When I started graduate school in Developmental Psychology at the University of Minnesota in 1969, the Woman’s Movement was just getting underway. Yes, I joined a “consciousness raising group” and started complaining about how my boyfriend wouldn’t pick up his wet towels and constantly left dirty clothes wherever he took them off. I also started religiously using “he/she,” instead of just “he” in my writings and talked about the Chair” of our department rather than the “Chairman.” (I was never willing, however, to give up my bra having waited until nearly age 18 to even need one!)
The Woman’s Movement was having an even more profound effect on the science of Developmental Psychology. Up to this point there had been an underlying assumption that, of course, little boys and little girls are very different. Now the shift was strongly in the opposite direction: little boys and little girls, while undeniably different physically, are not different in talents, penchants, or psychological traits until society makes them so! It was our differential treatment of boys and girls from the time they are clothed in pink vs. blue baby blankets that accounts for the myriad differences we see later.
Many wonderful things came out of this shift: Title IX calling for equal support of women’s sports, concern about getting girls interested in math and science, general shifts in attitudes toward “traditional” roles (girls can be doctors!) to name only a few.
There is one area, however, where change has not happened—and not for want of trying. In fact, our failure to equate little boys and girls in this domain has contributed mightily to a shifting of the pendulum back toward a middle position, toward admitting there are some fundamental behavioral differences between little boys and little girls (at least on average) and that’s fine!
I’m talking about the “truck” gene which, I am increasingly positive, is located on the Y chromosome and, therefore, primarily found in little boys. Despite the efforts of now generations of parents to make sure that little boys have access to dolls and little girls have access to trucks, it’s increasingly clear that love affair between little boys and trucks is not going away!
I’ve seen this up close and personal with my twin grandchildren, Nate and Olivia. Olivia’s first sign was MOON and her first word was “more;” Nate’s first sign and word was “truck—the later shouted at full volume whenever one is spotted. Yes, he’ll hug a stuffed animal at bedtime and enjoys books about lots of things, but given the choice it’s truck, truck, truck. This was abundantly clear Christmas morning when Nate practically leaped from one end of the couch to the other as his dad began unwrapping a present and the hood of a truck appeared through the paper. “Truck…Dump!” Of course, Grandpa (my husband Larry, the purchaser of the truck) and Dad Jim (the purchaser of an even bigger truck that appeared later that morning) are thrilled. And why not? After all, who do you think passed the truck gene onto Nate!?
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis