Boys and Girls: Nature vs. Nurture
Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have a boy and a girl and we try as much as we can to treat them the same way. We don’t limit our daughter’s wardrobe to pink and our son’s to blue and we’ve banned gender-stereotyped toys from the house. But our daughter still behaves like a stereotypical girl and our son like a boy. What did we do wrong?
A: In a word, nothing. Despite many modern parents’ best efforts to rid their homes of gender stereotypes, some stereotypical behaviors still pop up. But here’s the big question: Are boys and girls really as different as they seem or is there something we parents are doing to make them that way?
Consider this: For the first 18 months of life, the physical and biological differences are so slight that when babies are dressed in nothing but diapers, most adults can’t tell a boy from a girl. But that doesn’t stop us from treating them quite differently.
Back in the late 1970s, researchers John and Sandra Condry showed 200 adults a videotape of a 9-month old baby playing with various toys. Half were told that they were watching a boy, the other half that they were watching a girl. Although everyone was viewing the same tape, the descriptions the two groups gave of the baby’s behavior were incredibly different. The “boy” group overwhelmingly perceived the child’s startled reaction to a jack-in-the-box popping as anger. The “girl” group saw the reaction as fear.