How Not To Be a Boy (2017) is writer and actor Robert Webb’s personal account of what it was like to grow up as a boy in rural England. In particular, what it was like to be the kind of boy who wasn’t all that into typically “manly” stuff. Webb’s tale is both a heartfelt autobiography and a humorously critical assessment of the pressures society can put on young men.
No one sets out to be a bad parent, but some of them can be appallingly stubborn in how they reinforce gender stereotypes. It’s common for a parent to say, “Oh, Sally is such a girl. One day, a boy tried to get her to play with an action figure, and she just put a dress on it and tucked it into bed!”
What many parents don’t understand is that a child may adopt certain stereotypical behaviors, but that this doesn’t mean they’re biologically determined to behave this way.
Whether parents want to admit it or not, most cognitive and behavioral traits are not biological or gender-related at all. In fact, there’s no such thing as a “male brain” or a “female brain.” In November of 2015, an article in Science magazine explained how neuroscientists determined that all brains are unique, and therefore can’t be categorized by gender.
So, if a boy doesn’t want to wear a pink sweater, this isn´t because of biology. Chances are, any recognizable gender differences are the result of social expectations.
In her book Delusions of Gender, psychologist Cordelia Fine points to a study from 2000 that shows just how biased society is about gender. In the study, mothers were asked to examine a sloped walkway that had an adjustable level for how steep it could be. Their task was to judge the steepness and try to determine whether their eleven-month-old toddler could succeed in climbing it.
The results showed that mothers consistently underestimated the girls’ ability to successfully climb slopes that were quite steep. Conversely, the mothers routinely overestimated the ability of the boys, expecting them to be able to climb slopes that often proved to be too steep.
With gender biases like these in society, is it any wonder that men and women will grow up to have different personalities?