Stereotypes are beliefs or associations that link groups of people with certain characteristics. I begin with what often the first words are uttered when a baby is born: “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl!” In many hospitals, the newborn boy is immediately given a blue hat and the newborn girl a pink hat. The infant receives a gender- appropriate name and is showered with gender-appropriate gifts.

If we are buying clothes for a newborn, what color do we buy?

The general rule these days is that girls are more likely to wear pink and boys are more likely to wear blue. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1918, an article in Ladies Home Journal advised: “The generally rule is pink for the boy’s and blue for the girl’s. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the goy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for girl.

The typical boy is supplied with toy trucks, baseballs, pretend tools, guns and chemistry sets; the typical girl is furnished with dolls, stuffed animals, pretend make-up kids, kitchen sets, and tea sets. As they enter school, many expect the boy to earn money by mowing lawns and to enjoy math and video games, while they expect the girl to babysit and to enjoy crafts, music and social activities.

These distinctions persist in college, as more male students major in economics and sciences and more female students major in the arts, language and humanities. In the work force, more men become doctors, construction workers, auto mechanics, airplane pilots, investment bankers and engineers. In contrast, more women become secretaries, schoolteachers, nurses, flight attendants, bank tellers and housewives. Back on the home front, the life cycle deigns again when a man and woman have their first baby and discover that “It’s a girl!” or ‘It’s a boy!”

What do people say when asked to describe the typical man and woman? Males are said to be more adventurous, assertive, independent and task oriented; females are thought to be more sensitive, gentle, dependent, emotional, and people oriented.  Children begin quite early to distinguish between stereotypically masculine and feminine behaviors. One study, for instance found that by their second birthday toddlers exhibited more surprise when adults performed behaviors inconsistent with gender roles. In another study, preschool-age boys and girls liked a new toy less if they were told that it was a toy that opposite-sex children liked.

written by Zhana Gabechava


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