It was the revelation that had parents reeling this week.
For five years, a couple from Cambridgeshire had kept the sex of their son Sasha to themselves.
Only a few relatives knew Sasha was a he. To everyone else the child was referred to as “the infant.”
While many parents festoon their baby girls in a pink marshmallow world and beam when their toddling boys want to be Bob The Builder’s Mate and suddenly start identifying Renaults from VWs from their car-seats, Beck and partner Keiran Cooper painted their son’s bedroom yellow and ensured the range of toys in the home included everything from dolls to Lego.
He wore whatever hand-me-downs fitted, whether they had been his step-brother’s or his step-sister’s.
His mother, writer Beck Laxton, says she did it for the good of her son.
She told her local paper: “Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes? It affects what they wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person they become.”
Since the story broke, parents have been debating the rights and wrongs of what Sasha’s parents did. Some are full of praise for their determination to raise a child in an environment free from gender stereotyping. Others are labelling their actions crazy and potentially harmful to a little boy’s malleable personality.
Early child development is about finding an identity and learning how the world works. How can not telling him how others of his sex behave outside of the family home be anything other than a huge disadvantage to him?
One critical child psychologist has said: “Not only are they likely to make him the butt of ridicule, but far more seriously they risk plunging him into damaging and long-lasting psychological confusion about what exactly he is.”
These parents felt they were doing their best for their child. But from what I can see, the reality is they were treating him like a laboratory mouse. He was the subject of their very own social experiment into gender stereotyping.
It’s telling that now Sasha has started school, his parents have had to alter their course and tell everyone their sons’s gender. They felt it would be too difficult to continue to hide it.
Why? Because they realise that the big, wide world does not operate according to their values and preferences.
They say they don’t approve of the society dictates how we should think and behave. But isn’t that exactly what they themselves were doing to their child? They made him think and act in a way that mirrored their beliefs. How selfish.
I think they have set him up for a huge fall. A little boy who happily plucks a pink tutu from the school dressing up box is going to get laughed at by his classmates.
Little boys who get ridiculed by their peers often grow up into men lacking in self-assurance.
Incidentally, now there’s been a backlash, this mother is backtracking. Yesterday on her blog, she denied they had brought their son up as gender-neutral, saying that would have been impossible.
“What we have done is try to give our child a gender-rich environment. All we’re doing is trying to do our very best for our child.”
She claimed it was only when she wrote about her experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting that she referred to her child without using sex-specific terms.
“Some people have got the Internet muddled up with Real Life,” she says. But on the Internet, she’s gone and posted of videos of herself supposedly “discussing” a variety of gender issues with Sasha. Coaching, more like.