December 6 2012

Hoff Sommers: You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can't Make Him Play with It

Charlotte Hays

 A Swedish toymaker has been reprimanded for “outdated” advertisements that feature girls playing with dolls and boys playing with Nerf guns.  

The Swedes are nothing if not determined to eradicate gender differences. As Christina Hoff Sommers notes of our Swedish friends over at the Atlantic:

Egalia, a new state-sponsored pre-school in Stockholm, is dedicated to the total obliteration of the male and female distinction. There are no boys and girls at Egalia—just "friends" and "buddies." Classic fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White have been replaced by tales of two male giraffes who parent abandoned crocodile eggs.

The Swedish Green Party would like Egalia to be the norm: It has suggested placing gender watchdogs in all of the nation's preschools. "Egalia gives [children] a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be," says one excited teacher. (It is probably necessary to add that this is not an Orwellian satire or a right-wing fantasy: This school actually exists.)

But the Swedes' androgyny crusade runs up against a powerful enemy--nature:

The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that 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."

The only possible “remedy” this situation would be a rigorous and sustained program of behavioral modification. Our gender behavior is deeply ingrained. Indeed, researchers have found that female monkeys—our close relatives—prefer nurturing toys, while male monkeys like toys more associated with boys.

“Androgyny advocates,” as Hoff Sommers calls them, sometimes acknowledge that gender behavior may very well be rooted in biology. But they argue that we can diminish these differences.  But why? And at what cost?

[W]hat the Swedes are now doing in some of their classrooms goes far beyond encouraging children to experiment with different toys and play styles—they are requiring it. And toy companies who resist the gender neutrality mandate face official censure. Is this kind of social engineering worth it? Is it even ethical?

To succeed, 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.

As [University of Missouri developmental psychologist David] Geary says, "You can change some of these behaviors with reinforcement and monitoring, but they bounce back once this stops." But this constant monitoring can also undermine children's healthy development.

Read the whole piece.

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