Friday 16 May 2014


A week or so ago, Mumsnet published a guest blog which set off my little grey cells. The thrust of it was the decision of the Mother of a small boy to bring him up without reference to gender.  He would wear a dress, if he felt like it, play with dolls and/or knock things about with a toy hammer and similar boysie - or girlie - pastimes.  Sadly, I am not sufficiently IT savvy to have another look at it for the sake of verification, but, considering the effect it had on me, I don't think that would be particularly necessary.  I did write a comment on the post wondering how the child would fare when he got in to the wider world. This was not enough to quiet my disturbance.  The prime question I asked myself was "why ?" What was the perceived advantage of non-gender upbring? All these days later I have not been able to think myself in to a rationale. Is it a strike for feminism? Is it a perceived desire to give the little one the widest possible life-experience? What I have been left with is a feeling of fear at what I perceive as a most extraordinary use of the Mother's power over her child.

For me, one of the things that I most enjoy about writing "75 going on 40" is the involuntary way humour creeps in. Humour seems to be the lubricant which makes manageable the incongruity of a lively, mischievous forty year old inner life in a very old body. Faithful followers will have noticed I have some ingenious ways of getting over the I-can't-any-longers. Humour in the situation which exercises me at present, would have to be a sort of gallows humour and, strangely, disrespectful. None has come to me, voluntarily or involuntarily. The power the parents - dare I say it - the Mother, has over her child for the first few months, seems to me to be absolute. This little boy, and boy he is, is completely open to what his Mother is offering him. Doesn't he have the right to be honoured and valued for what he is: a male human being? Goodness knows it's hard enough establishing one's identity. The matter can take decades. Whatever is the gain in interfering with that process? What will happen when he goes to school? Is he going to find that other little boys have a sturdy approach to their masculinity? Will he be ridiculed? How will he adapt if his Mother suddenly lines him up with those in his class at school who are firm in their maleness? Will he still wear a skirt if he chooses to? For Heaven's sake, life is complex enough. Why risk precipitating him in to a vortex of confusion just as he joins the world beyond his family? Had I but been aware of my power when my young were little I suspect their adult lives may have been rather different. (I hereby apologise to them). For the first time, I'd like to ask any of you who has a view to add a comment to the post, itself. But thank you to those of you who always email me personally.

In spite of myself, the humour has crept in. Presumptously imagining myself in to the ambience of that little fellow's home life, what came to me was what they say in Yorkshire: that youngster is going to find himself  'nowt nor some'at'. 'Nothing  nor something' if you are in Mountview California. Nos da


Anonymous said...

Dear Liz,
Speaking as a resolute feminist I believe boys should be brought up to respect and if at all possible empathise with the female half of humankind. There have been many experiments of the kind you are referring to, notably in Scandinavian countries, where, for example, there are kindergartens run on the principles you describe. The power of parents is indeed frightening, and few of us, I would think, are aware of that awe-ful power at the time. Parents have 3 tasks: to allow the child to develop his or her full potential to the best of their ability, to love unconditionally and to prepare the child for society. And there's the rub: what kind of society will the child end up in or indeed choose to be part of? An extreme form of feminism (to which I do not adhere but I imagine the mother in your blog does) maintains that gender is constructed by society and that we can choose which gender to be. Not their sex, which is biological. Some people then go so far as to feel the need to change their sex to match their gender. If gender is constructed by society, I believe we should work at improving society's attitude towards and treatment of the female gender. The way that this mother is going about it is extreme and potentially damaging but if all little boys were helped towards a respectful and egalitarian view of the females of their species so that this became the default in society at large, we would no longer need such extreme measures.

Anonymous said...


Diana said...

Hang on a minute, Anonymous! I do believe that boys should be brought up to respect girls, but surely, girls should also be brought up to respect boys! That's why the scandinavian model works - because the genders respect their differences, and the strengths contained in that. I completely agree with you, Liz - Mothers can have a devasting and emasculating effect upon their sons, and sometimes deliberately too, as a way of controlling them when they are vulnerable enough to do so. This is utterly wrong and deeply disturbing. I'm going to check out the Mumsnet site now! Grrrr!

Anonymous said...

Dear Diana, Couldn't agree more - of course girls should respect boys and each has strengths. But the story was about a little boy!