A Swedish couple are making headlines in their native Sweden for the simple reason that they refuse to divulge the gender of their two-year-old child, even to the child. Since they also will not divulge the child’s name for obvious reasons, we will refer to the toddler as Pat.
This sounds like classic shades of Pat on Saturday Night Live (SNL). Pat was a twenty something on the show who also appeared to be genderless, and everyone’s frequent attempts to guess his/her gender was the premise of countless jokes. The question is will the real life Pat suffer through similar situations in the real world?
Pat’s parents, who are both 24, decided at birth not to tell anyone but those who have changed Pat’s diapers what Pat’s gender is. If anyone asks, they reply that they do not disclose that information. Now that could certainly lead to some interesting conversations, and one would think that more than one person may feel a bit insulted when confronted with such a generic response.
The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet interviewed Pat’s parents in March, and they stated then that their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.
“We want (Pat) to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mold from the outset,” said Pat’s mother. “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”
They also said as long as they are able to keep Pat’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how a male of female should be treated.
If Pat’s mom and pop think being labeled as male or female is cruel to a child, just wait until Pat’s playmates weigh in on the issue when they realize that Pat appears to be neither girl nor boy. Does anyone else remember how cruel children can be? Pat may be on the receiving end of some very cruel remarks because of the parents’ insistence on this gender neutral stance.
As far as clothes, Pat wears both dresses and pants and has frequent changes of hairstyle, but Pat is the one who decides what to wear each day. Won’t that alone confuse the child, especially if Pat is a boy and being taught that it is okay for boys to wear dresses and skirts?
Said Pat’s mom, “I believe that the self-confidence and personality that Pat has shaped will remain for a lifetime.” But who says that will be a good thing if the child is confused about gender?
Susan Pinker, a psychologist and newspaper columnist from Toronto, Canada, who wrote the The Sexual Paradox, which is a book focusing on sex differences in the workplace, remarked about this Swedish social experiment, “Ignoring children’s natures simply doesn’t work.”
“Child-rearing should not be about providing an opportunity to prove an ideological point, but about responding to each child’s needs as an individual,” said Pinker.
“It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to keep this a secret for long. Children are curious about their own identity, and are likely to gravitate towards others of the same sex during free play time in early childhood,” Pinker said.
According to Pinker males and females differ in many ways from birth. And even if the parents keep the child’s gender a secret, hormones developed in the second trimester of pregnancy already alter the way the child will feel and behave.
And said Pinker, male children relate aggressive stories 87 per cent of the time, but female children do so only 17 per cent of the time. But to be fair to the parents here, one would have to assume that those children know whether they are male or female. Pat does not know.
But isn’t the important question with this issue, does one really want to experiment on one’s own children with something as important as gender identity?
“Swedish parents keep 2-year-old’s gender secret.” The Local, Sweden’s News in English. 23 Jun 2009. 28 Jun 2009. http://www.thelocal.se/20232/20090623/