer" says my mum

"I think I might have made a good engineer" say I

"Yes, I expect you would have done."

But as a girl, it never got mentioned to me... Gender doesn't start with language, it starts much earlier. Maybe in the womb, maybe just with the way we treat kids from the very moment they are born, where girls are swathed in pink and surrounded by dolls.

It sounds to me like these people are perhaps a bit over the top with their gender neutrality, but I do think that offering girls and boys the same toys and getting rid of that awful pink/blue dichotomy (have you ever tried to buy baby clothes in a different colour?) can only be a good think.
posted by handee at 12:00 AM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


It sounds to me like these people are perhaps a bit over the top with their gender neutrality, but I do think that offering girls and boys the same toys and getting rid of that awful pink/blue dichotomy (have you ever tried to buy baby clothes in a different colour?) can only be a good think.

Well, of course; but you can do all that without actually playing coy hide-and-seek games with a fundamental aspect of a child's identity. I was given the choice of how to dress and what toys to play with as a little kid; it meant that I tended to wear very lacy dresses (in my favorite color, baby blue) with cowboy boots while playing football or reading Little House on the Prairie and making plans to grow up to be the world's first ballerina-scientist. It didn't require statements to the press in which my parents pretended I was a hermaphrodite, however.
posted by scody at 12:59 AM on June 28, 2009 [16 favorites]


Christopher Durang wrote a play on this subject called 'Dentity Crisis. Obviously, this bears absolutely no relevance to the real world situation, but the kid in that plat ended up pretty screwed up.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:33 AM on June 28, 2009


"Plat," of course, being another gender neutral name in Sweden.

I hate spelling things wrong.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:35 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


their two-and-a-half-year-old child

I am just about to read this long thread, so it may have already been said. That kid is going to spill the beans itself once it gets together with its peers.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:03 AM on June 28, 2009


Questions I would be curious to know the answer to:

1> What if the kid discovers, for example, that it is a biological female with some sort of nascent interest in boys, but delays selecting their gender or chooses to be a boy, because it prefers the societal role of other boys?

2> Given a situation like 1 above, how much of the choice of gender is actually based on a child's underdeveloped sense of sexuality, as opposed to the more immediately beneficial factor of how others treat them? If others treat them better as a boy or a girl -- or treat them like a boy or a girl, or oddly if they are dressed/behaving like a sex that they do not appear to be -- well, couldn't that be a way of largely letting other people's behaviors and biases make the choice for the kid? Given that, isn't it quite possible that a kid, left to decide for itself what its gender will be, might make a choice they will ultimately regret?

3> Our strongest emotional feelings are often tied to our most personal decisions... and once we make these decisions, we can oftentimes view others who don't make such a decision as foolish and/or the enemy or rival. (Republican or Democrat, Yankees or Mets, etc.) Given that Pop will choose their own gender, doesn't that potentially increase their chances of rejecting the alternative, potentially undermining the stated goal of being more sympathetic to the opposite gender?
posted by markkraft at 2:12 AM on June 28, 2009


"Pop" is the victim of a bullshit plan.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:16 AM on June 28, 2009


By the way,"transphobic"? You have got to be fucking kidding me.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:19 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This comment from the original article nicely addresses some thoughts I had about this issue.
posted by idiopath at 2:24 AM on June 28, 2009


See also...
posted by markkraft at 2:25 AM on June 28, 2009


And They Have a Plan.

Well, we know, more or less, what the parents' plan is. What we don't know is how, specifically, the parents will behave as they carry out this plan. We don't know if they'll be subtle or blatant, adaptable or dogmatic, gentle or harsh. And that might make all the difference.

Not necessarily to the gender identification process-- but to the impact of hisher parents' little Try This At Home experiment on hisher future well-being.

My guess is that the child will have a couple of rude shocks when heshe first gets to school, and then gender-identify in a right hurry. (Not having seen Sweden's fabled tolerance at firsthand, I won't apply a But It's Sweden! modifier to this estimate.) If those shocks aren't all that severe, heshe will probably be somewhat more gender-fluid than the norm; if the shocks are indeed traumatic, heshe will probably be more rigidly gendered than would be the case, and can be expected to write, in years to come, enraged axe-grinding essays about his upbringing.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:31 AM on June 28, 2009


Let me get this out of the way first - the parents are well-meaning, but completely wrong-headed. That being said, one of the hardest things about parenting is trying to keep cultural gender expectations out of the mix. I've struggled with the this in regards to raising a boy, specifically the expectation that boys need to be "toughened up" so that they can "go out in the world and make it on their own." The societal pressure to do this starts when the boy is at an incredibly young age - I was hearing this tripe when my son was only about 6 months old. It'd be great if we could declare a moratorium on cultural gender expectations until a child is 5.

As somone who would be delighted if his daughter's choices and interested aren't stunted and fucked up by insistence that she be interested in only pink purple fairy ballerina princess crap, I agree with you wholeheartedly (also, watching people assuming my friend's incredibly verbal, smart sone must be dumb with language because he's, you know, a boy...).

But while raising a kid to mitigate bad effects of poor social constructs around gender roles is a great thing, raising your kid to try and prove a frankly fruit-loopy idea (that there is no connection between biological makeup and gender) is pretty silly.

Gender is a social construct.

Call me when someone born with XY chromosomes bears a child, or when someone with XXs sires one.

I have thought about what the most ethical way would be to raise an inter-sexed child. The standard seems to be removing testes / penis if present, surgically creating an artificial vaginal orifice if necessary, and raising the child as female.

Which seems odd to me. perhaps I'm not well-enough aquainted with current medical/psych thinking on the matter, but I generally feel that radical alteration of one's genitals is something best left to adults to make decisions about, not foisted on very young children.
posted by rodgerd at 2:54 AM on June 28, 2009


rodgerd: quoting from the wikipedia page on intersexuality:
A traditional approach to the management of Intersexuality has been socially motivated surgery. However, some[72] (Alice Dreger) say that surgical treatment is socially motivated and hence ethically questionable; without evidence doctors regularly assume that intersexed persons can not have a clear identity. This is often taken further with parents of intersexed babies advised that without surgery their child will be stigmatized. Further, since almost all such surgeries are undertaken to fashion female genitalia for the child, it is more difficult for the child to present as male if they later select a male gender identity. 20% to 30% of surgical cases result in a loss of sexual sensation (Newman 1991, 1992).
posted by idiopath at 3:24 AM on June 28, 2009


Further on this topic, it is troubling that they would think babies need surgery to have a clearer gender identity. I think this relates to some of the same issues that may have motivated Pop's parents. It clearly is not for the child's sake that an infant would need a clear and unambiguous gender identity. The child will figure out what and who it thinks it is on its own, as it comes to understand its sexuality and how to best express it.

Maybe the primary worry of trauma here is not for the child, but for the adults of the community that are so hung up about gender that they find the idea of an infant or toddler of ambiguous or unknown gender to be deeply troubling.
posted by idiopath at 3:34 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ultimately, it seems to me that this might be a fairly viable way of raising a kid who was born intersexed, in order to let them choose their sexual identity... but I don't think it's likely to be helpful for the great majority of kids out there.
posted by markkraft at 4:13 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wake the fuck up, chumps. Calm down and discuss things rationally, without hang-ups.

Can't calm down and discuss things rationally, I'm sleeping and a chump.

It didn't require statements to the press in which my parents pretended I was a hermaphrodite, however.

Scody sums it nicely. It's laudable that the parents are trying to downplay negative aspects of gender and create an environment where the child is free develop along more non traditional paths. The game of hide and seek about its sex is the odd part because the kid is already getting cues from society at large. Far better, IMO, would be to say and demonstrate "You're an X, yeah, but that doesn't mean you have to this, this and this."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:15 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think many of the comments here are basically:

"People who are not clearly male and not clearly female make me uncomfortable and get teased and shunned. Children should not be taught to act/dress/talk in such a way because they will be teased and shunned. Deliberately setting your child up for teasing and shunning is child abuse."

So the question becomes; why do people who are not clearly male or female generally incite such a harsh response; both from adults and from other kids?
posted by dave99 at 4:29 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, Four-Eyed Girl, I'd like some back-up for your claim that "some believe this secret is similar to the one David Reimer's family kept from him." Anyone even remotely familiar with Reimer's history would know better. Is this your own embellishment?
posted by dogrose at 9:46 PM on June 27


I am extremely familiar with David Reimer and his history. In fact, I teach it to many of my classes. I added it to the OP because the article mentions that Anna Nordenström and Susan Pinker compare Pop's situation to David Reimer's. I did not say that I believe the cases are similar (because I don't); I mentioned that some people do, as stated in the article.
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 5:20 AM on June 28, 2009


In the case of something like the draft, which is the example I brought up, there are inherent differences. A random selection of women for military service will not be as combat capable as a random selection of men.

So speaks someone who does not understand the modern military - or, indeed, the post c1500 military. Fighting is not about simple strength, nor has it been since the days of single combat. Fighting is now about brains and discipline - as the many women of both small and large stature in our current forces show.* Would you like to rethink your example before you imply that women do not have brains or discipline?

*My aunt served - 5'2," and a 100 pounds soaking wet.
posted by jb at 5:51 AM on June 28, 2009


PS - She was medically fit, and I - at 5'6" and able to carry a 60lb pack - am not. (Damn myopia).
posted by jb at 5:52 AM on June 28, 2009


People trying to raise their kid to seem genderless (or to be one gender or another) are setting themselves up. You have less explicit power to make your kid do anything than you think. And kids will model themselves on you in ways you can't control. Really, people ought to just notice their kids--they'll be surprised to find out what they observe.

My kid wore shocking pink outfits and liked My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite because that's what she liked. She was a hulking NCAA athlete in college, captain of her team, and shaved her head because that's what she liked. She's getting a Ph.D. because that's what she likes. She's a self-identified lesbian who dates sensitive guys. And she tells me that trying to identify and isolate the cultural or innate aspects of gender is like taking the egg out of a cake.

Did we make her be that way? Not deliberately. But her models for gender and career are a femme, nurturing father and a butch-looking, athletic mother with a Ph.D. I think that Swedish couple had better pay close attention to their own darn gender, frankly.

Oh, and people who are afraid of what the kids will have to go through? The kid may have to go through some pretty awful times, but you don't have much control over why, just how they go through it.
posted by Peach at 5:58 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


A friend of a friend was doing this with his child. It was the hot topic at a baby shower. The child had been born at home, of course, and the parents were refusing to file a birth certificate. Various acquaintances had called with the standard "is it a boy or girl" question, and he got quite huffy with them for daring to care about gender.

The older child is also being brought up with almost no reference to gender. Very long blond hair, which is just like my friend's son's hair, and clothes that I think are mostly homemade-lots of tunics and pants. I'm sure neither of the kids are on track to go to the local public school, but I'll be interested to see them through the years and see if they're happy.

I really don't buy into the idea that they'll be teased mercilessly. The family is already part of a social circle that is very liberal and progressive, so they have lots of friends who aren't hostile to their plan, even if they occasionally find it silly or extreme. How things will progress when the child is 20 is still a big question, and I sometime picture the child becoming a banker to spite the father-as I suspect a lot of the father's motivations are a reaction to his own father issues.
posted by saffry at 6:18 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


It amazes me how many people made the comment "wait till Pop meets other children at school" like all social groups for children are straight out of Lord of the Flies. I am very fortunate that my children's social groups are very accepting through hard work from the school and parents. Two days ago there was a talent show at my eldest daughter's school where mishaps included one girl repeatedly flashing her underwear by accident and another child bursting into tears and running off stage. The children have not teased either child and are equally supportive of their playmates with physical and developmental challenges as well as children that exhibit non-normative gendered behaviour.

Somehow I think schools in Sweden are more on the accepting side of the spectrum instead of the bullies so many seem in this thtread to have experienced as children.
posted by saucysault at 6:37 AM on June 28, 2009


Or bullying is more apparent to the participants than to the adults, which is my experience as a middle school teacher. It doesn't happen where adults can see it.
posted by Peach at 6:41 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


That is true Peach (I also worked in elementary school for a decade and I am aware of the subtle social cues of children), except in the specific cases I am talking about the children themselves report there is no bullying/teasing. I myself, odd child that I was, never experienced bullying until I went to a summer camp at twelve for wealthy girls. THAT was an eyeopener.
posted by saucysault at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2009



By the way,"transphobic"? You have got to be fucking kidding me.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:19 AM on June 28 [+] [!]


See, no, I don't think anyone was joking.
posted by liketitanic at 7:38 AM on June 28, 2009


I remember being surprised when my daughter (I am guessing she was about 4) and I had this conversation about our adult acquaintances:

"Does Jeff have a penis?"
"Yes."
"Does Frank have a penis?"
"Yes."
Does Amy have a penis?"
"No."
etc.

In retrospect, I could have learned a lot by asking her what she thought and why, but I was a little flustered by the smirks I was getting from the other people in the grocery store.
posted by Killick at 7:47 AM on June 28, 2009


We don’t actually have to provide “citations,” as this is not a refereed scientific paper. You can easily read books by Pinker, Gurian, and other psychologists, who summarize research by neuroscientists and others.

It really is not our problem if you actually believe in-utero and post-birth male and female brains are exactly the same. I doubt you believe the same thing about genitalia and hormones.
posted by joeclark at 8:08 AM on June 28, 2009


except in the specific cases I am talking about the children themselves report there is no bullying/teasing.

I wasn't bullied excessively (well, any bullying is excessive, but it wasn't Lord of the Flies for me), but if asked I would have denied that there was any bullying going on. The bullying was bad, but embarrassing and ineffective parental "intervention" would have been much worse. Friends of mine who were bullied mercilessly, both physically and mentally, never told their parents or teachers, either, and would go along with public "see, we're all buddies here!" shams with the bullies to cover up the bullying.

So I wouldn't trust the self-reporting of those kids any more than I'd trust Cheney about the legality of torture. Hopefully you are correct and that school is largely free of bullying; I'm just saying that it can be extraordinarily hard to be sure of that from the outside, because of how bullies and victims collude to maintain the silence.
posted by Forktine at 8:48 AM on June 28, 2009


Is there a comparison between Pop and Reimer? One is being raised with no sex role stereotypes - the other was a boy raised as a girl...not sure I draw the connection entirely.
posted by Chuffy at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2009


I hate when people do this, but I am going to. I haven't read the entire thread, gave up about half way, but wanted to address the "omg kindergaarten! lord of teh fliez!" remarks.

There's a bloody good chance this kids parents are doing to send said kid to a "free school" (as opposed to a state school). Free schools can be anything from a football-focused school to a religious school or whatever. In this case I would imagine a hippy-dippy Waldorf school. I have opinions on these kinda schools but I won't get into that here. In this case they will most likely have the full support of the educators and other kids parents.

Even if the kid ends up in a regular pre-school, there's a good chance that the teachers would try to go along with the parents wishes on this, and most kids wouldn't really give a shit for quite a while as long as noone makes a big deal of it. My guess would be that some of them will think of Pop as a boy, and some as a girl. Pretty much all preschools here are have a policy on gender roles and work actively with them. Sure, bloody hippy parents, but I am more outraged by the parents who won't give their kids black crayons or have mp3 players (on principle).
posted by Iteki at 8:57 AM on June 28, 2009


Hahahaha. In like, five minutes that kid is going to reach the stage where he or she shouts "I HAVE A [genitalia]!" at the top of his her her lungs in public, and the jig'll be up.
posted by padraigin at 9:32 AM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


If they really love the kid, they'd have called it 'The Joshua Tree'. Also, this will be over with the first punch in the nuts.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


This whole situation makes a lot more sense if you know the story about Pop's 2 older siblings, Snap and Crackle, and their horribly botched sex reassignment surgeries.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:02 AM on June 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


This whole situation makes a lot more sense if you know the story about Pop's 2 older siblings, Snap and Crackle, and their horribly botched sex reassignment surgeries.

You know, I'm really embarrassed at what a yahoo Metafilter has turned me into.

Metafilter: I'm really embarrassed at what a yahoo it's turned me into.

Oh my god, I can't stop!

Metafilter: Oh my god, I can't stop!

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:08 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


"People who are not clearly male and not clearly female make me uncomfortable and get teased and shunned."

Yeah um no? That's not what's being said here anywhere, particularly the first part.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:31 AM on June 28, 2009


VikingSword asked for proof of harm.

Here's where Maias's point comes in, which I think has been misunderstood as saying merely "you can't do whatever you want to children."

When orphanages instituted sterility practices, they were attempting to combat a very real danger: without vaccines and antibiotics, diseases would rage through the wards, killing children -- diptheria in particular, at that time. So caregivers were told not only to wash hands frequently, but not to touch the babies unless absolutely necessary. They were, after all, even more susceptible to these terrible diseases than the older children.

They didn't know this would result in 33% death rates from failure to thrive.

If you were someone familiar with child-rearing, before anyone had studied the effects of a sterile orphanage, you would say something that would come off as very naive and uninformed to the doctors who instituted these practices. Something like, "Not hold the babies? Not kiss them? That's terrible! Babies need to be held and kissed!" And in answer to the question of why, all you'd have is, "Well, that's what you do with a baby. It's what everyone does."

I think that's why there's a prima facie prejudice against experimentation and single-minded pursuit of certain goals in child-rearing. You're afraid someone with a very laudable goal in mind will miss the forest for the trees. Certainly families that are very into gender-determined identity -- probably the majority of families I, like VikingSword, see -- regularly deprive their children of their preferences and interests, in what I think is a cruel way.

The fact that Pop's parents are talking to the press about it makes me wonder whether they really are just letting Pop make his/her own choices, and would be perfectly happy to have a lace-and-dolls-loving girl or a truck-and-ball-loving boy, or if they have a very specific image in mind for their child, made up of only gender-neutral behavior and preferences.

I guess, in the end, I don't really care what these parents are telling other people. (I do wish they'd say nothing to the press and ask that the press not write about their child.) I hope they're answering their child's questions honestly and informing him/her about his/her anatomy and about the world around him/her.
posted by palliser at 10:53 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know, I know, every social and cultural revolution starts somewhere. I agree. That's why you get to join up as adults, rather than draft your kids into it. As someone who has one of Those names (easily mistaken for something else, like "Marion"), whose parents decided that long hair would be "cute" on me and left much blue out of my clothing, it isn't a real treat first entering school.

Parents, whatever problems you have with society, your children were hopefully not created to be the front line warriors in whatever cultural battle in which you're currently engaged.
posted by adipocere at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2009


Isn't Sweden one of those countries that has a "ministry of baby names" (like Denmark)?

If the government regulates baby names based on gender --and if they forbid names such as Apple or Pop-- then it would make sense for the couple to keep the child's gender a secret in order to be able to carry on with the potentially unacceptable name.

it still doesn't mean they have they're off the hook for making their kid's life a public spectacle.

someone mentioned upthread that there is a whole group of people who equate difference with inferiority (like someone said upthread) and that it seems more prevalent among people who call themselves feminists than those who do not. i completely agree. there's something creepy about people who claim to be fighting for equality by saying that i have to somehow reject my blackness, my puertoricanness and everything else that makes me different in order to be equal to them.

i certainly agree that children ought not be treated like sociological experiments. you can still choose a gender neutral name, let your kid dress up with girl and boys clothes, play with all kinds of toys, have the longest or shortest of hair and call it a day.

should we consider Pop's parents child abusers? i wouldn't but i would absolutely call them attention whores.

to publicize this kind of shit is really a breach of the child's privacy. people forget that with the internet, you are opening yourself and your loved ones to worldwide scrutiny and even ridicule. it's why i rarely blog about my kids. i have only done so in contexts where i havent revealed too much about them when they were younger. now that they're 9 and 12, i only blog (and that includes flickring, twittering and quiking), with their permission.

if they really wanted to prove a point by raising a child in an "ungendered" and child-led household, they would shut the fuck down and respect their child's privacy until he or she could consent to being put on the limelight like that.

To whomever mentioned Bitch PhD: she calls her son Pseudonymous Kid for the same reason I talk about Thing 1 and Thing 2 rarely: privacy. we've had stalkers. and am pretty traceable given i dont use a pseudonym for myself and publish two pretty high profile blogs; one about NYC and NYS politics.
posted by liza at 11:31 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty, I wanna buy you a cookie. Thank you, a million times over.

This thread is a little embarrassing, though admittedly the most cringe-worthy responses were from people I already knew (from intersex AskMe posts, no less!) possess conservative, maybe even bigoted ideas about gender performance.
posted by ifjuly at 11:46 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


to publicize this kind of shit is really a breach of the child's privacy.

You mean how they breached the child's privacy by not publishing either of their norms or the kid's real name?
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2009


I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like these parents are just offering up all the options without pushing this, that, or the other thing. Pop has dresses and Pop has pants. I'm going to guess that Pop has dollies and Pop has trucks. Nothing in the article leads me to believe that Pop's parents are pushing Pop to not play with dollies or not wear pants or not do anything else. Rather, it seems like Pop is being presented with a variety of gendered and non-gendered options so that Pop can make Pop's own decisions.

Is there really something wrong with this? Pop's parents seeking out publicity is another matter, but the basic ideals they're abiding by feel all right. I would have been happy if people had bought us fewer gendered clothes for our infant. I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of pink laundry...

(Also, POP!)
posted by Never teh Bride at 12:15 PM on June 28, 2009


What strikes me about this is that unless they have rehearsed for a very long time, slipping a "he" or a "she" or their Swedish equivalents in by mistake is bound to happen, not to mention that unless they are keeping the kid clear of all storybooks, television, radio, internet, etc.-- the concept is going to come up often.

If they are keeping the child away from all media including books and away from all people who might slip (which seems to me to be the vast majority of the world), this is deeply problematic for reasons having nothing to do with gender and everything to do with control and isolation.
posted by Maias at 12:15 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, are they keeping the child's sex a secret from the child? I guess it wasn't clear from the article -- it said that Pop knows there are physical differences between boys and girls, and that the secret will be revealed when "Pop is ready," but I guess if they don't want Pop telling people, they can't tell Pop. Huh. Keeping it a secret from the child really would strike me as oogy. Withholding age-appropriate sex education -- for a 2-year-old, basically naming what's down there -- is something I don't like.

I dunno, is my 2-year-old the only one interested in his own penis and why daddy has one and I don't? Because I'd have to engage in some shady business trying to keep him from knowing that.
posted by palliser at 12:39 PM on June 28, 2009


their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

So, social constructions are bad things? How about the social construction where I don't run pedestrians down in my car even though it's bigger and faster? How about the social construction where the greater society provides money for educating children not their own? How about I don't walk into your house or dig up your yard, even though private property is also a social construction.

For pity's sake.
posted by nax at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2009


By the way,"transphobic"? You have got to be fucking kidding me.

If it's your first encouter with the term, you may want to read the wikipedia article on Brandon Teena. Born biologically female and living as a man, Teena was sexually assaulted by acquantiances and later killed when his status was divulged.

During a Christmas Eve party, Nissen and Lotter grabbed Brandon and forced him to remove his pants, proving to Tisdel that Brandon was not biologically male. Tisdel looked only when they forced her to, and said nothing. Lotter and Nissen then attacked Brandon, and forced him into a car. They drove to an area by a meat-packing plant and beat and raped him. They then returned to Nissen's home.

Brandon escaped from Nissen's bathroom by climbing out the window and went to Tisdel's house. He was convinced to file a police report, though Nissen and Lotter had warned Brandon to remain silent. The police did not charge anybody due to 'lack of evidence.'

Brandon also went to the emergency room where a standard rape kit was assembled, but later lost. The sheriff at the time, Charles B. Laux, asked Brandon questions about the rape. Reportedly, he seemed especially interested in Brandon’s transsexuality, to the point that Brandon found his questions rude and unnecessary, and refused to answer. Nissen and Lotter learned of the report, and they began to search for Brandon. They did not find him, but three days later the police questioned them. The sheriff declined to have them arrested.

The two men left for Lambert’s house and broke in. They found Lambert in bed and demanded to know where Brandon was. Lambert refused to tell them. Nissen searched and found Brandon under the bed. The men asked Lambert if there was anyone else in the house, and she replied that Phillip DeVine was staying with her. They shot and killed DeVine, Lambert, and Brandon, in front of Lambert's young child. Nissen and Lotter then left, but were quickly arrested and charged with murder.


Brandon Teena's life and death are the subject of the award winning 1999 film, Boy's Don't Cry.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm just curious how keeping the kid's sex a secret is supposed to stop him/her from observing the heavily gendered world around him/her and thus receiving the culture of gender.

That combined with the fact that this has become a news story is what makes me snort in disgust with the parents, not their somewhat heavy-handed attempts to subvert culture. I think a lot of the examples from this thread (kids raised allowed to do what they liked without judgment while not being 'shielded' from the way the world works) are a much healthier, less ideologically-driven, and overall less eye-rolling way to approach the admittedly thorny problem.
posted by Scattercat at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2009


Do we all realize that both the parents and the child are anonymous at this point? Many comments here are criticizing the parents for seeking out attention or talking to the media, as if you were not aware of this.
posted by idiopath at 4:31 PM on June 28, 2009


"Gender is a social construct.

Call me when someone born with XY chromosomes bears a child, or when someone with XXs sires one."

rodgerd - review jbs posts in this thread for quick lesson on why we have two words, sex and gender, and why we need them both - they don't mean the same thing.

Probably going to be half of ol' Pop's schoolyard issues. "No no no, I do know my sex, I'm just not going to associate that with a gender!"
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:59 PM on June 28, 2009


Call me when someone born with XY chromosomes bears a child, or when someone with XXs sires one.

That's about as dumb as the creationist arguments that say, "Oh, evolution is real? Well, show me a monkey that gives birth to a person!"
Gender =! Sex.

So, social constructions are bad things?

No, social constructions are not, in and of themselves, bad things. Social constructions are necessary for any sort of human interaction and communication. They can become bad things when they are used to enforce inequality between individuals with little to no discernible benefit. And despite what all the essentialists in this thread have been saying -- "Difference doesn't mean inferiority! Men and women are different!" -- social constructions that divide humans into different groups almost always leads to hierarchy. Gender equality does not exist in our world on any large scale, precisely because the difference enforced by the social construction of gender is used to maintain gender hierarchies, even if they are subtle and largely invisible (to some).
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:48 PM on June 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, I think that many people here are misunderstanding the fundamental purpose of this "experiment." They aren't raising the kid strictly gender-neutral by dressing in a unisex Starfleet onesie, and they aren't hoping it'll grow up to be one of those performers with a ball-gown on the left side and a tux on the right and half a mustache. They are simply raising the kid so that it will be free to choose its path as fully as possible. Of course it will gender identify at some point, and I'm sure the parents expect that. But they aren't telling him that he can't play with Barbie's because that's what girls do or telling her than she can't play football because that's what boys do. If he wants to wear pink or she wants to cut her hair short, go ahead. It will probably start to fall into more stereotypical gender behaviors, but if he grows up liking ballet or she grows up wanting to be a soldier, the parents are probably hoping 1) that he/she won't feel like a freak or embarrassed about their "weird" gender differences, and 2) that he/she will be able to be confident in his/herself and better able to deal with any mockery he/she may face, whether on their non-gender-normative behaviors or on anything else.
posted by Saxon Kane at 6:33 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


If we knew that this child was phenotypically and/or genotypically intersex, would we be having this discussion? If I had a child whose biological sex was not apparent at birth, I would probably raise that child in as gender-neutral a manner as possible, and let them make their own decision about how to identify their gender.

This could be the case here. If the parents are using their child as an experiment, I think that's crappy parenting, but if they are trying to provide an open environment for an intersexed child, I think it's at worst a failed attempt to do something more helpful than most parents manage for their intersexed children.

And if they're trying to provide an open environment for a child whose biological/phenotypical/genotypical sex is apparent to them and the child's doctors, they might be wrongheaded. Or they might not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:57 PM on June 28, 2009


As somebody who long believed that gender(in children especially) is almost entirely a social construct, I was a little dismayed to see my otherwise intelligent & progressive sister & brother-in-law apparently not doing enough to encourage my nephew to develop his 'feminine' side.

So there he is, playing with toy trucks, and I'm trying to get him to speculate on what mommy bear might be saying to daddy bear in some picture book - you know, all that relationshippy dialogue & roleplaying stuff that the little girls seem to like so much.

He wasn't very impressed by the new turn that play was taking:

"WOOOO! THE TRUCK CRASHES INTO THE HOUSE & KILLS EVERYBODY!! HERE COMES THE AMBULANCE!!! BUT THE SOLDIERS GOT THERE FIRST & KILLED ALL THE AMBULANCE MEN!!!! THEN THE AMBULANCE EXPLODES!!!!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:33 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, gee, UbuRoivas, my son nurses his stuffed dog by lifting his shirt and mashing its face against his chest. It sure is fun swapping anecdotes with you!
posted by palliser at 8:23 PM on June 28, 2009


And I was the one in the family who hit people as a child, and played whack-a-mole with vindictive relish. I also used to set small fires, and was excellent at math. However, I have borne a child, so that must make me feminine according to at least one post.
posted by Peach at 8:31 PM on June 28, 2009


Yes, that was only an anecdote, and not meant to be illustrative of anything broader. I can certainly remember playing at giving birth to Barbie dolls when I was a kid; must've been when mum was pregnant or had just given birth.

Only, I thought at the time that babies came out of their mothers' arses when they went to the toilet. I can't remember for sure whether I dropped the Barbie right into the toilet water, but none of us died of dysentery or anything, so it must've been relatively hygienic.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:43 PM on June 28, 2009


I am disgusted by people comparing this kid to David Reimer. Putting aside the question of whether what his parents are doing is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, Reimer's parents took a baby and CUT OFF what was left of his gentalia and told him he was a girl. Reimer's case has nothing to do with heteronormative gender roles but rather with gender identity.

I think that's the main problem with Pop's parents; just because the kid doesn't need to fit into either gender role doesn't mean he shouldn't have a gender identity - the two are seperate.

I'm just going to raise my kids to know they can do or be anything and what they have between their legs doesn't make them smarter or prettier or daintier or stronger than anyone else.
posted by alona at 2:52 AM on June 29, 2009


Maias: So, I think it's very dangerous to say you can simply go ahead and treat kids however you like and they will be fine: abuse and neglect are known to have a high potential to cause harm and it's absurd to pretend otherwise. While there's no "one true way," there are definitely known harmful parenting practices that should be avoided and when they are not avoided, kids are at risk.

Certainly, so far no one has presented a good argument that giving a 2-year-old toddler plenty of choice in toys and clothing is abusive. Teddy Roosevelt likely wore a dress for the first five years of his life. The argument that Pop's parents are obviously bad for shielding a toddler from the most obnoxious forms of gender role stereotyping until Pop can make decisions about gender identity and expression (which we certainly do in early childhood) doesn't really make sense.

Let me repeat that for emphasis, Teddy Roosevelt, a figure today often admired as one of the most macho presidents in history, likely were pink and a dress as a toddler in the Victorian era.

Maias: If they are keeping the child away from all media including books and away from all people who might slip (which seems to me to be the vast majority of the world), this is deeply problematic for reasons having nothing to do with gender and everything to do with control and isolation.

I see no evidence that they are keeping the kid isolated away from the outside world, and the fact that Pop's clothes cover the range of gender expression suggests otherwise.

markkraft: 1> What if the kid discovers, for example, that it is a biological female with some sort of nascent interest in boys, but delays selecting their gender or chooses to be a boy, because it prefers the societal role of other boys?

Why is that a problem?

Or to put it another way. Zucker and Green spent (and took) millions of dollars "treating" gender variant children by coercing them into gender roles that conformed to their biological sex. Not only have they failed to make the case that such coercion is effective at preventing adult transsexuality, because few gender-variant kids ever identify as transsexual adults, but their treatments were associated with a number of negative mental health outcomes.

markkraft 2> ... Given that, isn't it quite possible that a kid, left to decide for itself what its gender will be, might make a choice they will ultimately regret?

Well, it's a chicken and egg problem. But ultimately, there currently appears to be far more evidence of harm associated with trying to coerce a child's gender identity and expression rather than letting them decide on their own. Especially if both transgender activists and advocates of a gendered human nature are both right, children have their own gendered sense of self.

markkraft: 3> Our strongest emotional feelings are often tied to our most personal decisions... and once we make these decisions, we can oftentimes view others who don't make such a decision as foolish and/or the enemy or rival. (Republican or Democrat, Yankees or Mets, etc.) Given that Pop will choose their own gender, doesn't that potentially increase their chances of rejecting the alternative, potentially undermining the stated goal of being more sympathetic to the opposite gender?

I don't know. Assuming that you are cisgendered, do you hate the opposite sex?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


markkraft: 1> What if the kid discovers, for example, that it is a biological female with some sort of nascent interest in boys, but delays selecting their gender or chooses to be a boy, because it prefers the societal role of other boys?

I'm going to repeat what I said two posts up: Gender identity is not made up solely of gender roles and it doesn't have to include gender roles at all.
Do you think people with a gender identity different than the sex they were born chose their gender identity because of the roles it comes with in our society?
posted by alona at 10:30 AM on June 29, 2009


The original article in translation provides a different picture. Pop and the extended family know, but the parents don't let strangers impose their own stereotypes. The rest of the world will know when Pop decides to tell them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:39 PM on June 29, 2009


Let me repeat that for emphasis, Teddy Roosevelt, a figure today often admired as one of the most macho presidents in history, likely were pink and a dress as a toddler in the Victorian era.

Well, sure... because it wasn't uncommon for young boys to wear their older sisters' hand-me-downs back then. (Interestingly, as far as I know it didn't go the other way -- young girls did not commonly wear their older brothers' hand-me-downs.) But again, no one was actually hiding TR's gender either way.
posted by scody at 12:44 PM on June 29, 2009


"I just wanted to share my Pop Secret with you."
posted by Pollomacho at 12:45 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing with a truck while wearing a pink princess dress. However, I always found, as a child, that it was infinitely more gratifying to wear a pink princess dress to command an army.
posted by thivaia at 12:54 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this is pretty neat. My childhood, while hardly free of that weird gender essentialist thing people seem to want to force on kids, was free enough that I was never discouraged from following my interests even when they might not have been considered appropriate to my apparent sex by stricter parents. I'm glad this child and many others are getting the chance to plough their own way, at least until they get to the age where the YOU ARE A BOY and YOU ARE A GIRL sledgehammers start being wielded at them by complete strangers.

brb, replacing account with macro that favourites pope guilty comments
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:02 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pollomacho, the mere fact that you refer to sexual relations as 'Pop Pop' tells me that you're not ready.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


My childhood, while hardly free of that weird gender essentialist thing people seem to want to force on kids, was free enough that I was never discouraged from following my interests even when they might not have been considered appropriate to my apparent sex by stricter parents.

Bingo. Me too. I had Lego and Transformers and frequently stole Barbies from my sisters (no idea why I never asked for my own). I wore shorts in the summer and shirts with hearts on them. It was pretty much anything goes and nobody ever said to me "boys don't do that."

It's the all-encompassing attitude and the media involvement that is the issue. There's a huge difference between letting your kid explore and making an experiment out of it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:47 PM on June 29, 2009


I'm a little suspicious of the media involvement, sure, but I don't see this as an "experiment" they're performing on hir. Apart from anything else, the impression of gender a child receives from hir immediate family is a fraction of the gender influence a child is exposed to, and this fraction gets smaller and less significant the older the child gets. They're providing an environment where Pop controls the rules; outside the home the rules are not up for discussion and are so all-pervasive that many people seem to believe they're totally natural, and certainly not up for discussion or debate.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:11 AM on June 30, 2009


To risk becoming a broken record, the media is talking about the issue but is not involved, both the parents and the child are anonymous.
posted by idiopath at 2:00 AM on June 30, 2009


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