One of the things that freaks me out the most about having kids someday is letting them choose their gender roles on their own. I am going to make a conscious and concerted effort to let my kids know they are loved and accepted however they choose to express themselves. But I’m also realistic and I know the outside world fits little kids much more neatly into “boy” and “girl” boxes. Just this weekend, I was at a toy store and rolled my eyes to the top of my head at puzzles targeted for girls’ and boys’: the girls’ puzzles were pink and had makeup shapes, while the boys’ puzzles were blue and had truck shapes. God, could it be any more stereotypical? If I’m acting that way now, childless and single, how am I going to be when I have an actual kid whom I am responsible for?
Probably a lot like the blogger at Feminist Breeder (aka Gina Crosley-Corcoran, formerly of the ’90s band Veruca Salt) who is committed to “gender-neutral parenting,” but was given a free vanity from her dad’s girlfriend. Now she’s agonizing about putting this super-uber-girly-feminine piece of furniture in her little daughter’s bedroom.“Gender neutral parenting,” which you can read about in more detail here, as it’s applied by Crosley-Corcoran, is what it sounds like: she and her husband do not try to put any expectations of gender on their two sons or their daughter. They’ve requested that family and friends give their kids clothes in gender neutral colors like green, yellow and purple; all the kids have all kinds of toys — from dollhouses to dump trucks — to play with.
So when she was offered a free vanity — a desk with lots of drawers and big mirrors, where a woman traditionally sits while she brushes her hair and puts on makeup — she tried to beg off. But once she saw what a beautiful piece of furniture it was (and it is really cute), she put it in her daughter’s bedroom. Now she feels conflicted about putting pressure on her daughter to be concerned with her appearance and/or encouraging beautification as play. She wrote, “This is the first time I’ve ever assigned something material to my child based specifically on their sex part, and it doesn’t feel good.”
Many readers will probably think Crosley-Corcoran is overthinking the anxiety she feels about this. Knowing myself, I would overthink/analyze as much as the Feminist Breeder is, but I also somewhat agree with the philosophy that children can be exposed to questionable stuff (be it toy guns or potato chips) and still turn out OK. Parents and other caregivers have always been able to instill values in the face of negative influences. Since Crosley-Corcoran is so concerned about raising a daughter without prescribing sexist behaviors to her, it seems unlikely to me the daughter will be negatively influenced by her new vanity.
How would you handle a situation like this? Would you throw out a beautiful piece of furniture (or a toy) if it could influence your kid in a way incongruent with your values?