Baby Storm Brews Up Controversy

One Toronto baby is causing quite the storm of controversy over the parents’ contentious decision not to reveal the child’s gender, in an attempt to allow the baby to develop free from the constraints of gender stereotypes.

It all began when Kathy Witterick  and David Stocker,  the parents of 5-month old baby Storm, sent an email to their family and friends which read, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place?…).”

Almost instantly after the story hit the blogosphere, the message boards and comments sections for news articles were ablaze with readers damning the couples for what was deemed a “bizarre lab experiment”. Witterick, 38 and Stocker, 39, have declined numerous interview requests this week with most of the major media outlets across North America. They will be appearing on CBC Radio’s Q with Jian Ghomeschi on Monday morning to defend their controversial parenting tactics.

This really got me thinking about how something as simple as a piece of clothing can drastically affect how we treat an infant. Witterick acknowledged this in an interview with the Toronto Star, when she said “When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?”

Psychologists have acknowledged that parents intentionally and unintentionally treat baby boys differently than baby girls. Similarly, the way we treat a baby can be very dependent on what clues we can ascertain about the baby’s gender identity from its clothes or name. In today’s consumer-crazed world, there’s no shortage of ways for new parents to ingrain gender identity into their child’s sense of self, with everything from the paint in the nursery to the shades of the baby booties.

Up until about a hundred years ago, infants and children were generally clothed in white, as it could be bleached to remove stains and odours. In the mid 19th century, coloured clothing for babies was introduced, though pink was generally for boys and blue for girls.   According to a trade publication from the era, pink was a stronger and more decided colour, hence more suitable for boys, while blue was viewed as more delicate and dainty, thus a more apt choice for pretty little girls. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the dominant trends flipped and pink became the norm for baby girls and blue for boys.

I applaud the parents of baby Storm for this intriguing approach to parenting. To me, it doesn’t seem so much like they’re trying to raise a genderless child as they are trying to prevent everyone around them from applying their gender biases to the child. However, as far as social experiments go, the time frame for this one is relatively short. It’s easy to try to treat a baby in a gender-neutral manner, but what happens when baby Storm reaches their toddler years or goes off to school and has to weather a whole new set of questions about identity and gender?

The closest indication of how things will turn out for baby Storm can be seen in the behaviour of the child’s sibling, Jazz, a five year old boy whose favourite color is pink and who loves wearing his hair in braids. He keeps a notebook where he  muses about gender in pink and purple lettering that reads,”Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl things. Let your kid be whoever they are!”

Photo of Baby Storm (in red) with older brother, Jazz

Photo Credit – Steve Russel, Toronto Star

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