Before they even had a baby, Royce and Jessica James had decided the phrase ‘be the change you seek in the world’ would apply to them. Meeting at college, Royce and Jessica would spend late nights exploring their ideas about the world and how it could be better. Ideas about racism (Royce was black and Jessica was white). Oppression. Gender.
Both passionate advocates of social justice and equality, blowing up gender stereotypes was one of the changes they sought in the world and so they decided to be it. To live it.
In an ideal world, a baby girl will be able to wear a blue jumpsuit without people assuming she’s a boy.
A little boy could wear pink and decide he wants to take up ballet and nobody would raise an eyebrow.
In an ideal world, we let our children discover their gender as an identity, rather than have it prescribed to them when they’re born. And so that’s what Royce and Jessica decided to do when they found out they were pregnant.
In a recent podcast episode of the Hidden Brain , we got an incredible insight into how that turned out, as host Shankar Vedantam explored the lives of Royce and Jessica James who decided to raise their daughter gender neutral.
Soon after the couple met, Jessica became pregnant unexpectedly and it was then they decided whether to walk the talk on their beliefs.
“We had started talking about how we’re not going to be getting her baby dolls and Barbies,” Jessica said.
“We want her to have open-ended, free play toys like blocks, animals and lots of lots of bright colours, instead of just pastel pink and princess or fairy motifs.”
Their daughter, Isis (named for the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom), was born two months premature. Despite her parents firmly deciding to dress her in gender neutral colours like yellow, green and white, one day while still in the newborn intensive care unit, the nurses dressed Isis up in pastel pinks with frilly ribbons in her hair as a surprise for her parents – who were horrified.
“Somebody nearby turned and looked at my baby in my arms, my little pink baby doll and said, ‘Oh, she’s so precious and delicate and dainty,’ and I was enraged,” Jessica said, explaining that in trying to get their tiny daughter out of the intensive care unit, she needed to be strong and healthy – the opposite of how she was being perceived.