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Gender Stereotyping


Zombie

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I've just read the "Two Dads?" thread and a couple of the posts reminded me of this news item which appeared last month in one of the British papers:

 

http://www.telegraph...ereotyping.html

 

"Beck Laxton, 46, and partner Kieran Cooper, 44, decided not to reveal baby Sasha's gender to the world so he would not be influenced by society's prejudices and preconceptions. They referred to their child as "The Infant" and only allowed him to play with "gender-neutral toys" in their television-free home. For the first five years of his life Sasha alternated between girls' and boys' outfits, leaving friends, playmates and relatives guessing.

 

But the couple have finally revealed his sex after it became harder to conceal when Sasha started primary school.

 

Yesterday Miss Laxton, a web editor, said that she thought gender stereotyping was "fundamentally stupid". "I wanted to avoid all that stereotyping," she said. "Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes? "It's like horoscopes: what could be stupider than thinking there are 12 types of personality that depend on when you were born? It's so idiotic. "Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with, and that shapes the kind of person they become."

 

"I discovered later that I'd been described as 'that loony woman who doesn't know whether her baby is a boy or a girl', she said. "And I could never persuade anyone in the group to come around for coffee. They just thought I was mental. "I don't think I'd do it if I thought it was going to make him unhappy, but at the moment he's not really bothered either way. We haven't had any difficult scenarios yet."

 

She said she early gender stereotyping was "harmful". "My mother's very sporty and my dad was very emotional," she said. "We'd watch The Wizard of Oz and always start crying, whereas my mum would think we were really soppy. "So it's always seemed obvious to me that stereotypes didn't fit the people I knew."

 

The family, from in Sawston, Cambs., were so desperate not to prejudice Sasha's life with gender they didn't ask midwives his sex until 30 minutes after he was born. Only a handful of immediate family members were told of the baby's gender. Finally the secret got too hard to keep and Beck and Kieran were forced to reveal Sasha's sex when he started school.

 

Sasha wears a "ruched-sleeved" girl's shirt as part of his school uniform, and has been banned from sporting combat trousers. The youngster is also encouraged to wear flowery tops at weekends. Miss Laxton said her son would think nothing of being given flowers – a gift which would embarrass many men. "I just want him to fulfil his potential, and I wouldn't push him in any direction. As long as he has good relationships and good friends, then nothing else matters does it?

 

Mr Cooper, a computer software designer, said his son likes to play with Lego and dolls. He said: "We wanted to challenge gender stereotypes and so if Sasha wants to dress up in girls' clothes then so be it. But we are not forcing it.

 

Dr Daragh McDermott, a psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, said the effect of raising a gender neutral child is not yet known. He said: "It's hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little empirical research examining this topic. "That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialisation with other children and adults, as well as mass media. "As a child grows they develop their own independent sense of self that will include their own individual gender identification.""

 

 

To me it seems that Sasha's Mum and Dad, whilst honest in their beliefs and concerns, did what they did because it's what they wanted to do, and their actions were not in response to the specific developmental needs of their child but were pre-determined before he was even born. In effect what they did was run an experiment on child development, with their own child as the guinea pig.

 

I feel they did something wrong. But what do you think?

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Posted Image ............ I agree the child should not have been used as a guinea pig in what appears to be a social expierement.

 

Agreed. And the whole idea of "gender neutral" is pretty stupid anyway because there ARE genders. No one doesn't have a gender unless their a hermaphrodite. And gender "stereotypes" aren't even stereotypes. Like it or not most guys like "guy" things and most girls like "girl" things. It would be like saying puppies chasing after balls are "dog stereotypes" just because most dogs chase after balls that are thrown. It's not a stereotype, it's just how people are.

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Interesting read. I have a lot of questions about it though. I wonder what exactly the consider "gender neutral." And how would they be able to determine that based on their own gender biases? Maybe blocks seem like a gender neutral toy, but what if they were blue or pink- colors typically associated with genders. Does that have an influence?

 

To me, it doesn't seem as if what they did would harm their child in the long run. I mean- they're still concerned parents, right? But I do wonder whether they should try to be gender accepting rather than gender neutral (which to me seems impossible somehow..)

 

She said she early gender stereotyping was "harmful". "My mother's very sporty and my dad was very emotional," she said. "We'd watch The Wizard of Oz and always start crying, whereas my mum would think we were really soppy. "So it's always seemed obvious to me that stereotypes didn't fit the people I knew."

 

Sasha wears a "ruched-sleeved" girl's shirt as part of his school uniform, and has been banned from sporting combat trousers. The youngster is also encouraged to wear flowery tops at weekends. Miss Laxton said her son would think nothing of being given flowers – a gift which would embarrass many men. "I just want him to fulfil his potential, and I wouldn't push him in any direction. As long as he has good relationships and good friends, then nothing else matters does it?

 

 

This part of the article gave me that idea because it seems like "encouraging" one way or another is pushing SOME sort of gendered response. Encouraging/ praising a male child for choosing a floral shirt (probably typically considered feminine), is still teaching the child to response to something... even if it's an object/ response typically associated with the other sex.

 

Why not just buy the kid all sorts of varieties of toys/ clothes of both genders to see what they respond to? Seems like that would actually be the less subjective way to handle the situation.

 

(hehe sorry if I'm ranting.. but my art is about gendered objects so I got kinda into it.)

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Agreed. And the whole idea of "gender neutral" is pretty stupid anyway because there ARE genders. No one doesn't have a gender unless their a hermaphrodite. And gender "stereotypes" aren't even stereotypes. Like it or not most guys like "guy" things and most girls like "girl" things. It would be like saying puppies chasing after balls are "dog stereotypes" just because most dogs chase after balls that are thrown. It's not a stereotype, it's just how people are.

 

I do agree that there are genders. Biologically there are massive differences between men and women. Our behaviour is highly affected by hormones so in that sense having that child grow up gender-neutral is obviously never going to work... But on the other hand, gender identity is also very much a social norm. Girls like the colour pink because girls are told to like the colour pink, not because evolution has dictated that they like pink. Two hundred years ago it was normal for both boys and girls to wear dresses until puberty, and if I'm not mistaken pink was considered a 'male' colour during the Victorian age.

 

Obviously raising a boy to be a girl will never make him grow a uterus, but all dogs like to catch a ball because evolution has made them instinctively want to catch a ball as hunters, not because everyone told them when they were younger that catching a ball is a 'dog' thing to do. Gender stereotypes are definitely not the same as 'dog' stereotypes.

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I do agree that there are genders. Biologically there are massive differences between men and women. Our behaviour is highly affected by hormones so in that sense having that child grow up gender-neutral is obviously never going to work... But on the other hand, gender identity is also very much a social norm. Girls like the colour pink because girls are told to like the colour pink, not because evolution has dictated that they like pink. Two hundred years ago it was normal for both boys and girls to wear dresses until puberty, and if I'm not mistaken pink was considered a 'male' colour during the Victorian age.

 

Obviously raising a boy to be a girl will never make him grow a uterus, but all dogs like to catch a ball because evolution has made them instinctively want to catch a ball as hunters, not because everyone told them when they were younger that catching a ball is a 'dog' thing to do. Gender stereotypes are definitely not the same as 'dog' stereotypes.

 

Gender is socially constructed. Sex is the biological distinction.

 

I agree that dog stereotypes and gender stereotypes are not the same thing. Our ideas of genders are what we make of it in our particular culture, and not all cultures today have the same notions as Western culture.

 

What I wonder is how this kid will cope with the discrimination he'll face in the outside world. His parents can be as gender neutral as they like, but he'll still be influenced by other students, teachers, even strangers. I agree w/ Intune... about letting him pick things that interest him on his own and reminding him he doesn't have to conform to societal norms if he doesn't want to . . . rather than forcing him to be some sort of 'non-gendered' or 'bi-gendered' person from birth.

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I believe there are many parts to gender. There is physical (body), mental (mind), and emotional (personality). What this couple did, is take something and twist it to their own purpose. They may have had some good intentions, but of the child's psyche? Was he really given the choice in what he wore? I don't think so. He wasn't allowed to pick anything that was considered masculine, yet is encouraged to choose decidedly feminine clothing. That, to me, says very clearly that his parents are not being non-gender, but rather wishing he was born a girl.

 

And who says only boys wear "boys clothes"?

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Way to screw a kid over.

 

This is the kind of thing that can ruin a person's life and totally warp his/her mind.

 

Absolutely. These parents (and that ridiculous couple in Canada who named their kid "Storm") should not be allowed near children and give ammunition to people opposed to gay parenting in general.

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I read a couple of things in the article that concerned me (banning combat trousers but encouraging floral tops, for example), but overall I wasn't bothered. What I didn't see was to what extent the parents told the CHILD not to reveal his gender.

 

As a simple example, toddlers don't have a nudity taboo. Boy toddlers will quite happily urinate in public if they need to. That makes their gender quite obvious. Girl toddlers tend not to do the same because it's just a bit more difficult for them to do so - but I accept that that's also partially cultural. It's more acceptable for a young boy to urinate against a tree in a public area than it is for a girl to do similar.

 

Whether this harmed the child will depend on the extent that the parents went to. If they repressed natural tendencies in the child as part of the process, then I think that's wrong. If they were, instead, opening up by giving the child more options than would be typical, then I can't see that that would cause harm. The concept was fine - it's the details of exactly what they did and didn't do that determines if they've harmed their child.

 

As an aside, my sister and her husband refused to let their son have any toy guns. What did he do when he came to visit our house? He picked up a stick and pretended it was a gun....

 

Finally, there's one part of the article that I rolled my eyes at:

Miss Laxton said her son would think nothing of being given flowers – a gift which would embarrass many men.

A lot of pre-school boys would think nothing of being given flowers. The gender education that changes that comes later. Comparing a child (her son) to adult males (many men) shows either a lack of comprehension on her behalf or a complete misunderstanding on the part of the journalist who wrote the article. Edited by Graeme
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It seems to me that there is much stereotyping going on here besides just that of gender.

Without knowing much more about how the family plans to cope with societal pressures I am loth to rush to judgement on them.

Apparently, from what the dad says in the article, it''s the son's choice as to whether he wants to wear dresses or not.

Also from the article it seems as if Sacha is currently quite happy with the situation, and if that's the case I don't see why he shouldn't stay happy.

As he grows older there will be huge pressure to conform to cultural norms. I tend to think it is society which is being unnecessarily judgemental.

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A couple more sites I've just looked at:

 

From the Daily Mail, a UK tabloid:

http://www.dailymail...stions-sex.html

Worth reading some of the posted comments too.

 

 

Here is a web digest of some of the media coverage:

http://www.periscope...t-gone-too-far/

Interesting quote: "Stereotyping is “not only not fundamentally stupid, but it’s fundamentally necessary" (sounds like a "Discuss" question in a sociology paper Posted Image)

 

 

The posts here also pose a wider question. Assuming you accept there are key gender differences between male and female (this seems to be accepted in the thread so far ...) - then what are they? And can agreement be reached on these key differences?

Edited by Zombie
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Poor kid is gonna have a rude awakening when he goes to school. I hope he's up for it, and does OK.

 

As for the parents, they set out to bend the curve, and their child was their lab rat, their pawn, their tool. Based on the article, they weren't doing something the child wanted or needed, and might or might not have a harmful effect on the kid.

 

Reminds me of the parents who boasted of their 3 children: we had a boy, a girl, and a toy.

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For me, the key issue is the one raised by rustle.

 

I have absolutely no problem with the concept and, in fact I have a problem with stereotyping BUT this is something that is imposed on the child by the parent and I have more of a problem with that. The child is the one who is going to bear the brunt of the taunts and teasing and it's hard enough to be a kid today.

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I'm not sure how much more can be said about Sasha that hasn't already been said. So I posed a wider question (I notice no-one's rushed to respond to this Posted Image). Let me put it another way. Being a gay male doesn't make me feel any less male. But I find it difficult to express exactly what attributes / feelings / emotions / sense-of-self make me feel unequivocally "male". Even though I do (feel unequivocally "male"). Is it even possible to do this? Likewise, what attributes / feelings / emotions / sense-of-self make females feel unequivocally female? We're obviously not talking preferences for pink plastic snap-on iPad covers here. And transgendered members must feel this just as strongly. Maybe even more strongly? And is there a middle "neutral" ground?

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Well, I'll express the evidently minority opinion that I think this was a mostly positive and good thing. First and foremost though, I would need to know more far details to make a more informed evaluation.

 

I think people tend to run a pretty wide gamut with regard to gender expression. Certainly their are some very butch boys and some very feminine girls and certainly there are some very butch girls and very feminine boys. However, I don't think either state of being accurately describes most people. instead I think most people fall somewhere in between, while usually aligning at least somewhat more with stereotypical gender expression. I think that of these people some of them do carry around the burden of feeling limited in terms of what they can and cannot do. Sometimes these limits are imposed by society and sometimes they are self-imposed.

 

I think raising a child in as gender neutral an environment as possible is a very good thing indeed. I think it'll remove some of the inner psychological turmoil the child might experience as a result of desiring to non-conform in some way while also sending the message that the home is a safe haven where the child can be himself or herself without judgment from the family. I think though that as others have indicated the details are key. I absolutely don't think items which are generally considered very masculine or very feminine should be prohibited, and I further don't think the child should be stopped from building up a preference for one over the other. I think occasionally introducing both types of items, unsolicited, is a good thing though, that way the child is aware of other options. From the article it did sound like the parents might have been a bit too insistent about not allowing one type of item while encouraging another; I think that's a bad thing, but I also think it's entirely possible that the journalist was sensationalizing the story at least a bit.

 

Others have mentioned the pressures from the outside world to conform. I think such pressures are precisely the problem in the first place, but nevertheless, I do see how the child could suffer ridicule if he or she isn't allowed to relate to peers (and outside adults) in a way that they deem appropriate. In that instance though, I think the timing of the "experiment" is key. It sounds like they terminated it when the child started school. Prior to that I don't think it was bad for the child because they could allow him to live within the "bubble" of the household. Now that it's necessary for him to interact more with the outside world I agree that extending the experiment would have been a bad idea, and I'm glad that they didn't.

 

Graeme brought up a valuable point about to what extent the child was allowed to reveal his gender himself. I think it's very likely that the parents simply didn't teach him a concept of gender to begin with. Instead of being taught that he was a little boy he was probably just taught that he was "a child" or "person". Questions about whether he'd grow up to be like his mommy or his daddy (or some other male or female) were probably handled along the lines of "you can grow up to be whatever you want to be." At least that's how I'd have handled it in the situation. I don't think that's harmful for a small child. Eventually of course he does need to understand the concept of gender (regardless of to what extent he conforms or doesn't conform to it), but as a small child I don't think it's something he necessarily needed to be aware of.

 

The concept of biological sex is of course a completely different story. He probably did have questions about his body and I certainly hope they were answered honestly and straightforwardly. Indeed I think it is a natural impulse for small children to remove their clothes or otherwise reveal themselves. I think in general though they should be taught that that's something to be done in private and not in public. So as long as he wasn't overly punished or scared I don't see any harm in teaching him not to reveal himself (physically) in public since many/most parents teach that concept anyway. It does seem possible, indeed likely to some extent, that he might have revealed himself in the past by accident or before he could be stopped, which does bring up interesting questions. It does sound like he might have stayed at home more than the average child though, so perhaps it was less of an issue.

 

Bottom line, I think if it had gone on any longer it would have been harmful but I think stopping at school age is precisely the right time. I also think that being raised in a gender neutral environment is very positive as long as the child still has the freedom to choose whatever he wants and to accumulate a natural preference for one over the other while being aware of other options. Certainly I think this is no worse, and indeed much better and healthier, than all the countless little boys and girls who have been forced by their parents to conform to gender roles.

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... I think it is a natural impulse for small children to remove their clothes or otherwise reveal themselves. I think in general though they should be taught that that's something to be done in private and not in public. So as long as he wasn't overly punished or scared I don't see any harm in teaching him not to reveal himself (physically) in public since many/most parents teach that concept anyway.

 

Thanks for a detailed and considered post. However, the extract I've quoted isn't relevant to the question of gender stereotyping and I'd prefer it not to be a focus for this thread.

 

It is however an interesting comment that raises the separate question of attitudes to nudity and sex in North America which are different from those in, say, Europe. There are no universal norms here. This is certainly a topic worth discussing and, if this is desired, can I request that a separate thread is created for this Posted Image

Edited by Zombie
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Graeme brought up a valuable point about to what extent the child was allowed to reveal his gender himself. I think it's very likely that the parents simply didn't teach him a concept of gender to begin with. Instead of being taught that he was a little boy he was probably just taught that he was "a child" or "person". Questions about whether he'd grow up to be like his mommy or his daddy (or some other male or female) were probably handled along the lines of "you can grow up to be whatever you want to be." At least that's how I'd have handled it in the situation. I don't think that's harmful for a small child. Eventually of course he does need to understand the concept of gender (regardless of to what extent he conforms or doesn't conform to it), but as a small child I don't think it's something he necessarily needed to be aware of.

 

G'day, Kevin! Thanks for the great post.

 

Just one comment on the section highlighted above. One of the children's books we used to read to our boys was on exactly this subject. It was about the differences between boys and girls, and it essentially said that apart from boys being able to become fathers and girls being able to become mothers, there was nothing that either couldn't do. Building bridges, growing flowers, being a baker, parachuting... both boys and girls could do all of them.

 

That's essentially what you've just said, and that's in a not-too-hard to find children's book (one of the Bernstein Bear books). The wording used in the book was even close to what you put in quotes! We don't have that book any more, so I can't get the exact quote from it, but it's pretty close.

 

Thanks for a detailed and considered post. However, the extract I've quoted isn't relevant to the question of gender stereotyping and I'd prefer it not to be a focus for this thread.

 

It is however an interesting comment that raises the separate question of attitudes to nudity and sex in North America which are different from those in, say, Europe. There are no universal norms here. This is certainly a topic worth discussing and, if this is desired, can I request that a separate thread is created for this Posted Image

 

You don't need to request a separate thread - you're free to create one yourself :P We've discussed topics like that in The Lounge before, so go ahead if you want :D
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You don't need to request a separate thread - you're free to create one yourself Posted Image We've discussed topics like that in The Lounge before, so go ahead if you want Posted Image

 

Yeah, yeah. OK, I should have said "if this is desired, can you please create a separate thread for this". Hmmm, I reckon you knew this but wanted a pop at my lazy and circumlocutory sentence construction Posted Image

Edited by Zombie
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I'm not sure how much more can be said about Sasha that hasn't already been said. So I posed a wider question (I notice no-one's rushed to respond to this Posted Image). Let me put it another way. Being a gay male doesn't make me feel any less male. But I find it difficult to express exactly what attributes / feelings / emotions / sense-of-self make me feel unequivocally "male". Even though I do (feel unequivocally "male"). Is it even possible to do this? Likewise, what attributes / feelings / emotions / sense-of-self make females feel unequivocally female? We're obviously not talking preferences for pink plastic snap-on iPad covers here. And transgendered members must feel this just as strongly. Maybe even more strongly? And is there a middle "neutral" ground?

 

Interesting points. I feel "unequivocally male" as you mentioned, but the concept of gender is certainly something I've thought a good deal about. In asking myself the question of "what does it mean to be male?" I've come to the conclusion that the answer is "not much."

 

Let me start by saying that I think the physical concept of sex is a different concept. Certainly I have a male body and certainly I enjoy my male body and have a strong preference to retain my male body rather than have a female body. From a sexuality standpoint, I have a clear and obvious preference for male bodies. Although I also have some bisexual tendencies and can definitely enjoy female bodies sexually as well. Nevertheless, I do prefer my sexual and romantic partners to have male bodies.

 

Gender of course is more everything else, the emotional and intellectual aspects of it. I think gender is mostly meaningless, at least to me. People can have such a wide range of gender expressions that I'm reluctant to peg any of them as "male" or "female". Certainly I know the stereotypical examples; males are more aggressive, females are more docile. Males are more competitive, females are more cooperative. etc. But do I actually believe that? Meh, not very much. People are all so different that there are tons of examples of individuals who don't fit that stereotype. The ones that do, I do have to wonder to what extent they've simply been socialized to express themselves in that way. I agree there is a hormonal aspect at play. Testosterone does make people more aggressive, and it is generally found in males at much higher levels, so fine I guess we can call aggression a "male" emotion. I'd have to check to verify but I believe oxytocin levels are generally higher in females and certainly oxytocin does lead to more bonded feelings which in turn would logically lead to more cooperative behavior. However, I think that's far too simplistic. Most if not all hormones are found in both males and females albeit in different levels, and different levels of hormones impact people very differently. For example I read an article recently about how some men appear to fit the criteria for testosterone deficiency and yet are tested and found to have normal levels, whereas other men do not appear to fit the criteria are tested and found to have unexpectedly low levels. Clearly one's own unique sensitivity to the hormones is heavily at play. Y level of X hormone simply doesn't equal Z behavior in all people. Furthermore, from a behavioral standpoint I don't believe people are slaves to their hormones. Certainly they are powerful motivating forces but I don't think they equal destiny by any means. So anyway, I just think it's misleadingly simple to say certain behaviors or emotions are "male" versus "female".

 

From a purely semantic point of view I'll just go ahead and say that yes, I do understand what people are talking about when they say a behavior, emotion, or way of thinking is "male" or "female" even if I think that's an inappropriate way of classifying them. So do I express myself in a more stereotypically male or stereotypically female way? I would say more stereotypically male, but only moderately. I find it most enjoyable to relate to people who are fairly gender neutral in expression. People who are stereotypically heavily masculine or heavily feminine both tend to annoy and bore me after a little while. I have a pretty strong concept of personality traits I like in myself and others, and they're pretty evenly mixed between "masculine" and "feminine". There are a lot of "masculine" and "feminine" traits I'm neutral on, and there are some traits, both "masculine" and "feminine" that I just find extremely off putting. I think balance, and taking the best and most desirable traits of both is the key.

Edited by AFriendlyFace
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Accidentally double posted, sorry.

 

 

LOL, people are posting much faster than I can respond, but that's certainly my fault.

 

Thanks, Graeme, I definitely do agree with the sentiments of that book. I suppose it's a much more efficient way of saying what I said as well. Posted Image

Edited by AFriendlyFace
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I don't want to engage in a theoretical discussion about gender roles, since it is practically impossible to explain what is biological and what is learnt behavior. From the very moment a child is born it will inevitably be affected by its surroundings, parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, friends and so on. On a population as a whole you can surely see differences concerning gender (for instance research has shown women score better on linguistic tests where as men score better on mathematical tests) but I strongly believe the individual differences can be and often are stronger than any typical gender traits considered typically male of female. But ...

 

I have three children, two girls and a boy, the boy is the middle child. When he and his older sister where pre schoolers they both played a lot with toy cars. When she was playing with them the cars drove from the office to the grocery store to the home of the car's owner, when he played with the cars he often had them going at full speed crashing into each other.

 

During those early years my children weren't allowed any toy guns or weapons, still as soon as we came out doors my son picked up any size stick and pretended it was a gun, aiming at everyone and everything. My oldest daughter never did that. Since then our household has gained a number of toy guns and weapons, so - with the influence of her brother? the new access? or individual preferences? - my youngest daughter is often playing with his toy rifle and dueling with her brother with one of the plastic swords, but she also loves dress up in pink princess dresses and that's what she's playing with the neighbor girl (coming from a family with four girls, only). My son had unlimited access to dolls and barbies and cute little toy pets and played a lot with them before he started school, now he usually sticks with the more typical boy toys - as a result of peer pressure or new awareness of what boys should play with or individual choice?

 

See its impossible to say which is which, biological gender traits or cultural influence?

 

I think most parents with children of different genders would say boys and girls are different; boys are louder, their games often require more space, its more competitive; girls' play is often communication oriented, it requires dexterity (use of hands and fingers), it is less competitive. A lot of those traits, if not all of them can be explained by the different expectations and early practice parents and society have on them.

 

Earlier on someone mentioned something about little boys not being shy about showing their gender, I just want to state that little girls are exactly the same. If they are acting any differently its because of cultural influence. all my children have loved walking around naked when little, and have had no problem bathing naked at the beach till the age of five/six (we're Swedish, so it's OK most of the time, though it's becoming more and more 'correct' to cover up even the youngest babies now a days). Little children are most comfortable in their bodies and with whom they are unless someone tells them differently.

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