gender: children/youth

The start of the Fall semester has inspired me to re-post this fascinating phenomenon we covered last year.


Rigby B. sent a link to the Just4Camp website to show us how care package products were gendered for “only” girls and boys. And, indeed, they were (screen shots below). But what is even more fascinating to me about this is the commodification of care.

The term “commodification” refers to the process by which something done for free becomes something done for money. Ever since the institutionalization of the wage, more and more things have become commodified. One particularly interesting category is care or what sociologists like to call “care work.”

Care work includes all of those tasks that involve nurturing and maintaining others: nursing, parenting, teaching, tending a home, etc. At one time in history, none of these things were paid jobs, but we have increasingly commodified them so that now paid nurses staff hospitals, home care workers take care of ailing elders, children spend the day in day care, professional teachers educate them, and housecleaners and gardeners can be paid to tend our homes and yards.

The care package is an example of care work.  I still remember getting care packages in college with my favorite home made cookies and other things my parents thought I would like or needed.  They take a lot of effort: thoughtfulness, shopping, baking, packaging, and mailing.  And, here, we have an example of the commodification of that effort.  The “care” in “care package” has been, well, outsourced.

Gendered care package ingredients:

For more on commodification, peruse our tag by that name.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Tiffani W. at Peppermint Kiss sent in a great example of the social construction of gender and the devaluation of all things feminine, a comic on why men insist on peeing standing up was posted at The Oatmeal. The uptake:

Women sit down to pee.  Women are sissy bitches.  Therefore, sitting down to pee makes you a “sissy bitch.”  If that second sentence weren’t there, the joke wouldn’t make any sense.

Not only do people think that it is girly (yuck!) to sit down and pee, they also think that it is natural that men stand. However, this is learned behavior. While peeing is biological, where and how we pee are cultural and imbued with meaning.

Whether you sit or stand depends on where you are in the world. I have personally witnessed women standing to pee in Ghana, and they did not make the mess that I, without any practice, would make. Enough Ghanaian women stand to pee for this sign to make sense (link):

Ignoring the fact that some women in other areas of the world stand to pee, many westerners claim–because they assume we are more civilized–that men evolved to stand while women evolved to sit. They think it is natural.

However, it may really be natural to squat. There is speculation that many of the ancient toilets that we assume people sat on were actually squat toilets. We may have actually squatted throughout much of history. If you have ever spent time around small children, you know they instinctually squat before we teach them to sit or stand. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teaching a young boy to sit first. When you really, really, really want a young boy to just use the toilet instead of a diaper, the last thing you want to do is make it confusing by trying to teach him that sometimes you sit and sometimes you stand.

But many parents will go to a lot of trouble to teach gender even though it might cause them more trouble and a messy bathroom, hence the existence of tinkle targets and potty-training urinals like the one shown here, which promises to give your son a “real ‘stand up’ experience”:

On the other hand, in line with our greater comfort with women adopting masculine behaviors than men adopting feminine ones, a quick Google search yields a plethora of sites teaching women how to stand while peeing. And if you just can’t master it, well then there is a product for that.

So even something as seemingly “natural” as peeing varies culturally and illustrates our insistence in the U.S. on emphasizing gender difference and placing gender-segregated practices in a hierarchy that values masculine traits over feminine ones — even ones that are as mundane as how we pee.

Christina Barmon is a doctoral student at Georgia State University studying sociology and gerontology.

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

The introduction of the internet has made pornography more easily available than any time in modern history.  Responding to this development, some have worried that adolescents are looking at and watching porn, and plenty of it.

Is this true?

Drawing on a telephone survey of 1,500 youth, Janis Wolak and colleagues present some data giving us a clue.  They find that less than half (42%) of 10- to 17-year-old internet users had seen online pornography in the last year.  Most of them that had, further, had not sought it out.  The majority (66%) had come across the pornography by accident (e.g., they had entered a porn site without meaning to, been emailed an explicit image, or seen a pop up).

The image below shows unwanted and wanted exposure to pornography for boys as they age.  Only 1% of the boys 10- to 11-years-old had sought out pornography, by 12-13 about one in ten have done so, and by 16-17 over 1/3rd have (38%).  Unwanted pornography is a problem for boys of all ages. Seventeen percent of boys 10-11 encountered unwanted porn and this number increased as the boys aged.

Few girls seek out pornography: 2% of 10- 11-year-olds had sought out pornography, rising to 8% by 16-17.  Girls have the same problem with unwanted exposure to pornography; it happens about as frequently as it does for boys among 10- 13-year-olds and even more often among 14- 17-year-olds.

So there’s some data.  Whether it justifies the hand-wringing is for you to debate in the comments.

Source: Wolak, Janis, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2007. Unwanted and Wanted Exposure to Online Pornography in a National Sample of Youth Internet Users. Pediatrics 119, 2: 247-257.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

In March we posted a set of greeting cards: a pink and a blue one congratulating new parents on a girl and a blue respectively.  The cards pictured exactly the same baby, revealing the way in which we gender infants before there are any discernable signs of sex (outside of the genitals).  Since then we’ve received two more examples of the phenomenon.  The first, sent in by Christine, is from FailBlog:

The second is for a (pointlessly gendered) hygiene kit at Walmart, sent in by Laura Confer:

The use of exactly the same baby just tickles me.  The marketers know that babies look like, well, babies.  We aren’t “opposite sexes,” especially at six months old.  But the sex of the child is very important to adults.  So they use color cues to make the consumer feel like they’re choosing the “right” or the “cutest” item.  But they can use any child — girl or boy — to sell the item… because that’s not what it’s actually about.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Yesterday I posted about some children’s luggage that normalizes gendered occupations. Given that, I thought I’d follow up with several more examples of gendering kids’ stuff that have been sitting in our inbox.

Erin M. saw this image in a Land’s End catalog for kids’ clothing a while back. It draws on the idea that boys and girls are just inherently different, with girls needing things that are “pretty” while boys need stuff that’s “rugged”:

Caspian P. snapped this photo of two video games (by different companies) that efficiently summarize who we assume will be interested in what:

Finally, Cheryl S. noticed that J. Crew decided to market some of their boys’ clothing to girls. Rather than designating the clothes as unisex, or listing them as boys’ items in the boys’ section and girls’ items in the girls’ section, they instead created a section in the girls’ part of the website called Borrowed from My Brother:

As Cheryl points out, there is no “borrowed from my sister” section for boys. We accept the idea of women wearing men’s clothing, even seeing it as potentially sexy, in a way that we don’t tolerate or condone men crossing gender lines to wear women’s items or take on other aspects of femininity. J. Crew simply applies this wider cultural acceptance of women taking on some aspects of masculinity (as long as they balance it with enough signs of femininity), which we see in the marketing of “boyfriend jeans” to women, and applies it to kids.

Emily H. sent in a great example of gendering kids’ products. She looked at kids’ luggage on the Target website and noticed a significant difference in the boys’ and girls’ version of one brand. The boys’ version, in the standard blue, is called “Embark Boy Pattern Pilot”:

The girls’ version is identical in size and construction. The girls’ versions are pink and purple, but that’s not the difference that drew Emily’s attention. Take a look:

Notice the name? Where the boys’ version is for pilots, the girls’ appears to be for the pilot’s assistant. Just a nice little example of the normalization of the idea that girls are supportive helpers to the boys who direct the show.

Katrin and Danny sent in a heart-breaking video that highlights the damage that has sometimes been inflicted on children, with the guidance of researchers, because of adult concerns about behavior that deviates from socially-accepted gender norms. In this segment with Anderson Cooper, two siblings and their mother discuss the treatment their brother suffered, with the approval and encouragement of UCLA researchers, as a form of “anti-sissy” therapy:

It would be nice to be able to write this off as completely debunked practices of an earlier time, based on premises that would never recur today. But as the video makes clear, the publications that resulted from this study continued to be cited by those who argue that through therapy, gays and lesbians can be “cured.”

Here’s the second part of the story:

There will be a third installment tonight; I’ll update the post once the final segment is available online.

UPDATE: Here’s the third segment, about a boy who underwent anti-gay therapy in the ’90s:

UPDATE 2: Also, Danny was wonderful enough to type up transcripts of the first two videos! They’re after the jump.


We’re trying to get our inbox under control, so I decided it was time for another of my occasional round-ups of gendered kids’ items, so here you go. My favorite example was an ad from a flyer for Save On Foods in Victoria, Canada, sent in by Joanna M. The advertised products are boysz and girlsz inhalers, for all your gendered breathing needs. The boyz’ version is in green and gray with a graphic of a skateboarder, while the girlz’ inhaler is, of course pink, with a flower:

Amanda K.H. took this photo of 3 kid-sized Civil War hats for sale at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL. In addition to the Union blue and the Confederate gray, there was a pink version:

The Pragmatist let us know about onesies for sale at Mommy and Kids Allure Boutique. The onesies include lists of “ingredients” for boys and girls. What are boys made of? Love, energy, and dirt:

For girls, it’s love, beauty, and kindness:

Elliott M. noticed that the Garanimals website doesn’t just just divide the clothing into boys’ and girls’ sections, but uses gendered language to describe them. The boys’ clothing is described with active language (“ready, set, go!”), and they’ll look “cool”. Girls, on the other hand, are “sugar and spice, everything nice” and a “princess,” and they’ll be “looking great and feeling better,” “cute,” “eye catching,” and “adorable”:

An anonymous reader saw these sets of stickers, divided into themes for boys and girls:

What are boy themes? Space, travel/transportation, dinosaurs, sports, and pirates, among others. Girls, on the other hand, are associated with stars, flowers, butterflies, clothes, makeup, personal hygiene, cheerleading, and shopping. Since the reader was buying them to give out to a Girl Guide group (equivalent to Girl Scouts in the U.S.) for badges about science, being active, and personal hygiene, she had to buy both sets.

Finally, Sarah M. sent in a photo she took at Target of two toys that define boys by what they do and girls by what they are. The toys are those types of little sit-and-scoot toy cars kids push around with their feet. The boys’ version is red and is, appropriately, called a Lil’ Fire Truck Ride-On. The pink version, on the other hand, is the Lil’ Princess Ride-On — because apparently there’s no appropriate vehicle to define as “girly,” so the easiest way to gender the toy was just to call it a thing for princesses and be done with it:

UPDATE: Philip Cohen pointed out another example on his blog, Family Inequality. Baby blankets at Amazon were available in blue for the “little man” and pink for the “little cupcake,” in case your baked goods are cold: