Experts on why gender-neutral parenting can be difficult

Raising children without preconceived gender biases can be a challenge, experts admit   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStock

From using inclusive pronouns to refer to their children, to encouraging daughters to disregard statements such as “sports are for boys”, gender-free or gender-neutral parents cover a wide spectrum.

But, as author Natasha Badhwar points out, the task can be a difficult one. “Young parents understand it at an intellectual level, but our cultural and social biases continue to overwhelm our efforts,” she says.

Even the most well-intentioned of us sometimes use gendered stereotypes. As psychologist and author Tanu Shree Singh points out, “When a parent is talking to a boy, they might say, ‘when you get a girlfriend…’ That’s an assumption that we make.”

And even if we have checked our prejudice, it does not get much easier. “Cross-gender preferences are discouraged and scoffed at in almost all world cultures. Parents are bombarded with messages as to what boys and girls should be like, dress like, play with, and read,” says parenting expert and Online Community Manager at StoryWeaver, Menaka Raman. “These ideas are reinforced as children get older — through school, at home, and in their communities. I’ve seen friends chastise their sons on the cricket field and tell them ‘if you don’t bowl properly, I’ll make you wear a pink T-shirt.’”


For parents who wish to raise their children outside of these binaries, Raman offers some advice: “If you have chosen this path, you need to be able to stay the course and be prepared for whatever it throws at you.” Picking the right kind of school, talking to teachers, organising workshops for other parents — these are some activities that might work. Arming kids with tips on how to withstand bullying is also important.

And so is inspiring by example, says Singh. “Why not indulge in some kind of gender-neutral dressing yourself and break those stereotypes for your children?”

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 10:54:39 PM |

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