Wednesday 14 December 2011

Sexual identity: Nature or Nurture?

I was irritated yesterday to hear that Hamleys had succumbed to a Twitter campaign and had changed its traditional arrangement of toys. It used to be that Boys' Toys were on some floors and Girls' Toys were on another. So you might see, on the one hand, an array of cars, fighting heroes and action toys; or on the other, lots of pink fluffy things.

But this was terrible gender steroetyping, apparently; although, in fact, there were no security guards turning the girls away from the train sets (the only bit of Hamleys my wife remembers visiting as a child) or excluding boys from the Barbie aisle.

The campaign reflects the orthodoxy that masculine and feminine identities are largely social constructs. That is the belief that has driven the re-shaping of education in this country and the US for decades: removing all boy connotations from Maths and the Sciences, and all girl connotations from arts, humanities and cooking... And when that didn't work, disallowing choice, as the naughty children continued to choose the 'wrong' (ie gender typical) subjects when allowed to do so - as they still tend to do when allowed (eg at University level). So the praxis has had little effect on getting girls into maths and the sciences, as was the avowed intention. It may have had a huge unintended side-effect, one could reasonably argue, in turning large numbers of boys off a feminised education altogether (parallels with the feminisation of liturgy in the Catholic Church are of course wholly inappropriate and should not even be considered).

So the orthodoxy (despite the evidence, one could argue) is that gender stereotyping and other 'nurture' factors determine, or at least strongly influence, gender identity.

EXCEPT when it comes to homosexuality (and various other things in the LGBT morass). These are of course innate and immutable. There is no possibility that, for example, gay teachers, or gay parents, or gay text books will alter, influence or confuse the gender identity of kids, nor that gay people are in fact socially constructed to feel as they do. No, no, no... that way heresy lies...


blondpidge said...

I am currently subsumed in gender theory (unfortunately) as part of my degree. I agree that it is the new orthodoxy and i am finding it extremely frustrating that such a spurious theory is accepted as fact. I don't agree with any of it, biology tells us otherwise.

With that in mind, I fully supported this campaign, having been horrified when I visited Hamleys. My 7 year old is at the stage where she will not approach anything considered to be the domain of boys, despite the fact she loves Lego, train sets etc.

The girls' floor was a disgrace. It was very clearly marketed at girls and included a nail bar, was packed with make-up and various themed items from American TV shows. Although we do have a TV, we tightly control what is allowed to be watched and nothing on the girls floor was appropriate and yet all of a sudden daughter was being encouraged to take an interest in items which frankly were not age-appropriate but as could be expected there were toddlers enjoying being "pampered" with nail treatments. Why are cooking sets and toys the sole preserve of girls?

Whilst I understand your post, I believe that this campaign was spot on, although Hamleys need IMO, to do more work on their product which was, frankly, poor. We were very disappointed, the store has changed considerably from a few years ago and certainly from when I was a child, the girls' floor was tacky. A paradise for aspiring Jordans and hence the campaign was right.

I still wouldn't return. A much anticipated treat was a total anticlimax.

Lazarus said...

Another oddity in our brave new world is that, despite leaving most childcare still to women, we think we avoid sexism by not bringing them up so as to be able to do it. (A heightened ability to varnish nails as described by Caroline is not the best preparation for looking after kids.) Whatever the rights and wrongs of previous generations' attitudes, at least 50% of us were encouraged to develop childrearing skills often through play. I rather suspect that neither the űber-pink of the girls' floor nor the Clarkson-world of the boys' floor will do much in this area.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for the comments.

Caroline, you make me realise how long it is since I've been to Hamleys! Maybe I shouldn't have used it as the peg for this post (though it was the radio report that got me reflecting on this and joining some dots). Entirely agree about hideous inappropriateness of much that is marketed at girls (and boys come to that).

Lazarus, you are quite right that we have ceased to teach kids - any kids - how to be parents; and guess what: we have a crisis in parenting...

Would write more, but am off to polish my nails.