Feminist Philosophers

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Gender experiment September 5, 2009

Filed under: family,gender — Monkey @ 12:00 pm

A Swedish couple have decided to keep their child’s sex a secret from all but their closest friends, in a bid to prevent it from absorbing gender expectations. You can read about it here.

 

18 Responses to “Gender experiment”

  1. It’s a good idea. What gets me is the commentator about normative gender roles. Apparently males verbalise aggression much more than females do, at an early age. So are we to make out from this that males are quintessential verbalisers? I remember hitting my sister a great deal, throughout my childhood. Once it was on the head with a plastic spade, when she was one year old or so. At other opportunities, I tore out massive tufts of her hair (as she also attempted with me) when we were sitting in the hot car for too long and she encroached into my space.

    I can’t remember verbalising it, though.

  2. Rob Says:

    So, would this experiment qualify as reckless parenting if it was (somehow) being conducted in a society with entrenched, long-standing and sharply divided gender roles, and in which there was no reasonable expectation of significant change during the child’s lifetime?

    I wonder if a precondition for the ethical permissibility of such an experiment is that it be conducted within a society in which the “gender expectations” are so relaxed that the worst it (the experiment) can do is be harmless. I’m ashamed to say I have doubts as to how harmless it could be if conducted in not a few places in the States.

  3. Monkey Says:

    Rob – difficult question. It occurred to me that if Pop is a boy and regularly dressing up in dresses, then he is going to have a hard time as soon as he starts school.

  4. Rachel Says:

    This is interesting, including the reaction to this experiment from the comments on the article. It seems like most people are appalled.

    One of the commentators described the parents decision well: Unlike in the case of David/Brenda, Pop’s parents aren’t imposing a different gender on Pop. Instead Pop can choose freely without having those around him/her impose a gender.

    Is it ethical? I think Rob is raising a good question: Can we impose gender identity issues on a child? Pop is likely to face similar problems as the girl who is a “tomboy” or the boy who is a “sissy,” i.e., kids who “naturally” don’t follow gender stereotypes (quotes around naturally because the nature/nurture question isn’t answered yet…). But is it ethical to raise girls in the gender-stereotypical way knowing that this’ll lead to lower earnings, for example?

    To me, the idea of using a child in an experiment seems to be the more fundamental ethical question. It seems at minimum troubling because the child cannot give her/his consent. Yet, how much disadvantage is imposed upon us by not having Pop’s freedom of choice as a kid? In some ways, it almost seems more ethical to avoid imposing gender norms on a child…

    (Trying to post this again… Sorry if this ends up being a double comment…)

  5. Carl Says:

    The comment on dresses makes me think:

    Isn’t there a sense in which our gender roles are like fashion choices? For example, here in the Anglosphere, if one were to decide to wear a kimono in daily life, it would attract a lot of undue attention. But do you really even want to wear a kimono? For most people in the Anglosphere, I think that the usual shirt and pants or shirt and skirt combination is not only imposed by outside pressures, it is something that we ourselves *want* to wear. We express our identity with our clothes. It may be that it is only for culturally particular reasons that we like the kinds of clothes we do (did everyone really simultaneously think “Bell bottoms, yay” at the beginning of the 70s and “Bell bottoms, yuck” at the end?), but those preferences are still authentic expressions of our self-identity.

    In the case of this child, it seems like the parents are trying to let it express its gender identity in the absence of external pressures. But doing so is like asking someone what they want to wear after raising them as a nudist. Wearing clothes as a child gives you time to grow into your identity as the kind of adult who wears a particular kind of clothing. The parents seem to hope that this experiment will allow the child to express its “natural” gender identity, but I’m afraid that by not imposing some gender identity onto the child when it’s young, it won’t have time to develop for itself an “authentic” gender identity.

    Then again, who knows. I hope it works out for the child.

  6. Takashi Says:

    I suspect that for this experiment to “work” parents would have to have much more control over their children than they typically do. The couples’ optimism strikes me as pretty naive.

  7. Rob Says:

    Yeah, who knows? Maybe it’s worse for a kid’s development to be subjected to the heightened, if not also more invasive, parental control required to shield it from absorbing Swedish gender expectations than to be tyrannized, like everyone else, by those expectations. Anyhow, here’s hoping Moodysson secures the feature film rights, and a Swedish Apted pokes around every few years for documentary updates on the kid’s trajectory.

  8. Rob Says:

    Makes me wonder if the presumably heightened, and perhaps more invasive, parental control is a better regime to be subjected to than that of Swedish gender expectations. In any case, here’s hoping Moodysson secures the feature film rights and a Swedish Apted pokes around every few years for documentary updates on the kid’s trajectory.

  9. redeyedtreefrog Says:

    All of this assumes that the parents have no gender expectations and that by denying the information to the outside world they’ve sheltered the child. This isn’t clear to me. The studies on how we treat babies we know to be male or female say the results apply to men and women, and to those who say gender doesn’t matter. That is, even people who say it doesn’t make a difference will treat babies they think are male differently than babies they think are female. So I’m wondering about the parents’ role.

  10. lga Says:

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to experiment on one’s child to this degree. It seems unfair to try to deny them something that, for better or for worse, all of their peers have as part of their identities. Whether the child grows up internalizing this difference as something special that sets them above everyone else, or as something freakish that sets them apart, I don’t know, but I find it disturbing. There’s a strong temptation to try to keep one’s children pure and unsullied by the flaws of our cultures, but I don’t think it’s doing them a favor to go to this extreme about it.

  11. Jender Says:

    I’ve just released Rachel’s 4 from Spam. No idea how it got there– sorry!

  12. Monkey Says:

    Hello all,

    It strikes me that I shouldn’t have called this post gender ‘experiment’ – from what I’ve read, the parents don’t intend this to be an experiment. They’re trying to bring up their child in a way that will shield it from social expectations of gender. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about child development. But if something formative happens gender-wise in early pre-school years, then it might be good for the child to have no gender until it gets to school. The gender expectations it picks up there may not penetrate as deeply into its view of itself if it hasn’t been faced with any thus far. Another thing that occurs to me – I wonder how successful the parents will be at ensuring that they are not communicating any gendered expectations and beliefs.

  13. Rob Says:

    Makes me wonder, whatever degree or manner of “success “ is realized, if the presumably heightened, and perhaps even more invasive, parental control in this instance is a better regime to be subjected to than that of Swedish gender expectations. In any case, here’s hoping Lukas Moodysson (“Fucking Åmål”, “Lilya-4-Ever”) secures the feature film rights and a Swedish Michael Apted (director of the “Up” series) pokes around every few years for documentary updates on the kid’s trajectory.

  14. Rob Says:

    Sorry for the redundant post above. The previous one didn’t appear when I submitted it.

  15. M. Says:

    What worries me more than the gender thing is having a big secret looming in the family. As the article mentions at the end, family secrets are often a recipe for disaster.

  16. J-Bro Says:

    I get what they’re trying to do, but can’t help thinking that this will be one troubled child. It might work if the child were raised in a commune where everyone was taking the same tack, but I think this kid is going to find it difficult to integrate into society.

    Either that, or sometime in nursery school, the kid will wind up playing doctor with classmates, triumphantly announce their discovered sex, and get on with life having terminated the experiment.

  17. jj Says:

    Monkey, I really liked the idea of calling it an experiment. That’s just what we might say when we, as it were, launch ourselves into the unknown to find out what will happen. E.g., “I wonder if I went up to every cop i saw and asked for $5 if I’d end up in jail.” Interlocutor: “Cool idea! Let’s experiment!”

    The big problem here is that we have absolutely no idea what will happen by trying to keep a child in the dark about gender. It’s not a cool idea to try the experiment.

  18. Rob Says:

    An interview with neuroscientist Lise Eliot (Rosalind Franklin University):

    Good luck raising that gender-neutral child

    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/09/26/gender_difference/print.html


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