Neuroscientist Dick Swaab says gender specific toys are a natural consequence of brain development

My homecountry is getting ready for Sinterklaas, which means lots of people need to buy toys and the large toy stores send these big books full of ads to people. Bart Smit, a large toy store in my homecountry, sent a book full of ads containing this one:

Translation of pink text:”You want to be as good as mommy!”

Indeed, not very gender neutral, and it gets even worse when on subsequent pages all the sciency toys are advertised with just boys.
Last night this was discussed in one of my homecountry’s late night tv shows “Pauw & Witteman”, where one of the guests involved in this discussion was Dr. Dick Swaab, a neuroscientist and former head of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. You might think that a scientist is well aware of all the sociological science showing that when girls are presented with stereotypes like this (pink vacuum cleaners, women being the ones doing housework while men do science), they perform worse on things like math and science, and that therefore it would be good to try to get rid of these stereotypical images. On the contrary, Dr. Swaab stated that both research on monkeys and his own experience with his son and daughter (yes, n=1) showed that girls like to play with dolls and boys like to play with cars. He literally said that the only time when this is not the case, is when individuals have been exposed to toxins in utero. So according to him, it was totally justified to show people these stereotypical images of girls doing housework and boys doing science, because that was what they were programmed to do anyway. Yay neuroscience…. Perhaps not surprisingly, at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, out of the 20 research team leaders, only three are female. I could not find on the website how many of the people that clean this institute are male and female for comparison…


Filed under attachment parenting, feminism, neuroscience, toys, women in science

9 responses to “Neuroscientist Dick Swaab says gender specific toys are a natural consequence of brain development

  1. Yes! I saw that earlier today on twitter and it is pretty awesome!

  2. Ugh. And of course in the homecountry the whole thing comes with a “but this is not sexist at all, because we are Dutch and tolerant” (or “I am scientist and therefore not able to utter nonsense”, maybe). The fact that Swaab gets a podium on a popular tv show is even sadder.

  3. Ugh is right. If you haven't read Cordelia Fine's book: Delusions of gender, you really should. It's fantastic and rips apart some of those monkey studies.

  4. He really basically said that there is something wrong (exposed to toxins in utero) with women who would rather do science than clean their house?

    What a Dick.

  5. Anonymous

    Then I'm happy that I got a good dose of these toxins in utero that make me love science and neglect pink nail polish and constant thoughts about my look…

    For sure I'll try to intoxicate my own daughter too, so that we do not have to deal with pink vacuum cleaners and barbie dolls in the future. I still believe that issue like the girl's isle in shop being pink might generate some slight postnatal bias in brain processing that leads to the pink loving cleaners.

    Most hopefully my own intoxication left already some traces in my DNA and thus offers the opportunity to create some stable mutants in the future by avoiding things that are obviously sex biased. Let the mutants rule and just be themselves…!

    And hell if my kids want to play cleaning, sure they can we have a great bright red vacuum cleaner and other funky stuff like yellow kitchen sponges, orange toilet brushes and more… they're allowed to use any time to do some real playin… 🙂

  6. Hehe. Well he didn't mention science there, but he did say that the only time you would see a reversal, so females displaying “male” behavior and the other way around was when they were exposed to things like phthalates in utero.

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