Is gender labels important in establishing a child’s identity?

I had read an article in my class last year that spoke of a couple having a child and knew the sex of the child but chose not to share it with the rest of the world.  The child was simply called Baby X and wore all colors so that no one would be able to tell the sex of the child.

As an infant, Baby X had all colors of clothing and all kinds of toys.  Each toy that was usually gender specific was owned by the child.  For example, a toy like a train set, which is usually a boy’s toy, the child played with it.  Everytime a person would ask, the parents would not tell the sex; instead, an explanation was given that the child shoud finds its own identity.  The child itself did not even know what sex they were.

I find pros and cons with this practice.  I fell like a child should be able to explore different things to establish their identity.  With knowing their gender, this may limit their ideas on what is to be expected of them.  For example, if a child learns that it is a female, she may show resistance to play with tools and trucks because that is not the norm in society.  On the other side, a boy may not want to age and become a stay at home husband because he will probably be taught the the male is the bread winner in a household.  Without having constraints of a gender label, an individual may have the opportunity to explore options that are available to both men and women.

One of the cons to this practice would be gender confusion.  If a child does not know what gender they are, they might become confused of their identity.  In a society where gender labels are very apparent, this could confuse the person in knowing or wanting to establish where they belong.  Also, a child may have to deal with ridcule and bullying from school mates or other pears if it becomes obvious, especially during puberty, what sex the individual is.  If this is the case, would the parent think it is ethical to surpress their child’s sex through hormone therapy?  That question could arise if the parent is adement of the sex not being known to the public.

This practice, if executed with care, could become beneficial in molding a child’s identity and gender roles as they continue to age.  However, if it comes to a point where the child would like to know their gender, I feel it is improtant for the parents to inform them of their gender.  I believe a child can know their own gender and make their own decision as to what gender role they would like to fulfill.  A parent should explain that although they are of a certain sex, they do not have to be restricted to the norms of that gender.

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7 Responses to Is gender labels important in establishing a child’s identity?

  1. When you think about all the different things that go into a person’s identity, there’s a lot to talk about. Many of these things change over the course of our lives like age, education, marital status, religious beliefs, personal interests, and so on. Others of these are perceived to be less mutable like race and gender: you’re born into a category and unless you’re Michael Jackson or get a sex change then you’re staying in that category.

    I think for many people in society that these aspects of our identities which are rooted in our bodies are perceived to be more fundamental than other aspects of identity. But for a researcher in the social sciences, we see these as just one way among many that people identify themselves. Instead, anthropologists and sociologists might turn their lens towards the cultural practices of assigning certain aspects of people’s identities to “nature”. Why do people think these embodied identities are so important that they need to rebel against them or militate against nonconformists?

    • cwils062 says:

      That is a good point. If the parents did not encounter any negative feedback from being labeled themselves, why should they not inform their child of their gender. Maybe they felt like the wanted to spark a fuse to go against the norm and show society that a gender label will not make or break on how a child can be reared. This may be fine in the fundalmental years of learning but as the child gets older and is exposed to males and females, who can the child relate to a gender if it does not have an identity of its own? This could cause not only confusion for the child themselves but for other children and parents as well. In a society where sex/gender cannot be discriminated against, how will the child be able to know if that is occuring to them? They will not know because the parent did not instill that in them. I think instead of the parents trying to be different, they should have let their child know their gender but let them know it is fine to be different in the sense that they do not have to conform to the norms of gender roles.

  2. Sil says:

    I think it is human nature to be able to label things or people. To neatly place them in a category. Humans don’t especially like change nor that which cannot be explained. Thus, perhaps the fact that this child was left genderless could possibly be the most detrimental aspect of this “experiment.” I believe that people should be able to express themselves freely and not succumb to social or peer pressures nor expectations. However, by taking that open concept and widening it to the point that a child is left even more “lost” can backfire. It just seems too extreme of an ideology that could lead to a resentful teenager or adult who doesn’t “belong.” Yes, give the kid any toy it wants and don’t limit that child to gender specific colors, clothes or roles. However, also teach him/her about its biological make up, but that he/she does not have to limit their lives based on what sex category they belong to. Yet above all, biologically speaking, the child IS one gender or the other. Thus, keeping the child from its own reality and not even giving him/her a name comes across as poor parenting. There has to be a middle ground.

    • cwils062 says:

      Leaving a child “unlabeled” could be very damaging to a child. I feel this practice does not allow the child to self-express and that could lead to confusion of identity once that child gets older. I think the parents should give the child the best of both worlds as far as the toys the child plays with or the colors that the child decides to wear. However, it should be instilled in the child that although the majority of things are gender-orientated, they do have the choice to not fall under the roles that are assigned with their gender.

  3. agreg019 says:

    I don’t think they should have raised the child like that personally. I think a child should know who they are and then if they decide to play with certain toys or like certain things at an early age they should be allowed to do with naturally. I think it is more damaging to a child to not know what they are, and for society know what they are just adds extra stress to the child. I think it is personally fine for a girl to know she is a girl, and for society to know she is a girl but decides to play with less feminine toys and vice versa. I think it is also fine to let a child decide their place in society but how would a child be able to do that when he/she is already confused. Maybe this experiment would work on someone’s child, but I personally wouldn’t do that to my child. I enjoyed the blog post though because I had been trying to follow up with that story on the news.

    • cwils062 says:

      I agree. If a parent does not establish their child’s gender, how is the child suppose to identify themselves with society? I feel this type of practice will lead to confusion with self-identity and will cause the child to have self-esteem issues. I think the parent should let it be up to that child if they want to be considered to take on whatever gender role that makes them feel comfortable. I would love to see how this child child and the parents deal with puberty because at that point telling the child their sex if a must. This is the stage of life that body changes are happening and a child should know their gender to help them cope with these changes.

  4. rcfalcon says:

    As Dr. Thompson mentioned, there are things that you are born with that can’t be changed, like gender and race. Children are either dressed in pink or blue from the second they are born and are given cars or barbies to play with as they grow.. and sometimes even told what they can’t and can be when they grow up based on their gender. Perhaps this is why there is still gender inequality today, because parents are still telling their young daughters they can’t be a firefighter, or doctor because thats a “man’s” job, and a boy can’t have dreams of being a nurse or preschool teacher because thats a “women’s” job. I think these parents are trying to raise this child genderless so that the child has no limitation to be, do, or say anything because of the childs gender. However, even if the parents give their child the option of wearing pink or blue, or playing with a car or a barbie, society will influence that child in a major way and at the end the child is going to end up being confused and perhaps feel alone in a bias world.

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