Nature versus Princess Nurture


I’ve often wondered how much of a role acculturation plays in modelling who we are. Am I a gynaecologist because my mother restricted my prairie play-things to a rather effeminate teddy bear named Girl and a doctor’s bag that probably wasn’t? Or did I choose to play with them -as opposed to, say, waving tree branches around like weapons- because there was something in my genetic code and in the epigenetic functioning of the methyl groups which switch genes on and off that whispered “Ob/Gyn” in my still-young ears? I mean, there does seem to be something to the long held suspicions that males and females are wired differently ( http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/02/men-women-brains-wired-differently ) but I’m sure there’s more to it than that: Medicine is -hopefully- genderless. A wire-free zone, I like to think…  And yet, can the equation be boiled down to the overly simplistic apothegm of ‘Nature versus Nurture’? Perhaps. But if so I suspect it’s less ‘either-or’ than this pithy assertion suggests. Like nouns, each component has many adjectives that alter the meaning, change the hue, modify the intent. It seems to me that an explanation that offers only black or white answers is always suspect.

I suppose that is why the idea of gendered toys has always puzzled me; and why I find the Goldieblox variation on that theme so intriguing. A Stanford educated engineer, Debbie Sterling, thought she should challenge the Pink Aisle concept of toy stores -you know: one side of the store is for boys and the other (the pink side)  is for girls. She thought that maybe she could interest more girls in engineering by changing what they play with: construction toys as well as (instead of?) Princess glitterati and the like -hence Goldieblox. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/11/20/goldieblox-inspire-little-girls-to-become-engineers_n_4308556.html ). The thrust to this end has hitherto been later -in high school; this just starts the process earlier. Great. It’s a start, anyway.

There are, of course, skeptics.  Some argue that Goldieblox is just a clever market ploy to sell new toys to girls -remember the pink Lionel Trains of a few years ago? (Probably not -they hardly sold). In other words, it’s just a way of moving the Princess paraphernalia further down the shelf to make room for Goldieblox -on the same pink aisle, of course. Others observe that their daughters already play with boy’s toys ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandra-shpilberg/goldieblox-girls-education_b_4340094.html ). All well and good, but why should the toys be marketed like that in the first place? Is it the only way that retailers can sell them to parents wanting to please their choosy offspring? Or…to parents wanting to mold their children..?

It has been suggested that preschool children are less concerned -more confused- about gender and gender roles than older children. Perhaps it’s part of the malleability of early neurodevelopment, or maybe it’s because at that age it really doesn’t matter. The pattern of wiring is likely still multimodal -more flexible, at least, than it will be. It strikes me that we as parents should be rejoicing at that window of opportunity to widen their horizons, enlarge their choices. What will be may well be what will be, but perhaps without as many stipulations.

Maybe it’s a Societal Issue: maintain the stereotypes and stabilize the Culture. Well, but does it? And even if it did, is that what we want? What we need? Nowadays, there are very few homogeneous countries, very few places untouched by other cultures, new ideas, fresh approaches.  Paradigms shift; innovations arise; people change -and so do norms. We don’t think the same way as our ancestors; we even modify what we learned from our parents and adapt it to the current reality. It’s how we grow -how a society grows. Evolution isn’t simply a biological mechanism for acclimatization, it’s a process of learning from the past and readjusting to the present. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-berninger/why-girls-dont-want-to-be_b_4324255.html  ). And so we must prepare for a future that will see roles change; a future that will probably see gender in a very different light. A future, maybe, that will not so much be colour-coded into pinks and blues as opportunity-rich… equal opportunity laden, one would expect. And even though Shakespeare was poetically realistic: If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me, I am perhaps a little more hopeful. A little more directive. I will speak, albeit softly.

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