Numerous stories have emerged recently about parents who have chosen to raise their children as "gender neutral." The parents have received widespread criticism with many questioning whether they have a political motive and are just using their children to enforce their own agendas.
Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine's U.K. edition, recently commented on the topic warning that using a child to make political statements is harmful to the child.
Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper kept the gender of their son Sasha a secret to the public for the first five years of his life. "I wanted to avoid all the stereotyping," said the mother Laxton to U.K.-based Cambridge News. "Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?"
Sasha's gender-neutral story is similar to that of a Canadian couple, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, who also decided to keep the gender of their baby a secret. The couples explained that they hoped their actions would make the world "a more progressive place."
However, Candy did not agree with Laxton and Cooper's decision to keep their son Sasha gender neutral. "He has been hailed as an experiment in breaking stereotypes, but who would want to expose their child to possible derision for the sake of their political beliefs?" she asks.
Candy, whose son spent the first five years of his life picking dresses over football, has firsthand experience. "His favorite game was wearing his elder sisters' sequin party dresses while running his imaginary boutique 'Slinx' or greeting customers in his hairdressing salon 'Slapchicks'," Candy said, talking about her son Henry.
Candy told the Daily Mail, "You may assume, from all this, that I'd be in favor of what has been termed 'gender neutral parenting' - raising a child as neither boy nor girl, but giving it free rein to express itself in whatever way he or she chooses."
However, she said that is not the case: "I know, from my own experience, that some children do not conform to the conventional behavior expected of their gender anyway. But I know also that there came a time when I had to put a stop to my boy's 'girlish' instincts. I knew it was my duty as a parent to make it stop - for reasons I will come to later."
Candy sought the help of parenting books to answer some of her questions. Referring to her reading she said, "Apparently, all children need to 'belong'; they crave positive recognition as they develop between the ages of three and seven. They seek the approval of their peer group to make them feel secure so they can develop with confidence."
Henry's peer group at the time was his two older sisters.
On Henry's fifth birthday, after he had begun school, Candy and her husband decided that it was time to put the dresses away. One day they packed away the tutus and said, "From now on, you need to wear boys' clothes and sleep in boys' pajamas."
Candy explained her decision: "Some may see my decision as pandering to convention. But I didn't make this decision because I was scared of what the future holds for a boy happy in his feminine skin or because I believe cross-dressing is wrong. Remember, I work in fashion."
Affirming her belief she said, "Allowing my son to continue down his feminine path would only incur ridicule and hurt."
And now, according to Candy her son is just fine.
The increased support for gender liberation has some questioning why people would even consider keeping their children genderless, most accepting that gender is a fact and not a decision.
According to Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council, "A person cannot choose whether they are male or female, that is something that is intrinsic in their body at birth."
A user on the Yahoo blog agreed. Juliet wrote, "You can't make a child "gender neutral." There is no such thing! Genders aren't stereotypes! They're basic FACT."
If gender is decided by nature, then what is the point behind families raising gender-neutral children? Many Yahoo users pushed the opinion that parents like Laxton were not liberating their children but rather imposing political ideology on them.
Beth Laxton, Sasha's mother has said in a Cambridge News interview that Sasha is not allowed to wear "overtly masculine clothes" which includes "no skulls, camouflage or combats." She has also banned him from playing with Barbie dolls because Laxton has said "she's horrible" although she has surrounded him with other approved dolls.
Laxton persists in dressing him in pink and frequently adorning him in flowery tops. His school uniform consists of ruffles that give the impression that the shirt has been made for a girl.
Commenting on what she would do if her son were teased for wearing a "girly" uniform, Laxton said, "I don't think I'd do it if I thought it was going to make him unhappy, but at the moment he's not really bothered either way."
Users on a Yahoo blog readily questioned Laxton's intentions. "Poor kid. So they dress him in a girl's swimsuit but won't let him wear distinctly masculine clothes? How can they say they are allowing him free choice?" Ethan wrote.
Brandon questioned the parents' motives. "I'm fine with letting little kids play around with whatever they want, if a little boy wants to dress up in Mom's clothes once in a while or a little girl wants to play with Nerf guns, more power to em," he said. "But these two aren't giving the kid freedom, they're forcing their own roles on him. Why does he have to wear a girl's blouse as part of his uniform, did he ask for it? Or did he ask for the pink swimsuit?"
Director of One Million Moms, Monica Cole agrees that children may like to dress up and try out different roles as they are growing, but doubts their thought process. "They're just playing and they don't know what they're thinking," Cole said. By trying to put their behavior in some sort of context, "parents will make them think they are a different person inside."
"Suggesting that a child should choose their own gender is very harmful to their childhood and it develops a very harmful lifestyle," Cole added.
Candy also described the attempts to use children to push political agendas as burdensome. "It's a huge responsibility for children as young as five to be expected to change this (gender) thinking," she said.
"But perhaps the most important point is that many of these attempts to unburden children from the constraints of gender are misguided. Dressing up is what pre-schoolers do. You may think your toddler is striking a blow for feminism or his future right to wear women's clothing in public but he's not - he's just playing a game."