Plastics make your boys act girly!

As if the environmental effects weren’t bad enough, new “safety” worries are emerging about plastic products. If you’ve got the around the house, your boys might not want to play with guns! Oh, the horror!!!!!!! (Thanks, AP!)

Dr Shanna Swan and her team tested urine samples from mothers over midway through pregnancy for traces of phthalates.
The women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, were followed up when their children were aged four to seven and asked about the toys the youngsters played with and the games they enjoyed. They found that two phthalates DEHP and DBP can affect play behaviour.
Boys exposed to high levels of these in the womb were less likely than other boys to play with cars, trains and guns or engage in “rougher” games like playfighting. Elizabeth Salter-Green, director of the chemicals campaign group CHEM Trust, said the results were worrying.

11 thoughts on “Plastics make your boys act girly!

  1. Of course, the real concern is what *causes* those behavioral effects, and what other things it may be doing.

  2. So it looks like a pure social constructionist view of gender characteristics is being put under pressure.

    It’s worth stressing that, if so, the causal connections can be very indirect. To take one of our favorite examples, it seems girls may select pink things, but girls doing so is a fairly recent phenomena; loving pink does not seem innate (pre-birth). Similarly, if these boys love pink it isn’t going to be because that’s innately feminine.

    I’m not sure quite how to put it, but it looks as though we can have innate biological and gendered tendencies while the content of the choices that express the tendencies is highly culturally specific.

    Since it looks as though whether tea operates as to relax or to stimulate can be partly culturally influenced, we should not be surprised. Nor will most readers here be surprised.

  3. Fewer guns, fewer cars–sounds to me like better living through chemistry. Soon those boys will show higher language skills and social aptitudes, and the next thing you know, they’ll start expressing respect for the United Nations and global warming science.

  4. From the biologist perspective, it seems that I may have received too much testosterone in the womb. I have a slight sprouting of hair on my chin (although that may be my Portuguese ancestory). I also remember the first time I was introduced to notions of combat (I played cowboys and indians and was scolded for it) I felt like I’d encountered something vitalising about play — something that hadn’t been there before, in games of hide and seek. I also grew up in a time of war, though, when not even women were permitted to be hysterical.

  5. Richard, I admit that reading the article made me feel good about the fact that I hadn’t been able to afford to buy all lovely wooden toys and instead had quite a bit of plastic around! (Before reflecting further and arriving at J-Bro’s worry.) JJ, do you have a link for that tea stuff? It sounds fascinating!

  6. Jender, I think I read that in a reliable place, but I can’t now recover it. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be one of those urban legends.

  7. To worry about this question effectively, it’s necessary to consider some potentially confounding variables. How does a child learn what a toy car or gun represents, and what is considered appropriate play behavior with such a toy? Supposing, to beg the question, that sex-related hormones are correlated with (or even developmentally determine) levels of neurotransmitters, so that boys might have higher levels of dopamine, GABA, etc.–or simply of adrenaline, without involving the brain–what of a culture that expects greater levels of physical energy to be expressed in athletic dancing? (See Jill Berry on girls’ cheerleading.) There’s a long chain of hypotheses from differential readiness to sit still and fondness for watching Top Gear.

  8. The article misses something that is still being explored. Not only do the plastics used to store food excrete synthetic estrogen giving boys less masculine characteristics, it might also be linked to the unusually North American ADHD statistics. Also, if you read the book Boys Adrift, there are very unusual social behavior that now seem to be showing up such as total social with drawl. Finally in young girls their estrogen levels are much higher than in decades past giving them larger breasts and earlier puberty (have you seen the 12 year olds lately?). In my kitchen as much of my food as possible is never stored in plastics because of this.

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