In many parts of the world, gender identity is culturally constructed from the moment a baby is born. Some people argue that such molding begins even earlier, as adults’ attitudes and behaviors influence expectations about the child even while they are still in the womb. Culture can conceivably influence every aspect of a person’s gendered identity. Two of the ways that culture strongly influences gender in the early years of life are clothing and play.
In recent years, gender-neutral colors such as yellow are often used for infants of any gender, but a tendency to assign color associations to babies remains strong. In addition, the designs of baby’s clothes are often far more gender-associated than is necessary. For girls, frilly pink clothes are commonly found, while baby boys’ blue clothes are usually devoid of ruffles. Designs and product associations with supposedly gendered connotations are also typical, with girls’ dresses adorned with icons such as Disney princesses, while boys’ overalls may depict Thomas the Tank Engine.
The use of garments, designs, and colors also connects with a second cultural influence on gender in childhood: play. Through the toys children use, the games they play, and the playmates with whom they play, gender norms are imposed on children. Parents, other relatives, and social institutions may consciously or unconsciously promote such norms. Females often receive gifts of dolls, stuffed animals, and cooking-related items as playthings. In contrast, sports equipment, construction or engineering materials such as Legos, and mechanical objects such as miniature tools are more likely to be provided to male children. Children are often expected to play with others of the same gender in gender-associated activities. By the time they enter school, sports teams may already be divided by gender.