Is it cliché? When parents-to-be learn they’re having a boy, off they go shopping for blue blankets, mittens, booties, and fill the baby’s room with little boy toys, just as expectant parents of a baby girl would busy themselves with frilly and fluffy pink things for their little princess. Visit a toyshop and you’re bound to find there are two sections: toys for boys: robots, cars, trucks, guns, blocks, etc. and toys for girls: dolls, doll houses, tea sets, fluffy stuffed animals, ballet tutus, etc. And then there are birthdays: little boys have superhero themed parties, while little girls celebrate dressed as little princesses from fairy tales.
Even as some parents go through pains maintain a gender – neutral stance in raising their children, it often seems as if genes have long pre-dictated a child’s toy and color preferences, among others. For instance, well-meaning parents fight against stereotype by enrolling little boys in ballet classes, and letting little girls play with trucks and blocks. But like moths to a light, young girls become fascinated with Barbie dolls, and boys fall in love with Tonka trucks.
So, has society been stereotyping all this time, or is Mother Nature simply doing her job?
Blame it on the hormones: fact or fiction?
When a little girl watches her mother get dressed, and later on wobbles in the latter’s heels and draws lipstick all over her face, it’s easy to assume she’s got high levels of estrogen, just as a little boy play-gunning everyone in sight and pretend-playing football is believed to be more testosterone-y. But it’s an assumption without a solid basis.
Lise Eliot, a prominent neuroscientist states that in fetal stages, estrogen rises in female fetuses from conception till the sixth month of gestation, just as testosterone remains high in male fetuses. The same phenomenon occurs a few months after the baby is born. However, after six months of live, estrogen and testosterone levels in a baby, regardless of the gender, normalize and remain equal until he or she reaches puberty, during which estrogen will predominate in females and testosterone predominates in males.
However, even as little boys and girls have the same amount of male and female hormones in them throughout childhood, the surges that occur during the mother’s pregnancy may be responsible for the slight deviances in the way their brains are wired. This may explain that the male child brain has a tendency to appreciate high-energy and aggressive activities and objects that move (thus sports and Tonka trucks).
Identity Through Gender
It’s a significant moment when your child discovers he is a boy (or she is a girl). He finds he has a penis like his father, and she sees how it’s okay to put ribbons in her hair like her mother. It is during toddlerhood that a child discovers gender identity, but it is not accomplished overnight. Therefore, it would be improper to assume that an aggressive little boy whose idea of fun is colliding toy cars and trucks has no emotional or sensitive side.
Another reason why it’s during the second year of life that children know which sex they are is because they are now capable of observing the household. Dads hold their toddler sons and point to the carpenter, or the race car driver on TV. Mothers, too, take their little girls shopping for pink things and read them stories about princesses. It’s a slow progress, but really, children discover and realize these things by themselves.
As preschool rolls in, gender is known, but it isn’t a known constant. A preschooler may think he could still have a baby in his tummy, or a girl may think she might grow a penis later on. It is only at six years of age when children can finally accept the reality and permanence of their gender.
Steering Clear of Stereotyping Pitfalls
A baseball-fanatic for a son and a ballet-obsessed daughter can easily trap you into gender stereotyping, a behavior that could give rise to, well gender stereotypical behavior and mentality in kids later in life. (For instance, a grown man would refuse to wash dishes because it’s a lady’s job, just as a grown lady wouldn’t dare get her hands dirty trying to fix her car engine.) Beyond these preferences, keep in mind the virtues of empathy, sensitivity, and the value of emotion in every person, young or old, male or female. Nurture your young son’s emotional side by encouraging him to express his feelings or listen to relaxing music. Help your daughter work on her competitive angle by encouraging her to join sports.
After all, it just about raising boys and girls – it’s also about helping a young person develop a meaningful personality.
Skinny Mom Fact: While previous research suggests that experiencing life events remains as an influential factor, there are new studies that assert that the personality formed by the age of 6 or 7 isn’t likely to deviate from its core traits.