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The unrealistic and well-intentioned mistake of gender neutral parenting

Boys in blue, girl with a pink shirt.
Boys in blue, girl with a pink shirt.

Gender neutral parenting has become a hot topic in the last few weeks due in large part to a Discovery Health Channel show called, "Radical Parenting".

Traditional images of boys and girls in front of a Detroit hospital.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The show featured a wide array of non-traditional parenting styles, including "unschooling" and "gender neutral parenting".  For many traditional "pink and blue" parents, the gender neutral parenting segment could have been in Swahili and made just as much sense.  So, what is "gender neutral parenting"?

A near hour-long search on Google yielded few credible results, but generally speaking, gender neutral parenting is an attempt to raise children without acknowledging traditional gender roles.

So, what's wrong with "pink-and-blue" gender roles?

Dr. Lise Franklin, a biologist at Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago theorizes that these gender-specific colors and themes can limit a child's imagination and, ultimately, his or her options. In addition, they create hyper-masculine men and hyper-feminine women who often can't get along.

Gina Crosley-Corcoran is a writer/rocker/mom from Illinois who is the subject of the gender neutral parenting segment from "Radical Parenting" and writer of The Feminist Breeder Blog.  She describes her reason for joining the gender neutral parenting movement with this statement:

"We felt that if we started from his life free from stereotypes, he would have the liberty to choose his own interests."

What a very well-intentioned and completely unrealistic statement.  Stereotypes, while they can hurt, are typically very accurate generalizations, which is why they tend to last in societies.  Stereotypes have exceptions, but realisitically, they cannot be avoided.

Later in the post, Crosley-Corcoran even admits that this idea may be an unrealistic:

"Both of my sons turned out to gravitate straight toward All Things Boy. When I let them run loose in the toy aisles, they don’t even notice the dolls or ponies. But if it’s got a car on the box, they make a beeline for it. They are as “Boy” as a boy can does make me wonder: why did I even try to keep it neutral? Does it even matter? Are boys born pre-programmed to love construction equipment, sports, and motor vehicles? "

Even for gender neutral parents, traditional "pink and blue" gender roles cannot be avoided.  Boys and girls are born biologically different, and many parents would agree, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically different.  Visit the playground at Chick-Fil-A in Denton or Toys-R-Us in Lewisville and decide for yourself whether or not most boys and girls are very different from the opposite gender.

Parents choosing gender neutral parenting do have good intentions.  Crosley-Corcoran expresses the thoughts of most parents:

"I don’t mind that they have such “masculine” interests. Whatever makes them happy is fine with me."

If gender neutral parenting has little or no effect on what roles boys and girls choose, then it can only lead to confusion and is an unrealistic and well-intentioned mistake.  In the end, what is best for your child is the most important thing, combining elements of freedom to explore and imagine with the confidence and validation from traditional roles.  No matter how you parent, boys will be boys and girls will be girls.

For More Information:

  • Visit The Feminist Breeder Blog by Gina Crosley-Corcoran.
  • Visit Dr. Lise Eliot's website to study up on "pink and blue" issues.
  • The Discovery Health Channel website has a slideshow from the "Radical Parenting" show.


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  • Jason Bengs 5 years ago

    Good thoughts Andy, I think it humorous that it is called gender neutral yet the gender specific pronouns are still used. Doesn't that take care of any neutrality that is attempted?

  • Stephen Francis (TCU Horned Frogs Examiner) 5 years ago


    Good stuff here. It reminds me of a parent I knew growing up. In a similar sense, they didn't want their kids growing up around any violence of any kind so they strictly screened movies/video games/tv shows/etc. and home schooled the kids.

    Somehow though, one of the boys, when he found an L-shaped stick outside grabbed it, and yelled "look Mommy, I've got a gun!" and proceeded to use it as if he was wielding a 44.

    Another example -- my daughter, who was never forced to like/wear pink, almost instinctively wants nothing to do with anything that isn't pink or purple.

    It's like your closing statement there -- boys will be boys and girls will be girls.

    -- Stephen

  • Andy Simpson-Denton Fatherhood Examiner 5 years ago

    Stephen, I have seen a lot of that in my son, making everything into a gun and digging in every dirt pile in sight. I agree, it's just in their DNA.

    Jason, it's definitely a well-intentioned, but maybe not a well-thought out movement.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Girls have pink genes!

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Complete rubbish. Most people conform to gender norms, so promoting gender nonconformity as acceptable is "completely unrealistic?"

    Replace gender nonconformity with any other form of minority group and the tone is no less awful than blatant racism. Religion, race, sexual orientation. Thick bias is thick.

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