Once feminist Andrea Phillips saw her two daughters wanted to have the pink’ toys and pink dresses that are targeted specifically towards girls, she started to realize that there was nothing she could do about it. There would be no response to give her two young girls as to why it would be wrong to get the toys they like, without coming off as a feminist and trying to block them from what she was actually trying to promote, a choice. “The goal here isn’t one of conformity – we don’t want to build a world of men doing man things with a diversity of genitals. The goal here is one of choice,” wrote Phillips
Anya Shor is a Toronto art-gallery owner. Her five-year-old, Simone, would wear a princess dress everyday if her mother allowed it. “I don’t want to be the one to say to her that this is crap. Because if anything, it’s going to push her in the wrong direction,” says Shor. “It’s really about nurturing a discernment in my two girls so they can recognize what is truly beautiful for themselves. Even if I want to throw it in the garbage.”
Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Can Grow into Troublesome Gaps — And What We Can Do About It, proposes that the differences we see in opposite genders is the result of how children are treated by their parents and other adults. As Newsweek summarized: “How we perceive children — sociable or remote, physically bold or reticent — shapes how we treat them and therefore what experiences we give them. Since life leaves footprints on the very structure and function of the brain, these various experiences produce sex differences in adult behavior and brains — the result not of innate and inborn nature but of nurture.”
Eliot argues that the genders have very little difference at birth, but it becomes magnified over a period of time as we reinforce the gender stereotypes throughout childhood.
In fact, extensive scientific research has shown that there are numerous differences between boys and girls at birth. These differences are not constructed by parents (or society) and enforced on children.
According to psychologists at the University of Cambridge in England, boys prefer to watch mechanical motion to human motion. When 12-month-old boys had the choice to look at people talking or windshield wipers moving, they chose the latter. Baby boys are more adept at keeping track of moving objects; research indicates boys are around two months ahead of girls when understanding the laws of motion.
Studies also suggest boys are more easily flustered than girls and have a harder time unwinding. Research shows, 6-month-old boys appeared as calm as the girls in the face of frustration, but measures of heart rate and breathing suggested that they were actually experiencing greater distress.
It is an extensive literature that supports the observation that, usually, boys show more physical activity than girls from birth. They are more likely to engage in sports, outdoor activities, or physical play. That isn’t just parents signing their sons up for organized sports. Its seems innate.
On the other hand, girls, perform better on activities involving flexibility and fine motor coordination. They also tend to have a larger vocabulary, produce words earlier, and show a greater level of language complexity beginning in early childhood.
Researchers like Campbell Leaper of the University of California say boys and girls are very different at a young age. He conducted a test that Leaper said would show the difference between boys and girls. They made some lemonade, but instead of putting in sugar, they deviously put in salt — lots of it. The different answers that the boys and girls gave them when they asked them if they liked the lemonade spoke volumes.
All of the boys responded with honesty, while speaking their minds freely without care for the others feelings. “It tastes terrible,” on boy complained. Leaper said, “boys are allowed to talk back to their parents more than girls are, to assert their will more.”
As for the girls, they were a lot more respectful and well-mannered. Some of them even started forcing the lemonade down, to not hurt anyone’s feelings. “I just didn’t want to make anyone feel bad that they made this so sour,” replied one girl.
Boys are naturally more outspoken than girls, and tend to be more honest and, so say the researchers, uncaring. Girls on the other hand, will try to respond in a more polite and respectful way.
It is a long standard practice of doctors to declare a newborn baby a boy or a girl. Some people complain, claiming it is an injustice: infant gender assignment.
Christin Scarlett Milloy, a Toronto-based human rights activist, wrote in Slate earlier this year, to plead with parents not to let doctors do this: “When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: it’s a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals.”
Milloy says this is a life-changing moment; it is “a single moment your baby’s life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished—both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance.”
Activists like Milloy think that it doesn’t make sense to ruin your child’s life by assigning it a gender at birth, and that your child should be able to determine its own gender.
Feminist mothers fearful of letting their daughters wear pink is one thing. It may seem harmless. The desire to ignore biology and declare stating the obvious a form of abuse may seem nutty. But these isolated incidences may augur the social movements of tomorrow. Denying the overwhelmingly scientific evidence that boys and girls are different, and that this is a reality and not a social construct, could lead to some radical social engineering in the not-too-distant-future.
Clint Casmiro was a Campaign Life Coalition summer intern.