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Gender Oriented Parenting Strategies

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Parenting is a modern term that became popular in usage in 1960’s books, slowly replacing the process of child-rearing. It refers to the upbringing and raising of children. Commonly, parenting is represented as a generic practice which support the development of a child from birth to the end of the teenage years. This gender-blind perspective is widely criticized among feminist scholars as it discards how socially different the expectations are for mothers and fathers. (Daly, 2013). If gendered inequalities among parents are still relevant today, it is slowly evolving, and the role of mothers and fathers is becoming more similar. (Fagan, Jay et al., 2014)

Moreover, it seems that children are impacted similarly in some ways by both their mother and father’s behaviors. While one should remain aware of variations offered by the individual’s difference in the parent couple itself, I will adopt a gender-neutral conception of parenting. Thus, I will focus on parents as an entity rather than separating them, in order to emphasize the outcomes of different parenting styles. What I am studying here is how different parenting approaches can influence children.

Besides, Fagan, Jay et al. (2014) are arguing that the dimensions of father’s and mother’s parenting should not be considered different in concept. In that respect, I will focus on biparental cisgender parents (a couple composed of two parents that raise their children together) and how their approach to child-rearing impacts the making of their biological children’s gender identity. Because there is no ultimate model of parents, my analysis aims to establish a neutral model that allows the readers to concentrate primarily on the impacts of parenting only. Nonetheless, narrowing down my study does not mean that one should assume that all families are composed of two parents living together.

Methodologically, this analysis is rooted in the debate regarding what influences children gender behaviors the most. (Boe & Woods, 2018) Is biology the sole influence of a child’s gender or does socialization have a role in the making of that identity? Some parents assume that the way they act will determine the future gender identity of their child, by guiding their preferences. However, as social beings, we are the ones giving meaning to biological realities. (Lorber, 1993)’s biological determinism refers to our assumptions regarding physical differences. The meanings we give to sexual organs are constructed and shaped by social practices, impacting our attitude towards differences. When it comes to common Western parenting approaches, parents’ set of knowledge about sex is shaped by their social conception of gender.

The “Conforming” parenting strategy towards gender roles

In this section, I will examine what I call a “regular” parenting strategy. In other words, which parenting approach has been considered “good parenting” and how it is a Western norm of raising children in the home. Before books that established rules and standards about “proper” child-rearing appeared, mothers used to learn techniques from their own mothers, grand-mothers, female entourage or even doctors. As a matter of fact, one of the first book on the child-rearing’s guidance was Dr. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946. (Stein, 1998) He provided guidance on child development to help parents raise healthy children. Even though this book is seen as being moderate and sensitive towards families’ diversity, he does not address diversity in terms of gender roles. The emphasis was made on the physical well-being of children and not on mental health. However, building one’s identity rely heavily on gender identity and traditional binary gender roles are prominent throughout that process.

Gender norms do exist, and they impact everything. Genders are concepts that gives a social and cultural meaning to biological differences. The Western standard is binary, which means that people expect others, as well as their own children, to fit into the category that they think suits the sex that they can see (West & Zimmerman, 1987). What is usually expected from a little girl is to be soft, helpful, cute. Being comforted when they cry is permitted. Whereas little boys are allowed to be more adventurous, sporty, except that they are not supposed to receive attention when they show emotions. Instead they are advised to toughen up in order to learn how to cope with the harsh reality of the world in which they are going to live in.

These genders norms have social consequences. When someone behave in ways that clash with their assigned gender, when children step out of the gender box they are confined in, the response is mainly very negative. In her work, Butler (1990/1999) refers to gender deviancy as Gender Trouble. She argues that if non-conforming people are subject to violence, it is because we live in a heteronormative system where heterosexuality is the only valued and expected type of sexuality. This “heterosexual matrix” is a system in which specific beliefs exists. These beliefs are that the male body is attached to a “masculine” identity, the female body is attached to a “feminine” identity and they are both complementary to each other. Unnatural social categories are assigned to natural categories. Therefore, we cannot escape the system because its structure interconnects sex, gender, desire and sexuality. Even before anyone is born, they belong to the system. Parenting as a practice, also belongs to the system. Because heteronormativity is the norm, it shapes what the expected results of “good parenting” techniques: gender conforming children. Parents interact with their children according to their heteronormative beliefs, most of the time without even knowing it. Here, I am not saying that heterosexual parents’ existence is wrong, rather that we should be aware of the standards they inherently transfer to their children by shaping them into what they are.


They are a lot of expectations regarding parenting. Looking at the parent’s perspective (Yaremko & Lawson, 2007), there is evidence that if parental roles have been traditionally segregated into motherhood and a masculine work role, expectations have changed. Parents start sharing more and more the amount of participation to the process of parenting. However, Yaremko & Lawson (2007) emphasize that these expectations are evolving concerning women. They are now supposed to balance out motherhood and a professional career. While on the other hand, exclusively valuing a career is accepted and normalized for fathers. Parents’ gender roles are still very much gendered, and these assumptions transfer into their child-rearing, even unconsciously. These presuppositions are a result of the social construction of gender. In contrary to essentialism, the belief that concept have an essence that is necessarily true (for example masculinity is essential to a male body), a constructivist perspective presume that knowledge is determined by specific social environments. In this regard, gendered inequalities are unnatural because they are a product of our history. They evolve as different political contexts shape our representations of sex and gender, thus our society. Consequently, biological sexes are read through our ideas of what science is, a science we constructed as social beings. (Butler, 1990/1999; Laqueur, 1992)

Nevertheless, we should be aware that while these gendered parenting standards exist, they are mainly relevant in Western discourses. According to (Kane, 2000), gendered patterns vary by class and race. The differences in gender roles are not perceived similarly. Kane argues that in the US, people of color are more critical about gender inequality than whites. Male dominance is mostly traditionally prominent in white families. However, because African-Americans had to take part in the labor forces to sustain their children, more egalitarian values emerged in African-American families. The gender inequality that these women had and have to face is and was not the same as white women. Ethnical parenting variations occur and need to be acknowledge because they do not necessarily fit with what has been considered ‘traditional’ attitudes towards gender. Obviously, there are interconnections between gender phenomena, race and class and they ought to be recognized.

By denying the existence of alternatives coming from racial or class differences/inequalities when they don’t fit western norms, some lived experiences are denied. Western hegemony contributed to the making of parenting, presenting it as universal, when truly it is normative. This is characteristic to the western world (Oyěwùmí, 2005) A DEVELOPER

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“Unconscious” parenting and “Conscious” parenting

Here, I draw a distinction between implicit and explicit gender biased parenting. Most parents do not wish to be consciously discriminating in their children upbringing. However, even though a lot of parents are well-meaning, they assume that the way they treat their child will by default correspond to their future gender identity. One central unconscious normative influence is parents’ own gender roles. The way they do gender themselves becomes a model to their children. Children internalize these ideals. Thus, when a couple is conforming to heteronormative standards, compatible with conventional feminine or masculine traits, children assume these are the way to go about with gender. The risk is that when only two genders are introduced, these are the roles they think are available to them. When acknowledging a narrow array of choices, even “gender conscious” conforming parents are in the process of shaping their children’s gender. (Boe & Woods, 2018)’s research revealed that starting at 24 months, children already associate stereotypical behaviors with gender-related physical characteristics. For instance, when a child sees that only his mother wears dresses and not his father, they will associate dresses with womanhood. Thus, if that child was born with male sexual organs, he will get from how his parents act, that wearing dresses as male is abnormal, regardless of what he might identify with. In other words, parental attitude towards socialization can reinforce implicitly the gender binary during children growth.

In contrast, parents map consciously children’s future toy preferences. In Wood’s experiment (2002), parents were asked to interact with children to see how they perceived gender-stereotypical toys. With boys, the majority of parents felt like masculine toys were more appropriate for them to play with. Although with girls, there was more flexibility, showing that traditional masculine toys are slowly becoming more gender-neutral. This transformation follows the currents changes in societal roles, where women are becoming more integrated in paid work. It seems like reaching a more masculine attitude is believed to be less demeaning than being assimilated with femininity.

Butler’s gender performativity theory (1990/1999) suggests that all subjects in the world are conditioned to think that the performative rules of doing gender are unescapable. By showing the performative nature of gender, Butler implies that performances are normative and support heteronormative parenting. That way, which toys, clothes or colors parents impose to their children is a way for them to learn how to do gender. Interaction is required for children to practice their identity. To illustrate this theory, the phenomenon of (Gieseler, 2018) is the perfect example of what explicit gender behavior is. Gender-reveal parties are social events were parents officially categorize their unborn child’s gender, by communicating it via a binary color coding. During those “public rituals”, the reveal of the gender is celebrated. It is a performative strategy to escape the unknown, to create and assign an identity to their unlabeled child. This trend encourages gender binaries and stereotyping. Meaning is given to color, reinforcing the gender expectations. The same pattern exists with the “baby shower” event, where people give masculine or feminine gifts according to the gender assigned to the baby biological sex. These parties became viral on the internet, which has spread this trend even more, becoming a part of culture. People recognize these gender labels trends because they are shared by the media.

Furthermore, applying gender labels to colors creates gender differences. Yeung & Wong’s research (2018) showed “strong evidence for social-cognitive influences on children’s gender-typed color preferences.” Their study found that by randomly applying a label to a color, boys and girl favored the color labeled as for their own gender. When a color was not attached to a gender label, preferences among boys and girls didn’t differ. Moreover, the study suggests that gender typing color preferences are also widespread in Eastern society and not an exclusive western phenomenon. Both implicit and explicit parenting behaviors result in obvious consequences on children development. These consequences can be very damaging and must be addressed.


In addition to denying non-western parenting approaches about gender identity as seen prior, the “regular” approach raises gender expectations. How children express their gender and build their identity is deeply influenced by their parents as they are children’s first exposure to gender. The influence begins even before birth. When parents learn the sex of their baby, their gender expectations emerge. They start to apply specific pronouns when referring to their unborn child to others. Some start to buy decorations or clothes that they associate with their child’s sex. Kane (2016) refers to this process as a “trap”, she argues in favor of not telling parents the sex of their children. Yet, waiting until birth does not have a huge impact. Parents who choose for their baby sex to be hidden, still develop specific gendered behaviors when their child is finally born. “Parental attitudes about gender influence parenting practices as soon as an infants’ sex is identified, even if prior to birth” (Boe & Woods, 2018)

When it comes to heteronormative parents, their influence establishes a dominant norm, as well as expectations on how their children must express their gender identity. To be accepted, children need to look “normal”. Even though close family is supposed to be intimate, many children cannot be themselves around their own progenitors. Their behaviors need to conform to the norm. Cisgenders, people whose gender identity corresponds to their biological sex, are privileged while standing out is a challenge in a heteronormative society and parenting system. The abnormalization of gender-variance makes children believe that being a “minority” is weird and wrong. Binary gender norms are reproduced in everyday life, interactions, activities. When a mother wears makeup every day for work, children then pair attractiveness with females. They start to understand where they fit in as a gendered being within a gendered society. Thus, children become aware of social categorization by seeing their gender conforming parents and then mimic their performances. In the case of gender-variant children, standing out from that norm becomes constraining. Therefore, the impact of a heteronormative upbringing is powerful both on conforming children and non-conforming children.

The consequences are also very serious on society itself. Heteronormative parenting originates from a patriarchal societal system while contributing to its subsistence. Millet (1968) highlighted the relevance of the patriarchy to show that male dominance in Western societies is a social phenomenon. According to her, the personal is political. What that means is that relationships within households have political consequences. In that regard, the child/parent relationship holds political power. The private sector of the household, along with the school system, are where political values first emerge. Thus, in a patriarchal society, where masculinity is perceived as dominant, boys are raised according to their male privilege. A conforming parenting that is fed by this system, shapes and trick children’s mind into thinking that one gender is biologically superior to the other. This inherent belief system results in a large number of ordinary boys thinking that they are entitled to objectify and sexualize women.

The gender-neutral alternative

If a conforming parenting strategy is harmful and contributes to a heteronormative system that denies differences and participates to gender inequality, is there any alternatives? What about decently open-minded families? “Gender conscious parenting”, meaning parents that do accept gender variances, still take part in the social construction of binary gender ideologies.

Even in most accepting families, their heteronormative method causes damage. Still growing up under the same patriarchal norms, children are forced by default into gendered boxes. Future parents’ acceptance of their children’s gender identity will not erase years of confusion. In opposition to this soft method, some parents have decided to attempt a gender-neutral child-rearing.

Gender neutrality designate a mixt approach that seeks to erase differences when it comes to socialization. Regarding education, gender neutrality means that every toy, book, role, clothing, language… are suitable to both females and males. On one hand, gender neutrality could mean allowing children to play with any toys regardless of the label attached to it. On the other hand, it could mean giving children only toys that aren’t labelled. The latter extreme variant believes in the benefits of a genderless education. Either way, the main claim of gender-neutral supporters is that such an approach brings greater freedom. This openness involves letting children choose whatever they are interested in without dictating anything. Children raised free from restricting gender norms. A liberty to be creative and to express themselves how they want. Gender-neutral advocates emphasize that they are breaking the boundaries of stereotypes. To them, it is an anti-discrimination project which takes away societal expectations. Reconsidering the socialization of children. It means encouraging both girls and boys to go beyond gender expectations. Gender-neutral parenting has now become a project with political impact. With the ongoing raise of feminism in western media, gender bias and sexism are becoming more and more criticized for reinforcing gender stereotypes. This transformation is also happening in children’s education, where inequalities are exposed.

The notion of a neutral upbringing was a result of the second wave of feminism (Martin, 2005) that began in the 1960’s. Fighting for social changes also meant opening new opportunities for girls. Liberal feminism in particular, promoted this new way of rearing children: gender-neutral parenting. They believed that by changing children’s environment, it would reduce the restricting boundaries of womanhood.

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Gender Oriented Parenting Strategies. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2023, from
“Gender Oriented Parenting Strategies.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
Gender Oriented Parenting Strategies. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 May 2023].
Gender Oriented Parenting Strategies [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 18 [cited 2023 May 30]. Available from:
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