Swedish children demand end to gender stereotypes in Toys R Us catalog

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67 Responses to “Swedish children demand end to gender stereotypes in Toys R Us catalog”

  1. adamnvillani says:

    North American 13 year old boys in grade 7 took woodshop and metalworking, while the girls practiced cooking and sewing.

    Speak for yourself; when I was in junior high (1985-1988), we chose our own electives. I’m male and I took several shop classes. Each class was about 80 – 90% male. I had a male friend who took home economics (i.e., cooking and sewing), and he was the only boy in the class.

    Look, boys and girls tend to like different things. TEND TO. It’s not ironclad. But Toys R Us isn’t running a sociology experiment, they’re running a business, and I’m pretty sure they’ve noticed that they sell a lot more princess stuff to girls and monster trucks to boys.

  2. cannedam says:

    Moslims? Bet they’ll be able to spell it.

  3. I Like Cake says:

    It’s clear that men and women are not identical, obviously: women possess the ‘doll lobe’ of the brain which makes them play with dolls, even if they’ve never seen one before.

    I know this is true because I never exposed my children to dolls, and they still wound up playing with them anyway. I’m pretty sure the influences of television, friends and other parents or authority figures, as well as the fact that every toy store is packed with dolls whose packaging depicts little girls playing with dolls have no effect at all on a developing child.

    It’s much like how little girls prefer pink. We even did a study to show they prefer pink, so we know it’s biological and not socialized. Never mind that a hundred years ago they preferred blue: that’s crazy talk. Pink is hardwired into the female brain along with other highly specific behaviors like driving a Miata and ‘nagging.’

    I can’t stand it when those feminist idiots come in here complaining about how “we can’t control for social factors in studies” or pointing out the fact that “all we have is a bunch of disparate, highly questionable statistics with no biological mechanism and experiments that no one else can seem to duplicate.” That’s just the kind of talk I expect from someone who’s ignorant of science and has an agenda, unlike myself, as I have no interests or political affiliation.

  4. cognitive dissonance says:

    @ ILIKECAKE

    thats precisely the point i was striving for; i was commenting on the other posts assertation that the gender role “stereotypes” nearly all of us have been exposed to and raised in, embody some deep seeded hatred for transgendered people, and that we’re all naive to think gender stereotypes are any thing but the root of hate crimes.

  5. GeekMan says:

    I’m so pleased by the tone of comments here. Yes, males and females are different: that’s not a value judgement nor is it a firm restriction to say that males can’t do things commonly done by females or vice-versa.

    A big chain like Toys R Us has to market to the most common demographics. Yes, there are probably a healthy (small)% of boys who like to play with dolls, but it doesn’t make sense to market to that group when you can you can market to the (large)% of girls who like them.

    As a boy, I played with dolls. The important thing is to let kids know that its okay to do things that are normally associated with the opposite gender; there’s nothing wrong with it. Men should be caregivers, women should be firefighters. But at the end of the day, there will probably always be more male firefighters and more female caregivers, and as long as freedom of choice exists, there isn’t anything wrong with that either.

  6. I Like Cake says:

    (Apologies for the intense sarcasm)

  7. Fee says:

    The idea that boys and girls/men and women are exactly the same bar some gender stereotyping is *so* last century! Research shows that drugs have different effects on men and women, their brains grow differently, the way they relate to other people and grow emotionally varies too.

    I know it is virtually impossible to ensure that the reaction to children from the rest of the world avoids stereotypes, but the major differences in boys and girls, from observation, are not about who shoots the guns or presses wildflowers. Girls enjoy talking to each other, and seem to process information by talking about it (and that lasts into adulthood) and they are much more skilled at social observation at a younger age than boys are. I think sticking boys in school at 4 is cruel, as they are not equipped, as their female contemporaries are, to work out what’s going on there.

    Boys often need to be doing active and practical things – not all boys, not all the time, but if you want to engage a boy’s attention, doing something active – not looking at pictures of plants in books, but going out to find the plants, for example – will engage and interest boys far more, even if the subject matter is the same in each case.

    Girls will happily colour in endless little pictures if they are allowed to talk to each other at the same time – not all girls, not all the time, but most girls, most of the time. They seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of a shared activity and interaction, even if it is as quiet as colouring in. Generally – not all boys, not all the time – boys will not happily do this, and will begin to subvert the activity into something else, if they are given the freedom.

    Twenty years of 1970s feminist propaganda convinced me that women and men were the same, and only society’s pressure had conned women into accepting a passive role. Twenty years of parenting and ten of those home educating and dealing with groups of children, have convinced me that there are real and substantial differences between most girls and boys. It isn’t absolute, like sexuality there is a continuum and you may fall anywhere on it whether you’re male or female, but there are some generalities which cannot be ascribed simply to society’s pressure.

    My daughter had only her brothers toys when she was first born, as our third child. She is 14 now, and into football, football, football. But when she was small, she adopted the baby doll that her brothers had always used as a vent for their rage only, and started to mother it, with no prompting at all from anyone. She asked for another and another and another, despite having vast chests of lego, a menagerie of Pokemon, and a vast arsenal of weapons, accrued by her brothers with a free choice over their toys.

  8. I Like Cake says:

    Anonymous, are you trying to critique my obvious and extreme sarcasm as if I were being serious? I even mentioned I was being sarcastic!

    But yes, that is the problem with the argument when people are serious about it. A good example is cheating among men, which evolutionary psychologists suggest is rampant and also has an evolutionary purpose (although to suggest the latter is the ad hoc fallacy, without which we really wouldn’t have evolutionary psychology at all, I suppose). The idea is that cheating is ‘normal’ simply because enough people do it, but that’s never been how we define normality. Whether or not something is ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ is a social concept, it isn’t a well-formed question for a scientific study.

    The end result of this existential confusion is to establish that any underprivileged group is deficient in some way and deserves their treatment, and that all privilege is natural and therefore justified, but it’s clearly a fallacy.

    • Anonymous says:

      You only mention cheating among men (I presume you mean sexual cheating). Many studies show that Swedish women that cheat are a lot more common then Swedish men that cheat (if my memory serves me right, females that cheat is 3-6 times more common than males that cheat).

      I don’t like this stereotyping that cheating is a typical male behaviour ;)

      Before any American male jump to conclusions, just because female Swedes cheat more then male Swedes, don’t bother travel to Sweden to get extramarital sex. All these studies also show that Swedes are more faithful than people of other ethnicities and in general hate cheaters. And although we, as a rule, try before we buy, we don’t have sex with random strangers. If you think we do, then you have looked at to many German or American made porn movies.

  9. ND says:

    Coming from the swedish school system, I am going to have to leave the gender issue aside and point out that this is really about indoctrination.

    When I was in sixth grade, we engaged in various political things as part of the curriculum (writing letters to Jaques Chirac to stop nuclear testing in the pacific stands out the strongest in my memory), but there was no discussion about it. in fact, most of us did not know enough beyond “bombs = Bad” to have any kind of discussion.

    I am not comfortable with the idea of political ideology being taught in schools. I Am not comfortable with a curriculum based on a social science that is far from established. This is not teaching kids how the world works, its teaching kids how to think.

    Save the politics for their teenage years.

  10. ChrisGiarmo says:

    I’m in complete agreement with Sara. Gender ISN’T simple, but the ramifications and negative results of gender stereotyping are.

    I find it odd that so many commenters, including parents, are apt to say “boys will be boys” when it comes to aggressive behavior of their adolescents but fail to see the correlation between the very acceptance of that behavior and the pervasiveness of violence against women.

    Or those that think it “perfectly natural” for little girls to play with barbie dolls but don’t seem to see how it connects to the frequency of anorexia and body-image disorders in adolescents.

    I am, however, not surprised by this ignorance. I have been giving lectures about contemporary gender theory for several years and am constantly encountering people with antiquated ideas of gender roles and development. Gender is something that is so deeply embedded in us from such an early age, that we a.) hardly ever contemplate its existence (unless of course we operate outside a gender binary – i.e. male / female) and b.) take it as a quality as natural as the color of our eyes.

    Culture effects our gender performance, and, to bring it back to this post, advertising is a part of culture. Toys ‘R Us isn’t just following a cultural gender trend with their advertising, they’re actively perpetuating one.

    And if you think that gender stereotypes are harmless, just look at statstics surrounding hate-crimes targeting transgendered people. Trans men and women have a more fluid gender identity and expression than most of us, and therefore stir up a very deep seeded discomfort in certain individuals that will then act out in violence – and hate crimes against trans people are often excessively violent. Murders are executed with far greater force than is necessary to be fatal – i.e. someone will be shot in the head and then set on fire. This gross and sadistic behavior is an indicator of the depth of the gender binary in our cultural psyche. It is often easy to observe the severity of a cultural or sociological stereotype by the treatment of those individuals who break it, and by observing our society’s treatment of trans people, it seems gender stereotypes are pretty severe.

    I could go on and on… Like I’ve said in several comment threads : read Judith Butler.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Toy companies will NEVER change the girl/boy, pink-lavender-aqua/yellow-black-red, princess-fairy-mermaid/car-monster-robot thing.

    Ever.

    Why? Because this way, they sell twice as many toys. There are tons of toys that are the SAME thing, just with variations to market them to different genders. Occasionally they do get so lazy that they just make them different colors. It’s ridiculous, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by children. I remember when Sky Dancers came out, a little while later they came out with DRAGONFLYZ!!*guitarsolothundercrash*.

    I’m all for letting kids play with whatever they want, though. I always played with my older brother’s toys. To my knowledge, he never played with mine–and I know for sure he would have gotten into trouble if he had been caught doing so. Sad.

    Also, count me in as being impressed that SIXTH graders are learning stuff I didn’t hear in a classroom until college. I’m raising my hypothetical children in Sweden.

  12. bluemashi says:

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  13. Felix Mitchell says:

    This is not about forcing girls and boys to be the same.

    It’s about allowing them to be what they want.

    • ab3a says:

      I’m not going to dig in to the nature/nurture arguments. It doesn’t matter. The fact is that there ARE differences, and the company is merely trying to target their marketing. Is that so wrong?

      • Felix Mitchell says:

        Sometimes all that needs to happen is for consumers to say “We don’t like this, we’d rather you voluntarily stopped doing it.” and retailers go “Ok, customers.” and that’s it. Actions like these can be the first step to that end by encouraging debate.

        Gender stereotyping in marketing material is not “so wrong” that it should be illegal or something, no. But it’s possible to criticise something without advocating government intervention banning it (if that’s what you were implying).

        From a marketing perspective, if the stereotypes you use in ads are a turn-off to your customers; that’s not a good ad. It makes business sense to stop it, it makes ehtical sense to do it.

  14. I Like Cake says:

    No one has asserted that gender stereotypes cause people to commit hate crimes 100% of the time, but the fact is, without gender stereotypes, there would be no gender-based hate crime. That’s really quite simple.

    The fear of others isn’t necessarily something that’s universal. You can’t say, “Joey McRacist is a bad man, so if he didn’t beat up black people he’d just be beating up someone else.” If someone sees something they think is not normal for someone they think of as a man to be doing, like living the way they think a woman should live, and they lash out, obviously they have more problems than just thinking that girls ought to play with dolls, and I don’t think anyone is debating that point.

    That said, their biases and concepts of stereotypes are an inextricable part of their actions. If they were taught (and more importantly convinced) that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ weren’t categories accompanied by behaviors which are normal and abnormal, it’s doubtful they would be committing a hate crime.

    And that’s certainly a reason, although obviously not the only reason as it’s solely a utilitarian notion, why gender norms are no good.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Way to go! keep on fighting against stereotypes. I am writing a letter to the president of Walmart inc. asking him not to make the stores toy aisles stereotyped.
    sincerely,
    cat

  16. I Like Cake says:

    In short, we’re talking about eliminating a necessary, but not sufficient condition.

  17. Dan Mac says:

    A lynchpin of the discussion of the nature/nurture debate was the now discredited work of Dr. John Money, who convinced a Canadian family to raise their infant son as a girl(Look up the John/Joan case). David Reimer had a botched circumcision,and a twin brother, providing Dr. Money the perfect opportunity to test his theory that gender was simply a societal construct. Dr. Money dutifully reported his absolute success in the transformation of young David into a girl, thus providing a quantifiable example that gender was all a construct. Many theoretical papers burst forth, citing his work. But, he lied, and established a new low in medical ethics.
    This case has presented some problems for the theoretical mountain (particularly for Gender Feminism)that grew around his study.

  18. davlee says:

    I disagree with those who suggest these Swedish kids are unique, or that their teacher is somehow speaking through them.

    Back in the mid-80s, North American 13 year old boys in grade 7 took woodshop and metalworking, while the girls practiced cooking and sewing.

    At our junior high school, ours was the first year to revolt against this. The girls all wanted to do the wood and metal, and all the guys wanted sewing and cooking. Why, we argued, should we be sent to certain classes just because of our genders?

    The administration agreed, and I and my friends spent the year happily sewing and baking while the girls sanded and planed, ending decades of gender-enforced industrial arts/home ec streaming. And to the best of my knowledge, none of us that year had our sexual orientations at all affected.

  19. Paba says:

    Well, the one thing I can’t keep from being amazed at here is that 6th graders are being exposed to ideas of gender as a learned trait whereas I was only exposed to such a concept as a sophomore in college here in the US, and that was in an elective class. Just think of all the people who have college degrees who still think girls have a natural inclination towards pink…wonder how it compares to the number who believe homosexuals choose to be such. I genuinely wonder this because I’m currently working on a project which involves dealing with the needs of LGBT persons in libraries and possible discrimination by these persons. It’s the same with gender. What do you do when people think learned things like these are absolutely innate? I guess you do what we’ve done for years: let it slide.

  20. tommy says:

    Puppets? These youngsters learned that questioning norms and authority can give real world results, that they can actually make a difference. That’s gotta be worth something.

  21. k1p says:

    For the most part, I think that the catalog gets it right. This is based on keen observation in the raising of two families. Girls will be girls, and boys will be boys, with exceptions of course. History will define us by how we dealt with the exceptions.

    • Man, I feel like “girls will be girls and boys will be boys” is just a cop out for not having to deal with the fact that our culture socializes us to adopt certain gender roles. You don’t think that’s an incredibly ignorant thing to say? I know you say you’ve raised two families and all, but unless you’ve raised them absent from television, movies, advertisements, music, and your own socialized behavior, i’m just not buying it. I’m sorry.

  22. Pipenta says:

    The folks who are adamant about how this gender stereotyping is good and grand and fine, don’t surprise me. Saw it when I was a parent, in my fellow parents. Saw it in the way they raised their kids. Certainly saw it when I had a business in which many parents threw parties for kids. They couldn’t even see the non-stop SQUEEZE they were doing. Any chance they could tease out the difference between nature and nurture, not hardly.

    Saw kids in my shop trying to be who they really were and saw the pressure, the teasing, the disaproval.

    When I was a little girl, I wanted toy robots. NEVER got a one. Got dolls. Told all concerned I hated dolls. Made no nevermind, I got dolls from Mom & Dad & Aunts & Uncles and who all else. Had one grandmother who was cool. She gave me real things: my first watch, my first umbrella. Still, never a robot.

    By the time I was eight, I had given up on the robot. Used my allowance money to buy myself a microscope. Seriously, I don’t think I was that unusual in my desire to have something other than dolls, tinkerbell make-up and easybake ovens, all that shit that I just dumped on the floor of my closet (and this was in an era when kids weren’t swamped with toys). And remember that game “Mystery Date”? Even the commercials for it freaked me out.

    I think the thing that made me unusual was NOT my desire for non-girly toys. What made me a little different from the norm is the way I stuck to my guns and continued to desire things that were outside the realm of what I was supposed to want.

    No, scratch that. I had lots of other little girl baby boomer friends back in the day who wanted the so-called boy’s toys. Just maybe they didn’t want rockets and robots. Barbara Jean wanted camping gear. Laurie wanted a motorbike. The skinny kid down the street whose name I can’t remember wanted a basketball hoop. Only when her brother was old enough to ask for one, did it appear on their garage.

    The sad thing is, most of ‘em folded to the pressure by the time they hit puberty.

    Oh the pressure, the pressure to wear pink, the pressure to be thin, the pressure to be prettyprettypretty. Yeah.

    I’m loving those Swedish kids and their Swedish parents and their Swedish schools. Right about now, I’d like to move to Sweden.

  23. Anonymous says:

    My mother made an interesting comment a few months ago. She said that while she was raising me she was chatting to another mother of a son who said that she had never given her son any guns or weapons to play with, but the kid would run around with his hand in the shape of a gun shooting people. Bare in mind the kind of pacifistic scenario that the child had grown up in, even if he was influenced by the media, he would not have seen more violance-based, male targeted media than non-violance based female targeted media (forgive those seterotypes…)

    Of course you can say its not a fair test because it has so many changeable variables and has only done with 1 boy, however it seems pretty reliable as a basis of forming an opinion.

  24. Felix Mitchell says:

    “Yes, there are probably a healthy (small)% of boys who like to play with dolls, but it doesn’t make sense to market to that group when you can you can market to the (large)% of girls who like them.”

    It makes perfect sense when girl and boy customers are getting upset about such stereotyping.

    Marketing guys CAN and HAVE taken the decision to include a variety of people in their materials, despite the majority of their customers fit neatly into one demographic.

  25. bc249 says:

    This is not about ideological indoctrination by the teachers of the school, its about destroying hegemonic ‘truths’ and allowing children to come up with their own conclusions.

    “Girls will be girls and boys will be boys” because you treat them differently from birth. Boys get the rough and tumble with their dad and girls get dolls before they can ask for what toys they want. When they get to school, those who fit the masculine/feminine stereotype fit in and find popularity, a reward for perpetuating these stereotypes.

  26. Moriarty says:

    It’s a balance that’s hard to get right. On the one hand, there are all sorts of personality traits, learning styles, etc. that are much more common in one sex or the other. Naturally. It’s pointless to try to deny that. On the other hand, these obviously aren’t rigid categories, and without active reminders of this it’s easy to fall into social standards that demand certain behaviors from boys or girls, which doesn’t reflect reality, either, and causes all sorts of needless strife. In fact, both views do, if you subscribe to the idea (as I’m starting to) that a lot of educational problems arise from treating boys like girls.

    As for Toys R Us, I think lawman is right: they’re just doing what they think will sell the most toys, and they’re probably right. Or maybe not. But in either case, that’s separate from whether they have an obligation to promote a certain social vision.

    And yes, I’m sure the project is heavily influenced and guided by the teacher. So what?

  27. vib says:

    I wonder when the children are taught to question the very reality they have born into and not just the gender roles. We should try to get rid of the psychosis of nationalism for example.

    The gender is a continuum, and only generally the physical appearances match to it.

  28. Blaine says:

    Alright Fee!!

    I thought I was going to be the only one…

    My sister (who is a lesbian, served in a combat unit of the Army [Air Defense Artillery] and has a degree in psychology) turned me on to this whole subject. So any time an article comes up with gender differences, I read it.

    Fee is 100% right. There are significant, quantifiable differences in the way we analyze, process and respond to:

    Stress- FMRI Study University of Pennsylvania.
    “When the scans were completed, neuroscientists consistently found differences between the men’s stressed-out brains and the women’s. Men responded with increased blood flow to the right prefrontal cortex, responsible for “fight or flight.” Women had increased blood flow to the limbic system, which is also associated with a more nurturing and friendly response.”

    Withdrawl from addiction- American Psychiatric Association Conference 2009
    “It is dangerous at best, and completely wrong at worst, to assume that any neurological disorder has the same underlying causes in men and women, and thus to assume that treatments for the disorder will be essentially the same(…) Yet that is precisely the assumption that continues to pervade much of both the clinically applied and basic science worlds.” Dr. Larry Cahill, UC Irvine.”

    Language- Simon Baron Cohen, Director of Autism Research Cambridge University.
    “for men, language is most often just in the dominant hemisphere (usually the left side), but a larger number of women seem to be able to use both sides for language. This gives them a distinct advantage. If a woman has a stroke in the left front side of the brain, she may still retain some language from the right front side. Men who have the same left sided damage are less likely to recover as fully”

    And since I’m sure we’ve had enough quotes from me, if anyone feels like doing so themselves… you can Google any of the following as well:

    Male vs Female Spatial Relationships.
    Inferior-parietal Lobule Comparisons (this one may explain why people in higher mathematics tends towards being male).
    Response To Pain.
    Response To Emotions.
    Processing Language.

    and, of course to anyone who’s ever seen a crime show about serial killers (say it with me: white, male, under 40!)

    Propensity to Mental Disorders.

    But to sum it all up, we have a quote from the “Father of Sociobiology” E. O. Wilson

    “human females tend to be higher than males in empathy, verbal skills, social skills and security-seeking, among other things, while men tend to be higher in independence, dominance, spatial and mathematical skills, rank-related aggression, and other characteristics.”

    There are significant differences in how men and women on a whole understand and process the world. This includes play.

    While we might all know someone outside the error bars (I know my sister, I grew up with a Cabbage Patch Doll)… The plural of anecdote has never been, and will never be, evidence

  29. cognitive dissonance says:

    @ CHRISGIARMO

    i’m not sure where i see where the proof of this false ideology that gender roles are harmless is coming from?

    “traditional” male/female binary gender roles are dangerous because they “generate” hate crimes towards transgendered people? that seems a little insane to me, since if you’re not transgendered, the ONLY THING THAT YOU COULD POSSIBLY BE IS GENDERED.

    100% of the crimes against transgendered people come from a group that is comprised of 95+% of the population, right? but of that 95+% raised in “traditional” gender roles, why is it only .001% comitting transgendered hate crimes? sooo many more variables are sooo much more likely than saying, he was raised playing with GI joes, she was raised on barbies, so if either run into the forbidden he/she, “it” is to be eliminated? come on.

  30. arikol says:

    Pink was a manly colour not so long ago..

    And yeah, the education system here in sweden seems to be quite decent, much better than in my homeland. At 18 the kids here seem to have a much stronger base in all the main sciences than what I had.
    But more importantly, they seem to have had to think for themselves. Not just being trained with knowledge, but also with understanding and a strong ability to reason.

    As for the 13 year olds. Of course the seed comes from the teacher, but the work and the reasoning comes from the kids. They get trained to question.

    As for men/women. We’re different but equal.
    There ARE differences in our body and brain chemistries which affect all kinds of small and large things.

    We may still want to play with each others toys, but marking them clearly as boys/girls toys will affect kids choices.
    Just mark them and show them as toys, no gender roles required.

  31. Lester says:

    Catalogs are meant to market to groups, not individuals. If your particular individual son prefers to play with a play kitchen — or daughter prefers Spider Man action figures — then it is your job to teach them that it IS acceptable for them to do so…AND NOT to feel victimized by a %#&@ glossy brochure.

    • Felix Mitchell says:

      There aren’t any parents in this situation – it’s the kids (and teacher) doing their own criticism.

      The kids here have, I think, understood that gender stereotypes can be demeaning even if you don’t feel demeaned by them. (is demeaned a word?)

      IMHO, we should hold ourselves to higher standards than to excuse discriminatory practices by saying everyone should just ignore it.

  32. Hmpf says:

    It is entirely possible to believe that there *may* be some innate differences between girls and boys (in addition to the obvious, that is) *and* believe that it’s unlikely that those differences would be as bizarrely specific as “girls like horses, the colour pink, and want to dress up as princesses” and “boys like cars, the colour blue, and want to dress up as cowboys” or whatever the gender stereotype du jour is.

    So, let’s assume girls *are* more verbal, for instance (I’m not sure if that really is the case – the nature vs. nurture debate is not over yet, last I heard – but let’s assume it for the sake of the argument, as it seems one of the more likely candidates for ‘true, fundamental differences’): would that really mean we should bombard them from an early age with all things pink and dainty and glittery? *Really*? I mean, how are these things even connected?

    BTW, I grew up as a girl in a much less pink and glittery time – there were a lot more gender-neutral toys and clothes etc. in the late 70s/early 80s – yet even so I was quite aware of, and rebelling against, gender stereotypes even in primary school. Children *are* aware of the force society exerts on them to conform. They’re not mindless material that will be molded happily according to society’s every whim. Oh, they will be molded – but not necessarily happily.

    Also, yes, I’m sure this project did not arise exclusively from the children’s initiative. That does not mean, however, that the teacher force-fed them the results. And do we really think it is wrong to work with children on social issues, and that learning to think critically about society is something that should only begin, say, in college? For that matter – if the habit of critical thinking isn’t formed early, why should it suddenly develop spontaneously later in life?

  33. za7ch says:

    It’s really no surprise that Sweden is rated one of the top countries with regards to gender equality. Good for them. :)

  34. johanna says:

    I am surprised at some of the comments about teachers forcing children. We are their guides and role models. And give kids that age some credit. I knew in kindergarten it wasn’t fair I couldn’t play with some toys at school…..kids learn from an early age the social rules about their play and toys. The kids in my life know and not becasue anyone forced them. When you allow children the freedom to pick they toys they want to play with they do not fit into the narrow categories seen in a Kids R Us catalogue

  35. Stefanie says:

    The most important thing to remember is that boys and girls are not opposite. We have a lot more in common than most old white men would like us to think.

  36. Sara says:

    This article brings me no end of pleasure; the comments here, not so much. I would normally consider Boingers to be a group that advocates questioning what is usually taken as “common sense,” but it doesn’t seem like that extends to gender. I see that many of you are expressing the idea that ‘boys will be boys, and girls will be girls, but of course there are exceptions,’ and balking at the idea that these children would dare challenge these gender stereotypes. A few of you have assumed that this must be due to ‘feminist propaganda’ or influence from the teacher.

    What does it mean that you advocate tolerance for the ‘exceptions,’ but only up to a certain point? It’s okay to indulge girls who don’t want to be girls, and boys who don’t want to be boys, but when the ‘exceptions’ start talking to one another and form a movement to try to say that they’re just as normal as everyone else, it’s just propaganda? I was drawn to feminism, as many are, because I am an ‘exception.’

    As for the scientific evidence of sex difference, it seems very clear to me that scientists looking to prove sex difference tend to find evidence of it and scientists looking to disprove it tend to find very little. It is possible that bias exists in both of those cases. It is important to remember that ‘science’ as a discourse is not removed from culture, but exists within it, and the way that most people understand science is through summary and reporting, which involves a great deal of interpretive work, especially in areas like biology and psychology. My Psychology of Women text book (written by scientists from a feminist perspective) doesn’t take the stance that there are no biological differences between men and women, but rather that the differences are small and tend to be exaggerated when transmitted through culture (especially when reported by the popular media; I’m sure that many of us can agree that journalists tend to exaggerate the results of research, as this is a well-recognized problem in science journalism). Additionally, because no subjects exist outside of culture, we can’t be sure that anything–even brain development–is pure nature. Some neurologists suspect that the size of different parts of the brain could be because of which areas get exercised rather than simple genetic predisposition; currently its very difficult to know what the real effects of culture are.

    All I’m trying to say is that it’s not the case that we can point to science as a discourse and say that it proves biological sex difference (beyond the obvious primary/secondary sex characteristics); it is a matter of debate within the scientific community, and there is ample research supporting both sides. The waters are murkier than they may seem.

    Gender isn’t simple. Question it. Examine the ways in which it affects your life; think about your gender role and ask yourself how well it fits. Think about how it limits you and think about how it gives you privileges that the other gender doesn’t have (this goes for everyone). You might surprise yourself; things may not seem as obvious as they once did.

  37. Quiet Noises says:

    Does anyone else feel that the kids are just puppets of the notions and opinions of their teacher? I can’t not support their initiative, and I think that regardless of intention, having their students pursue a cause is great, but really? These have to be some really damn literate 13 yearolds to independently identify the catalogue as a social problem.

    • Kate says:

      No, they’re just not American.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exectly what I was thinking.

    • Anonymous says:

      in response to Quiet Noises, they’re in 6th grade. i feel that is old enough to hold your own opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you don’t think that a sixth grader cannot see that toys are stereotyped for boys and girls than you are just as blind as everyone else. Toys these days are very gender specific. Walk into any Target or Walmart, and you see the same thing. Girls toys are pink and Barbie, boys toys are superheros. For someone to think that they aren’t gender specific, you are supporting the idea that girls should have pink Barbie toys and it’s not okay for them to play with toys that are stereotyped to be more for boys just because our society has made it that way.

  38. az says:

    Let me rephrase the headline for you: “Swedish teacher forces sixth-graders to file a complaint against Toys R Us”
    .

  39. I Like Cake says:

    Dan Mac, the fact that you can make a boy ‘live like a girl’ isn’t even relevant (and obviously it’s unethical to manipulate a human life that way). The argument against gender essentialism is an existential argument: it’s about questioning what men and women ought to do, not what the statistical distribution of perceived behaviors are.

    I’d be willing to go so far as to say that any statistical study of gender and behavior suffers from serious methodological problems if used inferentially, and although it’s an extreme statement, I’m pretty convinced I can back that up.

  40. remmelt says:

    #1: or perhaps it’s a statement about the level of education and critical thinking Swedish schools bless their students with. Instead of, you know, intelligent design or something.

  41. ZenMonkey says:

    Eh, so what if they are? The efforts are commendable and even if they’re “puppets” to some extent (and what 6th graders aren’t?), they’ve surely learned something about gender and the media, including how to think critically about it. Even if they go on to hold different views, that’s still a great meta-lesson.

  42. I Like Cake says:

    Cognitive dissonance, if you don’t hate people who express their gender differently from the social norms, you probably won’t commit hate crimes against them.

    This isn’t a question of doing a study to find the highest correlated factor to committing a hate crime (which factors would you check, and how would you even interpret the results?); it’s just basic logic.

  43. Anonymous says:

    I’m really torn on this. Part of me says “hell, yeah, why are there stereotypes?”

    But then there’s the reality…when my son was born, he had trucks and dolls. So did the little girl next door, who was born just a few weeks after my son.

    From the time they were old enough to pick up toys, my son went for the trucks, the little girl went for the dolls. Nobody taught them that — and they had equal choice of the toys on the blanket (there were plenty for both of them).

    My son did carry around a doll for a while — a Frankenstein doll I bought as a Halloween decoration! So he got his nurturing in…but has never strayed from his choices.

    Neither has the neighbour’s daughter — she’s still a very girly girl — her mother was a tomboy, and her dad’s a former Marine, so it’s not like she’s been pushed into it!

    Maybe we need to accept that some things just are hard wired, while also accepting that some kids aren’t going to follow the traditional paths.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Assume for a second that a child falls and starts to cry. Now picture this child being, in turn, female/male.
    Would you treat the fallen child the same way regardless of the gender?

  45. Sunny says:

    So… I’ve read quite a few of the different opinions, and I’m a bit amazed. There were people mentioning that the children are Swedish, and not American. Living in Norway (neighbor to Sweden), who’s a part of Northern Europe, I must say that even how much the U.S. citizens try, you can’t get away from that even though you want to be liberal and open minded, the major of you ain’t. It seems like Europe, and then especially the Northern part, is way ahead of you. We do things differently, also concerning the school system. Maybe you could learn?
    And for what I know, there have only been positive episodes concerning what the children/adolescents are teached at school.

  46. lawman says:

    I can see a discussion on this story going in a few directions:

    1. Children are introduced to artificial gender roles from an early age, and are unable to escape them.

    2. Boys and Girls are naturally inclined to different things, like in the story of Achilles at the court of Lycomedes.

    3. It’s a matter of capitalism – toys ‘r us don’t see the young male who plays with princess stuff as a significant demographic.

    I’ll refrain from personally opining.

  47. Karakuri says:

    Poeple are assuming the kids can’t think for themselves? Toy catalogues pissed me off from a way younger age than 13. Kids experience sexism in the toy industry because they have to put up with other kids laughing at them for playing with the “wrong” toys, they have a direct experience with the sexism. It is all about critical thinking and questioning the status quo, which kids do naturally until parents tell them “that’s just the way it is! Shut up!”.

  48. Cicada says:

    Well, fortunately someone realizes that despite the differences in psychoactive hormone levels and neuroanatomy, men and women will not think in significantly different ways. Not even a little bit. Wouldn’t hear of it otherwise. Totally the same. Shame on anyone thinking differently.

    • Keneke says:

      Wow, what a convincing argument. 9.9

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Well, fortunately someone realizes that despite the differences in psychoactive hormone levels and neuroanatomy, men and women will not think in significantly different ways.

      Well, I can tell you from working in a hospital that, when you hose them down and put them in a hospital bathrobe, it’s unexpectedly difficult to tell men from women without inspecting the parts. The sexes have more commonalities than differences.

  49. gorckat says:

    My daughter hates the way McDonald’s does their happy meals, asking if you “want a boy toy or girl toy”.

    Sometimes she wants the Hot Wheels car, sometimes she wants the Polly Pocket or whatever.

    She also kirked out at age eight when she was told if she joined the military she wouldn’t get to see combat :p

  50. StRevAlex says:

    I like your style, lawman. You’ve obviously read your share of Boing Boing Comments threads.

  51. Anonymous says:

    I Like Cake’s argument could have been used to defend any other “norms” that we’ve now decided are wrong – slavery for example. All it says it, it’s the status quo so there must be a good reason for it and we shouldn’t try to improve things. Also it assumes that people have not already been manipulated, or influenced, by the society they’re mired in.

  52. Hal says:

    This isn’t just about boy/girl toys but weird hypermasculine/hyperfeminine stereotypes. The Ralph Lauren image that was roundly mocked on BB a few days ago is nothing compared to the DisneyBarbie / GIJoeSuperhero role models that kids are presented with.

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