Katharine Whitehorn, The Observer, Sunday 25 May 2014
Do boys and girls have innate toy preferences, or are we typecasting them into gendered ghettos of dolls and pink versus guns and football? The debates.
Shops are reproached for dividing their toy departments into boys’ things (engines) and girls’ things (dolls) on the grounds that typecasting little girls as lovers of pink discriminates against them, and discourages them from thinking that they, too, might understand engines one day.
But it could be argued – is argued by shops – that girls like different things anyway so they are just giving them what they want. Certainly adopting too much maleness in the interests of equality isn’t always sensible. During my ill-fated time at Roedean we were offered Harrow’s school song, which spoke warmly of games and “the tramp of 22 men” – hardly what the girls wanted to emulate.
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Comments Ruud Gal
In general I agree with Katherine. Whitehorn that children should freely choose what toys to play.
In the comments on her blog, the underlying discussion is whether differences between men and women are from a genetic origin or a cultural origin.
There is some scientific evidence for a genetic origin based on differences in hormones, like oxytocin. this hormone is more present in the female body, causing the person amongst others to have more trust in others. The hormone, testosterone, is more present in male bodies, stimulating competition and dominance.
There is also another view on gender differences. Many believe that in the early stages of life male and female babies are already treated different. Asha ten Broeke has written an interesting book (unfortunately in Dutch) about this (“Het m/v-idee”). And she comes with many arguments underpinning the cultural impact.
The fact that only a few women in the Netherlands are following technical studies compared to countries around us, was for me a strong indicator for cultural influence. On the other hand, we are social beings, so without role models, I am not convinced we can create enough societal stability and coherence.
My advice is, look at the children. Give them a rich environment where they can experiment and learn. They will show what they like and not like, where they have special qualities and where not. And the next step is to stimulate by offering opportunities to develop their strengths.
Next to the focus on personal development, there is a lot of work to be done to make the children become social beings. Our culture is full of signs, behaviors, attitudes that signal meaning and these are necessary to keep societal coherence. For me, the golden rule applies “Do not do to others what you do not want to be done to yourselves”. This helps to make children becoming empathic beings and think about the consequences of their behavior for others.