Thursday 25 August 2011

Gender Stereotypes - nature or nurture?

(Goblin is 22 months)
Everyone mistakes the Goblin for a girl. Who can blame them really, its not like we make it easy for them. He has longer hair than most 23 month old girls (with the exception of his incredibly hirsute younger cousin). He also has very long eyelashes which make him look quite pretty and I have been known to dress him in pink.
I have always thought that this mistaken gender could be an advantage. You always read that people treat kids differently if they think they are a certain gender, so my thoughts were that if some people thought he was a girl maybe he'd get a more balanced mix of reactions. I figured maybe this would mean he wouldn't develop typical boy features that are the imposition of society's reaction to boys. OK so I was probably over thinking this one but I've never really believed that boys are from mars and girls are from venus - ie its all in the genes - I have always felt most of it is probably nurture. 

But then it happened. The obsession with vehicles. I don't know where it came from. I'm pretty sure it wasn't from us. But its here, and its really strong. And it couldn't be more boyish if it tried. 

Since the Goblin was about 18 months old he has been getting more and more interested in vehicles. It started with just pointing every time a plane flew over or a train went past (we live near a railway line). 
And I thought nothing of it. At Christmas we bought him an ELC garage and some cars with the little magnets that join them together.

But we'd also bought him a brush and dustpan and some gender neutral stuff like building blocks so we weren't (in my opinion) feeding his enthusiasm for vehicles. 

Over the summer he stole a toy pram from a friend of ours and played with it so much that we bought him his own.
This is Goblin on his thieving mission:
 And this is him with his very own pram:
He also has a rag doll that he cuddles when he is tired. Dolly is a downstairs toy and he has cuddly animals that he takes to bed - this is not, I hasten to add, a restriction that we have dreamt up - this is all Goblin. I have offered to take dolly up at bedtime but he looks at me like I am a loon. 

So I first noticed the obsession with vehicles when we bought him his first sticker book back in June. It was from Sainsbury's and had 1500 stickers of everything you could imagine - constellations, precious gems, fairies, space travel and of course vehicles. The Goblin was only interested in the vehicles. And not just that, he was fussy about which vehicles. He was not interested in boats or bikes or motor bikes, or hot air balloons. He was only interested in cars, lorries, planes, trains and helicopters.

I was so surprised by his instant attraction to vehicles that I asked my friends what on earth in evolution could create such a bizar gender specific phenomenon. One suggested it was the bit that said "Things moving very fast at ground level should be of lively interest to you". As he is my wisest friend he is probably right.

The trouble is the Goblin's obsession with vehicles is now affecting what we do with him and what we buy him. For example I have been playing a Montessori inspired game with Goblin where he has to pick up pingpong balls with tongs and put them in an egg carton. 
But recently to keep it fresh and interesting I have started using his little cars 
He's much more interested in the game when vehicles are involved. You'll see in my colour matching post I use tractors to keep his interest. And now when I go into a toy shop I will gravitate towards the vehicles. His collection of ELC magnetic cars has grown from 3 to 9 (which incidentally is one too many to make a chain of cars that actually stay together when you pull them, the magnets aren't strong enough). He has 4 fire engines and a tractor and a heap of those little metal cars that Tesco were selling ridiculously cheap. 

So what started as nature - the Goblin showing a natural interest in vehicles - is rapidly becoming nurture as we encourage and perpetuate his obsession. It doesn't worry me too much, but I do find it fascinating. Would I be doing him any favours at all if I tried to fight it and forced him to play with My Little Pony?  Now if My Little Pony had wheels that would be another story!


  1. ~Hi, love the blog, good work. sounds like a fantastic set up with sharing the week, lucky you. You HAVE to bring him to Kentwell though - he'll love it and they learn so much (and you two will have fun too you know).
    I used to confuse people with Piers's long hair and sometimes pink too - especially when he was a small baby. He had babygros in all colours and the look on people's faces when they realised I'd put a boy in a pink one: horror! AND he had a dolly - but yes, I think all boys are 100% obsessed with cars. I'm sure gender stereotypes are 90% nurture but there's a 10% nature in there too. Just be glad he's a boy and you haven't to fight the pinkification/princessifying thing that happening to girls now; that's what sends me reeling with horror.

    love Fiona (Moll)

  2. This came up under "you might also like" and I do! I try not to perpetuate gender stereotypes, either. Bobo also has the transportation obsession, and now a superhero obsession. He did tote around my She-ra figures before he received male figures of his own. With most of our educational activities, he'll be more engaged if there is a superhero element to it. I wonder if Goblin will have the same progression...

    1. Apparently at nursery he really likes dinosaurs! His favourite TV programme at the moment is Strawberry Shortcake, which couldn't be any more pink and girly if they tied a ribbon round the TV, I am totally amused that he loves it so much.


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