Just Call a Boy a Boy

Author’s note: Generally, I use this space to answer questions. But sometimes the actions of real-life parents create their own questions. And every once in awhile, I intend to address those questions in a feature I will call —

On my soapbox

A few weeks ago, I answered a question from a man worried about “overly gendering” children by buying only blue for boys or telling girls they are princesses. I talked about the danger of mixed messages in today’s media, as well as the increase in cases of Gender Identity Disorder. I tried to make the point that buying boy toys for boys and girl toys for girls is neither inappropriate nor dangerous, and that the alternative probably carries more risks. If you’d like to read the full column, check it out here.

However, today I’m writing to address the opposite problem. You might call it “under-gendering.” A Toronto couple is keeping the gender of their child a secret from most of the world ‘” including the child’s grandparents.

The parents justified this action as preserving choice for the child. And at first blush, offering children options sounds like a good idea. After all, nobody likes to be bullied into making choices, and there is certainly a chance that a boy, when surrounded by other boys, might elect to play with a football when he’d rather play with a doll.

However, there are good reasons why parents generally make decisions on behalf of their young children. First, kids often lack the experience to choose wisely. Second, children tend to focus on what is happening now, not what is likely to happen 10 years from now, when it is too late to change. Parents who fail to provide the necessary guidance to their children take a step beyond laziness. I would go so far as to call them derelict in their duty.

This couple has two boys who wear pink and have long hair, often being mistaken for girls ‘” a misconception the parents do not correct, leaving it to children of the ripe old ages of 5 and 2 to speak up. The older boy enjoys dressing like a girl but does not want to be mistaken for one. To avoid this problem at school, the parents have chosen to educate their sons at home. If these parents wish to ensure that their sons will be ridiculed, pummeled, and ostracized as they get older, their plan is off to a fine start.

In a vacuum, the boys might like to wear pink and keep their hair long. But against the backdrop of the real world, they might choose a different path ‘” and not necessarily because they were being forced to go against their initial desire. In real life, every action has consequences, whether physical, social, or emotional.

Plenty of people, given the option, might prefer to walk the streets naked. Fortunately for the rest of us, such obstacles as inclement weather, hostile glances, and what remains of a societal sense of decency prevents those people from indulging that whim. Failing to warn a nudist that it gets dangerously cold in the winter doesn’t provide him with greater freedom of choice, it simply reduces his ability to make good choices.

If adults wish to take actions with potentially hazardous consequences, they can do so, understanding the risks. If children wish to take actions with potentially hazardous consequences, good parents have a duty to prevent such foolishness.

According to the story published on Yahoo.com, the child’s parents equate withholding gender information as “a tribute to freedom and choice in the place of limitation.” Using this logic, you should allow children to eat nothing but Twinkies if they choose, avoiding the tyranny of the food pyramid. Nonsense cloaked in a stilted argument for freedom of choice still looks like nonsense.

It is difficult to see how allowing kids to make important decisions about issues closely related to gender identity at such a young age strikes a blow for children’s choice.

Stereotyping can be dangerous. I get that. But these parents are using their very young children to make a social and political statement, long before those children develop the experience needed to understand the meaning of that statement. Or its repercussions.

Exactly when did it become exploitative to call a boy a boy? Apparently the definition of “exploit” changed without my knowledge. Because where I come from, publicizing such radical parenting ideas in a national forum — complete with identification of preadolescent children by name and psychological hang-up — sounds a lot like exploitation.

Thank you for reading today’s columh. Check back here tomorrow for another installment of the Ask The Dad advice column. If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to [email protected]