Parents Keep 2-Year-Old's Gender a Secret

Filed under: In The News

gender symbols

Swedish couple avoid stereotypes by refusing to reveal their child's gender. Photo: Dominik Gwarek/sxc.hu

With little babies, it is sometimes hard to tell if the child is a boy or a girl. In the absence of gender-specific clothing or a peek inside the diaper, most babies could pass for either sex. But as a child gets older, it becomes easier to tell the boys from the girls. In addition to clothing, clues can be found in developing facial features, hair styles and even toy preferences.

But even if you can't tell the gender of someone's child just by looking, you can always come out and ask the parents, right? Usually, yes. But in the case of a two-and-a-half-year-old Swedish child, the answer would be "none of your business."

Aside from the parents and few other people, nobody knows if the child they call Pop is a boy or a girl. Pop's parents subscribe to a feminist philosophy in which the idea of gender is an unnecessary and potentially harmful social construction. They believe that by keeping Pop's gender a secret from the world, their child will be allowed to grow up without preconceived notions of how he or she should be treated based on his or her gender.

Pop is allowed to choose what to wear from a collection of both girl's and boy's clothing and has ever-changing hairstyles. According to the parents, Pop understands the physical differences between boys and girls but they avoid using gender specific personal pronouns when referring to their child. Pop is just Pop.

"We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mold from the outset," Pop's mother said. "It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

At least one expert believes that Pop's parents might be on to something with this gender-free experiment. Swedish gender equality consultant Kristina Henkel believes that by removing the preconceived notions about gender, a child like Pop can develop character as an individual rather than as a boy or a girl. "I think that can make these kids stronger," Henkel says.

Pop may be living without the so-called burden of gender stereotypes, but could there also be a down side? Pediatric endocrinologist Anna Nordenström believes that, at the very least, Pop will grow up feeling different than other children. "It will affect the child, but it's hard to say if it will hurt the child," she says. "I don't know what they are trying to achieve. It's going to make the child different, make them very special."

She is probably right, but I suspect that "different" is exactly what Pop's parents are hoping for.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.