ABC TV The Drum has just repeated an episode that explored male violence against women and children and other men, based on power and a sense of “what they could get away with”. The consensus of the four panelists, all professional in this area of hopefully social change was that the attitude of little boys needed to be explored, and changed where necessary.

What concerns and puzzles me is a perception I came across in the 1970’s (?) about the developing of male/female gender stereotypes in young children. Does it amount to an observation of socialisation that has been discredited, and thus abandoned?

In this dynamic scientists studied the toys that boys and girls played with. Yes, it was stereotypical as little boys played with guns and soldiers in uniforms and little girls liked dolls and tea sets. The colours of the toys reinforced their forming gender roles; toy soldiers were in camo or battle browns and black. Girls’ dolls and tea sets were pinks and pastel colours and floral patterned.

The scientists tried to reverse these stereotypes. But boys and girls would not comply. Boys wanted their army guns; girls their pink Barbie dolls. (Okay, in the sitcom Ross when he was a child dressed in his mother’s jewellery and dresses and made cups of tea. He even had a song: “I am Bea, I drink tea; won’t you come and dance with me?”) But these boys and their female counterpart are the exception, rather than the rule.

So the researchers devised an alternative stratagem. For girls, they made army guns coloured pink with floral patterns all over. Boys were given tea sets of dark, army colours, in jagged shapes. Both boys and girls took to the reversal without an argument.

Methinks, for any change to happen in our machismo, militaristic society, we need to understand how children learn this gender coding so early in life. What the researchers found even more alarming than this genetic coding was that for boys it was accompanied by a generous acceptance of aggressive, anti-social behaviour. “Oh, you have to expect that from our boy; he’s a boy, after all.” We at all levels of society, from parents outwards, were reinforcing this anti-social, mutually exclusive gender coding.

Recently, I had dinner in a casual club where two mothers sat at an adjoining table; one had a boy aged about six and a younger daughter; the other had a slightly taller, older son. The children started playing raucous games. The boy constantly avoided his little sister, in spite of her obvious need to be included. But what I found more alarming was a game the younger boy started where he tried to strangle his friend; perhaps he was too (innocently) enthusiastic but the older boy kept moving out of reach. The mothers sat, chatting, seemingly impervious to the games their children played.

For the #METOO movement to succeed we have to begin in early childhood. Some months ago, my neurologist showed me photos of his four month old boy. I asked if he was developing intelligence/ articulation skills. My prof said: “I don’t care if he’s intelligent; I just want him to fit in”. So, perhaps the movement has already begun.

Just wanna play football for the coach.


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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2 Responses to #METOO

  1. anton veenstra says:

    Edwin Relf writes: H’mm. the view that one’s gender is only cultural and only behavioural cuts across a range of understandings in cognitive science. … It is generally accepted in neuroscience that we are not conscious of a whole range of our behaviours and reactions, that is, that we aren’t aware at the time we are ‘behaving’ and reacting – we aren’t always – or even often – ‘conscious’ of our behaviour. It is a commonly held understanding amongst the mass of humans that other creatures behave instinctively and it is a commonly held assumption that humans do not act instinctively. There are problems with that broardly held idea. Humans are not that far different to a whole range of species – a much broarder range than just the apes and it is highly probable that we too are mostly instinctual with a little bit of conscious decision making on the top. I read recently that given natural selection and the speed of it, we humans alive now are genetically and cognitively addapted to operate and exist in a world that was optimum 10 or so thousand years ago. Little boys and little girls will behave in age appropriate and differently as per their gender as they have for millenia. As well, human babies, relative to the babies of other species, are born premature and it takes up to another 15-24 months for the baby to have developed sufficient mylenation of nerve fibres to allow them to walk and perform other movement that the babies of other species do at birth.
    It is not usually until around 22 months that human babies have sorted out their independence as a wholly independent entity and have as sense of length breadth depth and past present and future.There are variations to the ‘norm’ or ‘average’ in gender and we know now that there is variation in how boyish and how girlish each child is and that the hormone soup in the womb has something to do with some boys being girly and some girls boye.

  2. anton veenstra says:

    Roderick Byatt writes: Domestic violence is the price we all pay for having a standing army, a police force, border control, access to guns, constant gnawing fear about national security and the fear of being invaded. You can’t have respect for all humans AND being on a constant war footing at the same time. It’s mothers who tolerate violence in young boys because they want their sons to provide them with protection and safety when those boys become men.

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