The baby's a...we're not telling!

Parents of 2-year-old refuse to reveal child's gender

Published June 30, 2009 6:31PM (EDT)

A Swedish couple believe so strongly that gender is a social construction that they do not reveal whether their 2.5-year-old is a boy or a girl.

Only those who have changed the toddler's diapers know if "Pop," which is not the child's real name, is male or female. "We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mold from the outset," the tot's 24-year-old mother told the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. "It's cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead."

Pop's wardrobe includes both pants and dresses, and the child usually gets to decide what to wear. "Although Pop knows that there are physical differences between a boy and a girl, Pop's parents never use personal pronouns when referring to the child -- they just say Pop," according to the English-language Swedish site the Local.

Not surprisingly, the pundits are split on the effect this flouting of convention will have on Pop. "Child-rearing should not be about providing an opportunity to prove an ideological point, but about responding to each child's needs as an individual," Susan Pinker, a psychologist who is the author of a book about sex differences in the workplace, told the Local. "I don't think that trying to keep a child's sex a secret will fool anyone, nor do I think it's wise or ethical. As with any family secret, when we try to keep an elemental truth from children, it usually blows up in the parents' face, via psychosomatic illness or rebellious behavior."

Yet, Kristina Henkel, Swedish gender equality consultant, says Pop's parents' experiment could help the child develop as an individual without being boxed in by gender-role stereotyping from birth. "If the child is dressed up as a girl or boy, it affects them because people see and treat them in a more gender-typical way," Henkel explains. "Girls are told they are cute in their dresses, and boys are told they are cool with their car toys. But if you give them no gender they will be seen more as a human or not a stereotype as a boy or girl."

Pop's parents say that they will reveal the child's gender when Pop thinks it is time to do so. In any case, he or she will soon have more company. The family is expecting another child, and with the next bundle of joy, the parents plan to continue playing the "what's it to you?" gender card.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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