Beyond Pink And Blue: The Quiet Rise Of Gender Neutral Parenting

Gender roles are taught to us early on in our lives. Ideas about masculinity and femininity can come from a variety of sources – parenting, media, the school system and even toys.

A growing number of new millennial parents though, across the globe, are attempting to raise their children outside of gender binary norms. Not only in terms of what mom does and dad does, but also vis-à-vis what children are allowed to wear, play with and simply be, irrespective of whether they are boys or girls. The rationale is to allow kids to develop, without the social imposition of gender-specific stereotypes, in non-judgemental and gender fluid environments.

But are the Indians ready to let go of their gendered lens? Aparna Vivek, a Bengaluru-based teacher, admits that she hasn’t heard of gender-neutral parenting. However, Aparna is as enthusiastic about getting her six-year-old daughter enrolled for football coaching as she is about getting the little girl trained in Kathak. “Its her choice. I can’t say no to football just because there are no other girls in the football field,” she explains.

“My son’s favourite colour is pink,” says Karan Shetty, an entrepreneur from Mumbai, who has no qualms about riding a pink scooter. “He loves to dance, just as he loves to play cricket,” adds the visibly proud hands-on father. As a parent, all he wants is to ensure that his son is able to express himself freely and be the person that he is.

Reportedly, actress Kalki Koechlin, who is expecting her first child with her boyfriend Guy Hershberg, has chosen a gender neutral name for her baby. “I have chosen a name that works for either gender and that is representative of a gay person. I want my child to have that freedom of movement under many umbrellas of Genders that we have,” she was quoted saying in an interview.

The idea of gender neutrality took seed in the mind of New Delhi’s Amita Malhotra while she was studying feminist theory as part of her English literature course. When she became a mother in 2014, she took to understanding what it was like to raise kids unshackled by rigid gender roles. In 2016, she joined hands with her college friend, a sexuality educator and mother Reema Ahmad to co-find Candidly, a platform to discuss gender, sexuality and media use among children and young adults and launched EqualiTee in 2018. EqualiTee is a gender-cool merchandise brand for kids to challenge gender stereotypes in early childhood. It also curates toys that encourages children to actively break gender stereotypes.

But toys and Tees are not where gender-neutrality ends. Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural scientist and diversity consultant also believes emphasis needs to be paid on language used around children, on which they model their perception. But she also believes kids shouldn’t be coerced into living a gender-less childhood. Anamika Singh, a Mumbai based photographer and mother to a seven-year-old boy agrees. “Extreme approach to any form of parenting style is detrimental. By practicing extreme gender-neutrality where the child grows up genderless may result in confusion in their minds and isolation in social groups. I personally feel gender-neutral parenting should be for a child’s development rather than making them an agent for social change.” She and husband Pawan practise what she labels as a relaxed form a gender-neutral parenting. They neither impose nor fuss about gender neutrality. “In our household, it is perfectly fine for boys to wear pink or blue, to watch Dora or Diego, to cry to hold back tears.”

While there are critics of extreme gender-neutral parenting, not revealing the sex of the child to the world for instance, the fact remains that there are different degrees of gender-neutral parenting. At its core, the idea is to encourage children to pursue all their interests, without being burdened by societal expectations based on gender,” says Dr Swetha Agarwal.

We need to treat children as individuals. Irrespective of their gender, kids must be encouraged to become their own person in an environment that is not too prescriptive. “In a country like India it is easier said than done though,” rues Aparna. “We have to ensure that the grandparents and the extended family are on the same page. Also, how do we protect kids from bullying?” she asks.

Change is painful. There is more to gender equality than allowing girls to study and boys to choose “feminine” pursuits like baking. Perhaps, taking away the gender from parenting will pave the way for a more equal world, where young boys won’t be ridiculed for being a princess. And who knows, the gender pay gap may become a thing of the past, too.

(With inputs from Deccan Herald and Times of India)

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