She told me how a couple, friends of hers; newly married had decided that they were going to raise their children “gender free”. As I understand this, it means that they will attempt to raise their children not as boys or girls but as whatever they want to be, free of all biological and or cultural ascriptions, psycho-social constructions and determinants.
No metaphor ever fully captures the whole idea but this one captures some of it for my mind. Each of us is born with an existing armature. Many sculptures created from wet clay start life with a wire armature that carries the core shape of the intended sculpture. It is the laying of clay on the armature that finally results in the fully manifest article.
“How can you know what the child is if she hasn’t emerged yet?” I suggested that the child is already there, even in its infancy; the moment we decide for the child’s good that we are going to free it by shaping its exposure to experience we are in actual fact doing the opposite of freeing it, we are just focusing on our own biases believing that they are right, natural. Isn’t that what everybody, left right or centre does? So with what clothes will they dress the child that it can freely choose to be a “girl or boy” free of biased acculturation?
We are never and cannot be completely free as long as we are a participant in human relationships. Is that not all of us? To understand the primacy of human relationships, see, J.H, van den Bergh, A Different Existence for a powerful examination of the importance of the understanding of loneliness.
So, as I said, I believe that we each start with a metaphorical wire armature, one that is unique in its nature, complexity and latent potential; what it will look like down the road. Slowly, minute after minute, event after event, experience after experience bits of living clay are adhered onto the wire armature. Sometimes the pressure of the living clay applied onto the armature crushes and irrevocably changes the shape and nature of the armature, from what it actually was in the beginning. Sometimes on seeing the armature observers decide that it is not a good armature and attempt to change it to their preferred desire usually by utilising harsh and powerful techniques to “get the thing into shape”.
The child is (fully) (already here) right there…..living….being… can you see it?
An important aspect of our empathic relationships with our children during our interactions with them is to mirror the child back to itself helping to develop a sense of worth and self-esteem an internalised sense of their being as unique, valuable and powerful, a right to exist as a unique person.
So in addition to Maslow developed his theory of motivational needs expressed as a hierarchy of needs that must be met for healthy development. I would add after physiological and safety needs the need for validation of self, what Erich Fromm calls love, seeing things as they are as opposed to seeing them through our own narcissism.
“What a man can be, he must be.” Maslow