Stereotype threat


Reading Delusions of Gender. Great stuff.

On p 4 Cordelia Fine (hey I just realized we have something in common) tells us about implicit associations. We can’t avoid stereotypes just by not believing in them – they stick anyway, down below where we’re not aware of them and can’t root them out.

The principle behind learning in associative memory is simple: as its name suggests, what is picked up are associations in the environment. Place a woman behind almost every vacuum cleaner being pushed around a carpet and, by Jove, associative memory will pick up the pattern…Unlike explicitly held knowledge, where you can be reflective and picky about what you believe, associative memory seems to be fairly indiscriminate in what it takes on board. [p 5]

This is horrendously depressing.

In chapter 3 she talks about stereotypes and stereotype threat. I knew about this – remember the doll study? Remember Thurgood Marshall and the “colored doll”? I did a post about it shortly after Obama’s inauguration. Researchers had found an Obama effect. You know about this: remind people that they’re members of a group stereotyped as stupid or bad at math or bad at empathy, and then test them, and they will live up to the stereotype. Do something with an opposite effect and they will live up to that. It’s horribly easy to get the bad effect.

Stereotype threat effects have been seen in women who: record their sex at the beginning of a quantitative test (which is standard practice for many tests); are in the minority as they take the test; have just watched women acting in air-headed ways in commercials, or have instructors or peers who hold – consciously or otherwise – sexist attitudes. [pp 31-2]

Have just watched women acting in air-headed ways in commercials. Think about that. Think about tv and movies. One, women are mostly not there at all, and two, the women who are there are mostly acting in air-headed ways. Stereotype threat is everywhere. And it’s no good thinking well you can just resist it, because resisting it itself is bad for performance – it takes up cognitive space that can’t be used for better things. Frankly this makes me even more pissed off than I already was at all the smug gits who put so much energy into talking sexist shit on the intertubes. They’re doing real damage. It’s not just a matter of bruised fee-fees, it’s a matter of creating real obstacles.

Think about it.

Comments

  1. Stacy Kennedy says

    I liked that book a lot.

    And I also liked Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. It’s all about stereotype threat.

  2. says

    There are some images of men that are pretty bad out there, especially in sitcoms (usually revolving around general idiocy or bad parenting). Probably does similar damage if there’s a lack of exposure to other, positive male roles. Of course, considering there are far fewer negative images of men than there are of women, and there’s more positive ones of men in general, so on balance, it’s worse for the women.

    This is part of why I dislike the Disney Princesses so much, especially the older ones, like Cinderella, Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty. They just . . . sit (or lay) there, waiting for some man to come along and save them. I worked for the Disney Store retail chain for four holiday seasons and the years in between, and it saddened me just how popular the Princesses were (it’s when I worked there that I developed this dislike). That can’t be good for young girls. I do like Mulan though. She’s the one that gets to do the saving, and show some brains.

  3. Anat says

    Now I need a list of recommended movies for my 13 year old daughter to watch before tests.

    When she was in elementary school I volunteered as a coach of the Math Olympiad team. I was a bit surprised to see that girls were a majority of the participants. I don’t think they got the memo about the stereotype yet. Now in middle school Olympiad veterans tend to take the advanced math class, so they are on track to take AP Calculus in 12th grade, if they stay the course. I am curious about the gender composition of her class but I don’t ask her because I don’t want to bring the stereotype to her attention.

    Is there a way to discuss stereotypes without doing more harm than good?

  4. Tim Harris says

    Damn Disney – the heroines in Miyazaki Hayao’s wonderful ‘anime’ films are made of tougher stuff.

  5. Hertta says

    My niece just had her third birthday and the stuff she got was 90 percent pink princess stuff. And even small cleaning and cooking equipment. It was depressing. But I got her a pedalless bike and it seems to be her favorite so far. When she grows older I’m going to get her lots of books with empowered girls as main characters and read them to her too. Good ones are for example Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi and Ronia.

    Another group that the stereotype threat really hurts is LGTBQs. Conservatives will do anything to keep positive gay or trans role models out of the media. That was the whole “homosexual agenda” talk and “don’t say gay” laws are all about. They want LGTBQs to view themselves negatively. That’s just evil.

  6. maureen.brian says

    NathanDST,

    Please go away as quietly and peaceably as you can.

    You may return to this subject once we have reached the point – and you can prove it with evidence, studies, that sort of thing – where there is a dearth of positive role models for men and a superfluity of positive role models for women.

    Until then, stop whining. I mean – it took you four years working at a Disney store before you realised you were part of a destructive racket. You will not be my first port of call for expertise here.

  7. says

    maureen
    I think you’re reading Nathan DST a bit uncharitably.
    He’s right that those stereotypes work in both directions, only that they usually work to the advantage of heteronormative men (which he also mentioned). But I really recommend Jadehawk’s Toxic masculinity series.
    So, it took him time to realize the toxic pink-culture our girls get. Yeah, but he got it. None of us was born a feminist. Learning is good.
    It’s not an “what about the menz” derailment if people say that we need to break-up the stereotypes in both directions. Because, yeah, they make women bad at maths but they also make men bad at parenting.

    BTW, there’s nothing wrong with giving kids cooking and cleaning playsets (and most of the time I’m looking for one of my pots I have to go to the nursery), what is bad is that they are exclusively given to girls, while the construction sets are given to boys.
    Browsing the Playmobil catalogue (they’re huge with my kids), I’m always shocked at how gender-seperate the playsets are. There are a few “neutral” ones like farm and zoo, but most are exclusively for boys or girls. Spies, Space and Cops for boys, Dollhouse, Fairies and Horses for girls. But the girl-sets always include male figures, too, because that useless princess needs somebody to rescue her, while the boy sets don’t even have the token female the 1980’s playsets at least contained*. Seems like knights already knew about cloning.
    The brand-new stone-age theme conains the total number of 1 woman in all the sets together.

    *Anybody remember He-Man? Yeah, the stupid muscle-man stereotype, but at least there was a kick-ass active woman on each side who saved the day as often as the other characters

  8. Chris Lawson says

    A bit of an over-reaction there I reckon, Maureen.

    Anyway, the Disney princesses are usually based on old fairy tales. The passivity of the women in those stories was not invented by Disney and almost certainly reflected the sad reality that very few women, even those at the top of the monarchical chain, actually had much real power. Even the women famous for their political power mostly achieved that by their influence on men in power by marriage (e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Theodora). Of the powerful women who ruled in their own right, such as Queens Victoria and Elizabeth I, it was only by dint of having no male siblings.

    As such, it was the hope of generations of young women that their future lives would be made bearable by having a kind man fall in love with them — because without the luck of marrying a man with a pleasant personality, your life was pretty much going to be crap until one of you died.

  9. Rudi says

    If Playmobil thought there would be mileage in selling more female characters with the “boy’s” sets, they presumably would. I’m a bit past it now, but when I was a kid, all the boys had star wars figures, but woe-betide anyone who brought the Princess Leia figure in to school. Bottom line – the majority of pre-pubescent boys don’t want anything ‘girly’ and it would be uneconomical for toy companies to produce toys that kids don’t want.

  10. Dave says

    There is a dearth of actually positive role-models for men. Most male ‘role-models’ are dickwads. It often seems to me as if men are positively encouraged by culture to assume that they can literally do nothing useful for the first 35 years of their life, and then become a ‘success’. The fact that many men see that as a positive role, even in the face of reality, is of course a problem in itself.

  11. says

    Chris Lawson

    Anyway, the Disney princesses are usually based on old fairy tales. The passivity of the women in those stories was not invented by Disney and almost certainly reflected the sad reality that very few women, even those at the top of the monarchical chain, actually had much real power.

    Ahh, and that makes it somewhat OK to perpetuate this idea in the 21st century?
    I mean, look at Othello and The Merchant of Venice, they’re not only plays of high artistic value, they also portray the racism and anti-semitism of their time. So, is that any excuse to perpetuate the idea of the savage, jealous black man, or the greedy, evil but ultimately easily outwitted jew?
    Why are all those things only ever excused when the topic is patriarchy and sexism?

    Rudi

    If Playmobil thought there would be mileage in selling more female characters with the “boy’s” sets, they presumably would. I’m a bit past it now, but when I was a kid, all the boys had star wars figures, but woe-betide anyone who brought the Princess Leia figure in to school. Bottom line – the majority of pre-pubescent boys don’t want anything ‘girly’ and it would be uneconomical for toy companies to produce toys that kids don’t want.

    Total, utter cattle manure.
    So you think there’s some natural mechanism at work that makes boys dislike X and girls love it?
    Get a clue.
    Fact is that those kids have been indoctrinated with those toxic roles from the day they were born, they are questioned in their gender-identity if they (or their parents) dare to deviate just one inch from the “norm”. Toy companies perpetuate those roles the same way, they’re not just “obeying the market”.
    You know what? Every time I sneak past the pink aisle at the local toy store, I can hear parents complain about it. They’re fed up with the pink all around them if they have girls.
    “Thank goodness we made it at least to purple!”
    And why do the girls want the pink? Because the other girls have the pink! And why do the other girls have the pink? Because there’s literally nothing else for them.

  12. says

    I was at a little girls 4th birthday party last weekend. Fancy dressed themed it was Fairies and Pirates (her choice). Predictably all the girls were fairies and all the boys were pirates. Except me… I was the grown-up helper with fairy wings, tiara a wand and peculiar looks from the other adults.

  13. says

    Steve Bowen

    I was the grown-up helper with fairy wings, tiara a wand and peculiar looks from the other adults.

    On behalf of a mother of a 4 year old: Thank you!
    I’m wondering: last carnival, my daughter hadn’t been in kindergarten for very long. She wanted to be a dwarf. She was the only girl in trousers. She also told me back then that next year she wants to be a pirate.
    But since she’s been pinkyfied in the meantime, I’m preparing for princess. That stuff makes me sooo angry.

  14. Dave says

    Dear Steve, at this point pure mischief would compel me to call you a poof, but unfortunately there aren’t enough smileys in the world to put a sufficiently protective layer of friendly irony around such a comment, so I won’t.

    Of course, if you are actually a poof, and you’re going round dressed in fairy wings, you have your own stereotype threats to worry about…

    And now I’m being very naughty, must be time for my medication…

  15. Egbert says

    Another stereotype to positively avoid–the angry internet person and their insult tirade.

    Of course if people were to begin to be themselves in the internet world, then not only would they begin not to be understood, but they would find themselves thoroughly disliked and ostracized. Hence people put on their stereotypical masks.

    It’s a fairly obvious self-defense mechanism, not to be yourself at all. And that might explain why society is so absurd.

  16. maureen.brian says

    Where I have over-reacted then I apologise.

    I agree with you, Giliell, that Jadehawk’s thought on all this bear reading and re-reading.

  17. Chris Lawson says

    Maureen, that is a fucking awful pseudo-apology.

    Giliell, what the hell is wrong with you, putting words like that in my mouth? Where did I write anything about excusing stupid gender expectations or say anything about it being OK to perpetuate them today?

    Do the two of you have some sort of advanced diploma in uncharitable misunderstanding? Because from here you look like a pair of nitwits who enjoy throwing out angry denunciations without the slightest justification.

  18. says

    Chris Lawson
    It’s not my job to make your meaning clear.
    You went to lengths explaining us that those aweful Disney princesses are based on old role-models (as if people here needed a reminder) without any indication that you think this harmful and stupid. That’s where you gave the impression of condoning the perpetuation of those stupid gender-roles.
    So, if you don’t want to come across as an aweful mansplainer next time, take care to write better stuff.

  19. says

    Steve Bowen, I love you.

    As far as I can tell Chris Lawson was just expanding on a point, not defending stereotypes.

    As it happens, I’m concurrently reading a more poppy book on the subject, Peggy Ornstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter – which I pounced on when I saw it by chance at the library, because I’ve been fuming about pinkification for a few years now. She explains about Disney princesses.

    Thanks for the tip, Stacy.

  20. spartan says

    Giliell,

    It’s not my job to make your meaning clear.

    No, but it’s your job in the face of ambiguity to not choose the worst possible meaning and not put words into other people’s mouth.

    without any indication that you think this harmful and stupid. That’s where you gave the impression of condoning the perpetuation of those stupid gender-roles.

    There was no indication that Chris didn’t think they were harmful or stupid either. So what is the logic behind defaulting to, ‘you gave the impression of condoning the perpetuation of those stupid gender-roles’ in the absence of evidence either way? Why didn’t he give the impression of the opposite of what you have ascribed to the statement? Isn’t the logical and charitable response to ask for clarification?

  21. says

    spartan
    Yes, you’re right, I could have asked for more explenation.
    But you know what?
    It’s been 4 months since EG. For 4 months, into every single thread about sexism/patriarchy there stumbles a man and tells us that it’s not that bad because…(biology/history/islam)
    So, yes, I admit, my patience has been wearing less than thin.
    So, if I mistook a serious commenter as an aweful mansplainer, I take responsibility for my half of the misunderstanding.
    So, maybe Chris can apply the same level of criticism to his half and we can move on.

  22. Chris Lawson says

    No, Giliell, you are 100% responsible for your misunderstanding. There was *nothing* in my post that said or suggested what you claimed I said. Your response amounts to, “I’ll apologise for making up shit about what this person said if they apologise for not saying what I made up.” What a piece of work you are. The EG mess does not give you carte blanche to spout noxious bullshit about people and then expect *them* to apologise for it.

  23. theobromine says

    Bottom line – the majority of pre-pubescent boys don’t want anything ‘girly’ and it would be uneconomical for toy companies to produce toys that kids don’t want.

    Yes, because it has been beaten into their heads by either their parents/grandparents, their friends’ parents, their teachers, and even random strangers that boys are not allowed to want anything ‘girly’. (Anyone remember the huge outcry last year when a mom let her 5yo boy dress up as Daphne from Scoobydoo? http://nerdyapplebottom.com/2010/11/02/my-son-is-gay/)

    As a feminist who raised 2 boys, I have to say that, based on my experience, it is rather harder on boys who break the stereotypes than girls. My son’s favourite colour was pink, and he liked to play with dolls*. He was stubborn enough to stick up for his preferences for a while, even in the face of peer pressure, but eventually capitulated.

    It’s an interesting discussion to have in the rationalist community. Many free-thinking parents will insist that there are inherent differences that they can clearly see in their kids. And obviously our genetics has considerable influence on our behaviour – otherwise, I would have been able to teach my cat not only to clean his own litterbox, but also to make sure to wash his hands before cooking my supper. I am definitely looking forward to adding Delusions of Gender to my bedside tower. However, even if there are proven inherent biological differences between males and females, there is such a wide range of behaviour for each sex that the differences within each group are much greater than the differences between the averages. Which means that, for any individual one might encounter, there is no justification whatsoever for making any gender-based assumptions about their abilities, attitudes, or preferences.

    =====

    * feminist parenting ambivalence:
    Boy likes dolls – Yay!
    Boy likes Barbie – ummmm…
    He had lots of his own dolls, including baby dolls and (non-Barbie) dress-up dolls and his Playmobil sets included a zoo, firetruck, gas station, and field hospital, all of which had a 50-50 gender mix as I recall, but that was back in the day before Playmobil was quite so gender specific. However, I did draw the line at buying him his own Barbie.

  24. says

    maureen @7:

    NathanDST,

    Please go away as quietly and peaceably as you can.

    No.

    You may return to this subject once we have reached the point – and you can prove it with evidence, studies, that sort of thing – where there is a dearth of positive role models for men and a superfluity of positive role models for women.

    And why would I wait for that to join this discussion, since I have not asserted that we are even close to that point? Here’s what I said:

    Of course, considering there are far fewer negative images of men than there are of women, and there’s more positive ones of men in general, so on balance, it’s worse for the women.

    I admit, poorly written. Take out “considering,” and it makes more sense (it was late, that’s my only excuse for not catching that). But if you reread that, I quite clearly acknowledge that there are more negative stereotypes of women than there are of men. I am well aware that, on the whole, me being born male gives me more advantages than disadvantages in this society. This does not change that there are still stereotypes about men that are harmful to those men. To claim that we should ignore this (IF that’s what you’re hinting at) fact is a little like saying we should ignore creepy behavior in elevators because of FGM in the Middle East.

    Until then, stop whining.

    I don’t think I am whining, although I am kind of annoyed right now.

    I mean – it took you four years working at a Disney store before you realised you were part of a destructive racket.

    Not that it matters much, but it didn’t take four years. It didn’t take long at all to realize how crappy those Princesses were (and are). But I wasn’t about to quit over it. I was in no position to be able to leave one of my two jobs, and frankly, I can’t think of a single retail company that doesn’t have something I would object to going on. Disney has problems, but they are improving — somewhat.

    You will not be my first port of call for expertise here.

    That’s good. On issues of feminism, I should not be your first “port of call.” There are others who comment here that can give far more insightful expertise than I, especially our host, and I’ve learned a great deal from them over the months I’ve been reading B&W.

    To sum up, I will not “shut the fuck up.” And I don’t appreciate being told to.

  25. says

    Chris Lawson

    There was *nothing* in my post that said or suggested what you claimed I said.

    Well, funny enough, other people claim that I uncharitably chose the worst possible meaning.
    And those are the people defending you and chastising me. So it looks like my wrong reading was indeed a possible reading.

    And no, I’m not apologizing. I did not say I was and I’m not doing it. Yes, I obviously chose the wrong interpretation. But I stand that I chose one of the possible interpretations.

    And I’m not “demanding” an apology from you. I said you should take responsibility for your poor writing. That’s something different.

  26. clsi says

    When I get too discouraged by the state of things as they are, I remind myself of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

    I’ve been around long enough to see the tiniest bit of bending by now, and at the risk of giving the impression that I believe everything is hunky dory (it’s not! it’s not!), I think it’s worth pointing out some evidence that Dr. King may have been right.

    Exhibit A: Lois Lane in Superman Returns (2006). I suppose Lois has always been one of the better role models from popular culture, but in this movie, she actually gets to dive from a hydroplane into the ocean to save Superman’s kryptonite-riddled ass. Granted, the movie still doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but remember: I didn’t say everything was hunky dory! I’m just looking for evidence of improvement.

    Exhibit B: Mary Shannon of In Plain Sight. She’s the smartest, toughest, bad-assiest U.S. Marshall ever, and she gets (and deserves) the admiration of every admirable man on the show. Go back thirty or forty years in T.V. history. Does she have a counterpart? I think not. Is the show flawless in its presentation of women’s issues? No. But I do think it represents progress.

    Go ahead, try it yourself! It’s not really that hard, and it can help counter the depression (justified though it may be) that comes from looking only at how far the arc still has to bend to even approach justice.

  27. A. Noyd says

    Giliell (#22)

    So, if I mistook a serious commenter as an aweful mansplainer, I take responsibility for my half of the misunderstanding.

    If you want more clarity on Chris’s intentions, then I suggest you ask for that specifically rather than making not-pologies.

    (#26)

    So it looks like my wrong reading was indeed a possible reading.

    That’s a terrible excuse. It’s possible to interpret anything nearly any way you wish if you assume dishonesty on the part of the writer. That doesn’t mean that if you’re unsure of the writer’s intentions you can just guess they were the most negative ones.

  28. A. Noyd says

    Chris Lawson (#23)

    Your response amounts to, “I’ll apologise for making up shit about what this person said if they apologise for not saying what I made up.”

    I read it as “My apology is contingent on this person showing me my interpretation was wrong.” Don’t do to Giliell what you’re criticizing her for doing to you.

    Also, let this be a lesson to you that, in discussions of feminism, it’s a good idea to come out up front as a feminist. It’s an emotional topic for a lot of us and there are too many dudes and dudettes who use a dispassionate, analytical tone to try to make misogyny sound reasonable, but their true intentions surface after a few posts. Giliell is right that there’s been a lot of that sort around lately. So whether or not you think you should have to explicitly disavow yourself of deliberate sexism, it’s still to your advantage to do so.

  29. John Greg says

    LOL! Giliell, the woman who said Good-bye to Kitty, you are indeed a work of art. You read into someone’s comment something that was not there; you then insulted them; you then refused to apologise for the insult and insulted them yet again because they didn’t state clearly, in your opinion, their position on a wholly unnecessary pro or con side of the argument!?!

    Magic; sheer magic.

    You said:

    “You went to lengths explaining us that those aweful Disney princesses are based on old role-models (as if people here needed a reminder) without any indication that you think this harmful and stupid. That’s where you gave the impression of condoning the perpetuation of those stupid gender-roles.”

    Do you really believe that all rhetorical arguments and explanations must, without fail, include either a pro or a con position?

    You do realize, don’t you, that that is precisely the same flawed logic that “informs” the God of the gaps argument, to wit: If we can’t say what caused A, then God caused it; OR, if the poster did not say he’s against something, he is then entirely for it.

    Jeebles. False dichotomy much?

  30. theobromine says

    Hey folks,
    I was looking forward to some interesting discussion of the actual topic. I wonder if there should be a new feature of FTB: parallel comment threads, one for discussion of the topic and the other for meta-discussion to address the sincerity/credentials of those commenting. Of course, this comment now has added a third layer of meta :(

  31. says

    I don’t want to pile on to Chris Lawson, but I have a pedantic nit to pick:

    almost certainly reflected the sad reality that very few women, even those at the top of the monarchical chain, actually had much real power. Even the women famous for their political power mostly achieved that by their influence on men in power by marriage (e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Theodora).

    Eleanor of Aquitaine was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, and that’s WHY she had political power – Aquitaine was an incredibly wealthy duchy, and her husbands were only ever Consorts in Aquitaine. When she divorced the King of France Aquitaine ceased to be part of France, and became part of England on her marriage to Henry Plantagenet. When she bestowed the dukedom on her son Richard the Lionheart she enabled him to make war against his own father because of the resources he now commanded.

    You’re correct that she wouldn’t have had any of that power if she’d had a male sibling though.

  32. says

    Do let’s try to talk about the actual subject. (Sorry I’m not around much today to nudge things along. Circumstances beyond my control kind of thing.)

    Both Nathan and Chris are regular commenters here, from since pre-FTB days. That would be most unlikely if they were misogynist types since after all I do by far the most talking.

  33. says

    John Greg, given your history, I really don’t need you giving lessons on matters like insults and apologies here. You’re a huge fan of those ERV threads and a regular on them – and in their spirit and rhetoric. I don’t want people who match that description commenting at B&W.

  34. says

    And Munkhaus wanted me to announce that I’ve kept his last two comments in moderation (on the grounds of emptiness and bad manners). He didn’t want it to look as if he just left.

  35. Pteryxx says

    Let’s not forget that plenty of those polite, reasonable misogyny-speakers call themselves feminists, too, often specifically to gain the benefit of the doubt. (And, that even the best of us can say dumb things or show their privilege.) IMHO honestly there’s no way to tell before the smoking-out starts.

    Since stereotype threat can be countered by 15-minute self-affirmation exercises, it might actually be helpful to collect movies and shows with positive female role models specifically for psyching-up, eh? Right now I’ve got high hopes for Legend of Korra (the sequel to Last Airbender).

    Maybe it’d be a helpful exercise to rewrite bad female roles so they make sense!

  36. says

    Right now I’ve got high hopes for Legend of Korra (the sequel to Last Airbender).

    Agreed! The female characters in the Last Airbender (the original cartoon series, not the movie, for anyone confused) were great, and I’m very much looking forward to the Legend of Korra.

  37. Luna_the_cat says

    @theobromine #24

    I have to say that, based on my experience, it is rather harder on boys who break the stereotypes than girls.

    On those boys who break gender norms and go for “girly” things, yes, it is, it is much harder. I mean, the implicit unstated unconscious assumption generally is that typical “boy” things are stronger and more active and require more intelligence and represent real accomplishments; typical “girl” things are seen as generally trivial or at least much, much smaller in scope, and/or passive. Thus, you see, a girl going for “boy” things is trying to better herself (at least if you approve of strong women). A boy going for “girl” things, on the other hand, is seen as abrogating his strength, making himself weak, making himself worse. Who could possibly support someone who ought to be strong making himself weak and passive, after all?

    (NB: for the nuance-impaired, I AM IN NO WAY AGREEING WITH THIS POSITION — I am merely trying to state what the general public position seems to be.)

  38. Pteryxx says

    ARRRRRGH!

    This might be old news to y’all, but in researching the Bechdel test, I came across this. While the writer, Jennifer Kesler, was in film school, she was told it was okay to write women/POC characters as long as they didn’t distract the audience from the White Male Lead.

    But even after she did that:

    Only to learn there was still something wrong with my writing, something unanticipated by my professors. My scripts had multiple women with names. Talking to each other. About something other than men. That, they explained nervously, was not okay. I asked why. Well, it would be more accurate to say I politely demanded a thorough, logical explanation that made sense for a change (I’d found the “audience won’t watch women!” argument pretty questionable, with its ever-shifting reasons and parameters).

    At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”

    source: Why film schools teach screenwriters NOT to pass the Bechdel test

    It’s part of a series of articles worth reading – about why studios assume men spend more money, why a successful movie WITH a female lead is called a fluke (Alien anyone?) and so on. Do I need to say how much this pisses me right off?

    So, I had a thought: We need a Bechdel Awards every year, to debate and highlight the best in a bunch of categories (film, TV show, book, webcomic, advertising etc) that have strong female characters. The Bechdel Test has been around since 1985 and seems to finally be a thing. Maybe making a flap about it would raise awareness and direct buzz toward the good examples.

  39. A. Noyd says

    On topic: I just got myself a copy of the book. It’s been on my wish list since I first heard about it and I was in a book buying mood. If it’s as readable as A Mind of Its Own was, I’ll have a near impossible time making myself study for biochem this weekend.

  40. says

    [I’ll just drop the meta. Anybody with an inclination to yell at me can do so at my blog]

    Film school and media
    As a fictional approach I recommend Rita Mae Brown’s “Ruby Red Jungle”. Yep, she writes more than cute kitty crime stories. AFAIK, the novel is to a large extend based on her own biography and good read.

    And I just bookmarked “cinderella ate my daughter”

    Thus, you see, a girl going for “boy” things is trying to better herself (at least if you approve of strong women). A boy going for “girl” things, on the other hand, is seen as abrogating his strength, making himself weak, making himself worse.

    THIS
    When my daughter (the little one) gets told that “a boy was lost on her”, it’s usually half-approving (boys are good), half disapproving (you shouldn’t do that, you’re a girl).
    I’ve met many parents who’d flat out refuse to buy their sons anything girly. They are still convinced that this would make them gay.
    No chance convincing them that if the boy is gay he is gay anyway and nothing they do will change that and that they’ll only do harm.
    Yet in my daughter’s kindergarten (the people there are great, it’s the bullshit other people instill in the minds of their children), you quite often see the boys play with “girly things”. They play in the kitchen, they play with the new baby-doll, they like drawing and crafting just as much as the girls.

  41. Torquil Macneil says

    “I’ve met many parents who’d flat out refuse to buy their sons anything girly. They are still convinced that this would make them gay.”

    Speaking as a parent who would at least try to avoid buying my boy anything ‘girly’, I doubt this is the reason. Boys have to live in the world they live in and there are real dangers present if they don’t learn early how to navigate it. You might wish is were different, but you are unlikely to want your boy to be the trailblazer with certain risks and uncertain benefits.

    The power of stereotyping is fascinating but there is a danger of overstating it. Why should stereotyping in this area of sex and sexuality and gender be so powerful and intractable when positive stereotyping (doing maths is cool!) has proved so ineffective elsewhere? And how is it that ‘girly’ stereotyping seems to have hugely gained strength at a time when positive images of women have become much, much more prevalent (in the UK at least you will never see ‘airheaded’ women in commercials, although airheaded men have become common). I think parents tend to be more sceptical here than non-parents having discovered quite often that their children have very, very strong gender-specific preferences at a very young age despite their best efforts to avoid it. The biology is doing some work there even with the pink-thing, I feel sure of it.

  42. A. Noyd says

    Giliell (#41)

    I’ve met many parents who’d flat out refuse to buy their sons anything girly. They are still convinced that this would make them gay.

    Living as I do a few blocks from a gym in Seattle’s gay neighborhood, I find that mentality depressing but also hilariously off the mark.

  43. says

    Torquil Macneil

    Speaking as a parent who would at least try to avoid buying my boy anything ‘girly’, I doubt this is the reason.

    Wait, so you talked with the people I talked to and you asked them the same questions and they gave you a different answer?
    I didn’t know we had friends in common.
    I have unfortunately made myself a name here as somebody who gets people’s statements wrong, so please help me out with this one.
    I asked a friend: But what would you do if you wnet shopping and he wanted a pink shirt?
    She: I wouldn’t buy it, that’s gay!
    Me: But a shirt doesn’t change what he is.
    She: I wouldn’t have a problem with it, but my husband would be angry, so I will do what I can to prevent him from being gay.
    (quoted, of course, from memory)

    Boys have to live in the world they live in and there are real dangers present if they don’t learn early how to navigate it. You might wish is were different, but you are unlikely to want your boy to be the trailblazer with certain risks and uncertain benefits.

    Wow, you do realize that this is the “bow down to the bullies” argument, do you?
    You know who makes that world? You!
    And me, and 7 billion other people. I try to make it better, what about you?
    So you’re seriously suggesting that your kid must not explore who he might be and what he might like because other people will disapprove of it?

    The power of stereotyping is fascinating but there is a danger of overstating it.

    Says the person who insisted 2 sentences above that his son must conform to the stereotype lest people might judge him….

    I think parents tend to be more sceptical here than non-parents having discovered quite often that their children have very, very strong gender-specific preferences at a very young age despite their best efforts to avoid it.

    To your information, I am a parent. I am a mother of two wonderful girls. And if you read the thread you would have gotten at least a part of my experience.
    And I, and a lot of other parents, especially of little girls, see the exact opposite.
    I have a 4 year old who was never very interested in pink or dolls or things like that until she started kindergarten. Sure, she never was a tomboy, or a spitfire, but a rather quiet child. She loved all the colours. For her 3rd birthday she wanted a green dress with a dragon. There was the occasional Hello Kitty, the occasional pink, no problem. Then she started kindergarten and suddenly this pink started craping up.
    But it somehow vanishes if she is on her own a bit*. Oh, and I have no clue how some internal mechanism could come up with a sentence like “girls mustn’t wear grey, grey is a boys colour”.
    Parents aren’t raising their kids in a vacuum, parents aren’t free from stereotypes**.
    Most parents who happen to have a boy and a girl immediately put down differences between them as being due to their sex.

    The biology is doing some work there even with the pink-thing, I feel sure of it.

    Are you kidding?
    You feel sure of it?
    Sure of a gene for pink?
    You are aware that this must be a complete sensation in biology, since that gene can’t be more than about 150 years old.
    Because, for your education, before there were blue-collar jobs, blue was the colour of women, light-blue of girls and pink was for boys and red for men.

    A.Noyd
    Well, I will forever remember my husband saying “I have nothing agains gays, I only don’t know any”. That was about a year before his little brother came out…

    *I’m not aking this up. I bought two bracelets for the kids, a pink one for my older one, a green one for the little one. The older one immediately swapped pink for green. And I have never seen her play with her dolls for more than 5 minutes

    **There’s research out there showing that people will treat newborns differently according to whether they’Re dressed in pink or blue

  44. Torquil Macneil says

    Giliel, I don’t deny for a minute that social pressures and forms are responsible for a lot of gendered behaviour but that we should be wary of the limits. he ‘pink’ question is to the point. As you say, the choice of pink as a ‘female’ signifier is entirely social (and in fact, here in the UK, pink is still quite a natural masculine colour in some contexts as it was in the past) but it seems to me likely that the obsession with hot colours among girls is to some largish part directed by biology and I believe that there are studies that corroborate that. My son is certainly less interested in colour than his sister (but not less interested in other stimulus such a sweetness, sound, shape etc). So I suspect that girls will tend towards a chosen colour in a way boys won’t, it just so happens it is pink, it might have been red, or purple (actually they do love purple). Why the pink explosion in the last ten years? Might it be because children are able to choose more of what they have rather than having adults do it for them? In other words might it come from the children themselves? It seems a probably explanation to me. One way or the other I think a lot of this discussion leaves out the question of agency among children far too much.

  45. says

    Torquil Macneil
    Have you read anything I’ve wirtten?
    Like the fact that my daughter’s preferences changed significantly after she came into contact with other pinkified girls?
    And most importantly, did you read anything you have written yourself?
    You yourself said that you would avoid to give your son anything girly and then go on talking about how the fact that boys get one kind of things and girls another one were somehow due to the agency of the kids themselves?
    You’re contracdicting yourself in every other sentence.

  46. Torquil Macneil says

    I don’t think there i any contradiction Giliell. I do think we reinforce and sometime even create the ender differences that arise naturally between children, but I don’t think gender is foisted on children tout court, I think it is a natural epiphenomena. That may be why your daughter becomes more interested in pink when she is in the company of other girls, she naturally responds to the social norms of her peers. It is interesting too, that so many of us find the pink explosion so offensive. I mean, what does it matter which colour little girls prefer (although I agree that a lot of the candy pink is especially unpleasant) for the relatively short period (usually between about three and about 6) that this mania takes hold.

  47. says

    I do think we reinforce and sometime even create the ender differences that arise naturally between children,

    Now you manage to contradict yourself within the same clause…
    So, now, do we reinforce or do we create gender differences? Are they natural or not?

    Look, nobody is saying there aren’t differences between men and women, but your biologistic argument is nonsense.

    I mean, what does it matter which colour little girls prefer (although I agree that a lot of the candy pink is especially unpleasant) for the relatively short period (usually between about three and about 6) that this mania takes hold.

    You mean, the fact that she gets tought alongside that she’s only good for cooking and cleaning and babies and that in case of trouble it’s her job to be a passive princess that needs to be rescued should not bother me? The fact that at a crucial age she gets indoctrinated into believing that there are things she mustn’t do because she’s a girl?
    You’re completely not getting why people are upset with the pinkification of our daughters. It’s not that we object to a colour of a certain wavelength.
    We object to the fact that our daughters’ choices are taken away, that they are denied the possibility to find out what they themselves are good at and like because there’s too much external pressure.
    We also object that this takes choices away from boys, who are also taught that they have to deny either themselves or their gender.
    We object to patriarchy.

  48. Torquil Macneil says

    Gilliell, the argument may be nonsense, but it would be much more enlightening to explain why you think it is nonsense, rather than just stamping your foot. To my mind it has more explanatory power than the stronger versions of the social conditioning theories, for some of the reasons I gave: it explains, for example, why gendering has gained ground at a time when women have become more rather than less free and equal in fact and in representation. Of course I would object to the practices you describe too, if I came across them (I have to say that these things were scrupulously avoided at my daughter’s nursery and primary school as well as at home, although we did get a huge dose of the Pink).

  49. theobromine says

    @Torquil Macneil

    Speaking as a parent who would at least try to avoid buying my boy anything ‘girly’, I doubt this is the reason.

    But later on, you speculate that the ‘pink explosion’ might be a result of kids picking their own stuff? What if your boy *wanted* something that was stereotypically feminine? Would you refuse because:

    Boys have to live in the world they live in and there are real dangers present if they don’t learn early how to navigate it. You might wish is were different, but you are unlikely to want your boy to be the trailblazer with certain risks and uncertain benefits.

    Let me rephrase this a bit: *Freethinkers* need to live in the world we live in, and there are real dangers present if we don’t learn early how to navigate it.

    Based on my history and my husband’s history, I was reasonably certain that our kids would not just naturally ‘fit in’ with their peers. There were 2 main options available: 1) coach them into conformity or 2) acknowledge the differences, and help them to develop tools to navigate the world in view of this.

    I figured that #1 was likely to make the kids miserable, and I had no confidence that I would be able to succeed (since it hadn’t worked very well when my parents tried it on me, and I grew up in what was generally considered to be a ‘simpler time’, so I went for #2. I taught my kids to think for themselves, and helped them to think through the potential consequences of their actions, so that they could make their own(age-appropriate) decisions. Once when we were shoe-shopping, my 6 year old picked a pair of pink running shoes (it was his favourite colour at the time). I explained to him that some people thought that pink was only for girls, and they might make fun of him because of these shoes, but if he understood that, and really wanted them, I would buy them for him. He said he still wanted them, so I bought them.

    My goal was to give my kids the tools they needed to think for themselves, to think through the consequences of their actions, to understand what is important (how one treats other people), and what is not important (how one looks and what one wears). As my kids grew up, they were able to stand up for themselves, despite being bullied for being different (intellectual, non-athletic, short), and they also began to stand up for others, befriending kids of different ethnic backgrounds, intellectually disabled kids, gays and lesbians.

  50. says

    Torquil Macneil
    You are a puzzle to me.
    I’ll dig you up some studies later, unless others feel comepelled to do so before.
    This might take some time because right now I don’t have time (and by that I mean Sunday).
    Just one little meta-thing:
    You don’t need to increase the number of L’s in my name each time. Three were perfectly fine and by now there are hardly and spaces left where you can put them.

  51. Torquil Macneil says

    Theobromine, I am really pleased that you brought your children up so successfully, but not all children have the strength of character that yours have shown and I have seen the devastating effects that bullying can have on the lives of people who experience it, so I would be very reluctant to allow my son to inadvertently dress in such a way that he is almost guaranteed to be victimised. That is why I would avoid buying him female-gendered clothes and I think many parents share those motives and not the nastier ones that may be attributed to them. I don’t deny that this helps to reinforce certain gender stereotypes, but I suspect that those gender stereotypes will exist whether I reinforce them or not, and I think that it is a common adult mistake to overestimate the degree to which they can influence these aspects of children’s lives. If children were so malleable, we would find it easier to prevent them taking drugs, say, or to encourage them to study calculus.

  52. Torquil Macneil says

    I’m sorry for the mistyping Giliell, I hope you won’t think me a coward if I blame it on this horrible keyboard.

  53. theobromine says

    Torquil:

    I thought I was clear that there was nothing *inadvertent* about the way I allowed my sons to dress. We explicitly discussed gender stereotyping (not necessarily with those specific words), and though my kids knew it was wrong to judge people based on how they dressed, the were fully aware that ‘some people’ thought there was a problem with people dressing differently from the norm. (I taught this to them so well that I often had great difficulty explaining in rational terms why they needed to wear their nice-looking (but uncomfortable) clothes to go out for dinner with their grandparents – one of the perils of teaching kids critical thinking skills.)

    I was bullied in school, though I dressed perfectly normally (well at least until I got to highschool and eschewed makeup). My son gave up on pink as a favourite colour when he was about 8. My kids were still bullied throughout school, pretty much just for being different in many little ways, and yes it was hard for them, but I don’t see how encouraging conformity would have made it any easier. As a matter of fact, it can be empowering for a child to have a chosen idiosyncrasy – eg if bullies make fun of a boy’s long hair, it’s easy for him to realize that this is a very silly attitude on the part of the bullies, since he could cut his hair any time and look normal.

    Also, it can be dangerous to use conformity as a remedy or preventative for bullying. What happens when the norm is abuse of alcohol or other drugs? What happens when a child is taught to reject their natural inclinations on the basis of conformity to the norm, but the child is homosexual, and the norm is heterosexuality?

  54. Torquil Macneil says

    “but I don’t see how encouraging conformity would have made it any easier”

    It won’t for every child in every situation but it will for many and often (like when they are having lunch with their grandparents for example). The way we dress is important because it is one of the ways we signal our position in the group and our ability to understand the social rules. It would be pointless for me to argue (taking an extreme example) that I was wearing a swastika armband because I liked the design and that nothing else should be read into it. We cannot make up our own rules independently of the group. That’s not to say that there is nothing to be said for nonconformity or that those who unable to grasp the social signals should be punished or abused, but it is a good enough reason for most parents, as a rule of thumb, to avoid letting their children make significant mistakes in areas like ender signalling. Of course, we might be able to get away with gender signalling altogether or to a large degree, or to persuade young people not to police the borderlands of gender so aggressively, but I am sceptical.

  55. theobromine says

    @Torquil:

    We cannot make up our own rules independently of the group.

    Of course we can. You are still talking about “avoiding letting children make mistakes…about gender signalling”. If I understand correctly, you are saying that it is always a *mistake* for a child to choose an inappropriate gender signal. My approach is to engage the kids’ understanding about the significance of their choice of toys, clothing, etc, and let them choose whether and when to conform to the norms that they understand are completely arbitrary. (I’m sure everyone knows that the colour pink was at one time considered “too strong” for women.)

  56. A. Noyd says

    Torquil Macneil (#49)

    Gilliell, the argument may be nonsense, but it would be much more enlightening to explain why you think it is nonsense, rather than just stamping your foot.

    She’s not stamping her foot, you condescending jerk; she quoted what you wrote and called it contradictory, which it quite obviously is. You said you think parents can “sometime even create the [g]ender differences that arise naturally between children.” Something cannot both arise naturally* and be created by someone else. Giliell’s error was in thinking you were clever enough to spot where you’d contradicted yourself without a laborious explanation.

    ………….
    *Natural as in being “directed by biology” and manifesting because of “children [being] able to choose more of what they have rather than having adults do it for them” (see #45).

  57. julian says

    She’s not stamping her foot, you condescending jerk; she quoted what you wrote and called it contradictory, which it quite obviously is. You said you think parents can “sometime even create the [g]ender differences that arise naturally between children.” -A. Noyd

    I think that may be a little overly pedantic. It’s perfectly possible for something to develop naturally without outside interference in many cases and for certain conditions and stimulus to bring it about in those cases where it otherwise wouldn’t.

    Why the pink explosion in the last ten years? Might it be because children are able to choose more of what they have rather than having adults do it for them? -Torquil Macneil

    I don’t follow. Are you saying toy companies noticed that children stuck to certain colors (boys blue and girls pink) and adjusted for this so that the pink section would be girls’s toys and the blue section would be boys’s toys?

  58. Luna_the_cat says

    First: the only studies I know of which tackled “biological colour preferences” (and I’m sorry, I do not have the details to hand and have no time to find them right now; I’ve spent my whole damn working week moving offices, and now I actually have to work) — well, my memory of them is that somehow they managed to draw only from the WEIRD populations, in other words, everyone from a similar or identical cultural background. How that shows biology I couldn’t parse then OR now.

    (If someone knows different, that there are studies which included quite different cultures, such as rural South American or Sub-Saharan African or rural Asian or what have you, then please do share.)

    Second: Geez, hasn’t anyone here ever heard of feedback loops? Pink sold to begin with because there’ve always been some who push or have the “pink fairy princess” obsession, then girls (who are most certainly affected by peer pressure, yes) are exposed to the presence of Pinkness in their peers and in Saturday morning cartoon commercials and what-have-you, so they ask for it, so it sells more, so the manufacturers respond on the better selling lines by pushing more, which exposes more kids to more peer presence and more marketing, and…. and suddenly, with no-one deliberately intending it, and in the presence of so much “freedom”, there is a certain canalization of pink where it has taken over bloody everything.

    Biology of preference? Hardly; a biological predilection for the absorption of culture, I’d say. But the growing gender-chasm in the toy aisle (and oh, yes, it is growing and has been for a few decades now) is far less likely driven by child biology as by the fact that marketing is a science which is directed at telling the child what he/she wants, and is a stronger presence in culture than ever before, even in school supplies! And, see feedback loop above.

    Torquil Macneil, the pressures of culture and the feedbacks of culture and commerce are extremely well documented in anthropology, sociology, and business studies. If you want to claim that it is biology and not culture, you have to be able to demonstrate that it exists in the absence of the well-documented cultural context. Do you have any evidence for that?

  59. A. Noyd says

    julian (#59)

    I think that may be a little overly pedantic. It’s perfectly possible for something to develop naturally without outside interference in many cases and for certain conditions and stimulus to bring it about in those cases where it otherwise wouldn’t.

    While I would agree that is true in general, I’m being pedantic because Torquil is the one trying to make a case for the “the [g]ender differences that arise naturally between children” as originating from something other than parental influence. Not that it’s outside the realm of possibility that Torquil’s “point” is incoherent enough to accommodate contradictory notions or that s/he is switching between different sets of gender differences between posts without mentioning it.

  60. Torquil Macneil says

    “I don’t follow. Are you saying toy companies noticed that children stuck to certain colors (boys blue and girls pink) and adjusted for this so that the pink section would be girls’s toys and the blue section would be boys’s toys?”

    Pretty much yes. I should say though that the colour coding for boys is much more relaxed. My thought is that there is a sort of peacock’s tail effect going on here because little girls have more spending power than they did ten or twenty years ago (boys too, but they don’t select positively by colour on the whole). That at least goes some way to explaining how come there has been an increase in this kind of feminine stereotyping at a time when there has been a huge increase in female social emancipation and positive non-stereotyped representations of women.

    @Luna: I am not quite sure what your comment refers to, but I don’t think you have to prove that biological impulses exist independently of social conditioning to believe they exist, if that is what you mean. One way or the other we will never be able to settle this sort of question with purely scientific approaches because the definitive experiments would always be considered inhumane.

    @A. Noyd: I did realise that Giliell had made a joke about the slight misspeak in my post, but that wasn’t what I was referring to in the ‘foot stamping’ comment, which makes it a little bit funny that you responded by having a mini tantrumm yourself based on a misreading.

  61. Luna_the_cat says

    @Torquil Macneil

    Don’t be daft. If you want to claim that a preference exists outside of a cultural context, you move outside the cultural context. Do you have any evidence of colour preference in children from pre-industrial cultures or areas where marketing doesn’t penetrate so much, like for example the hill cultures of Vietnam? Can you demonstrate anything other than a recent trend in Western industrialised culture, even?

    And as for I don’t think you have to prove that biological impulses exist independently of social conditioning to believe they exist, I’m sure you can believe whatever you want. However, if you want anyone else to believe it, then you need to be able to prove that there is something there other than your belief. I’m sure there are biological impulses which exist independently of social conditioning as well; a general trend of incest-avoidance would be a good candidate, given that its universality* is a staple of anthropology courses. Seriously, what can you point to as a measure of the universality of “girls like Pink and boys not nearly as much”? And, given a lack of such evidence, explain why we should take your opinion seriously…especially given that you seem to quite cheerfully participate in the reinforcement of stereotype in order to avoid making children “not fit in”, and given that social explanations are actually adequate to drive such preferences and do not require a “deeper impulse” (and you seem not to have responded to the point about cultural and marketing trends reinforcing each other).

    ————–
    *Yes, of course there are exceptions, most notably in highly socially stratified cultures where nobles are obsessed with keeping bloodlines “pure”, and obviously in some deviant individuals. However, for the bulk of the population in every culture, there is some form of incest avoidance, which inevitably covers siblings and parents, and often stretches to aunts and uncles and different degrees of cousins. Because of the presence of some form of it in every culture, we can speak of its universality and make a justifiable argument that it is based in a biological impulse independent of culture. See?

  62. A. Noyd says

    Torquil Macneil (#62)

    One way or the other we will never be able to settle this sort of question with purely scientific approaches because the definitive experiments would always be considered inhumane.

    Even if this were true, which it isn’t, it wouldn’t mean we could then lend any weight to pseudo-scientific approaches, like taking our “sure feelings” seriously.

    I did realise that Giliell had made a joke about the slight misspeak in my post, but that wasn’t what I was referring to in the ‘foot stamping’ comment…

    That your argument from biology is nonsense is apparent from how you contradict yourself in attempting to talk about it. Which Giliell pointed out in that particular post (but also before that as well). In other words, you can’t recognize the explanation for what it is.

    …which makes it a little bit funny that you responded by having a mini tantrumm yourself based on a misreading.

    I assure you, it is with the utmost dispassion that I call you a passive-aggressive tone troll and a sloppy thinker. That is, after all, what you are. But it no doubt suits your self-image to suppose anyone offering an overt criticism or insult, however apt, is not in control of her emotions, whereas it’s the epitome of maturity to call people childish indirectly, as you do.

  63. Flora Poste says

    Girls like pink and boys don’t, and that’s why it’s important not to let your son wear a pink shirt. Have I understood correctly?

  64. says

    @Torquil

    Or any book on the history of fashion.

    You do know that even in western, Eurocentric culture, blue used to be considered maidenly and pink considered manly? Men used to like wearing pastels and bright colours, and florals, and lace, and high heels, and hose, and corsets, and glittery jewellery, and makeup (& not just from 1971-1983 either)…..

    It is clearly the toy companies (Mattel & Barbie, is my guess for the catalyst) that have manufactured the “pink = girls” thing.

  65. says

    I never went through a “pink phase”. At one time, I did have a Barbie doll (& Ken & Skipper too), but in those days it wasn’t all pink, all the time. Her corvette was yellow, and I think there was a tent-trailer that was orange when set up. It wasn’t my main toy either. I had Star Wars action figures, I had a working microscope that I loved. I don’t recall owning any pink clothes (not saying I didn’t but none were special enough to me to recall), and my favourite dresses were 1. white with coloured balloons and 2. midnight blue satin. I also loved a red satin jacket I got for Christmas one year. I wore pants most of the time. My favourite colour was purple. The Disney movies that were popular when I was in the 4-11 age range were The Lady and the Tramp and The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound (no princesses to be thrust upon us). When I played pretend with my friends, I played superheroes (specifically Fearless O’Toole and Intrepid Shapiro), “mother mountain lion & cub”, spies, war, and rebels. I also had Lego and Mechanix (sp.?) sets. There were no boys in the family (though throughout my childhood, neighbourhood boys and girls tended to play together quite often). This was in the mid-70s/early-80s. Things have gone backwards since then in terms of segregating boys from girls activities and toys.

  66. Maya says

    I think, the underlying biological urge is something like ‘the tendency to associate yourself with others of the same gender’ which is quite strong and hard for parents to break. So historically the colours, customs and clothes change but the strength of feeling to want to fit in with the girls/boys by wearing what they wear (rather than say wearing the same as the other green eyed people, the other right handers, the other summer borns, the tongue rollers etc… )

    It seems pretty universal that by puberty in just about every culture around the world men and women dress differently.

    Maybe it is something like the language learning instinct. Parents can influence what language a child learns through it’s environment, but they can’t stop them learning one.

  67. Torquil MacNeil says

    Thanks Ophelia, I will give Delusions a go.

    Luna and some others, you have slightly misunderstood my point about colour preference. I am not suggesting that there is a genetic disposition for girls to like pink or necessarily to self-identify according to colour symbolism, nor am I arguing that there is no strong cultural element to gender stereotyping (which would anyway be a self-contradictory position)nor that gender stereotyping is not harmful. I am arguing something much weaker, that the roots of a phenomenon like the pink explosion are much more likely to lie in biological impulses than cultural conditioning and this explains their strength. There is clearly a problem with the idea that these phenomena can be entirely culturally manufactured against the grain so to speak, in that we have utterly failed to manufacture them when we have tried (kids, carrots are cooler than donuts!).

    A. Boyd: a tantrum is a tantrum, I should lie down for a few minutes in a dark room until the red mist passes, if I were you. Does shouting insults at people you disagree with work for you in the other areas of you life, I wonder?

  68. A. Noyd says

    Torquil MacNeil (#71)

    I am arguing something much weaker, that the roots of a phenomenon like the pink explosion are much more likely to lie in biological impulses than cultural conditioning and this explains their strength.

    Ah, yes, the non-specific “argument,” so weak and vague it could be a psychic’s prediction. I used to do those, you know. How very safe they are since you can fit them to almost any fact. Of course there’s biology somewhere because biology is the instrument upon which culture is played. But what is this “phenomenon” exactly and what specific parts do you believe cannot be explained by culture?

    Does shouting insults at people you disagree with work for you in the other areas of you life, I wonder?

    Oh, are we going to play the game of repeating ourselves like we’re eight years old? Very well then: it no doubt suits your self-image to suppose anyone offering an overt criticism or insult, however apt, is not in control of her emotions, whereas it’s the epitome of maturity to call people childish indirectly, as you do.

    I’ll save my actual wrath for the people making money off the books Fine quotes in her introduction.

  69. Torquil MacNeil says

    Noyd, I honestly don’t know whether you are in charge of your emotions or not, and I honestly don’t care. You are at least honest enough to admit that you didn’t understand the argument that so enraged you, which is something, but not much, but you should learn perhaps not to be so pleased by your limits or to mistake them for virtues. That is free advice, no need to thank me. Someone once told me that it is always a mistake to get into a fight with a pig: you both get filthy but the pig enjoys it, and in the spirit of that advice I think I shall ignore you from now on and only continue the discussion with the grown ups.

  70. Torquil MacNeil says

    Iife is too short to waste on the kind of people who haunt chat rooms just to vent their spleens, Luna. I am sure Noyd will find lots of other s/he thinks need to be needled or belittled.

  71. Luna_the_cat says

    A.Noyd wasn’t just venting spleen. I’m honestly not sure why you chose to respond to other people in a more substantive fashion, and to take offense at what A.Noyd had said and respond with needling and insults to that individual; but the fact is, your statements such as “likely that the obsession with hot colours among girls is to some largish part directed by biology” or “I am arguing something much weaker, that the roots of a phenomenon like the pink explosion are much more likely to lie in biological impulses than cultural conditioning and this explains their strength” does seem to represent a hypothesis which is so weak as to be untested and untestable. I mean, “much more likely”? Why, really? What basis do we actually have for biology, here? Especially given the patent problem that cultures through history have not shown a universal tendency?

    But aside from that, let’s face it, you know and I know and we all know that you have been using the “I’m going to insult you without using obscenity” tactic on A.Noyd in order to needle. Just, don’t pretend you haven’t been playing that and it isn’t anything to do with you at all.

  72. A. Noyd says

    Luna_the_cat (#76)

    What basis do we actually have for biology, here? Especially given the patent problem that cultures through history have not shown a universal tendency?

    I’m reminded of the arguments for religion being something we’re biologically programmed to need or want to do because it’s so widespread.

  73. Luna_the_cat says

    With religions, though, the argument of “universal tendency” is harder to defend once you start looking at local detail. Unlike the incest prohibition, which pretty much inevitably includes sibling avoidance or parent/child avoidance, once you start looking at what each religion actually involves or requires it can get very strange and go in very different directions. There are religions which involve no concept of “deity” at all but are quite heavy on luck-based taboo and ancestor worship, for example, and a number where there is no type of afterlife mentioned or considered, in stark contrast to the deity- and afterlife-centered model of Christianity. So where does the line between cultural mores and “religion” get drawn, there?

    There is a universal tendency to have some form of culture, the point of which is that it often dictates behaviour far past where biology or instinct would take us. But pulling it back to biology and saying “this cultural thing exists because of a biological need”…well, harder to pin that down, really.

  74. says

    Torquil MacNeil

    I did realise that Giliell had made a joke about the slight misspeak in my post,

    You really are condescending.
    No, I did not make a joke, I pointed out your absolute contradiction.
    You yourself have been making contradictory statements, undermining your own argument from post 1.
    You’re arguing for a vague biological basis for the current gender stereotyping while you’re constantly arguing for a social one yourself:
    Exhibit A:

    Speaking as a parent who would at least try to avoid buying my boy anything ‘girly’, I doubt this is the reason. Boys have to live in the world they live in and there are real dangers present if they don’t learn early how to navigate it.

    Exhibit B:

    Of course I would object to the practices you describe too, if I came across them (I have to say that these things were scrupulously avoided at my daughter’s nursery and primary school as well as at home, although we did get a huge dose of the Pink).

    Then you argue that the pink-explosion was caused by:

    My thought is that there is a sort of peacock’s tail effect going on here because little girls have more spending power than they did ten or twenty years ago

    Which reads as if you never went shopping for newborn-clothing or nursery articles, which are hard to find in any colour except the blue/pink dichotomy. So you’re acting as if girls weren’t trained to identify with pink from the day they were born*

    That at least goes some way to explaining how come there has been an increase in this kind of feminine stereotyping at a time when there has been a huge increase in female social emancipation and positive non-stereotyped representations of women.

    You’re talking about adult culture, not children’s culture. How many non-stereotype representations do you know from kids’ culture?
    Sure, Kira Kneightley played a cool kick-ass woman who turned from a beautiful daughter to the Queen of Pirates, but that’s not what responsible parents let their preschoolers watch.

    *On the notion of biological basis for gender:
    Yes, I fully acknowledge that. Most of us know exactly what gender we are, whether it is in line with our birth-sex or not.
    And that’s what kids want: they want to identify with idols and heroes of their own gender. That’s why it’s important to give them option, why they need to be able to pursue freely who they are without being challenged in their gender identity. Nothing is worse than wanting to be a pirate and being told that girls can’t be.

  75. Torquil Macneil says

    “But aside from that, let’s face it, you know and I know and we all know that you have been using the “I’m going to insult you without using obscenity” tactic on A.Noyd in order to needle.”

    Luna, I haven’t time, sadly, to go into details, but I think I was pretty clear why I thought that the biological argument looked more satisfying than the cultural one, at the margins anyway, and I did repeat my reasons a few times. No matter, there is plenty to disagree about. But if you glance back (and I completely understand that that might not strike you as a very useful way to spend your time) you will see that I did not direct any remark at Noyd that could be construed as any kind of insult before s/he decided to start screeching at me. I should be used to it. The internet is brimming with bad tempered misfits, and if someone goes under the pseudonym ‘A, Noyd’ they are rather signalling their intentions from the get-go.

    @ Giliell, I am sorry if you did’t mean it as a joke but I took it as one: a good humoured tease about the obvious mistake in my grammatical muddle. Good humoured? Perhaps I should have known better!

  76. Torquil Macneil says

    “Which reads as if you never went shopping for newborn-clothing or nursery articles, which are hard to find in any colour except the blue/pink dichotomy. ”

    Giliell, I have bought baby clothes fairly regulalry over the last few years, and it simply is not true that they are rigorously colour coded as you describe. In fact pink/blue items are in the minority in my experience and as you can see at the leading UK retailer here:

    http://www.mothercare.com/baby-girl-012-months-clothing/b/76095031?intid=catlp_clothing_puff_3

    The complaint that it is impossible to buy non-pink for girls is so often repeated that I understand why you might think it is true, but it isn’t. It begins to get harder at around three years old and after 4 it can be pretty grim until about 6 when girls seem to lose interest in pink. The pink period, it seems to me, happens when girls influence much more what clothes/toys choices are available both in pester power and in their own spending power, and it rather supports my view that it is not social conditioning that is at the bottom of it, if it were, why would so many baby items be uni-sex?

  77. Torquil Macneil says

    “You’re talking about adult culture, not children’s culture. How many non-stereotype representations do you know from kids’ culture?”

    Sorry to jam up the place but just as I am leaving I keeping seeing things I feel I have to respond to. The answer to this Giliell, is ‘just about all of them’. It is vanishingly unlikely that you will find a negatively stereotypical representation of girls in any cultural product directed at pre-teens in my (quite extensive) experience, in the UK at least. The exceptions are those ‘classics’ that sneak through from the recent past

  78. says

    Are you kidding me?
    Their “refine by colour” has:

    PALE PINK (19)
    PINK (96)
    PURPLE (2)

    And those numbers are even bothced because they label this as “multicolour”, because it obviously has many shades of pink.

    The pink period, it seems to me, happens when girls influence much more what clothes/toys choices are available both in pester power and in their own spending power,

    Wait, you stop giving your kids pocket money once they turn 6? Are you expecting me to take this serieous?

    if it were, why would so many baby items be uni-sex?

    Pages of unisex articles: 15
    Pages of girl-articles: 51
    The majority of unisex articles in your own source are staples like onesies, bibs, towels and washcloths.
    So, I think your argument has gone the way poopy diapers go.

  79. Torquil Macneil says

    Giliell, I didn’t say that there were not plenty of pink items, just that a majority weren’t pink, an that is the case. There are more white items than pink, for example. A minority of the items pink. It would take no special skill or determination for a parent to avoid pink for their daughter. That is just the case, there isn’t much point in us arguing about it.

  80. Torquil Macneil says

    “Wait, you stop giving your kids pocket money once they turn 6? Are you expecting me to take this serious?”

    The point is that after about 6, girls begin to lose the fascination with pink, especially in dress, which is odd if they are at the mercy of cultural stereotyping.

  81. says

    Ehm, have you actually clicked on the “white” (yes, white, the perfect colour to dress a baby *headdesk*)? Because most of it is onesies, bibs, blankets, socks…
    Pretty little in actual form of shirts, trousers etc.
    Apart from the “white” thing.

    To summarize:
    Your argument fails.
    You have not given any reasonable argument for it being “natural”, they have all been debunked.
    You were also given multiple arguments against it being natural (feedback-loop, history of fashion, cross-cultural observations etc.) and you could not argue against any of them.
    You have even given arguments against your own argument yourself…

  82. Torquil Macneil says

    Giliell, it doesn’t fail just because you want it to. I have shown some actual data and it contradicts your claim and I know that can be annoying when your prejudice runs very deep, but it is the only data we have so far. I don’t really understand why you think colour stereotyping should exclude certain items (that looks a lot like deck-stacking), but anyway, no matter how you want to count this, a minority of items for sale to girl infants are pink.

  83. says

    I have shown some actual data

    Where?
    The link to an online-shop?
    Where I took pains to look how many pink items there are, what they count as “multicolour”, what kind of items the unisex and the white items are, which all supports the notion that it’s damn hard not to dress your baby-daughter in pink?
    Or your claims that “pinkyness” peaks when they have the most economic and pestering power which you put at the age of six against all reason?

    . I don’t really understand why you think colour stereotyping should exclude certain items

    You’re being obnoxious.
    Tell me, would you say it’s reasonable to say you’re dressed in white because your socks, briefs and undershirt are, as well as your hankie, while you’re wearing a blue jeans and a grey shirt?

  84. Torquil Macneil says

    Giliel, I think you are being a bit silly. The site I showed you has a minority of pink clothing items for girls of all kinds no matter how you count them and this seems to be the case at older ages to (rather to my surprise). If you cling on to the idea that it is difficult to dress a girl in non-pink because of social and commercial pressure in the face of this, it becomes a shouting match, where is your evidence?

    My claim isn’t that pinkiness peaks when girls have most pester power, but that it grows with pester power until it reaches its natural peak at around 6 (I think most parents would agree) at which age most girls seem to stop insisting that they troll around dressed as a candy pink fairy. I may ave been too hasty though. If you look at the clothes lines at Mothercare, it seems pink is always a minority colour, right though the age bands and even if you discount severely the ‘multi’ items as I did elsewhere. It begins to look more and more as if the pink panic is more of a cultural artefact than the phenomenon it tries to explain (something I understand because the pinks the girls prefer at the worst moment of the phase are quite hard to bear or ignore). It looks like there is a sort of salience bias at work.

  85. theobromine says

    Torquil, I have a question for you about “pester power”: Why would it be OK to submit to the 3-6 year-old girl’s desire for pink stuff (even against the better judgement of the parents), but if a little boy fancies something pink for himself, his pestering would be resisted, for his protection? What kind of message does this give to the boy and the girl (because, make no mistake, kids are sponges who will absorb the underlying messages far better than the surface ones).

  86. Torquil Macneil says

    Theo, I am not trying to justify pester power (I think it should be resisted) but I think it may have some explanatory worth, that’s all.

  87. theobromine says

    Torquil, perhaps I misunderstood, but I thought you had said that you would acquiesce to a little girl’s demand for pink stuff, because of her pester power, but would resist a little boy’s demand for pink, because of the conflict with gender norms (and I’m also curious as to what you would do if your girl fancied the blue-gray shirt emblazoned with a scary skull – http://www.gapcanada.ca/browse/product.do?cid=63898&vid=1&pid=867787&scid=867787013 )?

  88. Torquil Macneil says

    Theo, no, I was suggesting that the increased economic power of children may explain why there has been such an explosion in colour stereotyping at the moment in history when stereotypical representations of women have been in steepest decline.

    As a separate issue I suggested that it was likely tat a reluctance among parents to let their boys dress in ‘girl’s’ clothes was probably motivated more by a justifiable desire to protect the boys than a belief that pink will make them become homosexual.

  89. says

    Torquil Macneil

    Giliel, I think you are being a bit silly. The site I showed you has a minority of pink clothing items for girls of all kinds no matter how you count them

    I’ve given you good reasons why I kind of discount the majority of the white stuff. Do you have any real counterargument except for “you’re being silly”?
    Yes, pink is only a minority, the same was as christians are only a minority and catholics are only a minority. Therefore we can ignore both, pink and the pope.
    Don’t you see any problem in having girl/boy clothes for newborns to start with?
    You know, they are absolutely identical in everything except the little bit safely hidden away in their unisex-diaper.
    And already we see the dominance of pink over red, green, yellow and blue.

    From your link: blue (6) + denim (22) + green (7) + lemon (17) + red (40) + yellow (3) + pale blue (3) < pale pink (19) + pink (97)
    Is it hard to spot a clear trend?
    Can you please explain how this is somewhat dependent on the girl's own will and preferences or her economic and pester power? Remember we're talking about girls of less than 12 months.
    Please give the biological explenation for this.

    Also your "hypothesis" about economic and pester power is so obviously wrong it hardly deserves to be adressed. Not that I haven't done so, so please, explain to me why their power seems to decrease after they're 6 years old and parental control seems to kick back in so that the pink seems to get less.

    when stereotypical representations of women have been in steepest decline.

    I’ve already adressed this: You’re conflating children’s culture with adult culture. You have not responded to that. So, unless you have a good argument against mine, mindless repetition isn’t winning the game.

    BTW, by now I’m taking your constant misspelling of my nym as a deliberate insult

  90. Torquil Macneil says

    I think a discussion is pretty much dead Giliell when one participant decides to be insulted by the mispelling of a made-up name. But really, I did address your point about ‘adult culture’ pointing out that the reduction in gender stereotyping is actually much more marked in children’s culture (if you want to operate those categories)and I patiently explained the point about children and pester power post age six at least once, but here it is again: children begin to lose interest in pink themselves after the age of six, as you must have noticed with our own girls.

    Still, I think you have finally conceded that the evidence is not there to support your claim that it is difficult to dress baby girls in anything else than pink and that will have to do. Adios.

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