Gender neutral lifestyle?

A hair grip to keep the hair out of his eyes on a hot day when he was due a hair cut at 17m... considered too 'girly' or just practical parenting?

A hair grip to keep the hair out of his eyes on a hot day when he was due a hair cut at 17m… considered too ‘girly’ or just practical parenting?

I seem to keep seeing this topic coming up on various blogs and parenting sites and I wondered what the general consensus was amongst my readers?

For those of you that aren’t aware, gender neutral lifestyles basically entail parents allowing their children to make choices that are not stuck to ‘social gender expectations’. A classic example? Dolls are for girls, cars are for boys. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. The list could go on forever… The choice of how to be ‘gender neutral’ can go from disagreeing with gender categorising toys and colour of clothing or, in some ‘extreme’ gender neutral lifestyles (*eye roll here, what on earth is extreme about this?!*), people have been known to have no issue with their male children wearing dresses or even refusing to tell their friends/family the gender of their baby, preferring not to ‘label’ them (you can read about one particular instance of totally gender-neutral parenting here).

So how do you live your life?

Personally, I don’t agree with gender bias toys (there is a fantastic charity I follow called Let toys be toys, a concept I couldn’t agree with more), or stopping boys wearing pink/purple etc.

Seriously though, as a mother of boys I do find it so frustrating when I come up against stereotypes like pink kitchens, or dolls in a ‘girls’ section of toys. What are we afraid we are going to teach our boys by allowing them to play with kitchens? To be… what, a chef?! Or dolls for that matter? Are they going to grow into a… what?? A Daddy?? I hate to break it to you, chances are they ARE going to grow into a Daddy, and then they are going to have a whole lot of experience with a very noisy, very real and important baby, which is all a doll really embodies isn’t it?!

Its not just me either, as it happens, there seemed to be a bit of a baby boom when I had Reuben (must have been a power cut 9 months prior eh?!) and a lot of the babas in his groups were little girls. The more I talked to their Mamas about this topic, the more I discovered it swings both ways and is just as frustrating if you have girls! A friend of mine (who we met at a baby massage course when Roo was just 8 weeks old) has a beautiful daughter who loves cars and tractors, and she has often said how frustrating she finds it that her child is limited to pink (something she’s not into herself) and how any tools, cars, tractors etc are all marketed to boys… I’m pretty sure that, despite being a stunning little lady who will no doubt have boys falling over themselves to date her when she’s grown, this girl will at one point in her life need to do some simple DIY like put up a curtain rail, or maybe even change a tyre!

I would really love to know where you stand on this, I think it is really interesting and every parent has a totally different take on the subject. What have your experiences been with your own kids, do you let boys play with dolls and someone has said something to you? Let me know!

Harriet x


  1. Avatar January 22, 2014 / 11:03 am

    Gender neutral parenting is sooo hard! It’s really easy to fall into stereotypes without realising, but one of my best teachers about this has been my own daughter. At age one, she was into dolls, at 18 months she wanted fairy wings, at three she wanted to watch Cinderella. None of these stages were things I encouraged or resisted, I just tried to accept, (and support) her preferences. And now, age 7, she’s stopped wearing dresses in favour of jeans and her brother’s sweatshirts, likes ballet and tennis, asked for a science kit for Christmas, and likes to dance around her room to Katy Perry, while playing doctors with her friends. Does this make her a ‘girl’, or just someone who knows her own mind? I think what really matters is helping your child to find the confidence to be themselves in amongst all the expectations and stereotypes. Good luck!

    • Harriet January 22, 2014 / 8:08 pm

      Thanks for your comment Ellie! Its funny isn’t it, they do know their own little minds. Personally, I am a big fan of the principle behind campaigns like ‘Pink Stinks’ but I don’t dislike pinks, glitters or anything else associated with the ‘girly girl’, I am one myself and I think young girls should be allowed to choose what they want to have, as should young boys and if that is pink and glittery then good for them! What I don’t like is the sexualisation of young girls, which I believe is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern world. I personally can’t see how that can come from sparkles and ‘pretty pink’ dresses!!

  2. Avatar
    January 20, 2014 / 9:56 pm

    Great read! I’m the same as you. My son loves his kitchen and it keeps him very occupied. At playgroup he pushes a dolly around in a pram and that’s cool with me. I love watching him be so gentle and lovely with the dolly, especially because I’m pregnant with #2 and hope that this is an indication on how he’ll be when baby arrives. I’m not a fan of pink=girl and blue=boy! For my son, I dress him in all colours but 90% of his blue clothes came from people as gifts. All the blankets, teddies, etc that he got when he was born were all blue! I draw the line at skirts and dresses but if he was playing dress ups, then I’d be okay with it. I also don’t like that most clothing items for girls are pink, frilly, lacey, and very ‘girly’. It seems like they have no option but to be ‘girly’! Another thing that erks me is when boys aren’t allowed to cry, whinge, or hurt themselves. Girls aren’t the only sex with feelings! It breaks my heart when I see little boys being teased or told off for being upset 🙁

    • Harriet January 20, 2014 / 10:07 pm

      Thank you Louise, yes I agree its dreadful isn’t it when little boys are given the ‘buck up treatment’ whereas little girls are ok to be emotional… in fact, I find it interesting from the alternative perspective, as I know a lot of women who wouldn’t shed a tear if you paid them and are very tough… they certainly wouldn’t thank you for the ‘girls are emotional’ attitude. Quite the opposite!

      I think my attitudes have changed because I have boys, I would previously considered myself to be quite stereotypically feminine in the sense that I get my nails done, like my hair styled etc, but now I look at my boys (and my husband) and feel irked that it is expected of me to do these things, but not them as they grow… they will (hopefully) have self pride, and that is all grooming is right?

      I think this topic is fascinating as it raises those issues and challenges your ideals. I hope my boys know they are supported in their choices as people, not just boys. Again though, having said all that, I still feel a clear gender understanding is necessary for a child, as in my boys know they are boys, and that is what makes them different to girls, but their toys, clothes and attitude doesn’t have to be different… as clear as mud, hey?!

      Harriet x

  3. Avatar January 20, 2014 / 1:09 pm

    This is really interesting, Harriet and I too, a Mama of a just-one year old am constantly irritated by the gender stereotyping which seems to be everywhere! When I was pregnant, we didn’t want to know our baby’s gender and choosing newborn clothes was so boring -pink, blue or beige! Where were all the yellow, red, green, orange and purple clothes?! Now I try to make my boy clothes so I can choose the colour, or we buy second hand and try to go for a range of colours. His wardrobe is still mostly blue though, which is annoying. Toy stereotyping makes me flat-out CROSS. I’m a primary school teacher and while I know boys and girls TEND to like certain things it’s only a tendency and is heightened, I believe, by society, media and marketing. My son can wear and play with what he likes… although I’m with you on the skirts thing. Colour me a hypocrite!

    • Harriet January 20, 2014 / 2:05 pm

      Haha yes I too feel like a bit of a hypocrite here, although I have had some very interesting points of view from some readers about the dress/skirt thing. A couple of Mums have noted that they allow their sons to wear their sisters dresses/skirts instead of having a fall out… should they want to do it to school then its a no, but around the house, why not? Maybe my ideas are skewed slightly because I only have boys, I wonder if I would mind if they wanted to dress up in an older female siblings clothes… probably not around the house!
      Toys – 100% agree. Its frustrating and just down right wrong. I read a fascinating article about a selection of girls toys aimed at the 8-12 age range where they were openly encouraging make up and ‘don’t let that boy see you without it’ etc. Slightly aside of the topic, but still frustrating and wrong. Also, another person has mentioned the gender stereotyping regarding emotions, such as ‘Buck up your a boy’. Have you come across this? Older members of my family have been known to say, ‘Are you a girl?’ when my son has been crying/whinging and it drives me nuts!

      Harriet x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.