Monday, 24 August 2015

Reading Gender Neutral Parenting

I'm not dead!!! Sorry guys, I've been finding it quite hard to find the head-space to sit down and write for the blog. A lot of things are changing round here. None that I'm ready to share just yet... but hopefully soon! Anyway, a while ago I promised you a review of Gender Neutral Parenting. So here it goes!

Years ago, long before we decided to have a child, my partner and I went to a parenting workshop at the Feminism in London conference - a conference which attracts thousands of attendees every year. The next one's this October and Let Toys be Toys are doing a workshop, so join in if you're interested. We've always found these workshops quite helpful because they're a great place to discuss parenting issues with other gender-aware people.

After having Momo, we got Paige Lucas-Stannard's book Gender Neutral Parenting, which looked like one of the most well-researched books on the topic. Paige starts off by explaining gender. In the next couple of chapters, she talks about some of the major stereotypes about girls and boys and why they're harmful. Stuff like Girls are princesses, pure and more social, while boys learn to speak later, and are doomed to becoming emotionally limited slaves to their sex drive. Paige lists a series of surprising and shocking examples of how these stereotypes are perpetuated through the media and toy industry.

I've used it mainly as a reference book though, rather than reading it cover to cover. For example, a while ago my partner and I were wondering which kinds of skills girls are less likely to acquire than boys, so that we could support Mo better in her development. So I looked up Paige's section on skills, and she basically says that there is a bias towards:

  • large motor skills (includes whole body, large movement) = for boys
  • fine motor skills (precision hand movement) = for girls

Paige lists examples for both types of skills, which is handy when you're trying to determine which skills you've been neglecting in your own child. So, for example, we realised that we could do more ball-games with Mo.

Or another time, I felt under a lot of pressure to make Mo appear more feminine, as an important person in our lives was really upset that Momo didn't wear dresses and had short hair. She was worried that Mo would look at her childhood pictures and consider herself ugly because, in a lot of her photographs, she doesn't look feminine. It sounds crazy as I'm writing it but to be honest, I sometimes worried about the same thing. I guess it might be because as girls, we're taught that what matters most in pictures is that you look cute. I think that when we look at pictures of boys, we're more interested in what they're doing, and spend less time thinking about their looks.

That's when I was glad to be able to turn to Paige's section on "dealing with Naysayers", where she lists common gender myths and how she responds to them. Her thoughtful and respectful ready-made answers helped me to systematically think through my own parenting principles, and I actually ended up revising some of my ideas, and losing some of my fears.

Anyway, that's it from me for now. Have a great week!


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