How To Respond To People Who Put Your Child Into Narrow Gender Boxes

As a single mother raising a 1.5 year old son, I pretty firmly believe that shoving children into the culturally created gender binary can be crippling and try to do gender neutral parenting instead.

I also realize that total role reversal is not the answer. If family members give my son a toy tool set, that’s great, a toy vacuum, fantastic! Whether pink or blue or black or plaid, basically any age appropriate, safe gift is fine.

It doesn’t offend me that the socially acceptable toys based on gender are offered to my son.

However, if someone gives him a toy hammer and tells him it’s time he toughens up or insults a toy vacuum or oven as girly, well, then we have issues.

Every feminist parent I have encountered seems to have dealt with similar experiences. Personally, when caught off guard by a comment like “Show them you’re not a nancy, son!”, it can take every ounce of self-restraint to not leap onto a soap box and scream my face off.

Rationally, I realize that would only be detrimental to my case. However, I absolutely do not want to leave my opinions unheard.

For one thing, every parent has a right to raise their child as they see fit, so long as they are providing for the health and well-being of their child and not posing any danger.

Furthermore, to leave viewpoints so diametrically opposed to my own unanswered likely leaves their owner feeling even more validated in those opinions.

So here are a few methods I’ve developed in my first few mommy-years to help alleviate the stress that our incredibly gendered society can pose on a family.

1. Decide What You Feel Is Appropriate For Your Own Child

I’ve explained some of my personal beliefs, but you might disagree. My views on feminism, for instance, suggest that when my 1.5 year old son pretends to put on make-up because he saw me do it, it’s pretty darn cute.

His love of Buzz Lightyear and super heroes is super fun, because I’m great at making flying noises (in my mind, at least)!

The fact that he likes brushing his teeth, wiping his face and other surfaces clean, helping to pick up, and throw trash away is extremely helpful, and awesome.

If he should somehow choose to help me out with bug handling in a few years, who am I to complain!?

The point is that I love watching him learn all sorts of tasks, and as he gets older, maybe he will love to bake or paint or vacuum or fix things or play football or whatever.

And I want to be able to help him figure that all out. No boxes.

2. Expect People and Society Generally To Put Your Child Into Gender Boxes

Curtailing the surprise factor will help handle frustrating situations better. For instance, if you haven’t been down the toy aisles for a while, you should know that most of them are incredibly gendered.

If you have a daughter that you want to buy Legos for, you will probably have to go down the “boy” aisle to get it. If you think your son might really like a toy broom, it’s probably going to be pink or purple.

You can seek out the gender neutral toys online or in specific stores. They are available but definitely less convenient.

Hopefully, we can rectify the cultural desire to restrict problem solving toys and puzzles to boys and those encouraging empathy, emotional development, and domesticity to girls in the near future.

But in the meantime, knowing what you want and what you will do to get it is the first step to change. Capitalism means that if the public demand for gender neutral toys rises, the toy companies will comply because even more than they care about perpetuating the current mainstream values, they want your money.

3. Be Calm, Consistent, and Assertive When Facing Opposition To Your Personal Beliefs

Calmness will avoid a disagreement growing into conflict. Consistency will clearly communicate the behavior you deem appropriate in regards to your child. And being assertive without losing your cool validates your rational decision-making skills.

There are few things more insulting than being asked if you are on your period every time you let an emotion show — and comments like that directly undermine a mother’s parental authority.

4. Do Not Become Aggressive

Be cognizant of your tone, word choice, and body language. As difficult as it is at times to avoid passive aggression, losing your temper or being rude will only give the persistent patriarchal paradigm more ammunition against your desires.

5. Be Confident In Your Voice As A Parent

As far as I can tell, teaching your kids love and tolerance in a world so sorely deprived of those values won’t steer you wrong.

The world will send a myriad of messages from the media, teachers, other parents, family members, peers, and perfect strangers, and no parent will ever change that.

That’s why my tactic for the next 16 ½ years is trusting that smart kids (like my little genius boy) will see how much happier and more free a compassionate and empathetic outlook that challenges gender stereotypes (and stereotypes in general) can make everyone that it touches.

These are just some ways to take a stand for gender neutral parenting. What are some other ways? Please share in the comments below!

Kelsey Lueptow is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is working on a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies in Wisconsin. She is an active poet and mother.