Gender neutrality: Is it even possible or desirable?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the evolution of language in the United States as gender-specific words have become gender neutral. Instead of policeman or policewoman we have police officer. Instead of fireman we have firefighter. How do we change seamstress to gender neutral: sewer? Um, women and men who sew are not the same as concrete conduits for waste. Sometimes this gender neutral thing hits a wall.

Addressing the concept of the words used to describe occupations, I have observed some wonderful changes that have resulted in many gender-specific occupations opening up to both sexes. My son’s middle school has a LOT of male teachers. This is great news for boys.

Wait!!! Aren’t we supposed to be gender neutral? Is it really possible? Let’s be honest here: men and boys can usually relate in a way that women and boys cannot. In pursuing gender neutrality should a boy be required to be less male, or something in between a boy and a girl, or pretend to be a little of both? Is it possible for human beings to be gender neutral? Can we draw out the feminine in boys? Is it really there to draw out? When girls mature into women and pursue occupations such as firefighting or law enforcement, do they need to exhibit male characteristics in order to be successful? Sort of, and no, or possibly yes.
I gave birth to a single girl in between the boys. These little humans were different from the get-go. A couple of my boys were like bulls in a China shop, and all love math and the sciences and are mechanically inclined. My girl was quieter and softer but she was just as adventurous. She was climbing out of her crib before 18 months and was the one that ended up in the ER for stitches and concussions. As a woman, she loves big purses but prefers that they be in a camo design. She will wear a dress but prefers jeans and flannel. She loves trucks and guns and her little baby girl. She really loves being a mommy, a LOT!

I confess that although I bought my daughter dolls I didn’t encourage her to play with Barbie or any fashion dolls (she had some but didn’t like playing with them). And when she mentioned that she was thinking about trying out for cheerleader I nearly screamed, “No!” at her. I taught a couple of my sons to sew and crochet at their request. My sons all know how to cook, clean and do laundry. My oldest seems to be a really great husband who cooks, cleans, and changes diapers while working full-time (my daughter-in-law also works full time as a physician).

Gender neutrality . . . what an interesting concept. I agree with the goals of gender neutrality as long as a boy is allowed to naturally be what he IS and a girl is allowed to be what she naturally IS and we are not trying to scrub out their femininity or masculinity or punishing a girl for having feminine characteristics or a boy for masculine characteristics. Maybe I don’t really agree with the goals of gender neutrality.

I have explored the premise of gender neutrality and pulled out the really good parts and discarded the rest. I believe that people should be allowed to develop fully into who they really ARE. My job as a parent is to allow a natural evolution of my children’s personalities not with gender-neutral toys and hobbies but with full access to all toys independent of gender. Girls should not just play with dolls, mini kitchens and princess outfits but own and play with building sets, tools, and cars. Boys should not just be given army men, battery-operated power tools and race cars but be encouraged to play daddy with dolls and make meals using plastic pots and pans. My daughter received her own compound bow when her older brother got his. My boys love the written word more than their sister and own more books. My daughter was in Little League before any of her brothers (and discovered that sports isn’t really her thing). My goal as a parent was and is to support my children’s pursuits of their interests and dreams. As far as my limited finances afforded, I believe I succeeded.

Bottom line: If a boy wants to become a teacher, a previously female-dominated occupation, and a girl wants to become a police officer, a male-dominated occupation until the 70s, they should not just be allowed but encouraged to pursue their dreams.

I think the ultimate goal should be gender equality. Right? If we think about it, that really IS the goal of gender neutrality.

Here is what I think: at some point it was felt that gender roles were so deeply ingrained in our culture (and still are in many subcultures) that we needed to wipe the slate clean and eliminate the whole idea of gender differences before we could begin to see progress toward equality. I understand this. I think some psychologists may have mistakenly believed it was possible to create a gender neutral society. In spite of (what I perceive as) misconceptions of the inner workings of gender, the result of this gender neutrality effort has been expanded freedom and equality.

I must admit that I really love the progress that we have made in gender equality. I know young men want to go into child care, make excellent nurses, and certainly make excellent teachers. Men have entered fields that were previously exclusively female as flight attendants, maids, waiting tables (though in the 19th century men exclusively held these positions), secretaries (although the title had to be changed to assistant before the occupation was acceptable for men), teachers, nurses, and much more. Women now work in fields that have been predominantly male: they are college professors, military officers, doctors and researchers, military and commercial pilots, engineers, business executives, law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges, politicians, managers, leaders, and much more. Men are excelling in the fiber arts while women are welding large metal sculptures. Women are bringing home the bacon while their husbands stay at home with the children.

We are getting so close. I think back to the 60s and 70s (yes, I am that old), and the world has most certainly changed. Just a hundred years ago women couldn’t even vote in some states (women were granted suffrage in all states in 1920). Yes, we are progressing.

Is it all good? That is another post. What has occurred due to the loss of the neighborhood moms who were everywhere when we grew up? They kept an eye on all of us so we couldn’t really get away with anything until we got cars and could drive to the quarry (oh, the quarry).

Those moms became free to pursue their own dreams and desires while also being free to stay home (the economy has pulled many women out of the home who didn’t choose that path — good or bad?). Who is watching the children? Hopefully mom AND dad and teachers and neighbors, maybe grandma and grandpa — the erosion of the extended family has had its own effect on children and society. Unless we see the transformation of parental roles in egalitarian marriages there is a big gap in participation in child rearing and care, and in many cases the children pay the price. Transformation of the family has far to go. Again, that is another post.

Gender neutrality was and is a noble goal as long as it is merely relegated to being a tool in the pursuit of gender equality. Men and women are different. We have different parts and can do different things when it comes to sex and reproduction; but gender differences go much deeper than that. That does not mean that we need to be broken up into two separate groups who only meet over dinner and in the bedroom as in the past. Gender equality has brought the sexes together in a new and amazing way that is still being worked out. I have hope for the next generation, the generation that I helped raise to respect the individual and not limit other people merely because of their boy or girl parts or the timbre of their voices.

I have great hope for the future of gender equality, or equality, period. Isn’t equality for all what we really want? Just plain ole equality: male, female, black, white, rich, poor, straight, gay, Muslim, Christian. We all want equal opportunities, equal access, and equal voices. I know I do.

Celebrating equality today.


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