Thursday, 19 November 2009

Plastic Fantastic?

I read an article earlier this week regarding some research that showed that "Plastic Chemicals 'feminise' boys". This idea has been mentioned before and, according to the article, certain plasticisers are already banned or controlled in some cases because of some proven link to harmful affects. What concerns me about this research is the assumptions and methodology and even worse the stereotypes involved.

'Boys exposed to high levels of these in the womb were less likely than other boys to play with cars, trains and guns or engage in "rougher" games like playfighting.'

I would question the assumptions behind this statement and in particular the idea that 'boys' should be engaging in "playfighting" or even that girls do not, or maybe if you want to be completely P.C., should not but doing the same. This aspect in particular seems like something that could well be down to culture and society rather than any chemical feminisation. I would expect that alot of parents now, while happy to accept that boys might behave in a rougher manner, would be likely to want to dissuade the notion of fighting. Certainly media coverage of bullying and thugish behaviour would seem to make such things less acceptable.

There has been debate about whether toys are also biases towards certain genders as well, the whole nurture and nature argument that seems to flare up every now and then. What often gets missed from this is that both boys and girls can show interest in toys that don't fit the usual pattern at various points in their development and I would guess that the ages at which this occurs might be dependant on the child itself.

In short, while I don't really argue that these chemicals may pose a threat I don't think that relying on research that I believe to be using unscientific measure is a good idea. It also only serves to re-enforce stereotypes which may well be outdated, prejudicial, and ultimately that can be detrimental when they are applied in other circumstances in an overly rigid way: don't try and fit children into the conceptual boxes you have, treat them as the individuals they are.


Melissa said...

I recently read a report of a study that refuted the perceived differences in boys and girls brains. It said there is really very little significant difference, and that behavioral differences were largely due to enforcing gender stereotypes. I've always believed this to be true. While few parents are willing to admit it, from the moment of birth, they begin to subtly project their ideas of appropriate gender behavior onto their babies. How lovely it would be, if we could treat all little children in a gender neutral manner, and then allow them to migrate naturally to whatever destination on the gender spectrum they prefer.

The environmental hormonal effects of plastics should not be discounted though, insofar as some physical feminization does seem have been observed in some species of fish for example.

Melissa XX

Poacher said...

Melissa said...."How lovely it would be, if we could treat all little children in a gender neutral manner, "

Oddly enough, we used to... or to be more accurate, past society used to, certainly in many parts of Europe.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and even up to the turn of the 20th century the fashion, certainly amongst middle-class and aristocratic families, was to treat all their offspring exactly the same, even in matters of dress, regardless of their gender.

As to whether it had any effect on later behaviour, the evidence would seem to indicate not.

Check out photos of Baron Von Richtofen as a young child. I have seen a photo of him at around three or four years old. He is dressed in a fashion that today we would associate with a little girl, with a satin dress, pretty bows and lace and frills. His socialisation as "male" did not really start until he was 9 or 10.

Didn't stop him becoming the top scoring ace of WWI.

Oddly enough, Anglo-Saxon society seems to have been the odd-man out in this regard. The fashion was not popular here.

But yes, I do agree that modern society's desire to reinforce gender stereotypes means it must bear the responsibility for a lot of its own ills, in regard to male thuggery.


Melissa said...

@ Chrissie

Yes I have seen similar pictures of young boys. it may not have been as popular in Anglo Saxon society, but it did occur. I Remember seeing a picture of Earnest Hemingway dressed like that. I think it wasn't until after WWI that it became less popular, and even looked down upon. The movies of the 30's would often make heroes of the tough young boy, while making fun of "sissies" in their Little Lord Fauntleroy suits.

Expecting little boys to be little men goes deep into our culture. I remember when I fell down and skinned my knee during recess in the second grade, my teacher criticized me for wearing short pants as she gave me first aid. She made sure to remind me, that none of the other boys wore short pants to school.

Melissa XX