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How We Learn to Be "Girls"

How We Learn to Be "Girls"

Remember lining up in separate girl and boy lines in grade school? Or hearing the teacher say "Good morning, boys and girls"? These simple habits, which call attention to gender, are responsible for passing on narrow gender roles to children.

A study compared two types of classrooms: one in which the teacher never mentioned gender, using terms like "children" or "friends," and one in which the teacher called attention to gender. In the classrooms where teachers used gendered language, children were less likely to play with kids of the other gender and more likely to subscribe to stereotypes (such as only girls should play with dolls, and only boys can become firefighters), even though the teachers never mentioned such "rules" or had children compare themselves.

The developmental psychologist behind the study points out that we would never say "good morning black children and white children" and claims that segregating children by gender is as damaging as separating them based on race — so, no all-girls schools? The stereotypes can impact how kids judge what they're good at and what they want to do when they grow up.

While I think it's important for teachers to make sure that boys and girls interact with each other and know that their life choices won't be limited by their genders, do you think teachers should stop mentioning gender altogether?

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Join The Conversation
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
starbucks, your "rugby with ribbons" comment made me think of my first taste of feminist protest in 3rd grade... my girlfriends and I went to play kickball at recess and some big burly gym teacher started teasing us and telling the boys that they better not get whooped by "a bunch of girls" and was generally being a total jackass and making douchebaggy comments. We all got so mad that we decided that the next day we would come to school in frilly skirts and kick some major ass in kickball. We all got homeruns in poofy, frilly skirts :woohoo:
xxstardust xxstardust 6 years
Postmodern, I think we're on the same page :] We socially contrust barriers and limitations around innate gendered behaviors, and that, I think, is unnecessary.
starbucks2 starbucks2 6 years
I myself started to dumb myself when I hit the teens...I realized boys don't like girls who are smarter than they are! If there is any way I can protect my girl (who is more then welcome to play rugby with ribbons in her hair) from that, I will do whatever it takes. And as a teacher I will try to pay more attention to these things myself!
lickety-split lickety-split 6 years
I do discourage them from what I consider boy stuff. Why fight a battle to play on a team that doesn't want you when there are so many that will welcome you? We have a little different situation, in that one of my daughters is severely disabled. So mommy is fighting the good fight all day with school districts and I surname companies, etc. There's only so much of me that can do conflict. On a side note....I take my girls to different faith services. So while they are catholic, the are familiar with other choices and one is considering a change (which I fully support her in). To each their own I suppose :)
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
My first comment didn't elaborate much, but I also agree with you, xxstardust. I do not think that gender is a purely social construct, but I do believe the many socially-constructed aspects of it can, and often do, lead to limitations for both sexes. And although I do believe that they can lead to limitations, I do not believe all socially-constructed aspects of gender are necessarily inherently evil or anything. I love makeup, for example. I always have. I'm glad I love makeup-- I have tons of fun with it. In fact, if I look to my right, I see a vanity table full of perfume bottles, nail polish, and eyeshadow palettes. But I also consider myself educated, intelligent, and capable. I'm rambling now, but the collective argument here is that gender is very complex!
xxstardust xxstardust 6 years
Well, to be fair to lickety - even if her girls wanted to play baseball, they more than likely wouldn't be allowed to. They could play softball, but most baseball organizations aren't co-ed past *maybe* the teeball level. Like spacekat, I also agree that there are definite innate difference in the way that males and females think. There are simply HUNDREDS of studies which support that assertion and do so across dozens of different behavioral categories. I can't agree that gender is entirely social constructed, when several studies demonstrate that even when parents intend to utilize "gender neutral" parenting, children of different sexes appear to be differentially attracted to different, gender-specific toys. I think that men and women are absolutely capable of the same things, but that there is also certainly a disposition towards certain behaviors.
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 6 years
As a future teacher, I do think it's important to not segregate based on gender. I think it's very true that mentioning it in seemingly simple ways is still enough to create a more defined gender divide in classrooms (and life). lickety split, I'm sure this isn't the case, but I hope that you do not overly push a female gender standard on your daughters and discourage them from stereotypically male activities like baseball.
tigr3bianca tigr3bianca 6 years
Girlie girls are accepted a lot more than tomboys. I was a tomboy growing up and still am a little now. I hated dresses, make up, playing with dolls. I thought I was weird and knew that wanting to play sports with the boys wasn't normal. I always felt like an outcast. I really think it had an impact on me trying to be a people-pleaser since I wasn't accepted for who I was, I had to be accepted through what I would do for others. If children aren't pushed into gender roles, their unique personalities will shine more.
MeiGaku MeiGaku 6 years
it's not that it's something to avoid, but it's the problems that may come with this kind of gender conditioning. enjoying make up and dressing up is great, and it's something i enjoy myself, but by segregating boys and girls, this kind of behavior can be translated into the workplace. for example, the idea that women belong in the home rather than at work do not come out of nowhere, and the acceptance of these biased beliefs come from these types of social conditioning. i'm not saying that it's wrong for those who choose to stay in the home or comply with these socialized behaviors, but by doing these kinds of things and conditioning kids when they're little, many girls will feel like they have no choice but to comply. and i think that's a problem. i hope that made sense... btw, i'm a communication studies major at ucla and love gender and media studies. so i promise i'm not pulling this stuff out of thin air
lickety-split lickety-split 6 years
Why wouldn't you want your child to identify with their gender? My girls are very feminine. They like pink and sparkles and playing with dolls. I don't enroll them in activities that I consider boy activities. That includes baseball and boy scouts. They wear lip gloss and hair ribbons and have pierced ears. I always enjoyed the girlie part of being a girl and my girls do too. Why is that something to avoid?
wassy988 wassy988 6 years
This could not be more timely. I am in a Behavioral Studies class called Masculine and Feminine, and in it, we are learning recently about education as a gendered institute. This is amazingly fascinating to learn more about.
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