Gender essentialist marketing hurts young girls

A really amazing video went viral over the last week featuring a young girl frustrated that all girl’s toys are marketed as pink–going as far as making the connection between companies wanting boys and girls to play with different things.

It’s amazing.

Along with this, Peggy Orenstein has a must-read op-ed in the NY Times taking on some of the nature vs nurture arguments made in support of the idea that girls just like pink (in response to LEGO putting out a new set for girls in pink), weighing both sides of the argument. She writes,

As any developmental psychologist will tell you, those observations are, to a degree, correct. Toy choice among young children is the Big Kahuna of sex differences, one of the largest across the life span. It transcends not only culture but species: in two separate studies of primates, in 2002 and 2008, researchers found that males gravitated toward stereotypically masculine toys (like cars and balls) while females went ape for dolls. Both sexes, incidentally, appreciated stuffed animals and books…..

…..Score one for Lego, right? Not so fast. Preschoolers may be the self-appointed chiefs of the gender police, eager to enforce and embrace the most rigid views. Yet, according Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that’s also the age when their brains are most malleable, most open to influence on the abilities and roles that traditionally go with their sex.

Every experience, every interaction, every activity — when they laugh, cry, learn, play — strengthens some neural circuits at the expense of others, and the younger the child the greater the effect. Consider: boys from more egalitarian homes are more nurturing toward babies. Meanwhile, in a study of more than 5,000 3-year-olds, girls with older brothers had stronger spatial skills than both girls and boys with older sisters.

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

Many people blindly defend arguments of nature, without fully taking into consideration the growing amount of research that suggests nurture often exaggerates nature and so many of the things that we think just are–are actually in response to a series of repetitive stimuli we have been exposed to over our lives.

And even if you are 100% in support of the argument that girls “naturally” are drawn to pink things, as adult women we can pretty much all agree that we are capable of doing a lot more than shopping, baking and picking out earrings. While LEGO’s attempts to appeal to girls is laudable–the larger question of the kinds of toys marketed to women and the impact that has on our long-term choices cannot go unheard. Toys we play with early in our life impact what we believe our possibilities are in the future. So then, why in 2012 are we still selling pink mini-kitchenettes to young girls?

(For the record, I used to shave the hair off of my barbie dolls heads–but then again–look how I turned out?!?)

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