Russell Brand will do anything to make a statement, even if it involves his child.
The baby, born last Tuesday, has been called Mabel – though the choice of name is where the girliness ends.
Because Mabel will be special – she will be “gender neutral”. Indeed, when mini-Brand was just a bump, her comedian father said: “I may not ever impose a gender upon it, let the child grow up and be whatever the hell it is.”
Who knows if he was kidding or not; all I know is that Brand is influential, and rarely knows what he’s talking about.
— The Sun (@TheSun) November 9, 2016
Least of all when it comes to gender, which it has become hugely fashionable to criticise. Parents, schools and science-averse journalists seem to think it is entirely constructed – that, in a world where there was no socialisation, girls and boys would be the same.
So much so that people are now hiding their child’s identity. In 2012, one couple refused to tell anybody their baby’s sex, calling it “The Infant” – like their offspring was a Stephen King novel.
The Infant, who later turned out to be a boy, inspired many other parents to try similar social experiments on their children, in the desperate hope of protecting them from the most evil force in this world: stereotypes!
Some parents now even ask their children what gender they want to be. Earlier this year the council in trendy Brighton issued forms to help four-year-olds to decide whether they are a boy or girl.
What we’re rapidly seeing is the intellectualisation of infancy, so that children are now required to be experts in identity politics, rather than just watching cartoons.
The fact is that, for most children gender is a natural thing. Instinctive, even.
Studies of children as young as nine months show that they prefer to play with toys specific to their own gender. Girls look for things with faces, such as dolls, and have better motor skills than their male equivalents.
gender neutral advocates are the real science deniers.
— Richie C. (@richie06973) September 7, 2016
Boys are more adept at mental rotation tasks, and tend to have more interest and ability in spatial processing tasks (i.e. playing with Lego).
Of course, there are exceptions and in-betweens. But these are the general patterns observed before any environmental influence on personality.
Male and female toy preferences also corroborate data on mental conditions. For example, girls are less likely to have autism than boys. Their preference for toys with faces translates to a better ability to interact with real life faces, too.
Autism – sometimes described as “the extreme male brain” – is often typified by enjoyment of repetitive tasks, like collecting or organising. An extension of what some boys like to do with their toys.
Overall, there is plenty of evidence to show that gender is not an artificial creation: it is influenced, to a degree, by one’s sex. And therefore cannot be removed by the absence of social cues.
The most important thing in childhood is, inevitably, choice – to ensure that girls and boys can play and behave however they would like, and are accepted for it.
But we shouldn’t follow Brand’s advice and bring up our kids with no gender awareness.
Maybe your kids prefer the toys they do because gender is binary and a part of being a person pic.twitter.com/ilooRaG9Wx
— BaeAnita ( ˘ ³˘)♥ (@Bayanita89) September 4, 2016
The average child doesn’t think about whether they’re “male” or “female” in complex detail. Following the terms “boy” or “girl” simply makes life easier.
Besides, if kids don’t want to follow stereotypes and play with dolls or Lego, in nine out of ten cases their parents will know. Children are some of the most strong-minded – and socially oblivious – creatures on earth.
They are not, however, gender experts. And I worry that we are overthinking their early years. Scientists even say that we do not know what the psychological consequences of “gender neutral” might be for a child.
So for now, at least, let’s leave the status quo.