A few weeks ago I snapped this photo of a set of Surprise Newborn Twins Cabbage Patch Kids. The “surprise” is that you don’t know if the dolls are girls or boys; they come with yellow and purple accessories instead of blue or pink and aren’t noticeably marked as male or female:

You find out the sex when you open the birth certificates and see their diapers–blue for a boy, pink for a girl, of course. I looked at a lot of websites selling them, and they all say something along the lines of “You won’t know if it’s a boy or a girl until you see the diaper.” (Also, apparently this is the “Hispanic” version.) I couldn’t find any photos of the babies in their diapers or “surprise outfits.”

I think this is a pretty great example of how we socially construct gender to emphasize differences between men and women. Like most babies, these dolls aren’t identifiably male or female…until we provide signals to differentiate them by buying the appropriately-colored clothing, putting bows in little girls’ hair, decorating their rooms with butterflies or race cars, and on and on and on. People treat kids differently depending on these gender signs, and they expect (and justify) different behaviors based on them.

And we do this to, essentially, make ourselves feel more comfortable; since we believe a person’s sex is so important to know, even little babies need to be clearly identifiable. And as this toy helps illustrate, this is a social process that accentuates (or even creates) differences in a way that makes the similarities between boys and girls, men and women, largely invisible.

See also: a wig to make your infant look more feminine.

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