Making the rounds on the blogosphere over the past 48 hours has been the story of baby Storm. As I began to read the story, I immediately remembered a piece of feminist fiction from the 1970’s called X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould.
As I continued to read baby Storm’s story, I saw that Storm’s parents were inspired by Lois Gould’s feminist fantasy.
If you haven’t yet heard of Baby Storm, here’s the nutshell. Storm is the youngest of three children belonging to Canadians Kathy Witterick and David Stocker.
Witterick and Stocker’s two older boys (ages four and two) are allowed to choose their own clothes and hairstyles without limits set by gender norms. If the boys want to wear pink clothes, or skirts, or braids, they do.
The parents have taken it a step further with baby Storm. They are not revealing Storm’s gender to anyone beyond Storm’s siblings, and the midwives who were present at the delivery. Even the grandparents don’t know.
In rare cases, people are born with gender ambiguity. That is not the case with Storm.
In Lois Gould’s fiction, X, a young child, is raised gender-neutral as an experiment. X turns out to be good at “boy stuff” and “girl stuff.” X is strong and brave as boys are supposed to be, and cute and kind as we expect girls to be.
I remember the 1970’s. I had a subscription to Ms. Magazine all through my high school years.
At the time, Gould’s story helped me understand that we, as a society, limit children inappropriately, based on their gender. What we say to them, and about them, correlates directly to gender, and to our assumptions and feelings about gender.
I like to believe it was worse thirty years ago.
Back then, if you saw a (rare) female doctor, you might actually refer to her as a “lady doctor.”
Nowadays, if I hear the term “lady doctor,” I assume we are talking about a gynecologist.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
Witterick and Stocker seem to believe that if people don’t know Storm’s gender, then Storm can’t be pigeon-holed.
In theory, I get it.
Witterick and Stocker sound like the kind of folks I might enjoy knowing. In fact, they sound like some of the folks I do know.
When I became a mother, I put a lot of thought into just how radical I would be. I breastfed my baby in public. I made available toys associated with both genders. I corrected people when they made even well intentioned sexist comments. I refused broadcast television.
I was delighted when my seven year old came home with an exciting discovery. He wanted to make sure we knew that in some households, the mommies cooked and watched the kids, and the daddies went out and made the money.
Our household division of labor wasn’t political, it was practical. My son’s cute misunderstanding of common gender roles did make me feel we had set the right example.
We worked to make sure the kids ate better than the standard American diet (SAD for short), and were more enlightened and open-minded than many.
But we always felt we needed to raise the kids to live in the world in which we live.
I don’t always like the world in which we live. It is racist, sexist, warmongering and mean. We tried to raise kids that are not those things. Now that they are adults, it seems we did a good job.
Witterick and Stocker are trying to do a good job, too. They are obviously conscious parents.
As much as I understand and admire their ideals, I find their choices very thought provoking, and, on some level, quite disturbing.
The question at hand is what determines gender. Does genitalia determine gender, or is it clothing, or behavior? What does it mean to “act like a girl?” Or to “dress like a boy?”
Storm’s parents say that Storm can essentially choose Storm’s gender when Storm is ready.
Um, really? Gender reassignment is sometimes literally a life-saving procedure. It would be wonderful if the process of gender reassignment were less traumatic. It is good to educate our kids about gender reassignment. But to suggest that each child can and should choose their gender seems unrealistic.
Perhaps what they mean is that Storm will be able to choose how to present his or her self to the world.
Their hope is that people who unknowingly treat girls differently than boys will not influence Storm. Without that influence, Storm will be able to enjoy a wider range of experiences. Without that influence, the way Storm chooses to present to the world will genuinely reflect the person whom Storm is.
To give kids the freedom to dress in the colors they prefer, or play with the toys they enjoy, seems like a no-brainer. But is it ok to let your boy child wear a skirt? These parents think so.
Storm’s brother, four-year-old Jazz, says he wants to help girls do boy things, and help boys do girl things. That’s nice. But here’s the elephant in the room.
These parents were afraid that the way people would react to their children’s gender would bias the kids’ choices. So, instead, they have boys dressed in pink skirts and braids, and a baby with no gender identity.
The oldest child has created his identity, and his choices, based entirely on his parent’s gender consciousness. Were gender not such a big issue in this household, this four year old would probably not be obsessed with boy things and girl things and the interchange thereof.
By resisting gender stereotypes, these parents have made gender the most important discussion in their family.
The parents assert that kid’s identities shouldn’t be formed around their plumbing. But neither should they be formed around their parents’ crusades.
If every kid were a baby X, life on the planet might be better. If we, as a society, would stop thinking in terms of strong boys and dainty girls, there would be no need for this experiment at all.
In metaphysics, and in tarot, things do divide into gender. There is the receptive, feminine yin and the more assertive masculine yang. The suits of Cups and Pentacles are feminine, the suits of Wands and Swords are masculine.
We all have, within us, masculine and feminine energies. But how many of our traits are determined by the gender stereotyping that happened to us as children? Would I be better at math if I hadn’t felt that math wasn’t important for girls? Probably.
But will depriving a child of their gender make it better, or different?
What about the damage that comes from family secrecy? What about the fact that the older two kids do know their gender, but the youngest will not?
And how smart is it to base a parenting decision on a 30 year old work of radical fiction?
I really don’t know how I feel about this story, but it fascinates me. In a way, I admire these parents. In another way, I think their intentions are right, but their actions are self-serving, and perhaps even damaging.
I pulled one tarot card to give insight into this family. The card I received was the Eight of Wands. To me, this suggests that the jury will be out until the kids are older. It also suggests a lack of grounding, which, to me, is evident in their choices.
The Eight of Wands can also speak to the feeling of not having a place in the world. That is my biggest concern for these children. Their parents’ goal is to give them more freedom. I think these kids will actually have fewer options because they will be so culturally different from just about everyone.
I pulled another card for baby Storm, and got the Hierophant. My first, very unintentional thought was “I bet it’s a boy!” I had to laugh.
Storm’s parents feel that gender should not be the first thing we think about when we think about a person. They feel that gender does not indicate who a person is, and shouldn’t be a basis for personal identity.
This is not a new concept in feminist theory.
In Marge Piercy’s great feminist sci-fi, “Woman on the Edge of Time,” people of a utopian future use a gender-neutral pronoun “per,” short for “person,” instead of he, she, him or her.
The Hierophant card for baby Storm indicates heavy-handedness in the parents’ doctrine.
It could also indicate that they are using their children as a way of teaching something to the world.
Their assertion is simply that they want their kids to have freedom from the limitations of gender roles. I want that too.
Whether or not this is way to achieve that goal remains to be seen.
Another interpretation for the Eight of Wands and the Hierophant could be involvement of a legal authority. After all this media attention, Storm’s parents may have to fight for the right to parent as radically as they do.