While I agree with Sandra Bem’s analysis of gender spheres, where there are clear boundaries dividing masculine from feminine, I also agree with an earlier post by Drizzle that argues Bem’s proposal is unrealistic because it does not adequately take into account the way gender roles are reinforced in ways that are beyond the control of parents. By extension, I also disagree with Bem's supporter, Lady Lazarus. By focusing narrowly on child rearing practices, Bem and Lady Lazarus do not propose a realistic model of social change.
I think it is important to raise a child to be conscious of gender stereotypes, but I think there is a difference between raising your child to question gender stereotypes and raising them to be a martyr—your martyr—for social change. A more moderate approach begins by recognizing that there are degrees to which a child could be raised to be gender aschematic, and the view expressed in Lady Lazarus’ blog seems too extreme to me. In my view, it is sufficient to provide a child with the means of recognizing a stereotype as only one particular claim about a group of people. Revealing a stereotype in this way allows children to question whether a stereotype is useful or "true," This conscientizing process can be done without forcing one’s child to engage in a confrontational politics before they are ready.
As an adult, Betsy Lucal and other activists like her made their own choices not to “do” gender; is it fair to make this decision for a child? Activism is sometimes necessary to produce change, but when a child is forced to become an activist for a cause they do not yet understand, they may be harmed. People come to perceive their own gender based on the responses others offer them. If a child is not taught to “do” gender in the usual or expected way, or if they are forced to disrupt the gender binary, then they are being set up to have difficult interactions with others. Such difficult interactions will undoubtedly involve name calling and bullying and will shape the perceptions children form about themselves. In making our children activists, we have moved well beyond merely equipping them with the tools necessary to reveal harmful stereotypes.
Let me be clear. I wholly support raising children to be aware of harmful stereotypes. However, I think Lady Lazarus’ support of Sandra Bem’s notion of gender aschematic child rearing is an advocation for unnecessary and unjustifiable martyrdom that can only harm children. Ideally, human beings should be nurtured to a point where they are able to form their own conclusions about the many gender-based ideas they encounter in the world. Children just aren’t ready to face such decisions, and they should be protected until they are ready. Once a child is old enough to contemplate the gender binary, they may very well decide it is necessary for them to reject conventional ideas, which tie masculinity to boys and femininity to girls. They may decide it is necessary to “un-do” gender, but this should only be a decision they confront when they are old enough to understand the potential consequences.
The Class Blog Project, or CBP, is a blog featuring undergraduate students forming a critical dialogue with each other around ideas related to the sociology of gender.