The Color of Gender

The term ‘gender roles’ refers to society’s concepts of how men and women are expected to act and behave. On Point reports on how children learn about those concepts, with the CSUN Gender and Women’s Studies Department’s Dr. Kristyan Kouri, the Communication Studies Department’s Dr. John Kephart III, and the Sociology Department’s Dr. Amy Denissen.

Many toy stores and manufacturers divide their merchandise by color and gender. Typically, toys for girls are associated with the color pink, and toys for boys with the color blue. However, some stores this holiday season have announced they are doing away with gender segregation when it comes to toys. And Mattel has released a Barbie doll commercial featuring a boy playing with the doll.

The traditional separation of toys and colors according to gender is not a natural phenomenon, according to CSUN Sociology Professor Dr. Amy Denissen.

“Something like wanting to play with a particular toy — we have really good research that demonstrates that that is something that is socially learned,” she said. “It is not an innate trait or interest that we’re born with, but it’s something that children learn.”

Communications Professor Dr. John Kephart III said these toys, and the expectations that go with them, can affect people into adulthood. Kephart said boys are expected to play competitive sports or games like ‘cops and robbers’, which condition their mind to accomplish set goals. On the other hand, girls play games such as ‘tea party’ or ‘house’, which encourage communication and nurturing. Kephart said this might be one reason why about 50 percent of women who enter into the male-dominated field of technology tend to leave, citing a hostile work environment as the reason. “And so women are tracked into [technology fields] less often in their education; they’re hired less for it structurally; and they feel less comfortable and able to communicate with coworkers once they are there,” Kephart said.

Women who exhibit the so-called masculine behaviors valued in the workplace are stigmatized and sanctioned as being ‘bossy’, rather than becoming the leaders men do when they exhibit the same behavior, Denissen said.

“It’s equally concerning that young boys aren’t encouraged to be emotional,” Kephart said, “or encouraged to show a softer side, or think that they have to compete, or be assertive and to dominate other men and women in order to succeed.”

“I think it would be good for boys to be encouraged to play with dolls,” Gender and Women Studies Professor Dr. Kristyan Kouri said. “It would develop their nurturing skills. When they grow up to be fathers, they will take a more active role in nurturing their children. And girls need to develop those visual spatial skills that things like Legos, Lincoln Logs, and Bionicals teach them as they are building them, and that will maybe be a small step in helping them move into fields like engineering, which is still a male dominated occupation.”

“It’s not that we will be able to get rid of gender,” Kephart said. “But instead [we should] stop saying ‘this gender is better than this gender’, or ‘this sex has to perform this gendered behavior or this gendered role’.”

“Difference isn’t the problem,” Denissen said. “It’s when difference is transformed into distinction, which is when we use difference to create hierarchies, when we use difference to say that one group is superior to or better than another group [that’s the problem]. And I think gender is one of these differences that we’ve created, that is used to create distinctions to say that one group is better than the other.”

“We need to make gender roles more flexible,” Kouri said. “You can be male or female by not conforming to these rigid notions of what a male and female should be, or also maybe creating other genders.”


Moderator: Stephanie Lopez

Anchor: Sara Vong

Producer: Teresa Barrientos

Reporters: Teresa Barrientos, James Lindsay, Stephanie Lopez, Veronica Perez, Sara Vong

Social Media Editors: Veronica Perez and Sara Vong

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