The obsession with children's genitals

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Le T Le T's picture
The obsession with children's genitals

Not sure if people saw the Toronto Star aricle about Storm.

Le T Le T's picture

Original article

Toronto Star opinion pieces, video, and bizzar webpoll.

"When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?'" says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

"If you really want to get to know someone, you don't ask what's between their legs," says Stocker.

 

Unionist

What I find amusing about both "sides" to this dispute is the extreme and totally fundamental point of agreement between the two:

That children are the personal property of their parents.

That their parents have a right to decide their children's fate and future, their faith and gender (or genderlessness), everything.

That parents should even be allowed to decide whether to send their kids to school, or to "home-school" them, to guarantee that their clone-hood will be complete.

My personal view is quite different. I believe parents should have responsibilities with respect to their children, but not rights. Rights belong either to the child, or to society. Women can decide whether or not to conceive and to give birth. Once the child is no longer part of the woman's body, however, we owe them a duty of care, but not coercion. If society decides that gender should be de-emphasized, so be it. But why should parents impose their belief system - whether with respect to gender, or God, or politics - on their child? Just because the kid is their physical captive for a number of years?

 

Snert Snert's picture

It's an interesting experiment, for sure.  But I can't be sure that all of the resistance to it is because people want to 'gender' Storm (ie: impose expectations or norms based on sex).

For good or bad, most of us come in two distinct forms, male or female, and we're kind of used to that.  Do we NEED to know a person's sex in order to talk to them or work with them or whatever?  Well, no.  But we're still used to knowing.

The best analogy I can come up with is that we also like to know whether a narrative is "fact" or "fiction".  We shouldn't really need to know, in order to enjoy a good story, but if an author deliberately chose to create a new category of "unknown", some readers might find that unsatisfying, even if they like both fiction and non-fiction equally.

Unionist

Snert wrote:

The best analogy I can come up with is that we also like to know whether a narrative is "fact" or "fiction".

It's a poor analogy, Snert. We want males and females to be equal in our society, in every possible respect. The same can hardly be said for fact and fiction.

 

Snert Snert's picture

I was primarily thinking about books -- "true crime" versus "crime fiction".  If it's an engrossing story and you enjoyed reading it, would it really matter if it was a true story, or the product of an author's imagination? 

I don't mean fact versus fiction in, say, the courthouse.

And I don't think that knowing someone's sex necessarily precludes equal treatment.  We don't treat men and women equally, certainly, but I don't think the only possible remedy for that would be not knowing someone's sex.

Dodger718

Unionist wrote:

 If society decides that gender should be de-emphasized, so be it. But why should parents impose their belief system - whether with respect to gender, or God, or politics - on their child?

Why should "society" be able to impose THEIR belief system about all these things on a child? Some societies have banned religious practice. Others have mandated it. Some societies say that all children should go to school. Others say that girls shouldn't be given access to education. It varies wildly. Who do you trust to make these decisions? The government?

Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

Dodger718 wrote:

Why should "society" be able to impose THEIR belief system about all these things on a child? Some societies have banned religious practice. Others have mandated it. Some societies say that all children should go to school. Others say that girls shouldn't be given access to education. It varies wildly. Who do you trust to make these decisions? The government?

I believe in the mandatory education of children.  Do you think it should be left to the discretion of the parents?  Education is the key to any open and democratic society and in that type of society not all ideas are equal.

takeitslowly

Snert wrote:

It's an interesting experiment, for sure.  But I can't be sure that all of the resistance to it is because people want to 'gender' Storm (ie: impose expectations or norms based on sex).

For good or bad, most of us come in two distinct forms, male or female, and we're kind of used to that.  Do we NEED to know a person's sex in order to talk to them or work with them or whatever?  Well, no.  But we're still used to knowing.

The best analogy I can come up with is that we also like to know whether a narrative is "fact" or "fiction".  We shouldn't really need to know, in order to enjoy a good story, but if an author deliberately chose to create a new category of "unknown", some readers might find that unsatisfying, even if they like both fiction and non-fiction equally.

Unfortunately, many people who are gender - ambiguous do not necessarily find it easy to get work, or interact with people because a lot of people cant make superficial conversation without relying on knowing someone’s gender.  

 

6079_Smith_W

@ Unionist

I agree with you completely about parents trying to enforce their values on kids. 

On the other hand, reading this  article the notion of keeping the gender a "secret" seems absurd. The child is going to figure out who it is soon enough and let everyone know. I think this is more of a lesson for the community - those who insist on putting people into boxes.

I believe (and there is research that indicates) babies are receptive to gender cues from birth. But I seriously doubt an experiment like this is going to have much effect on the child at all - and I think a negative effect is even less likely. The baby is not the one with the preconceived notions that need to be challenged.

This may be a stricter version of it, but there are enough parents who let their kids be themselves when it comes to gender fluidity. Our daughter - age 5 -  got her hair cut short for the first time and all of a sudden started wearing button shirts, and asking me to tie ties for her. 

So unless this couple are some hard-line zealots and there is a dark side to this that I am not seeing,  I think the baby is probably in decent hands. 

Frmrsldr

Northern Shoveler wrote:

Education is the key to any open and democratic society...

Yes, but what comes first:

The values espoused by education?

Or the values espoused by society?

Do the values that a society has flow from education?

Or are the values that a society has reflected in education.

An open and democratic society may teach these values through eductation.

But what sort of education would a closed and authoritarian society have?

Would it be the same or different?

 

Freedom 55

6079_Smith_W wrote:

The child is going to figure out who it is soon enough and let everyone know. I think this is more of a lesson for the community - those who insist on putting people into boxes.

 

Exactly.

I think Kate Heartfield got to the heart of it in her column; [url=http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/Children+aren+born+pink+blue/483460... aren't born pink or blue[/url]

Quote:
Experiments disguising boys as girls, and vice versa, show that people do tend to label a baby’s demeanour — aggressive, joyful, angry, interested — according to the presumed sex. My little boy is just reaching the age where he likes to roughhouse with me. Would I be as physical with a daughter? It’s difficult for any parent to know. Every child is unique, after all, and even differences within a family can’t necessarily be ascribed to gender. But there is research that suggests parents unwittingly interact differently with boys and girls, right from birth.

Eliot writes about one study I find scary: Mothers of 11-month-olds were brought into a lab and asked to teach their children to climb down a carpeted ramp. Each mom was able to set the angle of the ramp according to her estimate of her child’s abilities. The study found no sex differences between the children’s ability to climb the slope or their willingness to try more challenging angles, but they did find that, while moms of boys accurately predicted their sons’ abilities, moms of daughters underestimated theirs.

 

This matters because the leeway we allow our children determines many of their skills as adults. Kids who are allowed to venture far from the house develop spatial and wayfinding skills that more coddled children do not, for example. If we don’t expect our boys to emote or our girls to explore, we’re preventing them from reaching their potential in ways that could affect the society they’ll create as adults.

Obviously, in this case, the parents know their child's gender and may not be able able to relate to Storm without gender even subconsciously coming into play. But I think their hope is that by keeping it a secret, they may be able to reduce other people interacting with Storm in a gender-specific way.

I first heard this story a week ago, and every day this week I've been amazed/baffled by its staying power in the media. I really don't understand what seems to have gotten people so worked-up about this.

Sineed

A friend who knows this couple is horrified by all the hatred spewed in the comments sections of articles about these parents.  Storm's father is my friend's daughter's teacher, and my friend says this guy is an inspired teacher, encouraging the kids to think for themselves, getting kids excited about math, for instance.  Apparently these are nice thoughtful people, awesome parents in general.  And they are not likely to take this little exercise too far; ie, Storm is 5 months old, and when Storm is older, he/she will be able to make up his/her own mind (damn pronouns!)

unionist wrote:
But why should parents impose their belief system - whether with respect to gender, or God, or politics - on their child? Just because the kid is their physical captive for a number of years?

I agree 100% with this, though I think the problem that unionist and I both have is the coercive power of the parent/child relationship, and the abuse of that power going on in so many families.  And these parents are, from what I hear, not the coercive types, instead allowing their kids to take the lead in determining how they live their lives.

Well-meaning hippy parents who push gender boundaries, challenging the status quo are not a problem.  There are all sorts of kids raised in abusive/neglectful circumstances.  The outrage generated by these parents could be better directed.

Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler's picture

Frmrsldr wrote:

Northern Shoveler wrote:

Education is the key to any open and democratic society...

Yes, but what comes first:

The values espoused by education?

Or the values espoused by society?

Do the values that a society has flow from education?

Or are the values that a society has reflected in education.

An open and democratic society may teach these values through eductation.

But what sort of education would a closed and authoritarian society have?

Would it be the same or different?

I am sorry I don't have the time to write the doctoral thesis required to adequately answer your questions.  They are the right questions.

Refuge Refuge's picture

Unionist wrote:

My personal view is quite different. I believe parents should have responsibilities with respect to their children, but not rights. Rights belong either to the child, or to society. Women can decide whether or not to conceive and to give birth. Once the child is no longer part of the woman's body, however, we owe them a duty of care, but not coercion. If society decides that gender should be de-emphasized, so be it. But why should parents impose their belief system - whether with respect to gender, or God, or politics - on their child? Just because the kid is their physical captive for a number of years?

 

Just curious for some clarification Unionist. I will give you a situation with my son and let me know if it falls in line with your view.

I have wanted to have a family bed since before I had children (with all the safety precautions, please nobody turn this into a debate about family beds). I wasn't sure it would happen because I wasn't sure if my partner would also want one. After my son was born we kept him in a bassinet by the bed because he woke frequently through the night. As he got older and it was time to move out of the bassinet we moved him into bed where he started waking up more frequently and generally not sleeping well. We moved him to a crib and he slept great again.

My question is would this fall under what your view is how things should be because we did what my son needed or just the fact that I tried a family bed, which is my belief not my son's, is what you deem as not okay.

6079_Smith_W

@ Refuge

Sorry for the tangent.  Our kids have slept with us from day one, and any attempts to move them to their own space as infants did not work at all. I know I was in a crib when I was a baby, but I can't understand how, because it is so foreign to the way our family has done it. Our kids are 5 and 7 now, and we are constantly jumping beds there are at least a couple of mornings a week when we all wind up in a pile.

Anyway, thread drift

Unionist

Refuge wrote:
My question is would this fall under what your view is how things should be because we did what my son needed or just the fact that I tried a family bed, which is my belief not my son's, is what you deem as not okay.

I don't know how to answer that, Refuge. We favoured a family bed with our kids, for as long as it worked. But I didn't see it as imposing a lifestyle choice on my child. If there were the slightest indication of discomfort or unsafety, that would prevail above any of our wishes as parents.

I think we need to keep our kids fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved. I have long had a deep personal distaste for parenting which tries to turn kids into some direction of life or other (career choices, religion, politics). They will inevitably be influenced by what we are, how we act, and what we say - but they will be influenced as well, and likely far more, by their peers and the general culture of society. It is not our right nor our duty to turn them into our ideological replicas - or crash-test dummies for gender experimentation either, IMHO.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to influence their environment. When our first child was in Pre-K, the kids had common bathrooms. In Grade 1, they were separated by sex. I opposed that and raised it for discussion with the school authorities, but got nowhere. I said bathrooms in homes were unisex - why not in school? It didn't kill me when I lost the argument. Society will be ready for that idea one day - or it won't. There's always the remote possibility that I may be wrong. :)

But what makes me uncomfortable about this story is the apparent use of children to exemplify the parents' views. Let the parents de-genderize themselves and their social behaviour. I'd support that.

 

 

Refuge Refuge's picture

Got it, that makes sense. And never figured you for a family bed kinda guy. Nice.

As a side note, after my son got sick and needed to be propped up to sleep (It was easier to do in the family bed and he was sleeping badly anyway) and then he didn't want to go back so I am enjoying it now!

MegB

Separate beds and bedrooms are a relatively new thing in families.  In the 60s, I always shared with my sister - same room, not bed, and felt better for her presence.  With my own kids, we did a fair bit of the family bed thing - as infants, and when they were older watching movies and falling asleep in the Big Bed.  Occasionally my youngest will crawl into be with us if she has a scary dream.  Do I like the pointy knees and elbows jabbing into me? NO.  Getting a hand flapped across my face while in my deepest sleep isn't a good time.  But I do like the closeness, the familial intimacy of a family bed.  It feels cosy, and safe, and just wonderful in that warm fuzzy way.

This gender-free child is an interesting experience, with no harm done.  The parents seem willing to appreciate whatever shows up, gender-wise, in their child as s/he develops.  It strikes me in no way that they are trying to create a truly androgynous person, which would be unnatural unless that were the original gender of the child.

Hey, we're all in this petrie dish together ... might as well explore its limitations.

Fidel

I slept in a bunk bed for years in my parents bedroom. I never had a bedroom of my own as a child. And I remember by brothers talking about their friend on the next street who slept in a bedroom so small that his feet would hang out the window in summer.

Freedom 55

Rebecca West wrote:

The parents seem willing to appreciate whatever shows up, gender-wise, in their child as s/he develops.  It strikes me in no way that they are trying to create a truly androgynous person

 

Yes, that seems pretty evident when one reads what the parents have actually said, rather then the overwrought hyperbole of many of the commentators. Anyone who thinks this is some kind of experiment to socially engineer a genderless child either misunderstands the situation or is projecting something from their own fears and anxieties.

Quote:
None of my family members are gender-free or genderless. [...]Storm has a sex which those close to him/her know and acknowledge. We don't know yet about colour preferences or dress inclinations, but the idea that the whole world must know our baby's sex strikes me as unhealthy and voyeuristic. This is what I know — someday soon, Storm will have something to say about it and in the meantime, I'm just listening carefully.

[url=http://www.thestar.com/news/article/998960--genderless-baby-s-mother-res..."Genderless" baby's mother responds to media frenzy[/url]

Unionist

Freedom 55 wrote:

Yes, that seems pretty evident when one reads what the parents have actually said, rather then the overwrought hyperbole of many of the commentators. Anyone who thinks this is some kind of experiment to socially engineer a genderless child either misunderstands the situation or is projecting something from their own fears and anxieties.

Oh, this is fun! Can I accuse you of something now? Hmmm - what's the opposite of hyperbole? Parabole?

You're the one who opined that the parents are trying to prove some kind of point here:

Freedom 55 wrote:
Obviously, in this case, the parents know their child's gender and may not be able able to relate to Storm without gender even subconsciously coming into play. But I think their hope is that by keeping it a secret, they may be able to reduce other people interacting with Storm in a gender-specific way.

So you're the hyperbolist! Wheee!

Now, can we discuss the issue without shitting on the participants in the discussion? Like, maybe, pretend that people's viewpoints are legitimate?

Thank you.

 

Refuge Refuge's picture

Oh how I missed you Unionist. I must make time to come back more frequently now that the little guy can entertain himself for longer :-))

Unionist

Always good to see you back here, Refuge!

Thinking about this issue a bit more, I'm puzzled as to why the parents decided to parade their little experiment all over the media. When you read the material, the one comment they never make is "no comment, please respect our privacy".

If they hadn't talked to The Star, no one would have been the wiser. They were obviously pissed off when the email they sent around after the child was born was met with "stony silence" (from the original article). Stony silence is obviously not one of their problems.

While I agree strongly with de-emphasizing and (as far as possible) erasing gender distinctions in social terms, I think that's a task for society. In the case of these two parents, their media performance appears increasingly to be a narcissistic display of social engineering - with their child as the unwitting and unwilling object.

 

Freedom 55

Unionist wrote:
You're the one who opined that the parents are trying to prove some kind of point here:

Freedom 55 wrote:
Obviously, in this case, the parents know their child's gender and may not be able able to relate to Storm without gender even subconsciously coming into play. But I think their hope is that by keeping it a secret, they may be able to reduce other people interacting with Storm in a gender-specific way.

No, not at all. I don't see this as the parents trying to prove a point. I see it as the parents trying to shield their child from other people's ideas of what it means to be male or female, inasmuch as that's possible.

What I think the parents are saying is; as enlightened and progressive as we may think we are, our society is still fucked when it comes to gender, and we don't believe that even our closest friends and family members are able to interact with Storm without consciously or subconsciously sending her/him messages about who s/he is supposed to be - to say nothing of strangers and casual acquaintances. Therefore, we're not going to bother to tell you about our baby's junk in hopes that you will interact with Storm as if any of his/her future choices are equally possible and acceptable.

 

Unionist wrote:
Now, can we discuss the issue without shitting on the participants in the discussion? Like, maybe, pretend that people's viewpoints are legitimate?

Thank you.

Now, wouldn't that be a change?

You're welcome.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I'm on vacation! But this is too interesting a story.

unionist wrote:
Thinking about this issue a bit more, I'm puzzled as to why the parents decided to parade their little experiment all over the media. When you read the material, the one comment they never make is "no comment, please respect our privacy".

From Freedom 55's link:

Quote:
This short letter won't help you to know my family. And to protect our children from the frenzy that we did not anticipate, we have declined over 100 requests for interviews from all over the world, including all-expenses paid trips to New York City to tell our story on American morning television. We have learning to do, parks to visit and butterflies to care for.

I also appreciate Sineed's contribution above about these parents who really do seem like thoughtful, open, loving and concerned parents. Thanks Sineed!

oldgoat

Will reopen Catchfire's account on June 7.

MegB

Unionist wrote:

Freedom 55 wrote:

Yes, that seems pretty evident when one reads what the parents have actually said, rather then the overwrought hyperbole of many of the commentators. Anyone who thinks this is some kind of experiment to socially engineer a genderless child either misunderstands the situation or is projecting something from their own fears and anxieties.

Oh, this is fun! Can I accuse you of something now? Hmmm - what's the opposite of hyperbole? Parabole?

You're the one who opined that the parents are trying to prove some kind of point here:

Freedom 55 wrote:
Obviously, in this case, the parents know their child's gender and may not be able able to relate to Storm without gender even subconsciously coming into play. But I think their hope is that by keeping it a secret, they may be able to reduce other people interacting with Storm in a gender-specific way.

So you're the hyperbolist! Wheee!

Now, can we discuss the issue without shitting on the participants in the discussion? Like, maybe, pretend that people's viewpoints are legitimate?

Thank you.

Unionist, I don't know why you're baiting F55, but stop it.

Unionist

Yeah, I read Kathy Witterick's letter, which formed a significant part of my conclusion. It's extremely well written. It's the kind of magazine piece one normally writes about others, only this one is in the first person. "I am shy and idealistic..." Really.

Then, just to show this is simply a private matter of her own family, she writes:

Quote:
We have received many letters of support that are intelligent, heartfelt, research and experience-based. We've also heard articulate and meaningful concerns. We've witnessed a discussion erupt that could be transformative. It's important to challenge orthodoxies and raise questions, because the discussion that emerges not only “outs” issues (in a rush to pass judgment, people articulate prevailing prejudices and misconceptions), but also has the effect of helping people examine whether they believe the status quo to be the best that we can do.

That's what convinced me the parents (or, more likely, Ms. Witterick) made this matter public.

I agree, for the nth time, with de-emphasizing gender roles. But I never encouraged my daughter to use the boys' washroom at school and then called a news conference about it - and then said, "oh, it's getting out of hand, I'm not going on the Today Show". [Not saying the parents in this case did that - it's just a hyperbolic made-up example.] Mind you, I've never tried to recruit our kids into the causes we or I espouse either.

I guess we'll have to be content with our separate perceptions of what a parent's role is, by contrast with a social activist.

takeitslowly

I couldn't be more proud of the mother and the family. The comments generated from the stories really highlight how many parents justifying bullying because its not going away, they never think for a second that this is a blame the victim ideology that is no more different than blaming a woman for being raped because of the clothes she wear. And for those who think that the two parents have nothing better than to do than to question the gender binary are the same people who dont care about people who are marginalized and hurt from the gender binary system or gender stereotypes, they dont have time to learn about those issues, maybe its because ignorance is a bliss.

jas

Unionist wrote:

But what makes me uncomfortable about this story is the apparent use of children to exemplify the parents' views. Let the parents de-genderize themselves and their social behaviour. I'd support that.

My reading of the story gave me the exact opposite impression. They are allowing their children to choose their own gender expression, rather than railroading them into one or the other. It sounds like they will maintain that environment of choice as the kids grow up, and at some point, the kids themselves will decide how or whether they want to fit into a system that is still actively and aggressively polarized with regard to gender expression.

Unionist

Jas, you misunderstand me. I have no objection to parents not pushing traditional gender roles on their kids. Quite the contrary, I think it's proper and healthy (though I respect differing opinions). My problem is their deliberate, conscious, active flaunting of their situation in the media. The mother's article, cited above, convinced me of that. The debate and discussion does and should go on on these issues. I just don't like what these particular parents have done publicly.

 

jas

By the way, the thread title makes it sound like the subject is pedophilia and seems a little sensationalistic.

Imo, the obsession is not with genital physiology, but psychological expression. I don't think gendered people care about, for example, which gender a hermaphrodite chooses, but just that s/he choose one, to make things "easier" for "everyone".

jas

Unionist wrote:

Jas, you misunderstand me. I have no objection to parents not pushing traditional gender roles on their kids. Quite the contrary, I think it's proper and healthy (though I respect differing opinions). My problem is their deliberate, conscious, active flaunting of their situation in the media. The mother's article, cited above, convinced me of that. The debate and discussion does and should go on on these issues. I just don't like what these particular parents have done publicly.

The original article was in parentcentral.ca, written by someone other than the mother. It's an interesting parenting topic. It doesn't surprise me that someone would want to write on it, nor that the parents wanted to share their experience.

Noah_Scape

I am not sure I like the title either - could I suggest "infant's genitals" instead? It sounds like a referance to sexual abuse of children, but maybe I am over reacting [ovary acting?]

anyways... I gave my kids both sides of the religion issue, and then I told them that the choice was theirs to make, when they are ready, if they believed in God or not, and damnit they both became believers! I told them I was atheist and I hinted that all religion was based on superstition, but that "some people say they can just feel that God is in their heart" and they seemed to relate to that.

So there you go - children are individuals and they will decide whats what in their lives, given a chance... Brainwashing is pretty close to abuse in my books.

Which brings us to Santa. My wife [ex] is still angry about how I handled that one... but these days it seems that 10 yrs old is almost too old to believe in Santa, isn't it? At some point it could be terribly embarrasing to be hearing for the first time that there is any doubt about Santa bringing toys to children, right? [don't hit me!]

Sineed

The way the media covered this provoked all the controversy, by suggesting that the baby was being raised genderless.  I wonder how many of the outraged comments were made by people who made a snap judgement and didn't even read the article.  The entire "experiment," such as it is, focuses on not divulging the child's gender at this time to people outside the family.

I recall an experiment done in the 70s, I think, where people were presented with a baby and told, it's a boy or a girl, and their reactions gauged.  The people presented with a "boy" said things to the baby like, "Tough little tiger!" etc, and when told the baby was a girl, responded with, "What a pretty little sweetie" etc.  It was the same baby in both cases.

So forcing people to focus on the baby's personhood rather than gender is a neat idea.  Though IMV it doesn't really matter in the long run - the primary influence on children's psychological health is being loved, cared for, and respected. 

Freedom 55