Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

Synopsis

You see it in every schoolyard: the girls play only with girls, the boys play only with boys. Why? And what do the kids think about this? Breaking with familiar conventions for thinking about children and gender, Gender Play develops fresh insights into the everyday social worlds of kids in elementary schools in the United States. Barrie Thorne draws on her daily observations in the classroom and on the playground to show how children construct and experience gender in school. With rich detail, she looks at the "play of gender" in the organization of groups of kids and activities - activities such as "chase-and-kiss", "cooties", "goin' with", and teasing. Thorne observes children in schools in working-class communities, emphasizing the experiences of fourth and fifth graders. Most of the children she observed were white, but a sizable minority were Latino, Chicano, or African American. Thorne argues that the organization and meaning of gender are influenced by age, ethnicity, race, sexuality, andsocial class, and that they shift with social context. She sees gender identity not through the lens of individual socialization or difference, but rather as a social process involving groups of children. Thorne takes us on a fascinating journey of discovery, provides new insights about children, and offers teachers practical suggestions for increasing cooperative mixed-gender interaction.

Excerpt

When I pass by an elementary school during recess, I pause to watch as the grassy playing fields and paved areas fill and then empty, the bursts of collective movement cued by a loud buzzer. Seen from a distance, a filled playground looks like a swirling mass, but from closer up, one can see patterned arrangements of kids and activities. The clothes of girls and boys are more similar than when I attended public elementary school in the late 1940s and early 1950s; girls now wear pants and shorts more often than dresses. But boys' and girls' activities divide in a familiar geography of gender. Many boys, and a sprinkling of girls, spread out across large grassy fields, playing games of baseball, soccer, or football. The spaces where girls predominate, playing jump rope or foursquare or standing around talking, lie closer to the school building. Girls and boys mix in games of foursquare, dodgeball, handball, kickball, and in general milling around, punctuated by episodes of chasing.

When I was growing up, separation in the activities and friendships of boys and girls was largely taken for granted as an expression of "natural," or inherent, difference. Of course, heavy social pressures were applied to those who didn't act in "natural" ways, especially boys who liked "girls'" forms of play. But the belief persisted that "boys will be boys," and presumably girls would also be girls, in some . . .

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