Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Good Timing: More Info On Acculturation and Gender Roles

An excellent companion to our ongoing feminism discussions!

Here's a Jezebel rundown of a new book seeking to dismantle gender myths. This part seems especially relevant:
Girls "naturally" love dolls; boys are born lusting after trucks.

Larry Summers gave voice to this particular myth in his infamous women-in-science speech, saying, "I guess my experience with my two and a half year old twin daughters who were not given dolls and who were given trucks, and found themselves saying to each other, look, daddy truck is carrying the baby truck, tells me something." Actually, it shouldn't. Fine notes that her sons also "tucked trucks into pretend beds and, yes, called them Daddy, Mommy, and Baby." More broadly, she points out that children are subject to gender stereotyping before they are even born — the way mothers talk about their fetuses differs by gender — and when they are born they enter "a world in which gender is continually emphasized through conventions of dress, appearance, language, color, segregation, and symbols. Everything around the child indicates that whether one is male or female is a matter of great importance." Fine concedes that there are some differences in how even the youngest children play, but these grow greater as children get older, and may be greatly influenced by kids' desire — revealed in numerous studies — to do things that are socially constructed as either "for boys" or "for girls." So it's not necessarily that girls hate things that move and love things that need putting to bed — rather, each gender gets lots and lots of implicit and explicit pressure to do gender-appropriate things. To see how important gender-appropriateness, as opposed to actual characteristics, are to children's toy choices, consider this study:
[R]esearchers transformed a pastel "My Little Pony" by shaving the mane (a soft "girlish" feature), painting it black (a "tough" color), and adding spiky teeth (for an aggressive demeanor). Both boys and girls classified the altered pony as a boy's toy, and most of the boys (but not the girls) were extremely interested in obtaining one
Also, your word of the day: neurosexism. Quote of the day: "to those interested in gender equality there is nothing at all frightening about good science." Mmm, science. . . . .

Updated to add:

As I commented over at Real OC Mom, I think one thing that should be emphasized that I neglected to include in my post(s) is the question of "because."

Lots - most? - boys and girls fit expected gender roles, but not because they are boys and girls, rather, because they are raised as boys and girls. It's a question of biology vs. society. Nature vs. nurture, etc.

1 comment:

  1. This is a topic that I spend so much time on in my life. Just today I lectured on Nature vs. Nurture and next week I have my Gender and Sexuality lecture where I try to demonstrate to my students just how much gender differences are caused by socialization. In fact, meta-analysis of the research on gender differences indicates that in most areas (math, language, etc) the actual variance between males and females is <1%. So regardless of where these differences actually stem from, their size and importance is tiny, yet we still dwell on them and give them much more importance than they actually merit.

    It drives me crazy when people say things like, "boys and girls are just so different!" it's so not true and the extent to which it is true it's not because of biology at all! I have snapped about that a few too many times, I'm afraid, I think people are starting to be scared of me. Ack, I could go on, and on, but I have laundry to fold. Sometimes being a girl sucks ;)