Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The gender agenda?

It was Monday when I saw the article in the Daily Mail, today is Sunday# – I have to, have to respond. Melanie Phillips, columnist of said paper, wrote a "critique" of the parenting choices of the parents of one small child, Sasha Laxton. What is their 'crime'? – They have chosen to raise the child as "gender neutral" – that is, not to impose gender stereotypes on the child. Is this a wise course of action? Time will tell – I can understand the motivation to do this – I do not think I would be so brave – I certainly would not be as public as these parents have been – however the notion that their parenting style is abusive is, to my mind, completely irrational, which is what Melanie Phillips is accusing these parents of being.

The headline to her column was "You've got to be a few sequins short of a tutu to raise your son as gender neutral". No prizes for guessing, if you didn't read the whole article where Melanie stood on the matter. Within this headline alone are so many stereotypes it would be fuel for a whole article on its own. It does not say it explicitly, but the reference to the tutu suggests that as far as Melanie is concerned, 'normal' males do not do ballet. Put another way, boys and men who do ballet are, by definition, effeminate.  

As for tutus – these are female dance apparel. This is not to say, that a man who is a transvestite (wearing women's clothing) or transgendered (identifying as a woman – or in the process of being gender realigned – which involves more that an operation) or merely attending a fancy dress party, would not wear a tutu – but by and large, boys and men do not wear tutus. The one aspect of the musical "Billy Elliot" about the Northern boy who wanted to be ballet dancer that disappointed me – as it detracted from the otherwise excellent message of the story – was at the end, all the males in the cast came out wearing "tutus" – actually it was just the skirts that are attached to the tutu – a proper tutu is a garment that includes a bodice and a skirt. The message of the story is that it is absolutely acceptable for a boy to pursue an interest in ballet, and the notion that that will make him gay or turn him into a girl, is complete nonsense.

I would go further to say that the role of male dancers is very distinct from that of their female counterparts. Far from the wrongly put-about propaganda, men who dance need to have to be fit and strong. There training includes weight-lifting. The last thing a ballerina wants is a namby-pamby weakling for a dance partner.

The assumption that all gay men are effeminate and would be interested in ballet is yet another stereotype that is wide of the mark. Yes, there are many male dancers who were and are gay – famously Rudolf Nureyev, but Michael Baryshnikov is straight, and a father, and he is one of many. Frankly the issue of sexuality – either sexual orientation (preference) or gender identity – have nothing to do with whether one likes or wants to do ballet – to believe that boys/men who do ballet have "gender issues" would mean that you would have to conclude that no ballerina is a lesbian – because, of course, all lesbians are butch and have no interest in anything as feminine as ballet. (I'm being extremely sarcastic.)

In the previous paragraph I put the word 'preference' in brackets as some people still refer to a person's sexuality as their 'sexual preference' – I do not like the expression, as it suggests that one chooses one's sexuality. Speaking personally, and I know this is the case for most people, I never made a conscious decision as to which gender I would be attracted to sexually. I suppose that if I had been able to choose, it would have been to be attracted to the opposite sex – certainly would have made my life a lot easier.

Yes, Sasha is a boy. The parents took the decision to raise him as "gender neutral", which I understand does not imply that they impose dresses, dollies, and femininity on him, as was suggested by the Melanie Phillips article, but that in letting him be who he wants to be, and to express himself without fear of judgement. Within his home, he can wear a dress if he wants to, and not be told "boys don't wear dresses" or play with a doll, and not be forced to play with an "action man", toy guns or cars.  The pictures of Sasha in the article are mostly of him wearing some 'girly' clothing. I suspect that there may be pictures of him wearing boys clothing, that were not selected as they did not suit the stereotype that Melanie Phillips wants to perpetuate.

The notion that a child of either gender showing an interest in clothing regarded as being for the opposite gender, or playing an "opposite gender role" such as a little boy pretending to be a mummy will result in gender confusion in later life is ridiculous. The fact is, it is only when a major kerfuffle is made about it – the boy is punished or mocked and teased and made to feel that he is weird that it leads to psychological issues.

For generations people have tried to change people's sexual orientation and people, ashamed of what they perceive to be unnatural have tried to change their own sexual orientation to conform with societal norms. In most, if not all cases, they have failed to achieve the change – in many cases, the results have been more than unsuccessful; they have been disastrous, with many suicides and serious problems arising.

If Sasha is heterosexual (there is a high probability of this) then, he will emerge as a heterosexual man, comfortable in his own body.  "Dressing him in girls clothes" will not result in his sexuality being changed one way or the other.

If he is gay, he will be able to be relaxed about this and not have to hide away his interest in other boys and made to feel ashamed for what is a natural part of growing up. Yes, when a child shows a natural interest in the opposite gender – because that is how that child has been "hard-wired" – no-one complains – in fact, people go out of their way to encourage it. If on the other hand his/her natural inclination and interests are towards the same gender – and it goes beyond merely "play-mate" suddenly people go out of their way to make that child feel ashamed, dirty, and despicable.

Surely in today's society, we should be LESS concerned about the gender of person's sexual partners and more concerned that sexual behaviour itself is appropriate. We should be doing more to make young people realise that rape and sexual assault are actions that are despised, that having multiple sexual partners, and not taking necessary precautions to prevent pregnancy or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections is irresponsible.  We should be more concerned about the rising incidences of child-sexual abuse and exploitation, and this should be regardless of whether the perpetrator is male or female, or the victim is a boy or a girl.

Sasha Laxton's parents may not be your idea of good parents – but at least they are being deliberate in the choice they have made and they have thought it through. They are doing, what they believe is the best for Sasha, and they should have the right to do so. To suggest that they are being abusive is not only a huge insult to children who have suffered at the hands of abusive parents and an insult to Sasha's parents and like-minded people, but it does a disservice to children who are subjected to real abuse.  I agree that Social services have got it wrong in certain cases and they have meddled too much - taking children away from their parents because they are overweight, in one instance, and denying people the chance to foster or adopt because a parent is overweight or one parent smokes (cigarettes). While, intervention should take place, if all the children are dangerously obese and parents should be required to keep their children to a strict diet supervised by qualified dietitian, taking the children away from their parents seemed extreme and could have resulted in severe psychological harm. Having said that - we have only heard one side of this argument, and it is possible that the measures I suggested were tried but that they did not get the co-operation they needed. Overly indulgent parents can be as dangerous to child's overall well being as an overly stern and strict parent may be. The overly strict parent may become verbally and possibly even physically abusive, while the overly indulgent parent may be regarded as neglectful. Do Laxton's fall into either category? I do not know - certainly not overly strict - but are they too indulgent? One could argue, I suppose that by not expecting Sasha to dress and behave more conventionally, as a male child, they are risking exposing him being "the butt of ridicule" to quote a caption in the article. However, having worked among young children, they really couldn't be bothered - and if Sasha preferred to wear dresses than shorts at play, he will have some children who may be a bit surprised in the beginning, but as time goes by provided no misguided adult interferes, like most children he will make friends and they will play with him and my guess is that he will have girl-friends and boy-friends. Working in a primary school once, I was on break duty in the infants section. They had, among the playthings that children could avail themselves, some prams for dolls. There were a few boys who had as much fun pushing (sometimes at full pelt) the the prams around the playground. There was no adult children suggesting any toy on any child, THEY chose. At another school, a little 4 year old boy put on a white frock that was in the dressing up box. Modern fathers are much more involved with the practical aspects of caring for their younger children. A modern father is just as likely to change a nappy, prepare a bottle for the baby, take the kids to school, or other activities, as mothers. A not such a modern "phenomenon is the idea of a "stay at home dad."

Sasha, as far as I can tell from the reports is very fortunate in that he has a mum and a dad who are involved with his upbringing and the two parents, though not married (going by the different surnames) are working together in parenting their son, and clearly this is not merely a case of a mother who had a son, but would have preferred a daughter and so is forcing the child to take on a feminine persona.

Back to the extremely offensive article I was struck by the jarring subtitles that were dotted around the page.


Damaging? How is it damaging? Ms Phillips suggests that ultimately Sasha will be psychologically damaged by this. I suppose she is entitled to her belief, but all over the country children are being forced to attend extra-mural activities that their parents have some unfulfilled ambition - or who want to bathe in the "reflected glory" of the child's success and the children instead of enjoying the experience are driven to be the BEST. It could be football, Karate, or some other sport, or it may be music, or indeed, ballet. Children fear "messing up" and this, in some cases leads to severe anxiety, which could manifest itself in depression, or to anorexia. A child who is driven too hard may end up drinking alcohol start smoking, or taking drugs. Watching TV talent shows that are all the rage these day, such as X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent, Pop idols, Got to Dance, etc. One can see, how devastated some of the contestants are when they do not progress to the next level. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect that among the many thousands of contestants in these high-profile competitions are pushy parents who see this as their big chance to make lots of money, and so push their child to enter and then, behave rather disgracefully, whe the child does not make it through to the final competition. It is not a new phenomenon. Noel Coward wrote a song:
Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
And the struggle's pretty tough
And admitting the fact she's burning to act
That isn't quite enough
She's a big girl and though her teeth are fairly good
She's not the type I ever would be eager to engage
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington, sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don't put your daughter on the stage.

Then there are those infant pageant shows with outlandish prizes where little girls who have no idea what it is all about being forced to perform. it's not sweet - it's sad.

Lunacy? This is a very strong word, and to suggest that someone is mad just because they hold a different opinion is discriminatory and wrong. As a gay man, I think that people who believe that homosexuality is evil, that gay people should be imprisoned, or killed, or that one chooses to be gay and can change are dead wrong, but I would not label such people as lunitics.

Sinister? Of the three upsetting subheadings, this was the one that got to me most - SINISTER? she says.

It all sounds too ludicrous to be true. In fact, it is deeply sinister. Our society is being brainwashed into pretending that the differences between male and female don't exist — in order to reconstruct society into some unattainable utopia of sexual and gender identicality. (sic)

This supposed plot to "reconstruct" society is entirely in her own head. Because some parents choose a different approach to rearing their child does not mean that the whole society will automatically change. These parents are exercising their right to bring up their children in accordance with their own belief system. Provided that belief system is not going to endanger the child physically or emotionally, I believe they should be permitted to do exactly that. Jehovah's Witnesses believe it is wrong to have blood transfusions. Doctors in the UK have to ask permission of a patient or in the case of a minor, the patient's parent or guardian before proceeding with any medical procedure. If the permission is denied there is nothing that the doctor can do - as far as i know. Melanie Phillips would be screaming blue murder if some government authority started dictating to her about how to raise her children. Should we not afford the Laxton's similar courtesy.

If the Daily Mail believe that what the Laxton's are doing by publicly  talking about the gender neutral child (actually I do feel that they were wrong in this case) to the media, they could have boycotted the story and Ms Phillips could have concentrated on more relevant issues.

1 comment:

Suem said...

I do think that if Sasha is exposed to all the publicity around the case, that might be damaging. Otherwise, I agree with you, he will grow up to be exactly who he is in terms of his gender and sexuality but he will not be ashamed of it.