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Unmaking a Difference

Is Gender Neutrality the New Stereotype?

by Robin Phillips

I was alerted to the rise of a new stereotype when I read that London's most popular toy store, Hamleys, was undergoing a complete overhaul. In a move full of symbolic significance, the shop did away with separate girls' and boys' sections.1

In itself, this might seem like a harmless bit of remodeling. But it is significant that these changes occurred after activists had condemned the toy store as "sexist." Hamleys' attempt to expunge gender from playthings is part of a larger political project that seeks to remove all vestiges of gender from every facet of society, replacing them with a new unisex stereotype to which we must all conform.

The Secret Gender

I wish I could say that the new stereotype of gender neutrality was limited to toy stores like Hamleys. Alas, no. Earlier this year, the UK newsletters were full of stories about the case of little Sasha Laxton,2 the child of the secret gender.

The experiment began even before Beck Laxton gave birth to Sasha. The parents had determined that their child would be called Sasha regardless of whether it turned out to be a boy or a girl. And just to prove to themselves that gender is trivial, the parents waited 30 minutes after delivery before asking the midwives the sex of their child.

For the next five years, the Laxtons kept Sasha's sex a secret. They referred to their child simply as "the infant," scrupulously avoiding gender-loaded pronouns like "he" or "she." They were also careful about dress. One day Sasha's parents would dress "it" in striped trousers, the next in a sparkly pink tutu with fairy wings and ballet shoes. Moreover, the Laxtons' home became a gender-neutral zone, as the parents sedulously sought to shield their child from society's prejudices and preconceptions.

At five years old, just before beginning school, Sasha was "outed" as male.

To show that their experiment in gender neutrality had achieved the desired result, the parents posted a 90-second YouTube clip in which Sasha and his mother can be seen walking along a road near their home in Cambridgeshire. Beck asks her son if he thinks there are any differences between boys and girls. "No," Sasha replies. The mother presses him with a barrage of other questions, like "Do girls like pink and boys like blue?" In each case, Sasha gives the only correct answer for someone who has been successfully indoctrinated into the stereotype of gender neutrality: no, no, no.

In explaining their decision to the newspapers, Sasha's mother Beck commented, "Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes?" Sasha's mother said this without any sense of irony, apparently oblivious to the fact that she has been squeezing Sasha into a very unnatural gender-neutral box.

The Laxton parents are not alone. In 2011, Canadians Kathy Witterick and David Stocker announced that they would not be revealing the gender of their third child, Storm. Only Storm's siblings would know. And a Swedish couple recently announced that the gender of their baby, Pop, would be a carefully guarded secret.

Gender Neutral School

The stereotype of gender neutrality is now so pervasive in Sweden that Stockholm even has a "gender neutral" school. The school's philosophy is that girls and boys need to be liberated from "sexist" social norms. Teachers at the school are taught to carefully avoid masculine and feminine pronouns. When it is not possible to use a child's name, teachers must employ the genderless pronoun hen, which they had to borrow from Finnish.

One teacher at the school, Emelie Andersson, commented: "I want to change society. When we are born, people have different expectations of us depending if we are a boy or a girl. It limits children. In my world there is no girl's world and there is no boy's world."3

Okay, but what about the expectations that gender-neutrality advocates are bringing to hundreds of children? What happens to children who do not conform to the rigid fixity of the androgynous mold? "Oh honey," I can just hear a teacher at a gender-neutral school saying to a girl, "you don't want to play with that doll. You only think you want to because you have been conditioned by the pressures of society. Here, play with this dump truck instead."

The scenario is not far-fetched. The UK government has given funding to equality activists who have been "demanding that schools have a strategy for challenging gender stereotypes among the under-14s, complete with monitoring and enforcement mechanisms," according to a report in Britain's Telegraph newspaper. Reporter Jill Kirby notes that the proposals involve stamping out “the unfortunate tendency of little girls to play at being nurses when their male counterparts want to be Bob the Builder. . . .”4

These schools, as well as some conventional schools that are trying to become gender-neutral, have special curricula and storybooks designed to subvert the binary view of gender. The Sissy Duckling is about a male duck that struggles to accept his identity as a big sissy. Bill's New Frock tells the story of a boy named Bill who wakes up one morning to discover he is female. His horror is increased when he is sent to school in a frilly pink frock with fiddly shell buttons. As the day progresses, however, Bill's notion of gender is undermined, and he begins to rethink some of his former conceptions. Being a girl isn't so bad after all, he realizes.

Pom-Pom Boys

Cross-dressing isn't limited to fictional schoolchildren like Bill. A teacher-training DVD produced by the UK organization Stonewall shows teachers sharing their experiences of encouraging boys to dress up as girls. A class teacher for St. Matthew's Primary School in Cambridgeshire boasts,

I had a group of boys last year, and every day they came into school, they wanted to wear the dressing-up dresses. And they really loved wearing dressing-up dresses, and it went on for several weeks, and within the culture of the classroom I wanted to say that that was okay.

The teacher went on to explain how she reprimanded other boys who criticized the cross-dressers. Tony Davies, the head teacher, explained how the school had a cheerleading club in which boys danced with pom-poms, and added, "I think that is absolutely wonderful."5

By mixing up all the symbols of masculinity and femininity, and severing the connection between gender and biological sex, these teachers are training children to accept the new stereotype of gender neutrality.

Grammar schools are not the only institutions pushing the gender-free utopia. A November 2011 story in USA Today reported that more than 50 American colleges have gender-neutral housing options for their students.6 Grinnell College in Iowa, in addition to its gender-neutral dorm floors, had plans to open a gender-neutral locker room for its athletes who, as The Week reported, "feel constrained by the traditional 'male' and 'female' labels." "More students today don't identify with the binary," remarked Grinnell professor Astrid Henry, who teaches gender, women's, and sexuality studies.7

The increasingly pervasive stereotype of gender neutrality often relies on bogus science combined with fanciful anthropology, both of which assert that there is no necessary connection between our gender identity (i.e., being feminine or masculine, together with many of the things this can entail within a given cultural context) and the fixities of our biological sex. This idea is enshrined in countless sociology, anthropology, and women's studies courses at colleges and universities, where students are regularly taught that there is no necessary relation between one's biological sex and one's gender.

Problem: Pregnancy

There remains one natural, final barrier to reaching the gender-free utopia: pregnancy. For all the gender-neutral stereotyping, the fact of pregnancy constantly reminds us of the one thing that the new social architects would like us to forget: that men and women are inescapably different, that men and women have different lived experiences.

The gender-neutralizers are not unaware of the problem that pregnancy poses. In April 2009, the British newspaper the Telegraph ran an article titled, "Telling pregnant women not to drink is 'sexist.'" The story cited medical legal expert Dr. Colin Gavaghan, who called "singling out one sex for particular monitoring and lecturing from healthcare professionals" a "straightforward sexist policy."8

Well, let's face it: when it comes to having a responsible pregnancy, women are singled out. Dr. Gavaghan seems unwilling to admit that only women are able to become pregnant. However "equal" our society strives to be, assistance for pregnancy will always necessarily be targeted towards the female sex.

Or will it?

In 2006 the British Department of Health published a new edition of its Pregnancy Book, and just so men won't feel left out, it has a chapter especially for them, which says, among other things, that men can experience nausea as a symptom of pregnancy, too. And a 2010 report in The Daily Mail outlined efforts by the UK government "to get fathers more involved in their child's upbringing from before birth and beyond." These measures include giving fathers government-funded lessons on the benefits of breastfeeding.9

But efforts like these will never satisfy the aspirations of the more extreme gender neutralizers. For them, the only way to truly solve the problem of "gender apartheid" is to do away with pregnancy altogether. In January 2012, LifeSiteNews quoted from an article Dr. Anna Smajdor had recently written for the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. Dr. Smajdor argued that in order for men and women to be equal, all women must stop becoming pregnant and hand their reproductive potential over to science and technology. "Pregnancy is a condition that causes pain and suffering, and that affects only women," Dr. Smajdor said, so "women are disadvantaged."

LifeSiteNews journalist Peter Baklinski commented,

to be a woman, for Smajdor, simply means to become biologically more like a man. To do this, a woman's innate and natural potential to procreate, nurture, and bear a new human life must be stripped away and handed over to science and technology. Only when all human beings do not bear children will a genuine equality be more closely approached, she proposes.10

The Squeeze

One of the ways you can detect the pervasiveness of any stereotype is by observing its effect on language. For example, if a certain ethnic group is habitually referred to with a pejorative, and use of the pejorative goes unchallenged, this is a clue that a certain racial stereotype is coming to be accepted by society. Similarly, if language is vigilantly policed to make sure that a certain stereotype is upheld, this is a sign that its promoters think they can successfully impose that typecasting on society. Therefore, if we observe that gender-neutral word police are on the prowl, it probably indicates that a big push is underway to get society to fall for the stereotype of gender neutrality.

And that is exactly what's happening. Last February, Huffington Post columnist Lisa Belkin related an anecdote about fellow writer Amy Tan's experience with new software:

On Facebook recently, the writer Amy Tan wrote of a war of wills (and words) that she was having with her new word-processing software. "It admonishes me with editing remarks, like, 'Gender specific term, consider using "spouse" instead of "wife",'" she wrote.11

Such are the lengths to which the new social architects will go to squeeze all of us into the new gender-neutral mold.

Thankfully, the unisex movement is not yet mainstream. But if its current growth is anything to go by, Western culture is fast approaching a state in which we will be forced to confront the constraints imposed by the grinding uniformity of a single homogenized, androgynous, and unisex identity. Will that mean only one, gender-neutral, public restroom—the Hen's Room? 

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