I have a new hero. His name is John A. Barry of University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health and he’s just proven something I’ve been saying for years: gender is not a social construct. In Barry’s own words: “There is a fashion today to say that gender is purely a social construct. In reality, gendered behaviour is a mix of biology and social influence.”
Barry and his colleagues authored a study, published in Infant and Child Development, which looked at 16 studies, from 1980 to 2016, of 787 boys and 813 girls ranging in age from one to eight years. The studies looked at preferences for gender-specific toys, and took into account factors such as the presence of an adult, setting, and gender equality of the country (among other things), and found that, in general, children chose toys aimed at their specific gender.
If you’re wondering why the author of a fairly dry scientific study has risen to hero status in my mind I’ll tell you. It’s quotes like this one: “Research into gender differences often attracts criticism which seems to be based on the moral judgement that biological bases for sex differences are somehow harmful to society. As scientists, and as members of the public who value truth over opinion, we need to move beyond moralistic arguments about facts and instead usee the facts in beneficial ways.” Truth over opinion. My hero.
See, it’s not that Barry’s research proves that boys only ever want to play with trucks, and girls only ever want to play with dolls. Nothing is ever so black and white and it would be ridiculous to assert that it is. It’s simply that his research shows that boys and girls have innate interests that transcend social conditioning. And Barry’s point is that this is something worth knowing, instead of shoving it under the rug because it doesn’t correspond with the current “feminist” theory that boys and girls are exactly the same. The amazing fact of it is: gender is not a social construct, but gender neutrality is.
Social constructs do exist. Things like driving on the right side of the road instead of the left, saying “please” and “thank you,” the length of a work day, and the names we call our family members. But the fact that innate gender differences exist is not one of them. “For some people the topic of gender difference in toy choice is controversial, because they passionately believe that such gender differences should not exist,” explains Barry. But there’s a huge difference between “should not exist” and “does not exist.”
In wishing (for whatever reason) that boys and girls were exactly the same, modern feminists have created a social construct. Forcing girls to give up their interest in princesses and dress-up in favor of trucks and dinosaurs, and forcing boys to sit down to tea parties and encouraging them to try on a tutu goes against the natural inclinations of most girls and boys.
Barry is quick to explain that “the findings of this study are descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, the meta-analysis demonstrates, for example, that in general boys prefer playing with male-typical toys, but this is not to say that boys should play only with male-typical toys.” This seems eminently reasonable. Of course some boys will want to play with toys that are not typically geared toward male children, and vice versa. And of course this is totally fine. We don’t live in a cookie cutter world. But acknowledging that there is a norm, and that it is a gendered one, is huge.
“Use the facts in beneficial ways.” That’s Barry’s advice. The fact that men and women are equally valuable isn’t a controversial idea. (Feminists want us to think it is, but nobody sane actually disagrees with that point.) But men and women are different which means that their valuable contributions aren’t necessarily the same. If there’s anything women ought to be fighting for, it’s the right to be acknowledged for who they truly are, not for what some random person with a megaphone thinks they ought to be. I’d stand up for that. Wouldn’t you?