Keeping Gender Secret an Unethical Experiment

I came across something this week that I have never heard of before. I must say, I found it shocking and disturbing and I have had more than one conversation about it in the past few days. I am referring to the story about the Toronto couple who have chosen to keep the gender of their new child a complete secret from everyone, including their two boys, age 2 and 5. Grandparents are also out of the loop.

Their reasoning apparently is that there is gender bias in the world and they don't want this to affect their child. As is usual in cases like these, the more convoluted the rationale, the more committed to it are the perpetrators.

Gender bias does exist, no question. As a middle-aged woman I have experienced it over my lifetime in many ways. Gender bias is both prejudice and impartiality and literally it means favouring one sex over the other. It may not be a fixed preference, though, and may change according to circumstances.

Science is fixated with gender bias and studies dissect the effects of gender preference on behaviour, attitude, mental capacity and personality over and over again, announcing the results with great fanfare on the morning news while you drink your first cup of coffee. That is not to say that gender bias is harmless or negligible. There is definitely a downside to it and those who have suffered from gender prejudice can describe just how painful it can be.

In our society, I think it is fair to say that women take the brunt of the gender bias, most definitely in the workplace, making lower wages for the same job as their male counterparts, or doing most of the housework while they work full-time because women are the designated caretakers in the home.

At least now we can vote and get an education. Men get a bad rap about lack of sensitivity and short attention span.

In the case of this Toronto couple, my strong reaction is about their total disregard for their children. The two boys who are allowed to be identified as boys will quite probably be confused about the secrecy of their sibling's gender. They will certainly find out what it is in time and they will bear the burden of keeping the secret.

What is most concerning is the unethical treatment of the newest baby. The parents have chosen to conduct an experiment using their child as the subject. No one knows how the experiment will turn out or what the long-term effects will be on the child. In every experiment the researcher is obligated to 'do no harm' and to protect the subjects in the study in every way possible. These parents are putting their child at risk for basically no reason I can discern.

This is cause for concern. Any therapist will tell you, and they are speaking out about this case internationally, the mental health implications are predictable enough to warrant at least an investigation. Children are not ours to do with as we please.