In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been a recent trend amongst younger parents to keep their children away from toys and clothes which cater specifically to boys or girls. Parents who practice this trend do so believing that they will free their child from the gender norms which society has inflicted upon us.
But according to neuroscientist Debra Soh, such an idea is rather misguided. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Soh notes:
“Offering kids the opportunity to pursue what they’d like, freed from societal expectations, is an undeniably positive thing — whether it has to do with toys, clothing, or their future aspirations. But the scientific reality is that it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics. Biology matters.”
Soh goes on to explain that society has embraced the concept of “gender-neutral” all while ignoring scientific fact. Citing various scientific studies, Soh implies that children more often than not chose toys and items specific to their gender – such as dolls for girls and trucks for boys – based on hormone and brain differences between men and women.
Soh concludes by saying:
“The gender-neutral trend capitalizes on fears that parents have of inadvertently limiting their child’s potential. …
[S]o long as children are given the option to take part in activities they find interesting, there’s nothing wrong with being gender-typical.
Acknowledging inherent sex differences isn’t harmful or sexist; differences don’t necessitate one sex being better than the other.”
Debra Soh’s words echo those spoken nearly 200 years ago by French author Alexis de Tocqueville in his work Democracy in America. Tocqueville noted:
“There are people in Europe who, confounding together the different characteristics of the sexes, would make of man and woman beings not only equal but alike. … It may readily be conceived, that by thus attempting to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and from so preposterous a medley of the works of nature nothing could ever result but weak men and disorderly women.”
We live in a society which embraces diversity and celebrates difference in everything, except, it seems, in the two creatures – male and female – which science tells us are naturally different. With them, we seek exact equality, while banishing any noticeable differences, even in young children.
Have we been misguided in our attempts toward gender neutrality? Are we actually degrading both male and female by encouraging them to ignore scientific fact and abandon the natural differences between the two sexes?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.