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Does Gender Really Matter?

I don’t want to be the one responsible for teaching my son sexism.

By Spenta Cama

Congratulations! It’s a boy,” I heard the doctor say after an arduous labor that ended with a C-section. I couldn’t stop the tears of joy from pouring out.

In this day when a majority of first-time parents find out the gender of their child prior to birth, my husband and I decided to buck the trend and keep our baby’s gender a surprise for everyone, including ourselves. Some people who find out their baby’s gender go out to buy clothing and decorate in society’s mandates of pinks or blues. They say they find out the gender so that they’re prepared. Makes you wonder how people survived before discovering the baby’s gender was an option.

I had a feeling my firstborn would be a boy after my husband, a non-Persian, suggested we name a son after my paternal grandfather, a man with a traditional Persian name. My grandfather had a profound influence on my childhood and passed away two years prior to the birth. Although my husband only knew my grandfather in a debilitated state, he was aware of the unique bond I had with both of my paternal grandparents. Of course the baby’s gender was determined prior to us deciding his name, but I knew my husband’s love for me and my family was a sign that we would have a son.

As a feminist, I made a promise as a teenager to treat any children I would have equally, regardless of their gender. No extra protection for a girl or societal reinforcement of gender stereotypes through toys. My son can play with trucks and cars as well as dolls if he wants. After all, I’m the mom who played the “Free To Be… You And Me” compact disc over and over to him when he was in utero. What better message could I send to my baby than he is a unique individual who can do and be anything he wants irrespective of the gender constraints society may attempt to place on him.

In talking to a college friend after my son’s arrival, she said it was awesome I had a boy. When I asked her why, she replied the world needs more feminist boys. The depth of those words have been with me ever since. I don’t want to be the one responsible for teaching my son sexism. Society will likely do that before he can even have a real conversation with someone.

It’s already exhibited itself through comments from family members about my son pushing around his toy car (bought to assist him with walking on his own which it accomplished). And when he went through his clingy phase earlier than most babies do, I heard “are you a mama’s boy?” No, he’s a baby, I wanted to shout. I told my husband if we had a girl no one would’ve said that. His response was she’d be called “daddy’s girl,” but as I reminded him, there’s no negative connotation to that label. Our families certainly aren’t sexist people. Yet distinct gender lines were drawn early on, whether intentionally or not.

All I want to do is love my son and nurture his talents so that he can be the best person he is capable of being. I hope I’ll fulfill the promise I made to myself back when I was a teenager no matter how many children I have and irrespective of their genders so the true spirit of Bruce Hart’s “Free to Be … You and Me” really will ring true:

“Every boy in this land
Grows to be his own man.
In this land every girl
Grows to be her own woman.
Take my hand—come with me
Where the children are free
Come with me—take my hand
And we’ll run…”

mmo : May 2004
Spenta Cama is a writer, mother, and attorney (in varying order at different times). The best job she's ever had is being a stay-at-home mother to Feroze. 
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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