I have been raised up in a country where gender identity is valued as essential part of the education of a child. Not that they — my former con-nationals — are really aware of it. Rather it seems “natural” for a boy to be a boy, and for a girl to be a girl. That is to have specific roles in games, to wear cloths of society-acceptable colors (or rather not to wear pink for boys, since blue for girls is in someway allowed) and to play with gender-defined toys.
Religion has its responsibility. A strong clergy class is dominating the culture of the country, and its members are just men. Women are allowed to have servile roles, but male genitals are required to address the crowd in the name of god. Needless to say that the divinity itself is often referred to as Sir or Father.
Most people, god-believers or not, are scared to death at the idea that their gender identity could be questioned. Parents are imposing their gender prejudices on children, under severe surveillance by the family clan. A boy playing with a doll could be a serious threat for an Italian grandfather.
I am questioning my own beliefs, and asking myself how I will act as a parent — the day I will have some children. In Sweden, there are some preschools where the educational mission is to help pupils not to fall into gender stereotypes. Amazon has a full selection of gender neutral children books. And on the web is possible to read about mothers defending the right of their boys to wear pink or to dress up in the Halloween costumes their children love.
I think that a certain degree of gender identification is not avoidable. The price would be to keep the child isolated from the outside world, as these two stories: Storm and five year old Sasha. And I am not sure this isolation would serve the purpose. I have met some parents who are never dressing up their daughters with skirts and flowers, however what if the girl wants to be a princess? Any imposition of an idea, being the stereotypical gender division or the scientific application of a well-planned neutrality, could lead to abnormal results. I believe that each person should be free to develop an identity, and to change it, as they please. How to help a child to be what s/he wants to be, this I still have to learn.