Thursday, January 29, 2009

Japanese Banks

No, this title does not refer to institutions struggling with global economic downturn. Instead, it refers to banks for children, said banks being manufactured by a Japanese firm with a clever idea. In order to encourage children to save money, these banks reward the deposit of a coin with a video game. In essence, they capture for the child the coin he might have spent in an arcade.

This all sounds good -- except for one thing. Of the three banks pictured and described in WIRED magazine, two feature the usual shoot-the-monsters tough-guy games. The third is pink and the game is a shopping marathon.

Now, I suppose that girls could buy any of the three banks. but, of course, children don't buy these artifacts -- adults buy them for children. And it's the same old message: boys go out and do things, girls shop. In pink.

When do these stereotypes expire? I know women who hate shopping; in fact, I'm one of them (Gene Wolfe once affectionately called me a "closet man" because of this). I know girls who want to shoot monsters. Why don't toy makers know them, too?


TheOFloinn said...

Now, Nancy, don't you worry your pretty little head about that. (GD&R)

+ + +

Seriously, though, I don't think kids who spend their time shooting monsters in a video game are being prepped in the least to "go out" or to "do" anything.

José Iriarte said...


When I was looking forward to having children, being the good PC feminist that I am [I can call myself a feminist, right? ;) ] I pretty much vowed to insulate my kids from sexist, limiting messages. Good luck. Even though I never bought a single Barbie or Bratz, even though I bought my girls toy tools and trucks to go with the baby dolls and kitchen, even though I refused to surround them in pink, and even though they had plenty of examples at home of adults who bucked the norm, the messages still came through loud and clear. They came through from gifts from other people. They came through from commercials. They came through from television and movies. And most of all they came through from their interactions with their peers. Now when I take them to a toy store, they walk around asking where the girl toys are. *headbash*

I'm not a believer in normalizing traditional gender roles--mostly because I don't fit them myself. I'm a sensitive guy who likes cooking and chick flicks, and I'm the primary caregiver for my kids. (I don't like shopping either, though.) I think it's important that, regardless of what science may tell us about what is normal and built in, we tell our kids that it's okay for them to be exceptions.

And whenever people do tell me that traditional gender roles are ingrained and pre-ordained, I nod and quietly think about my utter failure to keep my girls from being indoctrinated in them. I'll go on doubting the conventional wisdom and the experiments reported in the mass media, until they figure out a way to safely raise kids in a total vacuum.

Nick A said...

Five years ago, one of the Telcos in Moscow teamed up with Mars Candy to offer a new cell-phone/game combo geared toward the youth market. The product was sold in a slick-looking james-bond type briefcase, and contained a cell phone that supported text messaging, and a laser gun with a hollow handle where the cell phone could be inserted. The kids would generate a text message, put the phone in the gun, and go 'hunting' for others with the same equipment (the gun also had a lazer 'tag' that would recognize when it was hit). If you 'tagged' another person, your message would be sent to that person's phone...

....kind of reminded me of the novel 'The Tenth Victim'. Nevertheless, it was very surreal, seeing Mars team up with a Moscow telco to sell 'gun games' to the youth of Russia.

Orion said...

At the risk of being labeled politically incorrect, I have to say that as a biologist I believe that there are innate, cross-cultural behavorial differences between the genders. At the most basic level, there are differences in certain brain structures, and men and women have different levels of several hormones that regulate aggression. But I also believe that these differences are much smaller and much more mutable than most cultures make them out to be. The lens of culture is a magnifying one; it takes the small differences that do exist and creates a mythology around them. These cultural mythologies then become self-fulfilling prophecies.

While statistical differences between male and female behaviors and aptitudes do exist, the means in the data are very close together, and the standard deviations are huge. Among other things, this means that gender is a very poor predictor of individual aptitude for any given quality, ability or behavior that you care to measure, and it makes no sense to make assumptions or assign a child a particular track in life based on gender alone.

Once upon a time in Western culture, it was common wisdom that men and women were very different. Then came the 1960s and 1970s, where the countervailing view was put forth that all behavioral differences were learned, and could be eliminated with enough effort. I think both views are fallacies, or at best gross oversimplifications that place too much emphasis on one or the other of the two major components of human behavior.

That said, established cultural norms remain powerful things, and we still give boys toy guns and shoot-'em-up games and assume that the girls would rather wear pink and play at virtual shopping. Unless this cultural training changes, most Westerners are going to continue with their unexamined assumption that these differences are "only natural".

José Iriarte said...

I don't object to any of that, Orion. I just tend to think that some points of view are useful apart from their veracity of lack of it. Some people won't fit the norms, as you noted, and I can't think of a reason why we should fight this, and so I think it's better to hold beliefs that leave room for those people without marginalizing them any more than their own quirks will.

Your post is nuanced and thoughtful; unfortunately, nuanced and thoughtful are things that we tend not to see in the mass media, and so, frankly, they're things we don't tend to see in most people's unquestioned beliefs. John Stossel's reporting on the biological evidence for gender differences, led, in my opinion and observation, to a PC backlash, and a widespread belief that we should reinforce traditional gender roles because they were, in fact, just a reflection of nature. It didn't seem to lead to a lot of analysis about how our means were closer than our standard deviations. I don't think most people know those words. ::rueful grin::

If we make plain our assumptions that all girls want to be domestic goddesses, then we implicitly tell those that don't that there's something wrong with them. If we make plain our assumption that all boys are going to grow up to be beer-swilling, football-loving macho men, then we tell those boys that don't that there's something wrong with them. So I find the belief that gender roles are culturally determined rather than natural to be *useful*, quite apart from whether or not it's *factual*, because it's much less damaging to feel out of step with the mainstream of your culture than it is to feel out of step with nature.

Don't trifle me with facts, man. I'm talking about Truth. *grin*

James A. Ritchie said...

Stereotypes exist becaus ethey have some basis in fact. Sure, some women hate to shop, and some men love to shop, but on a pervcentage basis I doubt it's even close.

I've never understood why anyone has a problem with this. Men and women are different creatures, and have different likes and dislikes.

Who the heck cares whether women on the whole like to shop more than men? It's not a disaster, and it's not a point against women. There is, in fact, not one thing wrong with it.

Individuals can do whatever they like. Shop or not shop, or math or no math, for that matter. But marketers play the percentages, and there's nothing wrong with this, either.

And give parents some credit. I'm a parent, and when there's a choice, I actually ask my kids which they want.

Kirsten said...

I find it disturbing that all the cultural biases related to male/female acceptable norms seem to have diverged more since I was a tomboy growing up in the 70's. There's no such thing as unisex clothing for kids these days, for example.

José Iriarte said...

Stereotypes may be based on truths, but, at best, they tell us about correlation, not causality. But I'm willing to grant that the average boy is different from the average girl in specific traits X, Y, and Z. What I'm concerned about is teaching boys X, Y, and Z, and teaching girls A, B, and C, because we believe that's how boys and girls are supposed to be.

Which brings me back to the original example in this blog post. And brings me back to every commercial on Saturday morning television.

It's not failing to give parents credit to acknowledge that anybody can settle for easy answers if we've never had cause to question a conventional wisdom.