Thursday, May 26, 2011

Baby Storm: Toronto's "Genderless" Baby

Kathy Witherick (L) and David Stocker (R) with baby Storm in Toronto. Photo by Steve Russell of The Toronto Star

THERE'S A Storm brewing somewhere in Toronto right now and as of this writing, it has already spread to the newspapers, the World Wide Web, TV news reports, and different formal and informal forums. That Storm is the four-month old baby that has become the center of conversations and debates because baby Storm's parents are not telling anyone what Storm's gender is. For certain, there's no biological or medical anomaly with Storm's genitalia or reproductive organ but no one else knows Storm's gender except the two older brothers, the two midwives that helped deliver the baby, a close family friend, of course the parents Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, and the daily baby nappies (they should because they constantly have a close contact with Storm's "thingy" day in and day out). 


When Kathy Witterick and David Stocker decided not to announce or share their baby's gender about four months ago, many of their immediate relatives, in particular the two sets of grandparents, and close friends were shocked. It was unusual and it tickled and aroused intense curiosity among those that know them personally.


Via www.parentcentral.ca
"When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?” says Kathy Witterick.
“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says David Stocker, the proud father of baby Storm.
Medical experts, journalists, and ordinary parents have all weighed in. Naturally, some find it very absurd, while some claim it's disastrous, and some label the parents irresponsible. However, there are also some people who find it very progressive and intellectually adventurous. After all, they live in Toronto, Canada where same-sex marriage is allowed and abortion has no legal restraints. If this happens let's say somewhere in the Deep South USA, the "storm" would no longer be a storm but a major "hurricane" that would involve more scrutiny or perhaps nastier and more offensive remarks against the parents.     

Baby Storm and one of her OR his (?) older brothers.
I applaud them. This "social experiment" of sorts would definitely elicit wild reactions from many naysayers but for sure deep inside thoughts of "Yeah, why not?" or "Yeah, what if?" would also be present. This is a very reality-TV-worthy material. Who knows, maybe a reality TV offer might come on their way one of these days. Of course, this is not an experiment in the views of the parents but a conscious and brave decision to do; not to mention very progressive, reforming, and pioneering. But the point in saying that this is an "experiment" is its clear assault to parenting norms and conventional child rearing practices.      

In Sociology, "femininities and masculinities are acquired social identities: as individuals become socialized they develop a gender identity, an understanding of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” ( Laurie et al. 1999)." As individuals, we develop a grasp or comprehension of our gender identity based upon the context of how we are socialized (how we see ourselves from among and within a group) and in the context of existing societal gender norms (e.g. dolls are for girls and toy guns are for boys). As I've mentioned above, Storm's parents' social environment and other societal determining factors such as class, ethnicity, race, education, and country standards play a very significant role in making the choice of raising a genderless baby. The aforementioned societal determining factors would also influence Storm, as she/he grows up, on how she/he will perceive herself/himself and subscribe to a gender identity. What Storm's parents are doing is refusing to "prescribe" a gender identity on Storm, which, again, is totally against conventional parental direction.     
This case reminds me of an episode of Dr. Phil wherein he admonishes a mother to take a proactive step in telling her son not to play with Barbie and other dolls because in Dr. Phil's opinion, children should be directed, thusly:
“Direct your son in an unconfusing way. Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girl’s clothes. You don’t want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game. Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys. Most importantly, support him in what he’s doing, but not in the girl things.”  Dr. Phil McGraw.
I actually squirmed in protest after reviewing the episode online and after reading the blog of one mother who is raising her little boy as a girl, not because she wants it but because her boy feels like it. (CHECK OUT: Raising My Rainbow Blog). The next day after the said Dr. Phil episode, on the fourth hour of NBC's "The Today Show," hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee both disagreed with Dr. Phil while quite a few viewers sided with the doctor. 

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Another example is the case of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and her seeming preference for boy's clothes according to her mother, Angelina. There have been several photographs of Shiloh dressed in boy's clothes with a tomboyish haircut. In an interview with the Stylist Magazine, Jolie said "It's not my choice. I have a very strong willed four-year-old girl who tells me what she wants to wear and I let her be who she is." In the same interview, she then added, "I think children should wear what they want and express themselves, so we give them different options of things."

In the examples I've mentioned above including that of Storm's genderless rearing, the bottom line issue is the gender identity construction. If we are to consider the conventional and stereotypical construction of gender identity, masculinity is equated with athleticism, strong physical capabilities, and fathers while femininity is equated with nurturer, emotional, and mothers. However, in the Sociological point of view, not all individuals fit within these prescribed norms.

SEX is acquired. It refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs. GENDER by societal norms and practice is PRESCRIBED. Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine. With what Storm's parents have done, the construction of gender identity is now in the hands and choosing of Storm herself OR himself.








I support baby Storm's parents and their bold decision to liberate their children of stereotypes and to empower them by allowing the children themselves to form or construct whatever gender identity they deem fit. If your little boy likes pink, like in the situation of Kathy and the mother who writes the "Raising My Rainbow" blog, then let them have it. What's wrong with pink for boys? Nothing. Actually, did you know that the color pink is actually for infant or baby boys until the Second World War. Pink is a color of intermediate red and white. It's baby red much like baby blue. Red is too strong a color for babies and it goes without saying that red is for men and pink is for baby boys.


Writer's Market 2011

Moreover, allowing boys to play with dolls would teach them, among other important things, how to take care of a girl or a woman and acquaint them with girl parts like the vagina and breasts. Likewise, allowing a girl to play with swords, toy guns, and cars would teach them that strength and power are not in the weapons but with the bearer. 

Now, you as an adult may have complained of double standards in society, in the office or any other workplace, at home or within the family because you believe, in one way or the other, you can do what the other person can do but you are restrained by labels, stereotypes, and social stigma. Sure there are confident male heterosexual hairdressers and how about the street-smart and polite women taxi cab drivers in Europe especially in Germany.

Finally, I believe this is a good start and this story should be endorsed positively. I remain optimistic and hopeful of the outcome of Storm's parents' decision.



Deal of the Day

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