Being Boys, Being Girls: Learning Masculinities and Femininities

Being Boys, Being Girls: Learning Masculinities and Femininities

Being Boys, Being Girls: Learning Masculinities and Femininities

Being Boys, Being Girls: Learning Masculinities and Femininities


What is it like being a boy or a girl? How do boys and girls learn to be men and women? How do families, schools and children's peer groups influence the ways in which children think of themselves as male and female? Being Boys, Being Girls explores how boys and girls learn what it is to be male and female. Drawing on a wide range of studies from around the world, the book examines how masculinities and femininities are developed and understood by children and young people in families, in schools, and through interaction with their peers. One of the key concepts underlying this book is that our identities are constructed and performed in particular ways which help us to understand who we are and how we fit in with the world. This means that these identities are constantly changing according to where we are, what we are doing, and whom we are with. Who we are, and what we think about ourselves, only makes sense in relation to what is going on around us. The author provides a clear explanation of the underpinning idea that children's understandings of gender are developed and constructed in local communities of masculinity and femininity practice. She brings together research on children and their construction and understanding of gender across the 0-18 age range and includes explicit suggestions for strategies and interventions. This book is essential reading for students and academics in childhood, education and gender studies and for those with an interest in gender development and the construction of masculinities and femininities.


It seems strange that all the tuough boys around with faces like wild
baboons started life as babes in prams chiz chiz chiz. I mean you kno
wot weeds babes are they lie about and gurgle and all the lades sa
icky pritty and other uterly wet things.

Being a baby is alright but soon all the boys who hav been wearing
peticoats chiz chiz chiz begin to get bigger, they start zooming about
like jet fighters climb drane pipes squirt water pisto s make aple pie
beds set booby traps leave tools about the garden refuse to be polite
to visiting aunts run on the flower beds make space rockets out of
pop's golf bag and many other japes and pranks.

(Wilans and Searle 1958: 86)

This book is about how boys and girls learn to be men and women. It is concerned with how newborn babies become children, teenagers and then adults, who behave in different ways according to whether they are male or female. In it, I argue that this process involves learning and constructing ideas about masculinity and femininity, within the many social contexts in which people live, and that this is a collective endeavour, undertaken by and in a myriad of social groups. These understandings are then incorporated into individual identities, along with other communally constructed ideas about what different sorts of people are like. In this book I am therefore developing the idea that masculinities and femininities are the product of group processes, and exploring in detail what those processes might be.

Arguing that ideas about masculinity and femininity and, consequently, ways of being male and female, are communally constructed within child and adult groups is important for a number of reasons. First, and most important, it makes it clear that the ways males and females behave are not simply due to biology; there are variations between them, but they do not arise straightforwardly from our genetic make-up or from hormonal influences. Gender differences are, in this model, very much a social issue. Second, and also of crucial importance, the communal nature of the construction process gives everyone involved some agency with respect to what is constructed. Clearly, because power relations are imbued in social groups and processes, some people will have a stronger influence than others on the ideas and identities that emerge, but . . .

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