Sunday, June 28, 2009


Via feministe, I came across this interesting article in a Swedish newspaper.

Swedish parents keep 2-year-old's gender secret

A couple of Swedish parents have stirred up debate in the country by refusing to reveal whether their two-and-a-half-year-old child is a boy or a girl.

Pop’s parents [see footnote], both 24, made a decision when their baby was born to keep Pop’s sex a secret. Aside from a select few – those who have changed the child’s diaper – nobody knows Pop’s gender; if anyone enquires, Pop’s parents simply say they don’t disclose this information.

In an interview with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet in March, the parents were quoted saying their decision was rooted in the feminist philosophy that gender is a social construction.

Interestingly enough, I've been working in Malmö in Southern Sweden for the last couple of months (it's withing traveling distance of Copenhagen), and while different news items were brought up from time to time, none of my Swedish co-workers mentioned this particular piece of news. Maybe it's not the sort of news appealing to Swedish computer programmers?

Anyway, I found the article very interesting, and the motivation behind it even more so. If this experiment turns out successfully, it will add greatly to our knowledge about how the social constructs of gender affects children when growing up.

Of course, reading the comments on the article, both beneath the article and elsewhere, shows that a lot of people have a hard time understanding the concept of gender as a social construct and keep mixing it with biological aspects of genders.

There are really at least two aspects of genders, which forms genders as a whole.

  • The biological aspect. Here we are talking about biological things like sexual organs, muscle mass etc.

  • The socio-cultural aspect. This is the socio-cultural norms forming the behavior of people belonging to the different genders.

We don't know where the exact line between these two aspects can be drawn (if at all). E.g. some people claim that differences in mathematical ability between the genders is a biological aspect, while others (myself very much included) thinks it's the result of a socia-cultural bias.

What Pop's parents are doing, is to try removing the limitations which the socio-cultural biases will place on Pop, by ensuring that these biases are not part of Pop's early upbringing. Hopefully, this will allow Pop freedom to choose the paths Pop wants, without a socio-cultural ballast dragging Pop down one path or another.

Of course, this experiment is not without problems. When Pop grows older, and fails to adhere to the socio-cultural norms of Pop's gender, there could be a social stigma involved. Since Sweden is quite a progressive country, this will hopefully not be too bad a problem, but it's a risk.

Edit: I've had to close comments on this post, as it attracts a lot of Asian spam.

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Blogger Dorte Toft said...

Interessant emne. Godt at få lidt tanker om det.

June 28, 2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous ejay said...

I'm old enough to remember when men found it almost impossible to talk to women they didn't know unless

(1) the women could be assigned to a defined role such as waitress, nurse, secretary, etc.

(2) the women's marital status was known

The world has changed a lot. Sometimes I wonder what one of those men would have thought of (for example) Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, MD, Asssistant Surgeon General, US Public Health Service and Director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. They would have blown a gasket.

June 28, 2009 10:19 PM  

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