Study says highlighting gender leads to stereotypes

Parents with gender-fluid kids often work with schools, churches, and other institutions to use alternatives to gender for organizing kids in the classroom. Rather than dividing kids by boys and girls, use birth months or sneakers vs. sandals, or some other arbitrary distinction or characteristic. Sometimes schools are willing (and even grateful for the tip, which had often never occurred to well-meaning teachers to be problematic). Other times, schools are really uncomfortable with any implied ambiguity of gender. The same feelings are expressed that commenters here often report feeling:

*Why do you have to make such a big deal about it – are you just trying to attract attention, or letting your kid attract attention to him/herself? *Is this spoiling – no one student should get to throw a wrench in the cogs of the school day for everyone else. *Aren’t kids this age too young to even be thinking about their gender, let alone changing it? *If they are actually transgender then they should be accommodated but if it’s just a boy who wants to wear dresses or a girl who wants short hair and a tie, then they should just go with the flow.

Of course, the irony here for us parents is that we are trying to let our kids figure out who they are without pushing them falsely or prematurely into decisions about being transgender. It’s precisely their presence in a liminal space between clearly defined end points that creates discomfort. And we are trying to help keep our kids from standing out like a sore thumb. By and large, our boys and girls would like to stand out because of their excellent dance, drawing, or sports skills rather than because they look different.

Most of the time the other kids in my son’s first grade class or Sunday School group probably don’t even think about whether he’s a boy or a girl. So why draw their attention to it — an opportunity to remind them that, hey yeah, he is that boy with the really long hair who wears pink. So I was interested to read about a study recently that highlights other problems caused by drawing attention to gender in the classroom. When Teachers Highlight Gender, Kids Pick Up Stereotypes describes a study that showed kids adopt more gender stereotypes when teachers lined kids up by gender — or even said, “Good morning, boys and girls!” While that might seem surprising at first, psychologist Lynn Liben, who conducted the study, points out, “”You would never say ‘good morning black children and white children,’ or have white and black kids line up separately.” (Here’s a blog post from a female engineer talking about how those gender stereotypes have tracked her from childhood.)

Liben (a professor at Penn State) is also a co-author of the 2008 textbook, Gender Development. “The book’s primary focus is on gender role behaviors – how they develop and the roles biological and experiential factors play in their development.” This might have to go on my wish-list!

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7 Responses to Study says highlighting gender leads to stereotypes

  1. G. Labelle says:

    You made me check this ”Gender development” book by Mrs Blakemore and co. and you better leave it a couple of months on your wishlist: I found out there is a new edition coming out on december 12th… half the price of the 2008 edition!

  2. Alicia says:

    “Why do you have to make such a big deal about it – are you just trying to attract attention, or letting your kid attract attention to him/herself? *Is this spoiling – no one student should get to throw a wrench in the cogs of the school day for everyone else. *Aren’t kids this age too young to even be thinking about their gender, let alone changing it? *If they are actually transgender then they should be accommodated but if it’s just a boy who wants to wear dresses or a girl who wants short hair and a tie, then they should just go with the flow.”

    My son, who is a junior in college, directed his first college production this weekend. When he walked out onto the stage to give the opening speech in sleek black leggings, a beautiful blue “blouse,” his long hair in an artfully placed ponytail, beautiful makeup, and 4 1/2″ stiletto platform heels (cobalt blue, by the way). When he walked out to give his speech, he got a standing ovation.

    I have been asked if my son wants to be a girl. I will admit to asking him that myself – this was his response:

    “I am a boy – who likes other boys – and I like to be pretty.”

    During a baby shower recently at my church, the “favors” were bottles of hot pink nail polish. I have four bottles in my car from women who said “here, give this to Tyler – he’ll use it before I will.” To the Mother-to-be, I said “Tyler said to let you know HE is buying her first heels.”

    Okay then – I have CLEARLY done my job as a parent. Critics be damned. My kid loves who he is, I love who he is, his family loves who he is, and his friends love who he is.

    And he IS pretty.

    • MistressofBoogie says:

      This is one of the most heartening things I’ve read this year…giving me hope that it is in fact possible to raise a child to just be exactly who they are and to be happy about being that person! Thanks and congratulations!

      • Alicia says:

        Mistress – it is absolutely possible. Our problem, for the most part, is that we get hooked not only into what society has created as stereotypes, but also, in what other parents will say.

        I’ve seen the offspring of some of these “other” parents. Insecure people who are afraid to identify themselves in their own homes. People scared their parents will “disown” them. Kids who contemplate suicide because they want to wear nail polish and their father thinks that makes them a “sissy.”

        I run a church youth group – one of my high school students (a girl) is the first girl to make it onto our high school’s football team. We are all going to cheer her on. THAT accomplishment is evidently “breaking ground” and “defeating barriers.”

        I wish the barriers went the other way sometimes.

  3. Pingback: Pink is for Boys: study says highlighting gender leads to stereotypes | tumblr backups

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