May. 26th, 2013

Last week I listened to a podcast by the Naked Scientists about gender and toys which seemed to me to miss this point. The presenter talks to Jo from @lettoysbetoys and Vicky a research pyschologist.
Vicky has a few points to make:

  • Biological processes as well as societal influence affects toy choice. So 'universally around the world' little girls like dolls and little boys like weapons. These are what they choose when presented with novel toys. She points to her research on the effect of congenital adrenal hyperplasy where the adrenal gland overproduces testosterone and causes girls with the condition to have more masculine looking bodies and to be more likely to choose weapons, trucks and cars than their non-affected sisters. Also 'even at 12 months' babies more likely to look at toys associated with their gender.
  • It's insulting to say that children don't know their own minds, can choose to go against societies' expectations
  • Campaigners are implying girls' toys less good than boys' toys
  • By adulthood neglible differences in abilities, so what they play with doesn't matter.

Jo answers many of these points well, especially pointing out that social stigma is greater for boys who like 'girly' toys than vice versa. But there were various points that I felt could have been made more strongly.

Vicky said 'even at 12 months' suggesting that at that age society hasn't influenced babies much. However, I've read of studies where babies where dressed in blue or pink (regardless of actual gender so some dressed in blue were girls and some in pink were boys) and observed how adults responded to them and interacted with them and there were clear differences in the sort of things adults said to those in blue to those in pink. IIRC, blue were more likely to be 'strong' and pink 'pretty', so social conditioning begins long before 12 months.

Vicky also hugely downplayed the social impact of stereotypes. Yes, the child might know his or her own mind and still choose things associated with the other gender, but that's not much help if the parent then refuses to buy the thing because it's wrong. @Everydaysexism on twitter has retweeted examples people have overheard of children being told they can't have something because it was for the other gender. So if a budding female scientist isn't allowed a chemistry set because it's for boys maybe she'll not choose science at A level and so her talents will be lost from science, even though, as Vicky acknowledges, the differences in talents of adults are negligible.

Vicky also mainly failed to address the issue of tendency versus universaility. Jo pointed out that you can't say 'all' girls and boys will choose with the tendency of their sex . VIcky said that putting the dolls elsewhere wouldn't stop girls choosing them, which is true and completely fine. The whole point of the campaign though isn't to stop girls choosing dolls or boys choosing weapons but to enable girls to choose weapons and boys to choose dolls if that is what they want. That's why marketting by function makes sense, it opens up the categories rather than shutting them down.



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