I read this article today.
All five ideas are familiar to me. I remember having serious conversations with Papa-Bug while we waited on our first baby's arrival. We didn't know the gender. We committed to non-steryoptyed toys. We discussed that so much of gender expression is taught, not just the way a kid is born. We were so inspired. We still are, but I know I've learened a lot about gender from my kids in the past 6 1/2 years.
It's true. A lot of gender is taught. But…
Articles like the one I linked feel as though they assume that it is simple to teach. That we aren't born with a basic set of gender ideas for ourselves. That a human infant is a blank slate for culture to write gender preconceptions on.
I had a boy, then a girl. My boy played with blocks and we read him books with all varieties of heroes. He loved trucks for a young age. He read every book he could get his hands on (still does). If you're a regular reader, you know he wears pants or dresses. We refer to him as gender flexible. The most gendered thing about him was his love of all things vehicular. When Sister-Bug was born, the fleet of toy trucks in this house was impressive.
I assumed that she would play with trucks because those were the toys around her play space. She had similar access to toys and books of many varieties. She read mostly truck books in her first year because that's what we were reading to Brother-Bug. And she did play with trucks. Just before she turned one she picked out a toy dump truck, wrapped it in a washcloth, and put it to bed. She is “all girl”, in many of the most stereotypical ways. And she didn't learn a lot of that from here. She has always been this way, just as her Big Brother has always been his way…whatever that is.
It's the classic nature vs. nurture question. I won't claim any answers at all.
What I know is that all my kids are individuals, no matter how many gender neutral books I read them, and I think we overlook that a lot. They were individuals when they were newborns, not blank slates on which I could paint my ideal child. We can do a lot to help kids love who they are; we can support who and what they love; we can show them different ideas by reading them things like “The Paper Bag Princess”.
We can carefully monitor our childrens media and friends and the gender messages a child is receiving. But they are their own people. It just might happen that the thing that brings your daughter the most joy in the world – that thing that brings her biggest smile out – is a Disney Princess. So, regardless of your best intentions and efforts, your child still might tell you point blank that she won't play the “Burly Princess” game because she wants to only be a “Nice Princess”.
And that's great. Because this stuff isn't clear cut, so I'm focusing on the real goal. Ultimately what I want is children who believe in themselves and follow their dreams.