gender 

Gender roles and gender stereotypes can be traced back to many centuries ago. During my research I found that the way in which various cultures practiced agriculture in the 1800s inevitably led to the way we continue to assign gender roles today. Ester Boserup, a Danish agricultural economist, found that gender roles strongly correlated to the use of the plough, an agricultural tool used for cutting, turning over, and lifting soil. (1) “Plough usage requires significant upper body strength, grip strength, and bursts of power, and because of these requirements, when plough agriculture is practiced, men have an advantage to women.”(1)     As time passed, in those societies it became assumed that men had an advantage when it came to manual labor and activities outside the home, while women became more prominent to work inside the home. (1) That belief became so widely accepted that in a short time other cultures and populations, even those non agricultural, adapted this system of belief thus diving the roles of men and women significantly. This idea is supported by many studies including a paper titled “Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough” written by Alberto F. Alesina, Paola Giuliano, Nathan Nunn. This study shows that individuals whose ancestors engaged in plough agriculture are characterized by greater gender inequality today, as well as by lower participation in a range of activities outside the domestic atmosphere. (1)      Some people agree that  that the world today is more open minded and accepting of change than it used to be, while others believe we have a long way to go in terms of gender equality and the notion that there are multiple forms and versions of gender.  When I first read the article of the Toronto based couple that decided to raise their child gender less, I will admit I was taken aback by their decision and feared a future of bullying and identity confusion for four month old Storm Stocker. After doing some research on Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, parents of Storm, I found that while many people condemned these parents as “liberal crackpots” subjecting their child to a lifetime of abuse, many people congratulated the couple on their democratic style of parenting and their ability to speak openly with their young children about gender fluidity. I think I fall somewhere in the middle of these two arguments and while I don’t believe I personally would raise my child as genderless, I think David and Kathy are doing what they believe is best for their child and standing up for something they believe in despite all the scrutiny, which is my opinion is very courageous. In an email concerning Storm’s gender, Kathy wrote to friends and family stating their decision was “A tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a standup to what the world could become in storms lifetime (a more progressive place…?)” (2)      Witterick states that none of her children are “gender less” or “gender-free”. She says that storm does not have a sex which those closest to him/her acknowledge, and that “the idea that the whole world must know our baby’s sex strikes me as unhealthy, unsafe, and voyeuristic.” (3) However, gender identity is not the only thing that deems the family unconventional. Kathy “unschools” all three of her children, meaning she centers educating her children on the belief that learning should be driven from a child’s curiosity. The family spent four months off the grid deep in the Forrest in a place they call Strawhaven where they learned how to cook for a family of five using no electricity and build an environmentally friendly cabin. While vacationing in Cuba the family assigned Storm a gender for a week by flipping a coin, temporarily calling him a boy. While speaking on her decision to allow Storm to remain gender-less, Kathy says; “The world we live in, it’s a very joyful place of sort of celebrating who everybody is” (4)        While a part of me does commemorate Kathy and David on their unique style of parenting, I also have to acknowledge the potential danger that comes with allowing a child to grow up without an assigned gender. Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts general hospital says that: “To raise a child not as a boy or a girl is creating in some sense, a freak, it sets them up for not knowing who they are.”(5)  While I do not like the term freak, I do see how the child could be out casted from society and have the potential to have forms of identity crisis. In addition, I have to agree with some critics in the argument that the approach may have the paradoxical effect of emphasizing gender in Storm’s life. There is such a thing as a male brain and a female brain and some say the parents of storm have embarked on a physiological experiment that could be potentially dangerous. For example, in 1966, David Reimer, a six month old from Winnipeg, Canada lost his penis in a circumcision. David’s mother became convinced he could be raised as a girl and David’s genitals were converted to female ones. David became Brenda but always complained he never felt female and ended up committing suicide at the age of 38 in 2004.(5)  I think Storm is very susceptible to these risks and so I ultimately do not agree with the parent’s decision to allow Storm to decide his/her own gender.       Many people believe that gender determines our future. Freud made a notion in 1924 that states biology is the only way of determining gender identity. Over the years more and more people are arguing with that notion and realizing that certain body parts don’t dictate our futures. “In one new study, a majority of millennials surveyed argued that gender shouldn’t define us the way it has historically, and individuals shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles or behaviors.” (6) While I don’t see a day in the near future where the male/female identities will be a thing of the past, I do believe that we as a society are progressing towards a future where gender isn’t the only thing that defines our personal destinies. Author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein says that ” If there’s a leading edge that is the future of gender, it’s going to be one that understands that gender is relative to context” noting that many factors can change ones idea that gender is directly correlated with identity such as religion, family attitudes, and Geography. (6)