Emily Kane Talks About The Gender Trap

GenderTrapImageFeminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists for Choice. Today we are talking to Emily Kane, Professor in Sociology and author of The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls.

1. You have written extensively about gender and childhood. How did this interest come about?
My research had previously focused on how adults think about gender inequalities, and their interconnections with inequalities of race, class and sexuality, mostly in the contemporary United States but with a bit of international comparative work as well. My focus there was on inequalities in the adult world- in workplaces, the division of labor in households, etc. I’d been interested in what kinds of people are more likely to recognize gender inequalities as existing, how they evaluated those inequalities (i.e., whether they thought they were problematic or not), and what- if anything- they thought should be done about them. Then I had children, and that experience brought more of my attention into children’s worlds. As I spent time at day care centers and preschools, on playgrounds, in play groups, and as I visited children’s clothing and toy stores, as I read children’s books and watched children’s movies, I became more and more interested in how deeply gendered young children’s worlds were. And I become increasingly interested in how that early gendering helped build the foundation for gendered patterns in the adult world. [Read more...]

Mr. CEO and the Female Secretary

Gender stereotypes are everywhere, and they are enforced on children perhaps more often than adults. In many ways, this notion is biologically driven and assumes that boys and girls are different, and that this distinction has little to do with child-rearing and cultural assumptions about gender. Boys are often viewed as more driven, aggressive, and dominant, whereas girls are deemed more passive, nurturing, and sensitive.

Emily Kane, author of The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, found that depending on the anticipations parents had about gender (gender being biologically driven or socially constructed, as well as views in between), they either reinforced or contested traditional gender beliefs. Some parents who stated that their daughter was naturally more calm and passive reinforced such behavior more in girls than boys, by telling their daughter to either be still or be quiet. Girls were also more likely than boys to be reprimanded for being rowdy. Therefore, many girls were told at a young age to be calmer, quieter, and passive, even though parents attributed these traits to biological differences between girls and boys. At the same time, many boys indicated to their parents that they wanted to wear colors more commonly associated with girls, or play with Barbie dolls. Depending on the parent’s views about gender, these activities were either prohibited or encouraged. Therefore, parents’ cultural and biological beliefs about gender help maintain or challenge current gender roles. Kane concludes, “With concerted effort, we can reduce the force of the gender trap and open up the possibility of a better, less constrained, and more equitable world for our children and for ourselves.”

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