Natural Law And The Gender Trap

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I thought that this was apropos our current discussion on natural law. CBC’s radio show, Ideas did a couple shows under the title “The Gender Trap” discussing the idea, popularized in recent years that boys and girls have all these fundamental differences in how they learn, ¬†develop, and interact with the world. What they find is that parents, schools, and advertisers construct much of this world for children. One of the examples they gave was a study where mothers were asked to estimate how a steep an incline their 11 month-old baby climb up. At this stage boys and girls can handle the same incline but their mothers would consistently overestimate the ability of the boys and underestimate the ability of girls. It’s not hard to extrapolate a lifetime of this kind of “soft bigotry of lower expectations” as one might call it. Then some pop-psychologist or megachurch pastor (wait, is there a difference?) pronounces on how boys or men like to be challenged or rise to a challenge or something.

My own field research on this (consisting of raising my own daughter for the past year or so) has confirmed at least some of this. A quick example: We bought my daughter a toy seaplane and my own grandmother expressed concern about whether this was an appropriate toy for a baby girl. This made me laugh since my grandmother had taken flying lessons in the 1930s and, had World War II not broken out, probably would have earned her pilot’s license. And yet here the same gender assumptions come up, girls can’t or won’t or shouldn’t want to play with something like a toy airplane. Who knows, maybe she’ll hate it, but it’s funny how these sorts of cultural expectations rear up and try to enforce gender roles, even emanating from someone who once flouted those roles.¬†What we talk about when we talk about a sort of natural law or a tao or some other innate set of rules for human flourishing is almost certainly being corrupted by our own assumptions, prejudices, and cultural expectations about gender, race, class, politics and everything else.