If you’re a girl who plays sports, how much do you think your upbringing contributed to your athletic successes or ability to be competitive? If you have brothers, are they treated differently by parents, coaches, teachers or friends? Do you feel disadvantaged in any way in terms of sports access or training? Do you think life would be different if you were raised in a gender neutral environment?
A couple years ago, news of a Toronto couple’s decision to hide their child’s gender sparked quite a bit of debate. Kathy Witterick and David Stocker withheld the sex of their four-month-old child Storm, provoking lots of questions. The couple was quoted as saying they were hiding the sex from the outside world as a “tribute to freedom and choice” that they hope will let Storm grow up unfettered by the values of others.
So is it possible to grow up gender blind? And if so, is it practical?
As female athletes, we are constantly compared to guys who run faster, throw harder and jump higher. Sports fans complain that women basketball players can’t dunk like their male counterparts. Or that women’s tennis and soccer matches aren’t as fast as the men’s. Male baseball players and fans tend to mock softball; action sports fans lament the fact that the women don’t land tricks as big as the guys.
Is the goal for the sexes to be equal? Or to have equal opportunities?
This month marks the anniversary of Title IX, a law signed by President Nixon mandating that federally funded schools provide equal access to athletic programs. To date, the legislation has significantly increased the number of girls able to play organized sports with many continuing to play as adults at the national or professional level.
Does the fact that Title IX has only been around 40 or so years mean that female athletes haven’t progressed to the same level as male athletes? Have women been held back on the sports field based on their gender? If raised in a gender neutral world would girls be better athletes? Would they be able to compete on the same level as boys raised in the same environment? In another 40 years will women be on par with male athletes today? Will there ever be parity?
A preschool in Stockholm is attempting to engineer equality between the sexes from childhood onward. The staff at the “Egalia” school avoids words like “him” or “her” and addresses the 33 kids as “friends” rather than girls and boys.
“Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing,” says Jenny Johnsson, a 31-year-old teacher. “Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”
A child named Storm may be male or female. The parents are hoping he/she can pursue his/her interests without falling into gender stereotypes or experiencing discrimination. Without pre-chosen blue or pink clothes, toy trucks, cars or dolls, he/she can gravitate towards whatever interests them.
But whose responsibility is it to decide the appropriateness of a name? Does a decidedly male or female name determine the future of a child? A boy named Sue. A girl named Max. Do gender neutral names such as Alex, Taylor or Morgan make a difference one way or another? In Germany, by law, one must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name, and the name chosen must not have a negative affect on the well-being of the child.
While a progressive society such as Sweden’s takes a liberal approach to gender, other people take issue and believe that to nullify the differences between the sexes is to destroy the foundation of society as we know it.
Is it possible to grow up truly gender blind?