Tag Archives: toys

The persistence of gender differences, Catholic furor edition

The Pope’s convention of male moral pontificators is convening to discuss family matters. One of the most important questions, as Ross Douthat has described at great length, is how to strike the right balance between laxity and rigorism on the question of divorce, to maximize Church membership by keeping divorced people (and their children) on the rolls while sending the minimum of those members to hell for adultery after they remarry.

catholic-laxity-game

(This is a great project for a sociologist interested in simulations.)

Divorce is a leading issue, but homosexuality looms. In yesterday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about the American Catholic Church leadership’s obsession with homosexuality:

…Catholic officials here have elected to focus on this one issue and on a given group of people: gays and lesbians. Their moralizing is selective, bigoted and very sad. It’s also self-defeating, because it’s souring many American Catholics, a majority of whom approve of same-sex marriage, and because the workers who’ve been exiled were often exemplars of charity, mercy and other virtues as central to Catholicism as any guidelines for sex. But their hearts didn’t matter. It was all about their loins. Will the church ever get away from that?

As Bruni reports, employees at Catholic institutions are still being fired for acknowledging their homosexuality (the starting point, incidentally, of the new movie Love Is Strange, for the couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina).

loveisstrange

Bruni may speak for the majority of American Catholics when he condemns the Church’s witch-hunt. But as the synod approached, a group speaking for the academic right wing of the anti-gay movement within American Christianity beseeched the Holy Father to use the occasion to “express timeless truths about marriage,” which are that cohabitation, divorce, homosexuality, and pornography are wrong.

(Aside: Academics will appreciate the funny requests for money for themselves and their movement in the letter. They want money for “cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and ‘no fault’ divorce in the marriage crisis,” and they want “mandatory courses [for seminarians] covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.”)

The letter calls for opening a new front in the war on modern marriage law, using the language of religious freedom to prevent divorce (as they have urged with regard to marriage equality):

Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner.

In other words, they want to argue — in court — that divorced spouses who have new partners are violating the religious freedom of their ex-spouses. (By this logic, I guess, I could argue that them even making this argument violates my religious freedom not to live in a society where someone makes this argument.)

They would like the Pope to:

Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

Regnerus himself (follow the Regnerus tag for background) is taking the long view in his new role as movement intellectual. And the logic he uses helps explain Bruni’s puzzle over the Church’s homosexuality obsession. In an interview on a Christian radio station last month, Regnerus said there are a lot of objectionable marriage laws outside the same-sex marriage debate. He went on:

It’s important for us to not sort of just get caught up in the big kahuna around same-sex marriage, and to remember, as we’ve seen with the abortion debate, incremental change, legally, can occur even after all hope seems lost. But there’s also sort of – nobody’s holding us back from creating a marriage culture in, say, the Catholic Church or broader evangelicalism. We hold ourselves back, right? I tend to think the way things are rolling at the moment, it’s not just as if same-sex marriage fell out of the sky, and was on our plate. I mean, it was paved, right? The road to there was paved in part by all sorts of poor laws around opposite-sex marriage, right? And the giving away of what we might call the sort of functional definition of marriage, visions of complementarity, you know? We have bought, hook, line, and sinker, the idea that essentially men and women are interchangeable in our marriages. And it’s hard to get away from that, but I think we’re going to have to. So in some ways we want to fashion a counter-cultural movement regardless of what the states signal.

The way I see the way he sees it, the mission is to protect and restore gender differentiation itself. That agenda, not just old-fashioned patriarchal views, underlies the anti-homosexual obsession, the opposition to marriage equality and single motherhood, and the effort to protect the male religious hierarchy.

Different genders

I object to this agenda personally on moral grounds, naturally. But my scientific opinion is that the concern is misplaced. In some broad ways, of course, gender differences have eroded — for example, as women have gained political rights and access to gainful employment. And on the rare occasions when they choose to, men can even be nurses, teachers, and stay-at-home parents. You might call all that a convergence of gender roles. But gender differentiation is alive and well.

boysactivities

In some respects the gender binary is resurgent after a brief surge of androgyny in popular culture around 1970 (which Jo Paoletti traces in the fascinating forthcoming book, Sex and Unisex). A visit to the Sociological Images Pinterest board on pointlessly gendered products helps reinforce this point — there are even gendered kids’ Bibles:

kidsbibles

Or consider the relative frequency of the phrases “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English as a fraction of references to “toys for children,” from Google ngrams:

toysngrams

In fact, it seems to me that gender difference is proliferating. But it’s not just the binary difference.

One of the benefits of the high visibility of the marriage rights movement has been its exposure of gender variance. Far from a convergence around a single gender, as the traditionalist Christians fear — or the elimination of gender — instead I think we have a growing diversity of gender perspectives and identities. The very narrow interpretation of this is that “men and women are interchangeable.” The reality is that no one is.

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Recent reads: Brazil, China, blogging and the Black middle class

In the last few days I tweeted a handful of really interesting articles that might be of interest to Family Inequality readers:

In the Washington PostPlummeting birthrates in Brazil

The Washington Post reports on Brazil’s fall from more than 6 to less then 2 children per woman in the past 50 years:

It’s a good case study for fertility transitions, featuring a combination of common economic and cultural suspects in accelerated sequence.

In the NY TimesPeggy Orenstein on the ideal of gender-free toys

Rather then seek a gender-free ideal, she argues, consider how children’s environments exacerbate or mitigate the differences between them:

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

In SlateMara Hvistendahl on C-sections in China

The tradition of natural childbirth was continued by the training of nurses and midwives during the early years of Chinese socialism. Now, the one-child policy combines with the medicalization of childbirth – and the attendant profit motive – to tip the scales toward C-sections. She writes:

For modern expectant women, by contrast, the combination of the one-child policy and feverish economic development has yielded an environment in which they—and the in-laws and husbands who have so much riding on a single birth—fear any potential misstep.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education: Andrea Doucet on scholar-bloggers

As an established scholar who has taken to blogging, she confronts the difference between slow-and-deep versus fast-and-thin, how it affects her reading as well as her writing, and her self image as a scholar. She is “convinced that blogging can and should be part of scholarly life,” but it comes with risks:

At its best, a blog post can move and inspire in what seems like the blink of an eye. The combination of brevity, focused vision, and engaging language creates a storytelling style that could make a scholar green with envy. But blogs also generally call for a form of reading that verges on consumption.

On CNN.com: Kris Marsh on the Black middle class

Kris – a friend and colleague – argues that the Black middle class is being transformed by the growing presence of single adults without children, the “Love Jones Cohort.” Taking this group seriously undermines the narrative of the “failure” of marriage in Black America.

I propose we embrace the reality of a changing black middle class and start taking a serious look at how the Love Jones Cohort is changing the face of black America, changing how we think about middle class, and changing our understanding of being black in America.

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Smurfette? How do they get away with this stuff?

Buy a McDonald’s Happy Meal and get a toy: OK, I didn’t expect it to be enlightening.

But to hear Kevin Newell, the company’s executive vice president and global chief brand officer, tell it, that’s exactly what it should be:

McDonald’s is committed to playing a positive role in children’s well-being. The Smurfs Happy Meal program delivers great quality food choices, fun toys and engaging digital content that reinforces important environmental messages.

Awesome. Granted, the last time I saw a Smurf, it was about 1978, and he looked like this:

And I don’t recall being overly concerned with gendered toy representations at the time. Anyway, now I’m told by the Happy Meal box that, “Smurfs are named after their individual talents: there’s Farmer, Painter and Baker… Know your talent and find your Smurf name!”

The girls both got male Smurf characters, which struck me as interesting, because the counter person had asked us if the Meals were for boys or girls. Then I looked at the characters on the box. Then I looked at the complete list of them on the website (see the poster version here):

Then I wondered what Smurfette’s “individual talent” was that got her — the only female Smurf — named “Smurfette.” And at that point, if it hadn’t been for all the fat and salt and sugar in my meal, I might have stopped enjoying it.

In context

I’ve commented before on the gender segregation in film making. The gist of it is apparent in this graph from the Celluloid Ceiling report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Not many women in charge:

But isn’t it improbable that a blockbuster kids’ movie, which grossed more than $75 million in its first two weeks, could be so blatantly sexist? There are a few women in the cast of the movie version of The Smurfs, but all the Smurfs are still male except Smurfette. Next thing you know they’re going to turn the only female character in this promotion — which, remember, plays a “positive role in children’s well-being” — into an adult sex symbol played by Katy Perry. You’re kidding.

Is sexist even a word anymore?

In fact, sexism used to be a very common word. According to the Google Ngrams database of millions of terms from their vast collection of digitized books in American English, “sexism” was even more common than “bacon” during the 1990s (you can play with this yourself here):

Unfortunately, in my opinion, sexism has retreated from the language, and kids’ stuff seems to be more shamelessly gendered than ever. I think this sad state of affairs is at least partly the result of what you see in that green line above — the backlash against feminism (and anti-racism) that made it seem more unpleasant or unwarranted to make a “big deal” out of sexism than to treat girls like this.

P.S. I haven’t seen the movie. Please tell me it has a hidden feminist message I haven’t heard about.

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