Gender Stereotyping and Parenthood Dilemmas

In an effort to avoid gender stereotyping, Beck Laxton and partner Kieran Cooper concealed the gender of their son from the world.  The gender neutrally named Sasha has now turned five and is starting school.  Prior to the commencement of formative school years, Sasha has been given the choice to dress in clothes that appealed to him, be they hand-me-downs from an older sister or an older brother.  When Sasha turned five, his parents were forced to reveal his gender, which means that Sasha will have to get used to being perceived as a boy by his peers.  Although the school requires different uniforms for boys and girls, Sasha’s mom is intervening by letting Sasha wear a girl’s blouse with his pants.

Last year, a different couple made a similar decision not to reveal their child’s gender.  Some psychiatric experts voiced their concerns:

“To have a sense of self and personal identity is a critical part of normal healthy development,” Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC News. “This blocks that and sets the child up for bullying, scapegoating and marginalization.”

The article continues:

But as parents well know, bullying is hard for any child to avoid. It’s more important to raise someone who’s confident enough in himself to overcome peer pressure. It’s also important to have his parents have his back.

The question of personal identity is interesting as gender is certainly a big part of it.  However, that’s precisely the problem couples like Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper are attempting to avoid.  The question of bullying, scapegoating and marginalization is a bit trickier since such actions are certainly a product of dogmatically ingrained gender stereotyping, but they will not cease to exist just because Sasha’s parents have grown past them.  Although bullying may well be hard for any child to avoid, some children do get bullied more than others.  And although Laxton and Cooper are trying to inculcate a sense of self and others in Sasha, which they hope will be lacking gender stereotyping, are they also not sacrificing their child’s emotional and physical safety by setting him up for potential bullying?  It is quite important to raise someone who’s confident enough in him or herself to overcome peer pressure, but it could also be the case that exposing a child to more risk of bullying may have an adverse effect on his or her confidence.

That’s not to say that Sasha will be bullied, but it will depend on his environment.  If Laxton and Cooper chose an appropriate school, perhaps their goal of raising their son to be confident in himself and have a valuable dual perspective on gender will not be compromised by the very gender stereotypes they are attempting to undermine.  “Egalia,” a preschool in Stockholm, Sweden comes to mind (as an example of the kind of environment in which Sasha could flourish).  Staff do not use words like “him” or “her,” but rather a made-up neutral term and students are encouraged to do the same.  Moreover, traditional “boy” and “girl” toys are spatially integrated so as to obliterate any value systems associated with stereotypical gender preferences.  For those interested, here is the article.

Bullying has not ceased in spite of a laudable movement to curb it.  Although Laxton and Cooper’s hearts may be in the right place, they have influence only over Sasha’s worldview and not that of other children (who get theirs from their own parents or guardians).  Are they putting Sasha at risk, as Dr. Eugene Beresin claims?  And if the answer is yes, are they entitled to make such choices for Sasha if they lead to increased risk of bullying, which could potentially be developmentally as well as physically harmful?

The Fragility of “Normal”

This week’s print edition of Maclean’s features an article by Mark Steyn blaming gay rights advocates for the “imminent threat” of legalized polygamy in Canada. Once you make one amendment to what is normal, Steyn claims, you won’t be able–or even justified–to prevent further changes.

The article is interesting for two reasons. First, naturally, there is no mention of what relevant differences there are between the two forms of marriage. Steyn ignores a vast body of literature on the subject, which is more than a slight oversight for a journalist. Second, Steyn’s underlying attitude appears to be that we should fear any departure from normal, where the definition of normal he uses is typified by the pretty, white suburbs of 60 years ago.

I recommend reading it, and perhaps writing a letter.

Philosophy, Eugenics and Disability in Alberta and Places North – Simo Vehmas Part 2

On October 25, 2008, the What Sorts Network hosted a public symposium to examine, well, philosophy, eugenics, and disability in Alberta and places north.  Four speakers were featured on the panel, Dick Sobsey, Simo Vehmas, Martin Tweedale, and Rob Wilson.  This event was video recorded and over the next month we will highlight these videos on this blog.  Roughly four videos will be featured each week.

To download the full description of the symposium please click here.

With this video we begin the second part of the presentation by Simo Vehmas (The first part may be found here).  Simo’s presentation is titled “Preventing Disability: Nordic Perspectives” and it focuses on summarizing past and present attitudes towards eugenic practices in Nordic countries, principally Finland, with special attention paid to attitudes and ideas around eugenic practices of preventing disability.

Part 2

Highlights: Lack of knowledge by sterilization victims about what was happening, total number of Finnish sterilization victims in, illusion of voluntary sterilization, logical flaw of “playing the Nazi card”, strategy for effective discussion in the face of embarrassment, and prevention of disability vs. providing autonomous choice.

A transcript follows the cut. Continue reading

Philosophy, Eugenics & Disability in Alberta and Places North – Dick Sobsey Parts 3 & 4

On October 25, 2008, the What Sorts Network hosted a public symposium to examine, well, philosophy, eugenics, and disability in Alberta and places north.  Four speakers were featured on the panel, Dick Sobsey, Simo Vehmas, Martin Tweedale, and Rob Wilson.  This event was video recorded and over the next month we will highlight these videos on this blog.  Videos will be featured on average twice a week, roughly every Saturday and Wednesday.

To download the full description of the symposium please click here.

We began this series with the first two parts of the presentation by Dick Sobsey, titled “Varieties of Eugenics Experience in the 21st Century.”  This presentation amounts to a summary of various kinds of eugenic motivations, justifications, and practices from the 19th century to today with a good collection of anecdotes and trivia.  Parts 3 and 4 are highlighted in the videos below. Transcripts are also posted below.

Part 3

Highlights from part 3 include: criticism of Jukes as an assault upon the poor, best cement in the world, origin of the underground records for all the new york banks, continuing the Juke heritage, Dugdale’s findings, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. on Sterilization, measures of intelligence and the Flynn Effect, and stopping people from having children easiest through institutionalization.

Continue reading

Saving the World with Viral Eugenics

Randall Gordon, a character from Paul Chadwick's Concrete series, points his finger at the audience a la Uncle Sam with the following speech bubble "I'm completely serious, and I repeat my appeal. You, out there. Somewhere. Sexually transmitted; no undue harm; infertility. Go save the world.

Randall Gordon, a character from Paul Chadwick's Concrete series, points his finger at YOU, a la Uncle Sam, with the following speech bubble: "I'm completely serious, and I repeat my appeal. You, out there. Somewhere. Sexually transmitted; no undue harm; infertility. Go save the world."

And so a tale already fraught with controversy unleashes an ethical bombshell… Continue reading

My doctor, my child: The response of the medical community to a mother who chooses to have a child who might be born with a disability

[This is the second post in a series highlighting a public dialogue heald at the University of Alberta on October 23rd, 2008, titled The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life. The dialogue was sponsored by the What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Alberta Association for Community Living. This series will bring forward the videos made of this event twice a week, roughly every Wednesday and Saturday. For further context, please see the introductory post in the series, which can be found here.]

The story you are about to hear you may find surprising in a number of ways; I know that I certainly did when I heard it on the night it was recorded. The contrast between the adversity faced by Wendy MacDonald and her family from the medical community upon making the decision to keep her baby early in the pregnancy and the support they received once it was finally time for Kyle to be delivered struck me as a very unfortunate demonstration of the power of linguistic framing. The shift in language from “miscarriage” to “premature birth” is a small one (the addition of one word, one syllable, and three letters), but it made all the difference for this family and the ability of the medical personnel involved to support them. I also found the adamant stance of her family doctor a bit perplexing, the sort of chilling paternalism that so often arises out of a misplaced belief that we alone have access to the knowledge of what is best for others. Perhaps even more than this I was surprised that this story had, and continues to have, a happy ending. For every Wendy MacDonald I am sure that there are many, many women who would be mothers and men who would be fathers that are bullied into conforming with the system because the system “knows best.”

Perhaps this video will make you a little angry, but it should also give you a little hope. Enjoy. Transcript of the clip beneath the fold. Continue reading

Take Home Exercise: Giving Back to Marriage Bigotry

Over at The Data Lounge, a recent post with a bright, new idea for those struggling with what to do in light of the push for gay marriage, and (more especially) the push back against it. They report from one gay NYC man who has just had enough:

I no longer recognize marriage. It’s a new thing I’m trying. Turns out it’s fun. Yesterday I called a woman’s spouse her boyfriend. She says, correcting me, “He’s my husband”, and I say, “I no longer recognize marriage.” The impact is obvious. I tried it on a man who has been in a relationship for years,

“How’s your longtime companion Jill?”
“She’s my wife!”
“Yeah, well, my beliefs don’t recognize marriage.”

Fun. And instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it’s like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another’s beliefs. Just replace the words husband, wife, spouse, or fiance with boyfriend, girlfriend, special friend, or longtime companion.

Continue reading

PZ Myers on the Enhancement of Sexual Morality: A Modest Proposal

Continuing to catch up on good things elsewhere, found this sermon on the mount(ed) post on Pharyngula, which only gets funnier. Though not any funnier than the sign, which just reminds us all how much more out there than the rest of us those Brits are, Rev. Mullin excepted, who clearly needs to get out more often:

Effective Family Planning

Effective Family Planning

The Reverend Peter Mullin doesn’t like those darn pushy homosexuals — they must make him feel uncomfortable and all squirmy deep down inside. He wrote some amazingly stupid things about gays.

The Rev Dr Peter Mullen said in an blog that homosexuality was “clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections” and “a cause of fatal disease”.

He recommended that homosexual practices be discouraged “after the style of warnings on cigarette packets”.

He wrote: “Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS.”

What about the heterosexual women? Everyone forgets the loving ladies in these arguments. Do they also get chin tattoos? That would be a real shame. And then there are those heterosexual couples that engage in all of the same activities that homosexuals do — why do they get a free pass from the Rev. Mullen?

He also didn’t say a thing about cunnilingus, but they never do. Lesbians also always get a free pass, and it’s just not fair. I’m beginning to think they are god’s favored people. Continue reading

China’s one child policy, a generation on

Those interested in issues pertaining to population control and family planning might like to listen to this Australian Radio National podcast, which charts the history of the one child policy in China: it’s making, and its effects. Continue reading

What Sorts of Families?

According to John McCain, “two parent families the traditional family represents.”

A recent Huffington Post article by Edward Stein draws attention to McCain’s cant about wanting to preserve family value–unless, of course, those family values are being instantiated by gay couples fostering or adopting children. Stein highlights McCain’s in-artful refusal to answer straight questions about gay adoption, presumably in an attempt to keep both the religious right and gay Republicans happy.

See for yourself. The video below the fold [no captioning, sorry] shows McCain’s responses to questions posed in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. Continue reading