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Pop, the Gender-Free Child

Over on The Post's sister site, Double X, Hanna Rosin and Dana Stevens have contemplated the experiment that one family has embarked on in Sweden. Pop, age 2 1/2, is being raised by 24- year-olds who have decided to keep their child's gender a secret.

“We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset,” Pop’s mother told the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March. “It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.”
The child's parents said so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female.
Pop's wardrobe includes everything from dresses to trousers and Pop's hairstyle changes on a regular basis. And Pop usually decides how Pop is going to dress on a given morning.

"I respect the instinct to radically reinvent the role of gender in childrearing; I think every mother I know seeks, in some measure, to free her child from the constraint of gender expectations. But this couple’s literal and dogmatic interpretation of that instinct strikes me as borderline child abuse," writes Stevens.

"What the Swedish couple is doing is of course absurd on many levels. To raise a child gender-free requires a kind of vigilance that can only lead to obsession with gender," concurs Rosin.

What do you think? Has raising gender-neutral children "become an ideal" as Rosin suggests? What do you think of the raising Pop experiment?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  July 1, 2009; 10:45 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
Previous: Park Etiquette: When Do You Step In? | Next: Medical Histories and Family Trees


Tallies are in for the first half of 2009!

A total of 4596 comments were submitted to 147 topics by 911 different posters from the dates 01/01/2009 through 06/30/2009.

Top 30 listed below:

28 thosewilsongirls
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* Stacey contributed 17 posts

Posted by: BlogStats | July 1, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"What do you think of the raising Pop experiment?"

The parents are cuckoo birds, even for Sweden. The comments to the article say it all.

Posted by: jezebel3 | July 1, 2009 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Only one word: bizarre.
It's one thing to think something in theory and another to screw up a person's life in order to 'prove' your theory.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | July 1, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Agree with atlmom1234, this kid isn't an experiment. I bet some liberal types will love this though.

Posted by: sunflower571 | July 1, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Pop is a boy.

Posted by: davemarks | July 1, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Gender is a social construct, but sex is a biological one. This couple is in for a big surprise when their child gets old enough to want to identify with a group (whether boys or girls). I expect there will be serious backlash from this kid at some point to his parents.

Posted by: goodhome631 | July 1, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Scary thing is, they are having another child... and intend to do the same with that kid. Too bad for those children as it seems to me that something so extreme is really just harmful in the long run. No matter what the parents intentions are the reality will be very different for the children.

Posted by: firemom35 | July 1, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Isn't there some sort of ethical prohibition in the science community against experiments of this kind? This child can't be informed and can't give consent. I agree with Dana Stevens comment that this borders on child abuse.

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 1, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Seems like a pretty strange idea to me too.

But I don't know if the kid (kids?) will be harmed by this or not. Could be that someday some therapist is going to give his/her children Ivy League educations from the income of treating Pop (and hir sibling). Or, maybe the kids will be just fine. Some kids raised with their gender well-known to themselves and everyone around them also end up needing a lot of therapy.

I don't think we can predict the outcome. We'll just have to wait and see.

Posted by: SueMc | July 1, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

This is stupid, there - I said it. Sorry Pop, but your parents are koo-koo for co-co puffs.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | July 1, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

It's weird, but I sort of respect them for protecting the privacy of their kid-- "Is that a boy or a girl?" "None of your g-d d-mn business."

As long as they aren't restricting the CHILD from recognising and expressing their gender as he or she likes, I don't think there will be any harm to the kid.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | July 1, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Val Gal says:
"Isn't there some sort of ethical prohibition in the science community against experiments of this kind? This child can't be informed and can't give consent."

I agree there is an ethical prohibition for experiments with children without parental consent, or there should be. But this is being done by the parents themselves, so I don't know if there are any laws against it. I think there should be ethical questions for this. On the other hand, some could argue everything that parents do is an experiment, especially new parents with no previous experience...

Posted by: asd6 | July 1, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

The problem with being gender free is that we do not live in a gender free world. Not understanding gender norms or how to deal with or avoid the preconceived gender notions because one has not had to deal with them is only preparing Pop for a lot of trouble. It seems it would be more constructive to understand ones gender and deal with the issues associated with it rather than grow up in some la-la land of gender neutrality. It's like believing that money is the root of all evil and therefore you teach your kids nothing about it, like it doesn't exist - that doesn't change the fact that it is something we all must understand and deal with on a daily basis. Bottomline - they are just making their kid less prepared for the real world.

Posted by: JJ321 | July 1, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

OK, and I thought my parents were strange... In the end Pop and his/her sibling will probably be fine. But what a weird thing to do to a kid.

Posted by: foamgnome | July 1, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

asd6 - yeah, I figured that the parents wouldn't be bound by any ethical considerations, but a prohibition on this kind of experimentation in the profesional community seems to point to problems with it, at least to me.

I agree that it seems to be setting this child up for troubles down the line.

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 1, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't say they aren't teaching the kid about gender. It doesn't say that they aren't teaching the kid how to navigate the world. What it does say is that they are trying to open doors for this child that might otherwise be closed - intentionally by the society or inadvertantly through cultural pressure. I don't see the big deal - as long as when the child makes his/her own choice they are supportive (Even if it's a radical choice to be a girly girl or a manly man!). Who cares if a boy wears a skirt or a girl wears short hair except for those who are so gender-rigid that they have to impose it on others? My real question is for the parents - how do you constantly refer to a child without a pronoun? It's SO hard!

Posted by: MomSarah | July 1, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I would argue that they really aren't bringing up Pop "gender-free," as they and a few select people know Pop's gender and subconsciously that affects the way they treat Pop.

Posted by: skm1 | July 1, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Where on earth will Pop go to pee, once Pop is in school and needs to pee?

Posted by: auntieW | July 1, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Pop can be friends with the pregnant man's children.

I bet these kids will grow up like the kids I knew of Hippies (van of love through Europe, etc) and join the Young Republicans just to rebel.

Posted by: Amelia5 | July 1, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I must admit, this is in the way-strange-even-for-me category, but at the same time I understand their efforts to raise their child free from specific gender roles and the constraints thereto. Even in the 21st century, there's still this unbelievable pressure to have boys be "manly" and girls to be "girly." Girls are supposed to be into fashion, hair, and makeup, and not be into "boyish" stuff like playing sports, outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, etc. Boys are supposed to be into "macho" sports like baseball and football, they're supposed to want to play with Dad's tools or mock fighting each other. Don't even get me started on the commercials for children's toys that show girls playing with dolls or fashionista-type things and boys playing with dinosaurs, toy tools, and fake lightsabers and such.

I think this couple's kids should turn out just fine. Sooner or later they'll decide for themselves how to dress or what they'll like. The parents themselves have said that they're not restricting Pop from deciding what to wear or style hair, and s/he'll decide what works best when s/he gets older. Besides, plenty of kids whose gender is revealed often don't fit into the "ideal" mold for their gender. Plenty of parents who try to raise "girly" girls end up with tomboys or brainy women who prefer jobs outside the "traditional" female field, while plenty of parents who want "macho" sons will end up with a son who prefers music, science, or cooking to playing on the sports field. Does this make them any less men or women? No! Does society need to work on accepting people for who they are rather than whether or not they're fulfilling gender "roles" properly? Afraid so.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | July 1, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I asked my Pop about this, and he thought it was weird.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 1, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

People, People please take a look at the whole artical|htmlws-main|dl3|link4|
it states that Pop choses what clothes it wants to wear from pink dresses to blue overalls and the same goes for toys. I the parents are ahead of their time and its a wonderful experement! regardless that you push your little girl to play with trucks and your boys to play with dolls their still influnced by outside sorces that say girls are nurses and play nice and boys are doctors and are ruff and tumble

Posted by: stargirl1055412 | July 1, 2009 7:21 PM | Report abuse

The notion of attempting to raise a gender free child is naive, selfish and possibly abusive. This couple is confusing gender neutrality with gender equality. The former is impossible, the latter, what we are all striving for. For more see:

Posted by: PamelaGoldsteen | July 1, 2009 7:22 PM | Report abuse

This is a very interesting idea, I just wonder how long they can prevent society from pushing the traditional gender roles onto the child. Though they keep the child's gender a secret, it is only a matter of time until the child finds out that he is a male or female, by what sex he is. In the book Gendered Lives Dr. Wood describes the Cognitive Development Theory in explaining gender development. The theory states that usually at age 3 children will realize that being a boy or girl is not temporary, and will seek out role models to guide them in becoming competent at masculinity and femininity.

The parents may attempt to hide the child from the traditional gender roles, but society forces may prove too strong, and he or she will eventually find a role model they identify with. By the time the child enters school they will already have an idea if they are a male or a female, and when they do they may seek out other kids of their own sex to be friends with; the kids the child associates with play a large role in gender development.

Posted by: Tim36 | July 2, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

If we require licenses to drive, shouldn't we require at least that much to raise children?. . . as a feminist, I share the desire to free everyone from the UNNATURAL, unnecessary constraints of gender. Freeing a child to choose clothes, toys, hair styles, play styles. .. it's hard to find fault there. . . But concealing GENDER that normally is revealed in unremarkable ways (at the beach or swimming pool, in day care) and that certainly will be revealed in abundance in puberty? Huh???? You've got to be kidding. . . .this sounds like a misguided express path to guaranteed insanity.

Posted by: livealittlelaughalittle | July 2, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I think that this could be child abuse or neglect, due to some crazy experiment by parents who are too far removed from reality.

Really, how are you going to hide the gender of your child? Are they going to let the boy's hair grow out so that it looks indistiguishable from a girl? Are they going to cut the girl's hair so that it is indistinguishable from a boy? This can only be effective for the first five years.

After that their bodies will start to develop, of course by that time they are liable to be on the way to gothic kids who dream of suicide and worship death or vampires.

Way to go.

Posted by: wlockhar | July 6, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

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