Perhaps you already know that, in China, it’s illegal for healthcare professionals to disclose the gender of a baby before it’s born due to the previous one-child policy and the fact that boys are preferred in traditional Chinese culture. Of course, if both parents are foreign nationals and visit an international hospital, then they can find out the gender of their unborn baby. However, there are also couples who choose not to know the gender of the baby beforehand.
We are one of those couples. For our first, I really wanted a boy. I had read that expectant mothers suffered from depression (negatively affecting the fetus) if they had a strong desire for a certain gender and found they were expecting the opposite. Well, that can’t be good, so I decided I could buy everything in beige and white and it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Turns out it’s a big deal for everyone else. When people see you’re pregnant, their first or second question is always do you know the gender? I’ve actually determined that it’s easier to claim that I couldn’t find out the gender due to the law (my husband is Chinese, after all) than to explain my choice in not finding out. People cannot seem to fathom why I would go through the trouble of decorating in beige, choosing both male and female names, and avoiding cute pinks and blues when I could be buying princess gear or cars and trains. Even my friends seem to think I’m crazy.
Gender doesn’t have to be highlighted
But actually, it’s not uncommon in Nordic countries to ignore a child’s gender until he or she reaches a certain age (grade school). In the Finnish language, for example, the third person is a gender neutral pronoun called “hӓn” and is the equivalent of he/she in English. Therefore, children don’t have to referred to as a boy or a girl, kindergarten restrooms are unisex (at least they were when I was little), and even children’s clothing used to be sold more in yellows, greens, and blues (blue is acceptable for both boys and girls).
Last year, Sweden even introduced a gender neutral pronoun “hen” to its language (updated once every 10 years, unlike the English language), which was partly because of the strong LGBT movement (the gender neutral pronoun allows for inter-gender descriptions), but mostly because of the lobbying from nurseries, kindergartens, and preschools. Early education experts have stated that children should be raised without gender biases. Kindergartens have unisex restrooms and toys for both genders are placed in close proximity so that children are not directed to either “gender-geared” type of toy.
Gender stereotypes are real
In our family’s case, our son has suffered from gender bias. Before he turned one, we dressed him in gender neutral clothing (the ones I had purchased while still expecting) and we never had any issues while staying in Finland or the US (people can politely ask for the gender if they care to know). However, China has been a different story.
Since turning one, we have dressed Jax in more “boyish” clothing, not because we necessarily changed our philosophy, but because it’s easier to find boy clothing for children that age. Buying gender neutral clothing is especially challenging in the US, where brands like Carter’s will add slogans like “Handsome like Daddy” or “Mommy’s Little Hunk” to perfectly unisex one pieces. Of course, brands benefit from gender specific clothing because it means that you will a) be enticed to buy more clothes, and b) cannot recycle a boy’s clothes for your next child unless he’s also a boy; it’s just capitalism.
As a result, our son has been dressed like a boy, his face is not particularly girlish (I’d say he looks boyish), and he doesn’t have a gender-neutral name. Everything from his stroller to his backpack is now either a dark color or blue, and yet I want to say that 9 in 10 Chinese will assume he’s a girl and describe him as a meimei or jiejie, terms that he has come to understand as he’s grown older. He does have semi-long curly hair, which I’m told is the “cause” for this misconception.
It’s to a point where the last time he stayed with my (Chinese) in-laws, they chopped off his hair without asking us. Evidently they were tired of him looking like a girl. Before his hair was cut, I really enjoyed seeing him in a man-bun or clipping his hair up—he looked like a little samurai! But ever since his hair was cut, he has absolutely refused to let me touch his hair. It’s been months since it was cut, it’s summer, and his hair is now long enough to be tied up—but he will throw a fit if I try and rip off the hair tie if I succeed.
I can’t help but think this is a result of gender conditioning. Someone must have told him that his long hair makes him look “girly” and that boys should have short hair—why else would he act this way?
A second waiting
With our second child, we have, yet again, decided not to find out the gender. This time because my husband would prefer a girl, and has decided that if we have another son, we’ll have to keep trying until he gets his girl. I feel depressed with even the prospect of ending up with four kids like Victoria Beckham (where the youngest daughter is spoiled), so the solution was to just not find out.
Everyone we know is, yet again, incredibly irritated with our decision, but at least we still have gender neutral infant clothes from our first gender-less waiting experience.
Photos: courtesy of Jessica Suotmaa, Flickr