This past weekend, my wife and I stopped by at a nearby “home showcase.” Basically, the idea is that a number of construction companies build a model house in the same area, and then you can visit all the big name companies and see their wares at the same location. In Japan, that means companies like “Seki-sui Haim,” “Daiwa House,” and “Ichijo Koumuten.” (The “haim” is “heim” in German, i.e., home…no idea why a company would have two divisions with one using “home” and one using “heim”…)
At any rate, the homes were far too large for the amount of land we are likely to afford. But it was an interesting experience. Except for our daughter.
She did behave quite well at first, but it was a hot day and we talked with (read –> were talked at by) a sales representative for about two straight hours. Fortunately, one of the companies’ model homes came with a children’s play rooms. Our daughter was too young to use the Wii (which was being used by a older girl anyway). But she was just the right age to appreciate Pokeman cars. The sales rep seemed a little surprised at her choice, but it didn’t surprise us at all.
As early as 10 months old, she was plenty appreciative of cars at a local children’s play center. Contrary to all the “evidence” amassed in this BBC report that girls prefer dolls and boys prefer cars from a young age, our daughter has not clearly shown signs of any preference…except for toys that make loud noises when banged against random objects (the floor, her playpen walls, my head…).
Speaking of toy preference, the study referred to in the BBC link above was presented at a conference in April; I’d love to get my hands on a printed report, published in an academic journal. Maybe the British Psychological Society will eventually print it. Until then, all I have is the BBC’s interpretation of “gender-typical toys.” Meaning that boys play with cars and girls play with dolls.
As a kid, I liked G.I. Joe, the Transformers, and Voltron. Basically, dolls for boys. Was I gender-atypical? I liked matchbox cars, too, especially when I could make them fly off a ramp and into a stack of alphabet blocks. Was I gender-typical? Were there days when I was more “typical” than others? Who gets to decide the definition of “gender-typical”?
In fairness to the study, the authors tried to point the finger at socialization pressure. I would interpret this to mean that parents of the children involved in the study were busily providing mostly dolls for their girl children and mostly cars for their boy children, based on their interpretation of what society expected of boys and girls. Of course, we’re not told in the BBC report what toys the parents provided on a daily basis.
So, we get stuck with the strange phrase “intrinsic bias.” How “intrinsic” is the desire to play with cars or dolls if the impetus is mommy or daddy giving you a car or doll with which to play?
I originally stumbled across the BBC page back in April and was meaning to post about toys at the time, but got slightly sidetracked by our daughter’s hospitalization. The whole gender issue is one that I haven’t really had time to consider (being more interested in things such as how to get my daughter to sit still while I change her diaper and how to get her to stop throwing random objects to the floor while eating). Obviously, it’s an important issue…but the mixed signs we receive and give our children are already confusing enough for parents, let alone children.
For example, take this blog entry on raising strong daughters. The blog itself is called “Parenting Pink.” Doesn’t sound too different from the stereotype to me. Or how about this sentence from their “6 tips” to guys like me: “Girls are verbal by choice and emotional by nature.” Does that imply the opposite for boys? Are boys uncommunicative by choice and unemotional by nature? Or maybe uncommunicative by nature and unemotional by choice…
The points made in the blog are well-meant, but I see no reason why they should be specifically about girls. Raising strong, healthy girls AND boys should mean equal treatment of both sexes. That also means insisting that girls AND boys can play with dolls and cars.
I suppose it says more about modern societies’ continued insistence that men and women can do different things and are “intrinsically” interested in different things. I can already feel my family getting pulled into the gender distinctions, now that summer has arrived and we have to choose what clothing to dress our daughter in. Whenever we choose pants instead of a dress, we get asked by other parents, “Boy or girl?”
The temptation to quote from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” is quite strong at such moments. Too bad I don’t know how to quote the appropriate scene in Japanese.
UPDATE December 23, 2010 – A recent study into primate behavior claims that young female chimpanzees often carry around a stick that seems to serve no functional purpose. So, does this support earlier contentions that there is a “biological” source of male/female preferences for toys? Or is it an imitation of the mothers? Or is it, “that stick-carrying is just a playful expression of cognitive abilities found in chimps and humans but few other animals.”
IMHO, sometimes a stick is just a stick.