Turns out the colour of the clothing—pretty pink for girls, masculine blue for boys—isn’t the only thing we use to gender stereotype children. We’re judging babies, little tiny three-month-old babies, on the sound of their undeveloped voices. And it’s messing with ’em, big time.
Findings from the latest BMC Psychology journal reveal that adults will judge the sex of a baby based on their cries. High-pitched wails are automatically assumed to be female babies, while “male babies” emit deeper-pitched screams. This assumption is made, most likely, because after puberty men develop deeper voices than women. But the reality, according to this new study, is that gender doesn’t make a lick of difference to the sound a baby makes—all children have the same pitch until puberty.
“It is intriguing that gender stereotyping can start as young as three months, with adults attributing degrees of femininity and masculinity to babies solely based on the pitch of their cries,” said Dr. David Reby from the Psychology School at the University of Sussex, who was one of the researchers involved in the study.
More intriguing (to us anyway), once an adult is made aware of the actual sex of a baby, they get even judgier, using the baby’s cries to then determine how masculine or feminine the infant is and in turn, perhaps even what kind of care the infant needs. (According to the study, the more the baby cries, the more likely we are to assume the child is female. Because women are soooooooo emotional, you guys.)
But is gender stereotyping a child based on its voice any different from the frilly pink dresses we put on baby girls, or the tiny blue bowties we clip onto baby boys’ tiny collared shirts? It’s hard to say. “The potential implications for parent-child interactions and for the development of children’s gender identity are fascinating and we intend to look into this further,” said Prof. Nicolas Mathevon, from the University of Lyon/Saint-Etienne & Hunter College CUNY, another researcher.
Regardless, maybe we should stop making so many assumptions about babies based on their [perceived] gender. Can’t we just let them be babies?