I’m 36 weeks pregnant. This is my second pregnancy and my husband and I have decided not to find out the sex of our baby – although it is the most common question that we receive: “Do you know what it is?” “Is it a boy or a girl?”
When I tell people we don’t know, they resort to the answer that “oh, you want the surprise!” Yet, the surprise of our baby’s genitals is not the only reason why we are not finding out the sex of our baby.
Gender norms surround us all the time, they are ingrained in our societies like DNA is in our bodies. In many ways, these norms are harmful to girls and boys – to all people. These norms limit people’s existence and categorize people before we even get to know them. My husband and I are not spared from these ideas that surround us – ideas that classify people by their appearance and by stereotypes.
If you are unaware in any way of the ‘norms’ I am referring to, here are just a few examples:
- Girls are little princesses, often quieter and more respectful than boys. Girls play nice. Girls are sensitive.
- Boys are noisy and messy – that’s just the way boys are. Boys are tough!
- Girls like pink and boys like blue.
- Men should be masculine – often defined by being strong, tough, big, buff and independent.
- Women are defined by their beauty and behavior, often sexualized as objects for others to view and judge.
These norms often result in words and phrases like:
- To boys: “Boys don’t cry! Stop being such a girl.”
- To boys and men: “Get yourself together. Be a man!”
- To girls who do as they are told: “Good girl.”
- To young women who wear short skirts: “She’s such a slut.”
- To girls who have leadership qualities: “She’s so bossy!”
- And the list goes on…
In many ways these norms start even before birth. We have an idea that there are differences between boys and girls – stereotypes that will follow these little humans as they grow outside the womb and are bombarded by what people say to them and what they see around them. As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure that our children grow up to be free – free to be themselves, even if that means busting stereotypes.
As I am preparing for our second child, and as I equip my toddler for the world of pre-school and Swedish winter, I am horrified by how children are “forced” into gender norms at such a young age. The majority of Swedish fashion brands divide up children’s clothing by sex, with boys’ clothes featuring dinosaurs (something my preschooler loves to play with) and girls’ clothes printed with Disney princesses.
Furthermore, phrases like “Future Leader” can be found in the boys’ section, whereas the statements on girls’ clothes are often limited to cute phrases about love, beauty and occasional unicorns splashed with glitter. Now, I am all for cute floral dresses and sweet sailor suits – but there is something ultimately wrong in what we are teaching our kids about themselves and their peers, fostering a discriminatory culture that limits both boys and girls. What we teach children goes beyond the clothes that they wear. These norms are prevalent in classrooms, on playgrounds, on TV and billboards and in most social environments.
As women and girls are often seen as the “weaker” sex, a preference for boys is prevalent in many cultures. In India, this male-preference has made gender-revealing ultrasounds during pregnancy illegal – as the abortion rate is higher when the fetus is female. Now, the problem of gendercide remains a major issue in the country, where an estimated 45 million girls and women are missing in the population.
Just like adults, children are often limited by their sex – which is a problem since all humans have a unique setup of DNA, with differing appearances, personality traits, preferences and interests.
When we had our first child, we could never have imagined that her personality would be so rich – something we got to experience even in the first few weeks of her life. During pregnancy, we talked about whether our baby would be a boy or a girl, and how that would be different – but I’m glad we waited until we got to know her, as I am sure that our culture would have affected our thoughts about how the little human growing in my womb would be.
You can of course have an open mind even if you find out the sex of your baby – and it can even help prepare you as a parent to fight harmful gender stereotypes and enable you to think through what it means to be a parent. Yet, you will never know what awaits you, and there is just so much you can prepare for without knowing who the little person will be.