Susan Okin’s article on “Vulnerability by Marriage” makes apparent the inherent inequalities within the institution of marriage, specifically between a male and a female. Okin partially attributes this to what is also called the sex/gender/sexuality system, which is deeply embedded within our social, political, economic, and domestic structures; and fixes the female’s identity always in relation to the male’s. Okin claims that “contemporary women in our society are made vulnerable by marriage itself…”; and that “[t]hey are first set up for vulnerability during their developing years by their personal (and socially reinforced) expectations that they will be the primary caretakers of children, and that in fulfilling this role they will need to try to attract and to keep the economic support of a man, to whose work life they will be expected to give priority” (602). At the outset of the course, our class was asked to identify as many gendered activities we recognize being instilled at childhood. One imaginative activity that is often reinforced by parents and made exclusive to young females is the game of ‘house’, in which the house is cleaned; the babies are fed, changed, and sung to sleep; and a delicious hot meal is whipped up and fed to one’s husband—home from work.
In this months Scientific American Mind, Lise Eliot published an article titled, “The Truth about Boys and Girls: The preference for playing hockey, or house, is far from fixed. Sex differences in the brain are small—unless grown-up assumptions magnify them”. The article covers several neurological disparities between the genders in order to better explain significant behavior differences. One major distinction neuroscientists make clear is the assertion that “Brain differences are indisputably biological, but they are not necessarily hardwired. The crucial, often overlooked fact is that experience itself changes brain structure and function. Neuroscientists call this shaping plasticity, and it is the basis of all learning and much of children’s mental development” (22). Therefore, if we look to the different ways parents raise boys versus girls, we can begin to highlight the significant differences in how their brains develop.
Back to the concern over the game of ‘house’, I would like to connect Okin’s article with Eliot’s, and illustrate how a simple glitch in childrearing can help restructure the current patriarchal system. Eliot discusses the parental control over how one’s little boy or little girl will relate to his or her toys; and therein, how he or she will continue to relate to the world around him or her (in the present moment and thought about his or her future). That is, according to Eliot, “boys, in many studies, have been found to like dolls as much as girls do”, yet “children’s toy preferences grow more extreme through social shaping” (25). Explicitly speaking, “Parents reinforce play that is considered gender-appropriate, especially in boys, and beginning at age three, peers perpetuate gender norms even more than adults do” (25).
Because little girls are bought baby dolls, kitchen play sets, and taught to stay clean and tidy; it is no surprise that females live their lives in expectation of one day taking on the responsibility of housewife and mother. If our society were to equally include males in the game of ‘house’, those who believe there is a causal connection between childhood games and sexuality must learn to distance themselves from this irrational assumption that if a boy plays ‘house’ he will grow up to be gay. One idea Eliot suggests as to how we might attempt to balance the weight of housework and childrearing is to encourage “girls to play with puzzles, building blocks, throwing games and even video games, while enticing boys to sew, paint, and play as caregivers using props for doctor, Daddy, zookeeper, EMT, and the like” (26).
Eliot, Lise. “The Truth about Boys and Girls: The preference for playing hockey, or house, is far from fixed. Sex differences in the brain are small—unless grown-up assumptions magnify them”. Scientific American Mind. May/June 2010. Pp.22-29.