There’s a trend in American parenting that may not have reached every corner of the country, but it is quite visible in progressive communities: gender-neutral parenting.
Many progressive parents are worried that if they give their little girls dolls or their little boys tractors, they will be oppressing these children with regressive gender norms. It is better, argue the proponents of this parenting style, to offer kids gender-neutral toys — and sometimes clothes that are neither pink nor blue — so children can blossom into their true selves, free from the dictates of oppressive gender roles.
It’s an idea with a certain appeal to it for those worried about gender inequity, but as Debra Soh stated in a Los Angeles Times column last week, there’s one snag: “The scientific reality is that it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics,” she writes.
“Biology matters.” She goes on to explain that a large pile of research findings suggest that early toy preferences “are innate, not socially constructed or shaped by parental feedback.” That’s why “most girls will gravitate toward dolls, and most boys will gravitate toward toys that are mechanically interesting, like cars and trucks.”
There’s a lot of confusion on this front, and much of it stems from popular progressive misunderstanding of neuroscience research. They often hear what they want to hear. As Soh points out, last year a Proceedings of the National Academies of Science paper suggesting that male and female brains are functionally identical receive widespread coverage, held up as evidence that sexed differences in behavior are entirely, or almost entirely, learned or conditioned.
But when a group of researchers went back and re-analyzed the data underpinning that paper, they found that in fact, “brain features correctly predicted subjects’ sex about 80% of the time.” This means that while there is some overlap between male and female brains, there are also predictable differences — differences that could help explain why even very little boys and little girls tend to act in reliably different ways. Other studies confirm the striking differences between men and women's brains.
Many progressive folks resist such talk, misinterpreting it as a normative claim — that males should act this way, while females should act that way — or a claim that we’re all just pawns of biological determinism, so there’s nothing much we can do about gender inequity and so on. But it’s neither: It’s an acknowledgment that biological differences are real and can’t be scrubbed out of the human-behavior equation, especially when it comes to very young kids.
Many parents, regardless of their personal beliefs on gender roles or feminism or whatever, worry that their kids’ play habits indicate something troubling—either about the kid, or about them as parents. For liberal parents, they worry about gender-role stuff. For more conservative-minded parents, it’s longstanding worries about sissies and tomboys. Biological honesty demands that we submit to the gender that we were born with, and spiritual honesty leads us to be grateful for the gender that God gave us.
In an age where gender dysphoria is being marketed widely in our culture, from the current-but-soon-ending White House to the third grade teacher in Seattle, perhaps parents should just relax a little and seek God’s wisdom.
Biological distinctions between men and women are not only a reality, they are the very reason for human existence. Let us not fight against them, but celebrate the Creator’s wisdom in the complementary distinctions He has established between male and female. It starts by celebrating the obvious for the wise, and admitting the obvious for the confused: Boys and girls are different, and we are glad of it!
For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, and has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? (Jeremiah 23:18).