By Jennifer Johnson
If you missed it, a Canadian family recently named their new baby “Storm” and announced to the world that they’ve opted not to share the baby’s sex
with anyone other than their immediate family. There seem to be a few different takes on the story: People down for gender neutral parenting seem to totally get it and applaud the parents for being brave enough to take a stand against gender stereotypes; others find the parents’ move an outrageous social experiment with dangerous implications for the child.
Then there are people like me. “Big woop,” is what I think about it. I don’t know who this lady or her kid is. I don’t care if she wants to share or not, nor do I care which her child has a penis or a vagina. It’s none of my business and quite frankly, I don’t know why anyone else cares so much. Some parents do things I think are weird, but thankfully they aren’t my parents. The end.
As for others who can’t seem to get past this, I think it’s because they’re caught off guard by the “strangeness” of it all. I mean, it’s not every day you meet a boygirl kid that’s not a hermaphrodite. This is pushing social boundaries. People are going to react, and I imagine that’s partly their intention. After all, social change (which I assume they’re hoping for) requires some boundaries to be pushed. But this whole idea that gender stereotypes are so terrible and prevalent and completely damaging our society I’m not buying.
I’m not going to harp on this belief because everyone grows up with different experiences that shape who they are and what they believe. Perhaps this family had a bad experience that made them want to push back against gender stereotypes. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it turns out they are doing this partly to raise attention to her “gender neutral” beliefs and to show that girls don’t have to wear pink dresses and be homemakers, and boys don’t have to be rough and play sports to be “real boys.”
My job is full of hard working successful women, so maybe I’m just in the wrong industry for seeing gender stereotypes at it’s core. I don’t see it. Or maybe it’s overshadowed by bigger stereotypes I’ve had to face as a black woman.
It must be nice. You know, to be able to shield your child from stereotypes by simply not telling people what they are. Wouldn’t it have been nice for my mother to have decided that no one would know I’m black so no one could judge me right off the bat? It’s not so easy with looks that’s clear. My mother couldn’t just put a pair of pants on me and tell others not to worry about my race when kids on the playground were asking me why I looked the way I did. Maybe I could have avoided the lifetime of remarks like, “Well you don’t talk black,” or “Why isn’t your name LeQuisha?” (or anything else that ends in “isha”), “What’s your favorite rapper?” or jokes about fried chicken.
My mother couldn’t hide my skin to protect me from stereotypes, but what was worse was that she couldn’t protect me from the remarks that really hurt, either. She couldn’t tell the kid who called me “a brownie” that it was none of his business what color I was. My parents couldn’t cover up my skin or give me a trans-racial name to stop other kids on the bus from calling me the “N” word.
No, my name, my clothes, and my parents couldn’t hide the fact that I was a black girl growing up in the deep south surrounded by racist families and children. Other kids talked down to me, and made fun of me, not because I was a girl, but because I was black. Because my eyes were dark chocolate brown and not blue. Because my hair was kinky and not straight.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if only my parents, my doctor and siblings knew my racial identity, and I could reveal to the world, when I understood who I was, and when I was ready to share my racial genetic make up?
But no. It’s not that easy. I, like everyone else in the world, had to learn through experience how tough the world can be. How crude and stupid some stereotypes are, and how you can’t let them define you. And that’s ok. Because it made me who I am today. Those experiences positive, negative, happy, painful, forgettable, memorable each of them contribute to who we all are. Who we all become.
And no matter how much hiding Storm’s parents do, inevitably, their child will bump up against stereotypes, too. The question isn’t what’s between that baby’s legs; the question is how will those parents help their child deal with the inevitable with life. Full of pain. Full of stereotypes. Full of lessons that will color the kind of person Storm grows up to be. That, more than anything, will help Storm become the kind of human his/her parents want him/her to be.
On the air, Jennifer Johnson delivers the news to the great people of the Lone Star State. Off the air, she's a new mom and wanna-be Domestic Diva. She started documenting her journey through motherhood long before the baby was in the picture and has since blogged for Conceive Magazine, Parenting.com˜s Project Pregnancy, and Bravado Design's Breastfeeding Diaries. Her journey began and continues on her blog Baby Making Machine.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.