Parenting Girls and Boys
University of California at Santa Cruz
We rarely, if ever, encounter a person for whom we are not permitted to determine “her” or “his” gender. If a child's gender is not apparent, we typically ask questions to find out. We may try an indirect method, such as asking for the child's name, or we may directly ask if the child is a girl or a boy. However, suppose that a person's gender was deliberately kept anonymous. That is the premise in Lois Gould's (1978) children's book, X: A Fabulous Child's Story:
Once upon a time, a Baby named X was born. It 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 anyone else.
The story poignantly highlights the challenges Ms. and Mr. Jones face when rearing a gender-neutral child. Difficulties arise the first day Baby X is visited by friends and relatives:
The first thing they asked was what kind of baby X was. When the Joneses said, 'It's an X!' nobody knew what to say. They couldn't say, 'Look at her cute little dimples!' On the other hand, they couldn't say, 'Look at his husky little biceps!'
More problems arise later in the story when X becomes old enough for the first day of school:
You couldn't tell what X was by its clothes. Overalls don't even button right to left, like girls' clothes, or left to right, like boys' clothes. And did X have a girl's short haircut or a boy's long haircut? As for the games X liked, either X played ball very well for a girl, or else played house very well for a boy. The children tried to find out by asking X tricky questions, like, 'Who's your favorite sports star?' X had two favorite sports stars: a girl jockey named Robyn Smith and a boy archery champion named Robin Hood.