You can give a boy a doll, but you can’t make him play with it

In an extremely interesting article from the The Atlantic (posted by the American Enterprise Institute), Christina Sommers discusses the recent trend in Europe to make everything “gender-neutral.” In particular, she focuses on Sweden and it’s recent foray into compelling toy makers to publish their catalogs as gender-neutral.

boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: “Boys and girls are different.”

This may seem like an obvious conclusion, but for some reason, many in Europe seem to continue to struggle with it. It seems like the main issue involves the age old debate regarding nature and nurture: is it the societal strictures that force girls to play with dolls and boys to play with guns? As it turns out, there are studies that demonstrate a strong link to predetermined, biological factors that influence specific boy and girl preferences.

Biology appears to play a role. Several animal studies have shown that hormonal manipulation can reverse sex-typed behavior. When researchers exposed female rhesus monkeys to male hormones prenatally, these females later displayed male-like levels of rough-and-tumble play. Similar results are found in human beings. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a genetic condition that results when the female fetus is subjected to unusually large quantities of male hormones—adrenal androgens. Girls with CAH tend to prefer trucks, cars, and construction sets over dolls and play tea sets. As psychologist Doreen Kimura reported in Scientific American, “These findings suggest that these preferences were actually altered in some way by the early hormonal environment.” They also cast doubt on the view that gender-specific play is primarily shaped by socialization. Professor Geary does not have much hope for the new gender-blind toy catalogue: “The catalog will almost certainly disappear in a few years, once parents who buy from it realize their kids don’t want these toys.” Most little girls don’t want to play with dump trucks, as almost any parent can attest. Including me: When my granddaughter Eliza was given a toy train, she placed it in a baby carriage and covered it with a blanket so it could get some sleep.

The most disturbing observation from the article relates to how one professor views the preferences of boys versus girls:

Hunter College psychologist Virginia Valian, a strong proponent of Swedish-style re-genderization, wrote in the book Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women, “We do not accept biology as destiny … We vaccinate, we inoculate, we medicate… I propose we adopt the same attitude toward biological sex differences.” Valian is absolutely right that we do not have to accept biology as destiny. But the analogy is ludicrous: We vaccinate, inoculate, and medicate children against disease. Is being a gender-typical little boy or girl a pathology in need of a cure? Failure to protect children from small pox, diphtheria, or measles places them in harm’s way. I don’t believe there is any such harm in allowing male/female differences to flourish in early childhood. As one Swedish mother, Tanja Bergkvist, told the Associated Press, “Different gender roles aren’t problematic as long as they are equally valued.” Gender neutrality is not a necessary condition for equality. Men and women can be different—but equal. And for most human beings, the differences are a vital source for meaning and happiness. Since when is uniformity a democratic ideal?

I would recommend reading the entire article. There are numerous points that are made which show how this type of thinking is not only flawed, but dangerous for the progression of both genders.