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Ed Driscoll

The Great Relearning Marches On

December 7th, 2012 - 12:30 pm

Just as Ross Douthat reminded “decadent” New York Times readers that it’s still the demography stupid*, Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of The War Against Boys, reminds liberal Atlantic readers that “You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can’t Make Him Play With It:”

The problem with Egalia and gender-neutral toy catalogs is that boys and girls, on average, do not have identical interests, propensities, or needs. Twenty years ago, Hasbro, a major American toy manufacturing company, tested a playhouse it hoped to market to both boys and girls. It soon emerged that girls and boys did not interact with the structure in the same way. The girls dressed the dolls, kissed them, and played house. The boys catapulted the toy baby carriage from the roof. A Hasbro manager came up with a novel explanation: “Boys and girls are different.”

They are different, and nothing short of radical and sustained behavior modification could significantly change their elemental play preferences. Children, with few exceptions, are powerfully drawn to sex-stereotyped play. David Geary, a developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri, told me in an email this week, “One of the largest and most persistent differences between the sexes are children’s play preferences.” The female preference for nurturing play and the male propensity for rough-and-tumble hold cross-culturally and even cross-species (with a few exceptions–female spotted hyenas seem to be at least as aggressive as males). Among our close relatives such as vervet and rhesus monkeys, researchers have found that females play with dolls far more than their brothers, who prefer balls and toy cars. It seems unlikely that the monkeys were indoctrinated by stereotypes in a Top-Toy catalog. Something else is going on.

Biology appears to play a role. Several animal studies have shown that hormonal manipulation can reverse sex-typed behavior. When researchers exposed female rhesus monkeys to male hormones prenatally, these females later displayed male-like levels of rough-and-tumble play. Similar results are found in human beings. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a genetic condition that results when the female fetus is subjected to unusually large quantities of male hormones–adrenal androgens. Girls with CAH tend to prefer trucks, cars, and construction sets over dolls and play tea sets. As psychologist Doreen Kimura reported in Scientific American, “These findings suggest that these preferences were actually altered in some way by the early hormonal environment.” They also cast doubt on the view that gender-specific play is primarily shaped by socialization.

Professor Geary does not have much hope for the new gender-blind toy catalogue: “The catalog will almost certainly disappear in a few years, once parents who buy from it realize their kids don’t want these toys.” Most little girls don’t want to play with dump trucks, as almost any parent can attest. Including me: When my granddaughter Eliza was given a toy train, she placed it in a baby carriage and covered it with a blanket so it could get some sleep.

When Glenn Reynolds linked to an article titled, “The ‘Slut’ Label Refuses To Die,” he added that “some things may be hardwired,” and that “perhaps there’s an evolutionary reason for this, not simply a question of social mores.”And so much of leftism really is a daily assault on reality, biology, and common sense. (The leftist assault on language is a byproduct of all of this.)

That the left’s war against reality has been in its quagmire phase for decades is but one reason,  “The Stone Truth [is that] Left-Wingers Are Boring,” as Jonah Goldberg writes today in his Friday column, riffing on Oliver Stone’s hackneyed new conspiracy theory-riddled Marxist “history” book:

Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution will be 100 years old next year. Its attack on the Founders as greedy white men was wrong then, but at least it was relatively original. Today, college kids regurgitate the same nonsense — and professors applaud their rebelliousness. Except what or whom are they rebelling against? Not the faculty or the administration.

Hackneyed left-wingery is not only treated with respect on campuses (though most mainstream academics aren’t as left-wing as Zinn or Stone), it is repackaged daily by Hollywood and celebrated by the mainstream media.

The self-styled rebels of Occupy Wall Street received overwhelmingly positive coverage in the mainstream media in no small part because the liberal press thinks authentic political expression for young people must be left-wing. The regurgitation of hackneyed ’60s slogans pleasing to the ears of aging, nostalgia-besotted baby boomers elicits squeals of delight. Meanwhile, tea-party protests were greeted as dangerous, odd, and deserving of hostile journalistic scrutiny.

And yet the kitsch of leftism still works its magic. In huge numbers, young people think they’re rebelling when all they’re doing is playing their assigned part and lending energy and, often, votes to a stale, regimented form of statist liberalism that often disappoints and never satisfies.

And thus as Sommers’ article highlights, what Tom Wolfe once dubbed “The Great Relearning” marches on, though sadly it simply can’t keep up with the left’s 150-year old and increasingly sclerotic agenda.

* To coin a phrase.

(Via Orrin Judd, who sagely adds, “There’s Nothing Wrong With A Doll That An M80 Won’t Fix.”

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