July 1, 2009

Snopp! You Must Not Hop On Pop!

A young Swedish couple has decided to raise their kid gender-neutral, and is not revealing whether the two-year-old is a boy or a girl. The paper Svenska Dagbladet interviewed them in March [google translation]. They used the aliases Jonas, Nora and Pop, and they just call the kid Pop. Or whatever. Frankly, to hear the parents talk about it, the whole thing sounds totally happy and normal. Except for a few playground scowls and all the feminists freaking out around them, of course.

Like the Canadian author Susan Pinker, who argued a bit too myopically about the scientific proof of genetic and neurologically based differences between men and women in her 2008 book, The Sexual Paradox. In another Swedish article last week, Pinker warned of the pent-up damage being done by "family secrets," even though Jonas and Nora make very clear that their kid Pop's gender isn't a secret to Pop, just to everyone whose first passing question is, "Ooh, what did you have?" As if it really matters to them anyway. [Sample quote, with a double bonus Swedish vocabulary lesson: "There is nothing that is taboo or hush. Pop himself [sic] is fully aware of what's between their legs and their parents have talked to Pop that all children have either a snopp or a snippa."]

And now the NY Times' commenters have hopped on Pop, too. Lisa Belkin posted about Pop on Motherlode, and got 200 comments in a couple of hours. Pop would hit puberty before I get through them all, and then what's the point?

x_gould_chwast.jpg

Pop's parents cite their feminist beliefs when explaining their disdain for the pervasiveness of gender-based expectations, biases, and social constructs. Which is truer than anyone seems to realize.

In 1972, the writer and NY Times columnist Lois Gould published X: A Fabulous Child's Story in the children's story section of Ms. Magazine that sounds word for word like the script for the Pop Drama playing out in Sweden. [No, I didn't know Ms. had a children's story section, either, but it's apparently where Marlo Thomas's Free to Be...You and Me originated.]

Gould's story was later republished as a stand-alone book in 1978 with illustrations by Jacqueline Chwast and it's this later version which Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel include in their tantalizing anthology, Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature.

X is a feminist fairy tale that's adorably utopian in some respects and chillingly naive in others--See if you can tell which is which! X's parents were selected to raise X as X as part of a massive, "and very important Secret Scientific Xperiment known officially as Project Baby X." The 23 billion dollar and 72 cent project provided them with a several thousand-page Official Instruction Manual that anticipated every possible parenting challenge and provided precise instructions for raising X without any gender bias.

Ms. and Mr. Jones had to promise they would take equal turns caring for X and feeding it, and singing it lullabies.

And they had to promise never to hire any babysitters. The government scientists knew perfectly well that the baby-sitter would probably peek at X in the bathtub, too.

Screw that, for $23 billion, those government scientists better hop to and offer to babysit X themselves. Xpecially since the Xperiment's secrecy requirement seems to have ostracized all X's family and friends.
Clearly, nothing was wrong at all. Nevertheless, nobody they knew felt comfortable buying a present for a Baby X. The cousin who sent a tiny football helmet would not come and visit any more. And the neighbors who sent a pink-flowered romper suit pulled their shades down when the Joneses passed their house.

The Official Instruction Manual had warned the new parents that this would happen, so they didn't fret about it. Besides, they were too busy with Baby X and the hundreds of different Xercises for treating it properly.

Except for the rare hint at temperament-- "What good does hitting do, anyway?"--almost every pre-pubescent gender difference in X is either an outfit, a hobby, or a toy. All they were saying was give overalls a chance.

And while every adult within earshot was having conniptions over X's threat to Society, and the PTA was rallying to get X Xpelled, all their children were reveling in X's liberated lifestyle:

"Come to think of it," said another one of the Other Children, "maybe X is having twice as much fun as we are!"...Then Jim, the class football nut, started wheeling his little sister's doll carriage around the football field."
I've been through the "No Pink!" thing twice now, and I joined the jihad against Club Libby Lu. The kid just finished sports camp where she turned out to be only one of two girls, and she had a freakin' blast. Obviously people get worked up over the whole "It's a boy!" "It's a girl!" thing, otherwise the hideous gardenia headband industry wouldn't exist.

But on a base level, I'm only asking to be nice; it really doesn't matter to me whether your new kid is a boy or a girl. And so I don't see the big deal about Pop's parents' decision; if they have the stamina to pull it off, be my guest.

4 Comments

I'm with you here. I really don't care what they do, but don't have the energy to do any such thing myself. We've already fought and lost our battle against pink and the princess industrial complex. So now we're just, like, whatever.

oh, and i loved the comment about the hideous gardenia headband industry. to me, personally, those headbands are a far worse price to pay than having someone mistake my daughter for a boy (which happened a lot at first and we rarely bothered to correct people).

Yes, I expect mistaking the sex of babies happens all the time--no one could possibly know, apart from the clothes--and how many people really bother to correct strangers? People always assumed my son was a girl when he wore a hand-me-down white snow suit, or bunting, or whatever they are called. Who knew white is now for girls? I never cared or bothered to say anything. I actually sort of liked it--in the midst of all the conformist new parent things I was doing and buying it made me feel mildly rebellious. Sad and sleep deprived, I know, but there it is.

Oh, the story of X! Remember it well. But, as a kid, I mostly remember just really wanting to know was the kid a boy or a girl already. I already had the overalls.

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