Yes. It is as bad as you'd think.
June 23, 2017 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Girls and Boys Alone. Channel 4 Special! oh, oh... Childcare experts and politicians feared that the series, which saw eight-to-11-year-olds fend for themselves for two weeks, would degenerate into "voyeuristic and low-grade entertainment" and what happened -- -pretty much panned out as thought.
***Parent Trigger Warning***

The Boys.

The Girls.

Watched on CCTV cameras by their parents - who did not feature in the program - they were seen living up to gender stereotypes, with the boys running riot with water pistols and the girls baking cakes.
posted by shockingbluamp (32 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, kids learn gender stereotypes starting when they are born, so I'm not sure why that should surprise anyone?
posted by agregoli at 4:09 PM on June 23, 2017 [23 favorites]

It's actually really depressing, to me, personally, rather than being some revelation on innate gender differences...if that's supposed to be the takeaway.
posted by agregoli at 4:11 PM on June 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

I remember watching the US version, Kid Nation. It wasn't Lord of the Flies but the kids definitely got the short end of the stick even if it wasn't sharpened to a point. It had pretensions about being educational & they made noise about how the prizes some kids got were an equivalent to scholarships but it was exploitation. The trials & tribulations of adulthood come soon enough, let them be kids as long as they can. And if you absolutely have to exploit them, at least give them a decent cut of the profit you made by annihilating their childhood for it.
posted by scalefree at 4:17 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Could've been worse; I halfway read "Channel 4" as "4chan" and my mind almost melted.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:18 PM on June 23, 2017 [24 favorites]

As with every other thing people argue endlessly about, I think the truth isn't on either side or in the middle, but in another bigger picture pov that transcends both: There are some general behavioral tendencies that relate to sexual biology that are statistically more likely to map to boys or girls, but those general tendencies just plain aren't universal for a lot of different reasons. So the reality is yes and no, neither and both, and it depends. There may be general tendencies rooted in specific biological realities, but there's always natural and circumstantial variation, too. Is it day or night? Depends on the hemisphere you're in, but both answers in the right circumstances can be absolutely true in specific contexts.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2017 [16 favorites]

Some men just want to watch the world burn.
posted by limeonaire at 4:29 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Huh, so this is the same house for both. I wonder if they filmed the girl one first, then the boy one, betting that the girls wouldn't outright destroy the place.

I mean, that's my bet. I just finished the boy one. Now starting the girl one...
posted by limeonaire at 4:32 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

We see what we want to see, I guess. I only watched the first ten minutes of each, but I am struck by how similar they are. Both the boys and the girls painted the walls and threw food on the ground within the first hour. They all acted crazy and jumped around and moved furniture. Mostly they all just ran around and talked and got to know each other.

If you asked my parents, today, whether I was a tomboy as a child, they would tell you, of course not! They only selectively remember the dresses they bought me and the barbies and my friends who were girls who I played with. And I did like those things, but there were also other aspects of my personality that were not at all feminine. My parents just simply didn't notice or categorize the other things I did that didn't fit into their idea of me as a girl. They didn't notice when I cut off my barbie's hair and painted it green and then took off their heads and threw them out second story window of the house. Or that I spent most of my time with the boys on the block engaging in mock WWF matches.

I don't believe there is zero difference between the behavior of men and women, but I do believe we grossly exaggerate the small differences that do exist. And that is how we end up convinced that one girl making cupcakes is "OMG boys and girls are soooo totally different!" even if 99% of the behavior of all of the rest of the kids is pretty much exactly the same.
posted by scantee at 4:51 PM on June 23, 2017 [54 favorites]

If there's anything to be learned from this it's that Onlies actually do need Grumps after all. Haven't watched the girls episode yet but the boys are just brownian motion generators with the attention span of goldfish. It never quite devolves to Lord of the Flies but it's at least Baronet of the Flies.
posted by scalefree at 5:21 PM on June 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's worth watching the entirety of both. I'm genderqueer, with a degree in psychology, and believe me, I'm as anti–gender essentialism as the next queer gal. But these kids are all a product of their socialization, too. And that quite clearly comes out in their behavior, which in many cases skews toward reinforcement of stereotypical gender norms, homophobia, racism, and bullying. I thought it was interesting how the kids reacted to each other. One girl was noted as a peacemaker, but later seemed to turn toward bullying. One boy seemed sociopathic; another boy seemed to be somewhat unfairly vilified but also to have zero impulse control. Not all kids participate in the vilest behavior, of course. This was super fascinating!
posted by limeonaire at 5:33 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh that poor cat. Run kitty run!
posted by scalefree at 5:42 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

For something along similar lines, though different (here the kids are teenagers - 13 to 18) and from a different time (1973), Canadian documentarian Allan King's Come On Children. The 10 kids live in a farmhouse where they live without interference of adults or rules. The results are compelling though not particularly optimistic. RUSH fans will spot a young Alex Lifeson (here named Alex Zivojinovich).
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:55 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

If there's anything to be learned from this it's that Onlies actually do need Grumps after all.

Only the Grumps had better watch out, because otherwise it's BONK BONK on the head, BONK BONK.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:57 PM on June 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

It would appear to be hand-held camera rather than CCTV. So who is holding the camera? And how much were they acting for the cameras?
posted by drnick at 6:06 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

More observations: the girls are significantly more artistic, less destructive & seem to have access to a wider range of emotions, both positive & negative. Lots more crying & comforting made necessary by acts of pure premeditated meanness. The boys all too often don't necessarily seem aware that the other moving objects in their proximity are also human beings instead of just obstacles to be navigated around as they continue their quest to maximize the entropy of everything within reach.

The UK show has a lot less blatant manipulation than the American one, Kid Nation. But it's still exploitation of their childhood in the name of ratings & profits.
posted by scalefree at 6:16 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

And how much were they acting for the cameras?

Several times in both episodes I caught one or another of them glancing mid-rant at the camera looking for some reaction from whoever's holding it.
posted by scalefree at 6:20 PM on June 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

It's almost like they perform their genders for the approval of their peers as much as for adults. Who knew? It's like there's some kind of, I don't know, pressure that's being exerted there?
posted by Jilder at 7:02 PM on June 23, 2017 [18 favorites]

Much too small sample size to assign significance but it is a fact that the main outsider in each group is the sole person of color in the house. Was I the only one who noticed?
posted by scalefree at 7:04 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

If there aren't innate gender differences, how could trans people exist? If I was assigned female at birth and raised as a girl, why am I not a girl?
posted by AFABulous at 8:50 PM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm struck by how the narrator is focusing on Sade more than how the other girls are reacting are reacting to her. Every time there is a huddle, she's in it; other people say as nasty things as she does, but the narration is focused on her as a negative force, as is most of the critique in the comments. She's one of the few girls who cooks for everyone (several times!); she's one of the two "judges", and most of the girls have times they go off to isolate themselves, but it's not focused on in quite the same way.

I think the reaction to Sade says more about us than the girls.
posted by Deoridhe at 9:00 PM on June 23, 2017

The gender framing is interesting, too. The boys video doesn't show the parents at the beginning; the girls shows them kissing families. The narration for the boys explains what's going on and shows the toys and food resources (in the cupboards - nothing requiring cooking) as well as access to a psychologist and their parents; the girls' is more in situ and doesn't show things before the girls interact with them.

Even identical behavior was framed differently. When the girls used water pistols, it was framed as an escalation from pouring water in Sade's bed and the guns weren't mentioned; the boys using the water pistols was emphasized as part of them "doing damage". When the girl's caused a mess, is went unremarked or emphasized the decorative/self expression aspects, even when both were doing identical behavior like painting the wall. Girls pairing off are called "became friends" while boys pairing off is called "time to find out about schools".
posted by Deoridhe at 9:10 PM on June 23, 2017 [16 favorites]

Even identical behavior was framed differently.

Similar but not identical. The boys scrawled & scrawled over their scrawls. The girls painted images of flowers & carefully wrote their names over their beds. And then when they tried to clean paint off the walls it looked to me like it worked; if possible the boys made it worse. Both groups made messes but the boys' mess resembled the path of a tornado. I'd have to rewatch about the water guns.

I did notice a marked difference in how the parents reacted on reunion. The boys' parents were rightly horrified but the girls' were nothing but smiles & hugs in spite of the lesser but still considerable damage they did.
posted by scalefree at 10:17 PM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dude, anyone who has been around or taught kids can tell you that there are general differences between the average group of boys and the average group of girls. At some ages it's very obvious, at others it's not. There just are, that's not a social construct. The social construct is to make it seem like the boys are better somehow when they are just a bit different developmentally on average. Or to act like the differences between the groups are greater than the variance within, which isn't true in my experience teaching kids for ever.
posted by fshgrl at 11:31 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

fshgrl - how can you tell by being around boys and girls which of those differences are learned (i.e. a social construct), and which are biological?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:09 AM on June 24, 2017 [16 favorites]

What you're missing is that it's not the details that are predetermined, it's the drive to acquire and perform gender. Kids are all about gender, it's a big part of how small children learn to make sense of the social world they find themselves in and understand themselves. Kids pay very close attention to gendered messages in society that relate to their own gender, and internalize those messages, mostly unconsciously. It doesn't have to be aimed at them directly. This is one part I think a lot of cis people miss about gender socialization, which in the case of trans kids works even against messages that are aimed directly at the kid.

So I think it's more relevant to look at gendered kid's behavior in a historical and cross-cultural way. You should see that kids retain that "general difference" but the amount of that difference grows and shrinks, and the specific behaviors attributed to one group or the other vary or even reverse depending on the expectations of the particular society.

I think of the gender drive of kids as something like the language drive. They have an innate predisposition to learn language, but it doesn't tell you much about the language they end up speaking, barring interesting cases like how kids regularize pidgins into creole languages. In the same way, kids have an innate predisposition to learn gender, and place themselves in that system, but it doesn't tell you much about the gender they end up performing unless you know the details of the society they're in.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:41 AM on June 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

Well size, growth rate, coordination, hormones and sexual development are pretty biological. And they drive a lot of kids behaviors in terms of fearfulness, sociability, energy levels, attention span etc. I achieved my adult height at age 14, my brothers did around age 21.
posted by fshgrl at 9:27 AM on June 24, 2017

See, stuff like 'the boys were running around with water pistols and the girls were baking cupcakes' reads to me as further evidence that gendered behaviour is learnt, rather than biological. Otherwise, what are we saying? "Back when our ancestral brains were forming in the Pleistocene, the men would hunt prey with water pistols while the women stayed in the functional modern kitchens inventing cupcakes"?

It's like when people use "ah, but little boys like tractors more than little girls!" as evidence that there's something inherently biological about this. Can't possibly be because they're surrounded with imagery, stories and things they see every single day that associate large motor vehicles with men! Can't be because even tractor prints on clothing are gendered 'boy' from newborn age! No, no, must be deeply programmed biological instinct dating from back when male Homo habilis needed to drive tractors across the Savannah, it's the only possible explanation that makes sense.

This is a big thing in my life at the moment, as I'm currently watching my 3-year-old daughter negotiate gender roles I remember negotiating myself at the same age, and it is an endless source of infuriating bullshit. We know that little kids soak up gender like a sponge, and we saturate them in stuff to soak up - and then we stand back and say "look, they're doing it all by themselves, it's nothing to do with us!"
posted by Catseye at 9:49 AM on June 24, 2017 [18 favorites]

It's only natural that the boys bake cupcakes - it's a solitary activity that involves using machines and creating new things, all inherently masculine traits. And of course the girls play with squirt guns, a group activity that strengthens social cohesion through play.
posted by theodolite at 10:01 AM on June 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

See, stuff like 'the boys were running around with water pistols and the girls were baking cupcakes' reads to me as further evidence that gendered behaviour is learnt, rather than biological.

Gender roles and appropriate expression are definitely learned (boys play with trucks, boys don't wear dresses). This is obvious when you look at the radical shifts in gender expression over a short time in human history and across present day culture (note the hand holding).

But brain scans of cis and transgender people clearly show differences between men and women. Trans male brains are closer to cis males' even before hormone treatment and testosterone changes brain structure further. From personal experience I can absolutely tell you that hormones play a huge part in mood and behavior. I may have been raised to express emotion but testosterone literally inhibits crying. Then there's the disparity in sex drive and increase in assertiveness and risk-taking. None of that had to do with the way I was raised. I went off testosterone for a month for surgery-related reasons and there was a marked difference in mood, etc.
posted by AFABulous at 12:09 PM on June 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm taking issue with the house. Look at the state of the parquet floor in the kitchen in the boys one--and that was on day one, they didn't do that. And that chair breaks in the girls one. Also, why did they have to gender the house so hard? I wish they'd given each kid a cash allotment and turned them loose in a big box store and said, "spend this shit on food and toys for a week." The boys got primary colors and war equipment and the girls got pastels and feathers and everything you'd need to make a glamrock show--what did anybody expect? Howcome the boys had bikes and a tent and a pool and the girls just got the trampoline? To practice their cheerleading, I suppose. both groups did what they could with what they were given. I do admit that the boys were comparatively boring, annoying, and earsplitting, but they were only 12. They should've been 15 minimum if they were intended to be a maturity match to 10-year-old girls. That little girl crying when her friend left killed me.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

So yeah, it's only kids accustomed to and probably praised to conform to gender stereotypes, selected by adults with gender stereotypes, in a house prepared to reinforce gender stereotypes, possibly coached by camera operators during the performance of those gender stereotypes. With the performance of their activities seen through the lens of gender stereotypes by the people editing and producing the show. I'm SURE it says something important about gender, right?
posted by agregoli at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

What does "Parent Trigger Warning" mean?
posted by qntm at 9:46 AM on June 25, 2017

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