There is nothing quite like hearing other people’s opinions about your life choices, is there? Yes, it’s a special sort of treat to try and explain something that’s very important to you only to be met with a response that makes you want to sell your house, drop out of society, and find a remote cave to move into even if it’s already occupied by a bear.
People who are raising their children gender-neutral have heard it all. From outright disdain, or the unfiltered rudeness of elderly relatives to the subtly judgmental “how interesting,” advocates of gender-neutral parenting have been on the receiving end of every reaction you can imagine, and it often isn’t pleasant. You know what, though? A lot of those reactions come from someone that probably has no understanding why you’re doing things the way you are.
One of these four easy explanations for why you’re doing what you’re doing might just help.
#1. “Because I want my children to grow up to be exactly who they truly are.”
At a glance, gender-neutral parenting might seem like it has a lot of components. A lot of those components are awesome, like getting cool kids clothes, buying a wide range of toys, making friends of all types, and pursuing all kinds of activities, but even so: it can seem like a lot.
However, at its core, gender-neutral parenting isn’t all that complicated. All it’s about is giving children the freedom to discover who they are and what they love on their own terms. That means without the influence of gender bias and stereotype-based limitations. That’s it. Who wouldn’t understand a parent wanting that for their children?
#2. “Because there are a few things about the way I grew up that I wish had been different.”
No offence to anyone’s parents, but doesn’t everyone have a few things they wish had been different about the way they were brought up? And aren’t many of those things related to gender bias? Think of how many girls aren’t encouraged to pursue science, math or contact sports, or how many boys hide a love of dance or theatre because they’re worried their dads won’t think they’re manly enough. Further, think of how many men move into their first apartment and don’t know how to wash dishes or do laundry, and how many women struggle with yard care or car maintenance. A gender-neutral upbringing is one where everyone is free to pursue whatever their interests may be and to express themselves as they see fit. It’s just a better-rounded upbringing.
#3. “Because I believe in equality.”
Feminist and equality movements have gained tremendous ground recently, with Time’s Up and #MeToo ranking as two of the biggest movements in the last two years. Even so, it isn’t nearly enough. A quick look at just a sampling of statistics shows that fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO, and only 34% of global managers are women. According to the World Economic Forum, women around the world make 63 cents for every dollar made by a man, and that gender-based pay gap will take 202 years to close. Further, not one single nation in the entire world is set to achieve gender equality by the year 2030. That’s over ten years from now.
Gender-neutral parenting helps erase the stereotype-based differences between boys and girls and men and women. The more these lines are blurred, the less detrimental it will be to be a woman in the world and in the workplace, and this world can use all the help it can get.
#4. “Because it’s what I believe is best, end of story.”
This probably isn’t anyone’s preferred response when it comes to parenting philosophies and decisions, but occasionally, you’ve gotta say what you’ve gotta say. If you’ve tried being polite and informative and you’re being met with pushback and even bigotry, you have the right to stop wasting your time and energy and put an end to the conversation. Nowadays it’s easy for parents to be judged and shamed, even by people who don’t know them and never will thanks to social media, so chances are at some point you’re going to come across someone truly ignorant and you need to be prepared. When you’ve decided to pursue gender-neutral parenting, you should always be ready to have a productive conversation about it, but you should also be ready to recognize when a productive conversation isn’t possible and shut it down entirely.
A time for talking
At the end of the day, being able to succinctly explain why you’ve chosen gender-neutral parenting isn’t just about having a retort for your Great Aunt Gilda or trying to get someone you haven’t seen since high school to understand why your baby girl isn’t wearing a frilly dress. It’s important to be able to talk