The first question most people ask parents-to-be is, “so is it a boy or a girl?” The gender of a newborn allows society to comfortably box (expected) behavioural patterns of a child, down to what colours they should or should not be wearing: pink is for girls and blue is for boys.
Not so for Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, a Canadian couple who refused to divulge the sex of their baby, Storm, when he (or she) was born in 2011. The two are being labeled as the most politically correct family in the world because they want the decision of what gender their child feels most comfortable with, left up to Storm. They explained their decision in a newspaper interview: “We believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them.” Their decision has brought the family a lot of criticism, mostly from friends and family: people get extremely uncomfortable when you blur the gender lines.
You would think that they would have gotten used to it by now. The couple already has two other children, Jazz and Kio, who they allow to pick out their own clothes – from the boy or girl sections in stores. Jazz, for example, once chose a pink dress which he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom”. Pink is also his favourite colour, even though neither of his parents owns a piece of pink clothing.
Gender characterisation by colour is actually a relatively recent concept. For centuries children in the western world – regardless of gender – wore white dresses until the age of 6. It was only in the mid 19th century that colour was introduced, and even then the blue/pink concept was reversed. An article in trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department in 1918 recommended, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” It was only in the 1940’s that this was reversed.
The Canadian couple’s decision is actually not that groundbreaking, if they lived in Sweden, where the concept of a gender-neutral society has been advocated for some time. Nicolaigarden, a Swedish pre-school, uses naked, genderless dolls to teach emotion and self-expression, and their library stocks an equal balance of books with male and female protagonists. Boys and girls are also allowed free access to both pirate or princess outfits for dress up activities. Storm would love it there. The Swedes have also started using a gender-neutral pronoun “hen” as opposed to the “han” (he) and “hon” (she), in a bid to eradicate gender discrimination.
But while all this might seem an extreme case of social experimentation and political correctness, pop culture is already embracing this gender neutrality. In the fashion industry, the trend for androgynous style clothing has been growing over the past few years, but it is the modeling industry that has blazed new trails in terms of accepting gender fluidity.
Serbian-born Andrej Pejic, discovered whilst working at McDonald’s, is the first known, and now most famous, transgender model to work in the fashion industry. He has starred in editorials – as a woman – in high profile publications like Vogue, Elle, W, ID and L’Officiel, and holds the title of having the most magazine covers of any male model to date (albeit as a woman). His advertising campaigns even include a push up bra advert for Dutch retail chain, HEMA.
He started his modeling career as a male model but kept getting requests to model as a woman, and the requests didn’t stop – and at the end of the day, work is work. In an interview Pejic was frank about his situation: “Sometimes I feel like more of a woman, other times I feel male. I’m sure most people think of me as a woman. It doesn’t bother me anymore and I feel fine about it.”
It now seems that the gender-bending trend is also working in the opposite direction. Elliot Sailor, a 31 year-old model, had a highly successful modeling career until jobs became scarce as she “aged”. In an attempt to extend her career, she cut her hair short, removed her make up and started going to castings as a male model. The gender switch revived her modeling career.
Androgyny has clearly served these two models well, but society is still uneasy about gender neutrality. When Pejic appeared topless on the cover of Dossier magazine, bookstores demanded that the magazine come wrapped in opaque plastic. Dossier creative director Skye Parrott said of the demand, “If you see him (Pejic), he is very androgynous. But he is also very comfortable with that. It’s a shame that everyone can’t be as relaxed about it as he is”.
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