Wednesday 23 October 2019

Lucy Denyer: 'The couple trying to bring up their child as gender neutral are fighting the wrong battle'

Jake England-Johns and Hobbit Humphrey with Anoush
Jake England-Johns and Hobbit Humphrey with Anoush

Lucy Denyer

Almost every parent I know frets, at some point, about the extent to which they are 'gendering' their child. Little flutters of anxiety about dressing a male child in blue and a female in pink, or giving boys trains to play with and girls dolls.

We roll our eyes at aisles in department stores that differentiate their aisle offerings between the two, and grit our teeth about the fact that you can now buy a globe for a girl where the sea is coloured pink.

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That said, I know plenty of small boys who will spend hours happily playing with a toy kitchen, and little girls who refuse to wear pink and spend their lives in practical dungarees.

Mostly, I think, the fact we worry about this stuff is a good thing: we're wary of socialising our children in this way, and act to mitigate against it as much as we can.

I have some sympathy, therefore, with Hobbit Humphrey and Jake England-Johns, the English couple who are trying to bring up their 17-month-old child in an entirely gender neutral manner, choosing to keep its sex a secret, referring to it by the pronoun 'they' and dressing it in both girls' and boys' clothing. (And also some sympathy for the poor befuddled grandmother of said child, who has only just been let in on the secret in being allowed to change its nappy).

Nevertheless, I think they are living in fantasy land. And also - they're fighting the wrong battle.

Pink globes aside, the world has arguably never been less gendered than it is now. And by gendered, I don't mean what we buy for our children to play with or wear, but what we can expect of them, or for them. That men might choose to be nurses and women engineers. That a man might want to stay at home and raise children while his wife goes out to work. That women can vote, for goodness sake. Slowly but surely, gender equality is starting to permeate through society.

But we're not there yet.

A report earlier this year by the World Bank, which has tracked legal changes for the past decade, found that only six countries in the world have enshrined gender equality in laws affecting work - which is good news if you're a woman who wants to be on an equal footing with men and live in Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg or Sweden, but less good for everyone else.

Even in this relatively forward-thinking country, women still earn 13.9pc less than their male peers. And think of the battles yet to be won for the rights of women in countries like India, Pakistan or North Africa.

And this is what the fight should be about. Not a battle to destroy the concept of gender entirely, through pronoun use, or types of clothes (leaving aside that there's much to celebrate in identifying as either male or female), but the war on gender equality that's yet to be won.

Gender wars are a distraction - and besides, once there's a level playing field, surely worrying about gender neutrality becomes a moot point.

In a choice between a world stuffed with pink globes and one where women in some countries still don't have the vote, I'll suck up the pink globes and focus on the far larger latter problem.

And I reckon that, ultimately, this couple might want to as well.

Already they're running into problems with their little experiment - not wanting to deny their offspring "the joy of playing naked" becomes tricky when you don't want to reveal their gender.

They even acknowledge that all they want is for their child to "grow up in their own little bubble".

Don't we all. But every bubble has to burst. And when it does, hopefully all parents will realise there are other issues far more worth fighting for.

Irish Independent

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