Thursday, June 2, 2011

Male and Female, He made them … Or did He?

by Vicki Thorn

A story bouncing around the Internet seems to getting a lot of attention, especially in Canada. A Toronto couple, Kathy Witterick and David Stoker, has announced the birth of their baby, Storm, but neglected to mention the sex of the child. In an email, they said, "We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now – a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)." It is their idea that Storm will be free to be whomever Storm wants to be, and they take issue with what they see as parents promoting gender stereotypes.

"What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It's obnoxious," Stocker said.

Storm’s brothers, age 2 and 5, are also keeping the secret, and they have complete freedom to choose clothes and length of hair.

Personally, I wonder how long it will be before one of them lets the secret slip. It seems a lot to ask that kind of secrecy from children so young. But clearly these are exceptional children. Salon reports that the 5-year-old wears three braids, likes pink, has a pink sparkly stud in one ear and wrote a booklet entitled “Gender Explorer”, which reads inside: “Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl thing. Let your kids be whoever they are!” The Salon author says, “But the truth is, when it comes to gender, there just isn’t a way to not make a choice; even no choice is a choice.”

They are not the first couple to make the news with this decision. In 2009, it was reported that a Swedish couple had made the same decision about their child who is referred to as Pop, but has another real name. The mother said, “It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”

Yet in most cases, gender is one of those things that expectant parents want to know. It is something that matters to us and identifies us in a unique way. A Time magazine article says that 66% of new parents would choose to know the sex of their unborn child before they meet it at birth. People reading about “genderless” children are impassioned in their responses; as one person commented, “They are turning their child into a bizarre social experiment.”

The question of gender neutrality has been reverberating in society for a number of years now. If only we give trucks to our girls and dolls to our boys, they would meld in to gender-neutral people, the stream of thought goes. Taking it a step further, the burden of whether a child grows up to identify as a male or female lies entirely on the parents, since it was they who dressed them in pink or blue.

In French schools, a new science curriculum will be introduced to all 11th grade students. It sets out to minimize the differences between women and men, stating: “Anatomic and physiological differences, caused by the influence of sex hormones, between the masculine and feminine brain are no more important than differences between individuals of the same sex.” Does that statement make sense to you?

Even comedians know there are fundamental differences between the sexes. At the risk of making a glaring generalization, let me say that men tend to be more linear thinkers, and women are more inclined to multitask. And yes, some men are multitaskers, and some women are linear thinkers, but from the very old days, men needed to survive in a testosterone-driven environment of the hunting party with absolute concentration to succeed and to survive. Women, on the other hand, remained in community with other women and children, who would gather food. They had to be constantly vigilant to protect their children and themselves and to work in a cooperative fashion to make sure that all were fed and safe.

Looking at primate communities, innate differences between males and females seem to emerge there, as well. At least two studies have found that when monkeys were given the choice between plush toys and toys with wheels, darned if the male monkeys didn’t show a preference for the wheeled toys consistently. In one study, the girls were more likely to handle the cuddly toys, though in the other, they didn’t show a preference for either. Clearly, these primate youth have not been shaped by the societal expectations of their parents.

We need to understand that to have an identity of male or female is not bad! That is how God made us, a truth repeated in Scripture over and over (see Genesis 5:2; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). Male or female, we are made in the image and likeness of God. It seems that we no longer embrace and celebrate the difference between the sexes and recognize that we were made to be complimentary to each other. I wonder if some of the problems we face in marriage may come from the expectation that we are supposed to be exactly alike – yet lived experience flies in the face of this false “truism,” which can lead to disappointment and misunderstandings.

While there are those who try to dismiss the difference, I believe we need to embrace it and learn about it. In better understanding our sons and daughters, we can parent better. In striving to recognize and appreciate what makes our spouses different than us, we can find humor in those differences and learn to communicate through them, instead of attacking each other.

There are multitudes of books that deal with the difference between women and men, boys and girls. I recommend the books of Allan and Barbara Pease, especially Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps for couples to begin to understand our differences and appreciate them. Dr. Leonard Sax’s books are also insightful, and his book Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences is a wonderful starter resource for parents and teachers.

It is not my intent to analyze why there is a societal agenda pushing towards gender neutrality. You are free to consider that yourself. But I do think that our lived experience of gender differences will create interior conflicts if we are raised “genderless” and taught that there is no difference between men and women. Male and female He made us – and I believe that with all my heart.

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