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Baby 'Storm' Starts Gender Identity Controversy

Is "gender-neutral" parenting harmful to children?

How can an infant raise a storm? Answer, when the parents won’t disclose the gender of their four month old child to more than six people.

This has raised many questions. Will failing to disclose the biological sex of baby Storm have any impact at all on the social or emotional development of the child? How much impact does culture really have on gender identity, after all, isn’t it biologically determined? Should children have the opportunity to choose anything let alone their gender identity? 

Canadian parents David Stocker and Kathy Witterick say they want Storm to discover him/herself by shielding Storm from cultural influences that would otherwise influence gender identity. They arrived at this decision due to their son Jazz’s “intense experiences” with gender while Witterick was pregnant.

"We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now -- a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place? ...)," said the couple in an email reprinted in the Toronto Star.

This brings up a great question, is gender a choice or isn’t something you are born knowing? Is it something that can be influenced so easily by social cues of peers, media and society that one must shield their child from the trappings of a prescribed gender role?

“In fact, in not telling the gender of my precious baby, I am saying to the world, ‘Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s (he) wants to be?” a statement Witterick wrote in a follow-up email after the story went viral.

Usually, when a parent refers to their child wanting to “be” they are referring to an occupation but, boy or girl? Is this leading down the path of gender ambiguity and if so, how will others ever be able to categorize baby Storm when it comes time to check the box male or female; is there another category — neutral or not applicable?

These Canadian parents have been the source of so much controversy that it has escaped the blogosphere into ethical debates on such mainstream American media shows like FOX News, "The View" and "NBCToday." For much the same reason why the J.Crew ad that depicted a top designer Jenna Lyons painting her son’s Beckett’s toenails neon pink turned individuals fire engine red, this controversy challenges the accepted view of gender identity and gender roles.

Appearing on the Today Show, Dr. Glenn Stanton commented, “The parents want to opt into this kind of utopian idea that, ‘oh, we can let our child be free’ but, you know what, that is completely to misunderstand what it means to be human.”

Really? These parents are missing the mark on what it means to be human? Human means to accept ones assigned gender? As a professor of philosophy, I always thought the meaning of being human was so much more complicated. It seems that question solved, it will make it that much easier when I ask that question on the exam. 

Dr. Stanton is a family researcher in service to “Focus on the Family,” an organization that “provides relevant Christian advice on marriage, parenting and other topics. According to their website, some of those are Effective Biblical Disciplining, Combating Cultural Influences, Family Mealtime Devotionals and Igniting Your Child’s Love of Jesus.  Incidentally, his latest book is Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity (Multnomah, 2011),

When Witterick and Stocker were in the midst of their at home water-birth with their two midwives and children, I don’t think they were looking into what Stanton connotes an “authentic masculinity and femininity” as established through Scripture.

The page that Witterick and Stocker have taken their parenting advice from is "X: A Fabulous Child's Story," a short story written by Lois Guld in 1972.

Once upon a time, a baby named X was born. This baby was named X so that nobody could tell whether it was a boy or a girl. Its parents could tell, of course, but they couldn't tell anybody else. They couldn't even tell Baby X at first. You see, it was all part of a very important Secret Scientific Xperiment, known officially as Project Baby X.

Bryan Fischer,  of the American Family Association, a Christian based organization whose mission believes “that a culture based on bliblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families. . . ," appeared on Fox News  saying, "I don’t think there's any question that this is going to do severe harm to this child. ... That child is either a male or female, and it's a tragedy that his parents or her parents are apparently unwilling to base their approach [to child rearing] on scientific and biological truth."

Fischer, incidentally, has been an outspoken opponent of homosexuality.

Human sexuality is not only indicated on a whole by biology, but has social and psychological components that contribute to sexual orientation and gender identity, the latter of which refers to how one perceives the gender roles of masculine or feminine. 

Traditionally, masculine is associated with big, strong aggressive while feminine small, weak and passive. Some may say these roles are determined by biology, but others argue that these roles are assigned by societal norms and expectations. What is the harm in trying to escape the trappings of prescribed social norms contributing to gender assignments or gender schema formation?

Like all those individuals that thought Lyon’s was a damaging her son by , the fear is that the child will become gender confused or psychologically damaged by the betrayal or even the unnecessary target of peer ridicule. If a boy wears pink tutu’s and a girl wears a football helmet, the entire social and moral fabric of America could come crashing down as if a gender neutral upbringing might be some sort of gateway drug to the perversion of the child’s sexual identity.

"We really need to ask ourselves why it is that we are so uncomfortable when children express themselves differently," says Cheryl Kilodavis, author of the children's book "My Princess Boy.”  Kilodavis literally allows her son to dress like a princess, defying gender stereotypes and challenging the nation to engage in a conversation about the adjectives used to describe masculine and feminine.

Of course no studies or research has really been done in the outcomes of gender neutral parenting because most parents don’t use their children for social experimentation.

Okay, B.F. Skinner raised his infant daughter in a box until age 2 as part of his research on operant condition; totally different, he was a world-renowned psychologist. She is now an artist in London. In the late 40’s when Skinner was conducting his research, though there too was controversy over his ethics, self-serving motives and parenting abilities.

Are these parents using their child for a social experiment or do they have the best intentions to raise a well balanced child who takes responsibility for his or her gender identity? 

Witterick responded in the Edmonton Journal.to the international criticism:

"None of my children are gender-free or genderless (and neither am I). It is true that my oldest son Jazz does not have a traditional notion of what boys should wear, look like or do. It is also true that we believe our children should have the right to choose their clothes and hairstyle. Jazz has a strong sense of being a boy, and he understands that his choices to wear pink and have long hair are not always acceptable to his community. He chooses freely to do them anyway, because he also has been taught to respect difference, love himself and navigate the world in a way that is true to his own voice.”

No one can really know the full depth of the Canadian couple’s parenting or the long-term effects. At the same time, it does force to the surface the larger conversation about what influences gender identity and the understanding of gender role.

elisa June 01, 2011 at 01:28 PM
So.... the big todo is because these parents won't reveal the baby's gender? So what? If male/female differences are so innate, then the kid will grow up knowing who she/he is. Even if the parents did push a certain gender role on them, the child is still going to go his/her own way.... nobody can "make" you gay or straight. seriously, don't we have better things to make a fuss over, like say... all the kids that are ACTUALLY being neglected and/or abused?
Tara Zrinski June 01, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Thanks for your comment Elisa, obviously this is a non-issue for you. For others, this strikes right to the core of their beliefs and what they believe is good parenting. It also raises the question of whether people believe gender is a conscious or a subconscious decision, or even an innate drive. If it is a conscious decision, it is highly influenced by the nurture and environment. If it is innate, then it is all in the nature of the individual at birth. This may be just splitting hairs or, it may be something to further explore and discuss.

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