‘Genderless’ baby kicks up a Storm
A baby? Lovely! Boy or girl? What do you mean you're not saying? The intriguing tale of a family who want to bring up their baby, Storm, to make its own decisions about becoming a he or a she.
Storm is only four months old and completely unaware of what's going on. But this baby, born in Toronto, Canada, and the third child of Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, is at the centre of a global debate.
Why? Because except for the parents, two older boys Kio and Jazz, one close family friend and two midwives, no one is allowed to know whether this baby is a boy or a girl.
In an email, Kathy and David explained to friends and family that they wanted to avoid their new arrival being subjected to early gender stereotyping, which these days can begin even with the choice of blue or pink babygro: 'We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now – a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.'
Many have rushed to judgement, criticising the parents for what one local called 'turning their children into a bizarre lab experiment.'
Others have warned that Storm, along with his or her brothers, who like to wear dresses and keep their hair long, may be escaping the stereotypes only to suffer mockery and bullying later on.
'Gender norms will continue to evolve, but along the way deviation will still be punished with ridicule and worse,' said Arthur Schafer of the University of Manitoba.
But for another group of parents, and feminists, this family have taken a brave, if extreme, position on what is a widespread concern.
The campaign group Pink Stinks believes girls are fed the message from the very earliest moments of life that beauty matters more than brains, leading to lack of self-confidence, limited opportunities and lack of ambition.
The parents who started the group point out that toys for girls tend to reinforce housewife or caring roles, or 'princess' ideals. Meanwhile the doctor's outfits in the dressing up section are for boys, even though female graduates now dominate entry to the medical profession.
The 'pink' path
Pink for a girl and blue for a boy. Dolls and toy cookery sets for a girl. Building bricks and astronaut outfits for a boy. A low-paid job looking after other people for a woman and well-rewarded jobs in engineering for a man.
Are they connected? And can we predict a child's future by looking at what they wear? Shiloh, daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, prefers to dress as a tomboy, while Suri Cruise, the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, trots around in shoes with high heels. Do we have the right to disapprove of either?
- Is it more important to fit in or to 'be yourself', whatever that might involve? Do you think children and adults agree about which is better?
- Are boys and girls different by nature or by nurture – because of how they are brought up? Make a list of the fixed and varying characteristics of the two sexes. When does your list stray into stereotypes?
- Design some clothes for babies or very young children that are completely 'gender neutral'. How hard is it? Which colours, patterns or details look too girly or boyish?
- Using the links below, make a short presentation to the class about the history of dressing baby boys and girls. Does what you learn here surprise you? Does it change your mind about what is 'normal'?
Some People Say...
“Not allowing children to fit in is cruel.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- This child is going to be a misfit, surely?
- Well, the Stocker-Witterick family are happy being unusual. They keep their children at home, for example, and believe in 'unschooling,' where the children are allowed to decide what to learn.
- OK but they will have to join the real world at some point.
- This is a very extreme experiment – even the grandparents are in the dark about Storm's sex. But experts say even if parents try to behave the same way to boys and girls, they unconsciously show their expectations and prejudices – for example by playing and talking gently with girls and being more 'rough and tumble' with boys.
- That sounds healthy and normal.
- That's the key question – what's normal? A lot of this is about challenging expectations – consider the idea that before the 1940s it was 'normal' to dress boys in pink and girls in blue.
- A simplified generalisation about a group of people, leading to a limiting definition. This word is almost always used negatively.
- The differences between male and female, not in terms of physical characteristics or biology, but in terms of behaviour and attributes.