Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Delusions of Gender

After reading several stellar reviews of Cordelia Fine's Delusion of Gender , I finally got my hands on the book. She debunks a lot of those tired old myths that women are bad at math and science, are hardwired for empathy, and have a predilection for everything pink and frilly. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in how we form our gender identity, and how much of that it is influenced by society (despite our best efforts at "gender neutral" parenting):

"As we've seen, children are born into a world in which gender is continually emphasized though conventions of dress, appearance, language, color segregation, and symbols. Everything around the child indicates that whether one is male or female is a matter of great importance... once children know their own sex, in theory they can start to take socialization into their own hands."

I know anecdotes don't equal evidence, but I grew up fairly sheltered, without a lot of pressure to conform to gender roles (this was the Free To Be You And Me seventies after all). Fine touches a little on other factors, such as race, class and ethnicity -- the pink equals girl, blue equals boy, girls are good at empathizing but bad at math stereotypes are overwhelmingly a westernized, especially middle-class, concept. Growing up in a working-class/lower income neighborhood, I never had the "princess fantasy." (I grew up in a time before Disney's princess factory, which figures heavily into the equation, too.) I didn't know any girl who engaged in princess play. To the contrary, I wasn't a hardcore tomboy either; I fell somewhere in between. I played with dolls, but I turned my Barbie Beauty Salon into a spaceship, I was an active kid, but didn't play organized sports. I'd like to say my parents did an exceptional job raising me, but there were other factors at work. And I think I'm pretty lucky I didn't get -- or didn't listen to -- some of those messages.

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