Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

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lutzj
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Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby lutzj » Sun Dec 09, 2012 6:56 am UTC

http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archiv ... it/265977/

More specifically, it talks about the trend in Sweden toward suppressing the development in gender roles among children. I was especially struck by the analogy used in the conclusion: that enforcing gender-neutrality is eerily similar to enforcing a gender divide.

The Swedes are treating gender-conforming children the way we once treated gender-variant children. Formerly called "tomboy girls" and "sissy boys" in the medical literature, these kids are persistently attracted to the toys of the opposite sex. They will often remain fixated on the "wrong" toys despite relentless, often cruel pressure from parents, doctors, and peers. Their total immersion in sex-stereotyped culture—a non-stop Toys"R"Us indoctrination—seems to have little effect on their passion for the toys of the opposite sex. There was a time when a boy who displayed a persistent aversion to trucks and rough play and a fixation on frilly dolls or princess paraphernalia would have been considered a candidate for behavior modification therapy. Today, most experts encourage tolerance, understanding, and acceptance: just leave him alone and let him play as he wants. The Swedes should extend the same tolerant understanding to the gender identity and preferences of the vast majority of children.


Overall I found myself agreeing with the sentiment of the essay. Would be interested in anybody's critique or opinions in the same vein.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Shivahn » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:16 am UTC

Well, there is the article itself, the sentiment expressed, and so on. With regards to the expressed sentiment and last paragraph; yes it is wrong to force children to play with ungendered toys (and yeah, forcing them to play with gendered ones is wrong too). The article itself is sort of misleading though; it talks a lot about the preference for certain toys and whether this preference is innate, and makes the same mistake every article I have ever seen on something scientific does, where a slight statistical difference is treated as a reason to split groups into two and treat based on that. A big reason we should have more gender neutral toy magazines and stuff is because, in the studies done in other animals and with little socialization, the preferences for trucks or dolls or what not is very slight. The media we have contains approximately 100% boys with nerf guns and trucks and girls with barbies. An enforced 50/50 split is actually closer to what happens if you aren't all gender policey, but the author takes umbrage with that and basically supports the current paradigm that is even more divorced from reality.

Basically, forcing children to act some way is wrong, but the idea that slight differences in groups means we should accept media that treates these groups as close to absolutes is dumb. It sounds like some of the stuff going on in Sweden is absolutely fucked; I'm just not convinced the author has a compelling argument that the status quo is much less fucked.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Dark Avorian » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:03 pm UTC

Yeah, just considering one tiny argument here about how boys were according toy cars a higher status...well why? I mean I maybe buy that boys and girls have different archetypal narratives in creative play (maybe)... but I don't buy that male hormones are attracting us to cars. Clearly none of this can be done in a vacuum. It's very very hard to eliminate all influences of gender roles, so the first moves to do so in schools are going to face the problem that the kids are being hit with it from everywhere.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Indy » Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:29 am UTC

I thought it was an interesting article, and I appreciated the non-hysterical tone. That study overview she linked to on CAH was interesting too, although I'd be keen to read a fuller version.

The thing I find kinda weird is that whoever is driving these changes in Sweden seems to see the concept of gender differences as inherently detrimental to society. And that they want to embark on a social conditioning project when (AFAIK) it hasn't even been demonstrated that the social conditioning they want to undo is responsible for the fact that boys often play differently from girls.

(Shivahn, you indicated below that you had seen evidence to the contrary ... if you have a link to a relevant study I'd like to read it.)

Shivahn wrote:An enforced 50/50 split is actually closer to what happens if you aren't all gender policey, but the author takes umbrage with that and basically supports the current paradigm that is even more divorced from reality.


Also, what current paradigm are you talking about? It seems to me the author was just saying that kids should be allowed to play with whatever toys they like.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Shivahn » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:21 am UTC

Well, the author was explicitly about gender-neutral catalogs, without suggesting we'd want to have like a 60/40 split (the author would presumably be against that too). So I assume they think the current... paradigm.. er, what's going on America, is dandy. The fact that I just noticed that she authored a book called "The War On Boys" kind of supports my idea of her as reactionary to changes from the current state. Anyway, what we currently have is not close to what toys people pick, even in our current society, let alone what would happen in some hypothetical genderless one. I looked at the Nerf and the Barbie websites for an obviously extreme comparison. The Barbie website is sort of an abomination so I'll just point out that I can see sixteen pictures of boys and zero pictures of girls on the Nerf website, without even clicking (just dragging my mouse!)

So I was basically saying that a hypothetical culture without gender would probably end up having advertisements and catalogues that are a lot closer to the 50/50 representation than what we have now. If we'd expect a split catalog to fail because it doesn't accurately represent what people want... why do we not expect Nerf to fail for their 100% male website?

Anyway, that's what I was talking about.

What evidence are you talking about? Evidence that social conditioning is responsible for the disparity in playstyles? That sounds more combative than it should be - it's not my intent, I just want to make sure you're asking for what I think you are.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Indy » Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:33 am UTC

An enforced 50/50 split is actually closer to what happens

I was referring to this right here, I thought you were saying that 50% of girls will choose to play with trucks and 50% of boys will choose to play with dolls, but it strikes me now that you might have been talking about advertising. (Never a place we should expect to find reflections of reality IMO)
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Azrael » Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:55 pm UTC

Indy wrote:The thing I find kinda weird is that whoever is driving these changes in Sweden seems to see the concept of gender differences as inherently detrimental to society. And that they want to embark on a social conditioning project when (AFAIK) it hasn't even been demonstrated that the social conditioning they want to undo is responsible for the fact that boys often play differently from girls.

Let's think of the boy who wants to play with dolls. In a very gender-bifurcated materialistic society (the US), that boy will end up on the receiving end of negative social pressure: His peers think he's weird, his gender-role supportive teachers and relatives would not approve (and in all likelihood force him to play with other things) and all of his media consumption indicates that his preferences are abnormal. This isn't a great situation for the kid, especially when society has a very strong 'abnormal = bad' vibe.

Indy wrote:... but it strikes me now that you might have been talking about advertising. (Never a place we should expect to find reflections of reality IMO)

Advertising doesn't accurately reflect reality, but is certainly can affect it. Especially when combined with marketing. Right now toys are heavily gendered -- there are boy toys and girl toys but there aren't many gender neutral toys. So the hurdle for crossing out of your gender stereotype is a lot higher, and the 'transgression' more immediately recognizable.

What is being suggested is that instead of reflecting actual preferences, toy marketing has entered into a self-perpetuating loop. Boys want boy-toys not (if/just/only) because they speak to some inherent male developmental need or preference, but because they've been cultured to like those toys and all the advertising and marketing aimed towards boys involves those toys.

[A great example here is Lego: Lego had become widely considered a toy for boys. How to fix this? Offer up a new line in pink and purple packaging. Did that somehow make them fit into a female development need? No. It overcame the marketing stigma.]

If some gender-free society existed, the hypothesis is that you would not find the harsh gender divide in toy preferences. No one is seriously suggesting it would go away completely, only that there would be a larger middle ground. And in return, that would better suit the needs of all children, as they could chose to play with what they want without having to overcome messages and behavior pushing them to conform to the binary.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby addams » Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:19 pm UTC

ech. Humans.
I walked into a room with toys all gender nutral and No guns or bombs.
All the children were female.

They were using the plastic bananas as guns. Dolls were bombs. The funiture was moved to provide shelter. I laughed.

I asked, "Hey! Where did you get the guns?"
One girl answered, " We made them out of bananas."

She wanted more bananas. Give them a chance.

What if there had been boys in that room? Would we blame the boys?
It was a fun game. Hard on the dolls. Catching dolls is a fun game. I liked to play, too.

We had very few casulities. Some of the dolls were heavy. A direct hit could end the game.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Bsob » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:38 pm UTC

Azrael wrote:[A great example here is Lego: Lego had become widely considered a toy for boys. How to fix this? Offer up a new line in pink and purple packaging. Did that somehow make them fit into a female development need? No. It overcame the marketing stigma.]

Not entirely true. Lego completely redesigned their minfigs to be more human in appearance in order to appeal more to girls. One could say that the purple package overcame marketing stigma, while the more realistic figures helped girls play how they wanted to play.

As in many things, it is not 100% "all girls wanna play only this way", or "Boys will only buy things in blue boxes or be beaten by their redneck fathers" but rather a combination of multiple forces.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Роберт » Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:57 pm UTC

addams wrote:ech. Humans.
I walked into a room with toys all gender nutral and No guns or bombs.
All the children were female.

They were using the plastic bananas as guns. Dolls were bombs. The funiture was moved to provide shelter. I laughed.

I asked, "Hey! Where did you get the guns?"
One girl answered, " We made them out of bananas."

She wanted more bananas. Give them a chance.

What if there had been boys in that room? Would we blame the boys?
Exactly. Confirmation bias would happen here.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby Enuja » Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:16 pm UTC

My skepticism about the Atlantic article linked in the OP is very high, because she strongly implies that the Top-Toy catalog is entirely gender neutral, or has children only in cross-gender roles. It doesn't. Even the picture used in the article has a girl with a doll! Why would anyone complain about a catalog that shows a diversity of play, if they think that kids should be allowed to do what makes them happy? If she's mis-representing this catalog, is she misrepresenting other trends and examples from Sweden? I strongly suspect she is.

On the science behind gender difference, I strongly suggest reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. As she wrote, many of the primate gender toy experiments are of extremely dubious value, with toys put into gender categories for no coherent cross-species reason. As long we we put children into two extremely salient categories, they will try to fit themselves into those categories, and behave as their category is supposed to behave. Saying "Good Morning, Children" instead of "Good Morning, Boys and Girls" is not a radical intervention that prevents difference and personal preference: it's a straightforward intervention that incentiveizes children to behave as they wish, instead of as they are supposed to.

If you have 30 children, and 2 toys that everybody is fighting over, what should you do? In the long run, probably get more of that toy. But in the short run, you should probably get rid of those two toys, and tell the kids that they can't have what they want if they can't find a way to peacefully share it. Add in translation and a negative bias about "gender neutral" schools, and you get from a smart, savy action to gender neutrality police. I don't know the background for any of the actual Swedish examples except for the toy catalog, but I suspect things are not nearly as bad as Christina Hoff Sommers claims.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby addams » Tue Dec 11, 2012 2:27 am UTC

I've watched children play. They confuse me.

Add a boy or two to the inpromto War Game and what I got was dramatic death scenes.
So,funny. And, so strange. !
Not all boys are the same. The ones I saw would come stagering out into the open with banana fire and babies flying through the air and die with great fanfair.. The girls on both sides hit him with everything they had. He was the center of attention. Other boys would compete for best death.

So,weird. I was a little worried. I spoke to his mother. Seems it is a phase. He would have been good in an old Western. I liked that kid. He was on the ground a great deal.

He had an I broke my leg act that 'got' me the first time.
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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby 2652 » Mon Jan 07, 2013 7:32 pm UTC

Indy wrote:The thing I find kinda weird is that whoever is driving these changes in Sweden seems to see the concept of gender differences as inherently detrimental to society. And that they want to embark on a social conditioning project when (AFAIK) it hasn't even been demonstrated that the social conditioning they want to undo is responsible for the fact that boys often play differently from girls.


The things described in the article isn't happening the way they say it does, I actually sent it to some friends for a good laugh. It's completely and utterly silly in its misinformation.

Enuja wrote:My skepticism about the Atlantic article linked in the OP is very high, because she strongly implies that the Top-Toy catalog is entirely gender neutral, or has children only in cross-gender roles. It doesn't. Even the picture used in the article has a girl with a doll! Why would anyone complain about a catalog that shows a diversity of play, if they think that kids should be allowed to do what makes them happy? If she's mis-representing this catalog, is she misrepresenting other trends and examples from Sweden? I strongly suspect she is.


To address your suspicions; the political suggestions mentioned in the article came from politicians belonging to a party that never has gotten a full percent of votes; the word "hen" is used when gender is unknown and is usually laughed at even then; the pre-school Egalia is state-sponsored like pretty much every single other school in Sweden, and also doesn't have as strict a policy as the author chooses to suggest. Consider your doubts confirmed.

Though the topic is intresting this article has about zero credibility and might as well be discarded.

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Re: Atlantic Article on Gender Roles and Children's Play

Postby jules.LT » Tue Jan 08, 2013 5:59 pm UTC

Enuja wrote:I don't know the background for any of the actual Swedish examples except for the toy catalog, but I suspect things are not nearly as bad as Christina Hoff Sommers claims.

About the catalog, an article with highlights of it show nothing that feels really weird, and even a sensationalistic daily article against the catalog couldn't find anything more shocking than a young boy holding a doll and a girl holding a nerf gun. Both of which look very natural and remind me of things I've seen in real life and didn't shock me either. Without aggressive gender stereotyping, boys and girls will experiment with each other's toys.

Is isn't even completely gender-neutral: I found several pages with "girl toys" and more girls than boys in them, but none with more boys than girls. It just avoids the usual 100% stereotype.

She also accuses the Swedes of "making the boys play with dolls", and going "far beyond encouraging children to experiment with different toys and play styles—they are requiring it" and imagines that "the Swedish parents, teachers and authorities are going to have to police—incessantly—boys' powerful attraction to large-group rough-and-tumble play and girls' affinity for intimate theatrical play".

I see no mention of such coercion in more detailed articles about Egalia or on their website. Only removal of gendered items and terms. I'm pretty sure they don't have any dolls to "make" the boys use, for example. Removing toy cars can be part of this, and doesn't sound that scandalous.

The parts I'd disapprove of are the removal of free playtime (although it is certainly replaced with playtime with the teacher, which doesn't sound that bad) and Virginia Valian's seemingly excessive "We do not accept biology as destiny ... We vaccinate, we inoculate, we medicate... I propose we adopt the same attitude toward biological sex differences." (although I'm sure it sounds less extreme if not taken out of context).

Overall, a very bad and biased article.
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