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The Gender-Neutral Conceptualization of Parenting

Gender theory studies social expectations, roles, and behaviors that are considered feminine or masculine in society. Meanwhile, the queer theory focuses on sexual practices outside of heterosexuality and challenges heteronormativity. Two of the week’s readings explore whether gender and sexual orientation have an effect on parenting outcomes. Overall, existing studies in gender and queer theories support the idea that society should apply gender-neutral conceptualization of parenting because a parent’s gender was found to have little impact on the child’s development.

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One reason for the shift towards this idea is that some scholars have found that fathers’ parenting is not different from mothers’ one. Finley et al. (as cited in Fagan et al., 2014) found that fathers and mothers use a similar parenting construct. Second, both female and male parents affect children’s outcomes in the same way (McDowell & Parke, as cited in Fagan et al., 2014). Finally, fathers and mothers engage children in similar types of behaviors in Western countries (Raley et al., as cited in Fagan et al., 2014). They play with children, provide care, warmth and responsiveness in a comparable fashion. Lucassen et al. (as cited in Fagan et al., 2014) found that activities that lead to mother-child attachment also encourage child-father connections. Therefore, children are similarly influenced by paternal and maternal parenting.

One drawback of prior gender studies was that they considered only the quantity of time that parents spent with children. However, the amount of time spent with offspring should not be counted as positive if parents were demeaning or intrusive (Fagan et al., 2014). Thus, the quantity of time spent with children cannot be equated with the quality of parent-child interactions. Therefore, measures of quality should be included in subsequent research.

Queer theory scholars have also explored the role of gender in parenting and have challenged some fundamental assumptions of heteronormativity. Berkowitz (2009) reported that homosexual people might struggle when they want to create a family with children. Lesbian and gay parents have to construct their identities as mothers and fathers and simultaneously alter the ideology of the heterosexual family. Fatherhood and gayness were incompatible with each other for many years (Berkowitz, 2009). Nevertheless, many gay fathers manage to perform female functions in childrearing. The research has shown that they can be more nurturing and responsive to children than heterosexual fathers (Bigner & Jacobsen, as cited in Berkowitz, 2009). Moreover, Dunne (as cited in Berkowitz, 2009) showed that some high-earning lesbian mothers reduced working hours to provide care for their children. Childcare is often considered inferior to paid labor in heteronormative society, but lesbian mothers broke the accepted norms. Queer studies demonstrated that children of homosexual parents do not differ from children of heterosexual ones in terms of gender and sexual development (Tasker & Golombok, as cited in Berkowitz, 2009). Therefore, it can be concluded that the sex of parents plays a minor role in children’s outcomes.

To summarize, gender studies conclude that children are influenced by maternal and paternal upbringing in a similar way. The results have some practical implications for scholars and policy-makers. First, researchers need to include measures of similar parental constructs in subsequent explorations of the link between parent’s gender and children’s outcomes. Second, scholars should count the quality and quantity of female and male parenting. Meanwhile, queer studies demonstrate the flexibility of gender performance. Additionally, the results of developmental psychologists show that children brought up by lesbian and gay parents do not differ from children who are raised by heterosexuals. Therefore, policymakers should uproot the supremacy of heterosexual families in the society. Moreover, social workers should not use heteronormativity in their work. They should adopt gender-neutral policies when they deal with lesbian and gay families wishing to adopt children.


Berkowitz, D. (2009). Theorizing lesbian and gay parenting: Past, present, and future scholarship. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 1(3), 117–132. Web.

Fagan, J., Day, R., Lamb, M.E., & Cabrera, N.J. (2014). Should researchers conceptualize differently the dimensions of parenting for fathers and mothers? Journal of Family Theory & Review, 6(4), 390-405. Web.

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