Studies that insist boys are hardwired to like trucks and girls are predisposed to liking Barbies are unnerving for any number of reasons, but mostly because it gives parents reason to yank a doll from their son’s hands, or force their daughters into pink summer dresses when they just want to wear jeans. But might there be something positive these studies reveal?
Researchers at Texas A&M University have evidence that gender-specific preferences don’t have as much to do with social conditioning as some scientists believe. While social cues, from parents and media consumption, can influence a child’s preference for “boy” or “girl” toys or clothes, “tests involving children as young as three months suggest biological differences and not social pressures dictate which toys children like to play with.” Daily Mail:
One theory is that these innate preferences are linked to traditional male and female functions dating back to the dawn of the species.
Boys are thought to prefer playing with cars and balls because they involve moving objects and rough and tumble play. These activities may be linked to their ancestors’ skills in hunting for food and finding a mate.
Girls, on the other hand, are thought to like red or pink toys because a preference for those colours enhanced their abilities to nurture infants, thus aiding their family’s survival.
If it’s evolutionary hardwiring we can’t escape, fine. But here’s what the research also empirically suggests: Biology, and not social cues (or, for that matter, “personal choice”), also determines our “preference” for whom we’re attracted to.
If our brains are wired in the womb with gender-specific roles, it’s hard to believe our biology, then, isn’t linked to all areas of gender, including sexual attraction and identity. By that (unscientific and observational) reasoning, males who grow up to be attracted to females had no choice in the matter — that’s how they were programmed. And by that same logic, males attracted to other males are wired that way, too, throwing out the homophobic argument that being gay is something any of us opted for.
And how does this all play out in nature?
It is believed that exposure to sex hormones in the womb has a bearing on toy preferences, as it does many other aspects of gender-related behaviour. The study reinforces the findings of previous research by Dr Alexander involving green vervet monkeys.
Male monkeys spent more time playing with traditional male toys such as a car and a ball than did female monkeys. The female monkeys, however, spent more time playing with a doll and a pot than did the males. Both male and female monkeys spent about the same amount of time with ‘gender neutral’ toys such as a picture book and a stuffed frog.
(Photo: McHenry County Blog)