Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Literacy in the College Classroom: Gendered Perceptions of Reading, Writing, Revision, and Grammar

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Literacy in the College Classroom: Gendered Perceptions of Reading, Writing, Revision, and Grammar

Article excerpt

The mass media and general public are intrigued by research findings of gender differences. Indeed, concerns about a "boy crisis" in education (e.g., Gurian, 2005; Orr, 2011; Sommers, 2000) have reinvigorated research on sex and gender differences. Differences primarily are assumed in two areas: male superiority in spatial abilities (often extrapolated to "math and science"), and female superiority in certain verbal abilities (often extrapolated to "literacy"; for more detailed discussion on these purported differences, see, e.g., Halpern, 1992; Hyde, 2005; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). Some have argued that these differences are based in "natural talent" (e.g., Bornholt, Goodnow, & Cooney, 1994) and thus, they continue to receive much attention, despite the fact that, empirically, such claims are greatly exaggerated (Hyde, 2005; Reis & Carothers, 2014; Tavris, 1992).

Nevertheless, as children are exposed to stereotypes of this nature, they may develop gendered views of associated activities. For example, boys may view math as more "masculine" when they perform better in school than some girls on mathematical tasks (Orr, 2011), and, when a "boys are better at math" stereotype is reinforced in popular culture. As a result of such oversimplified thinking, children and adolescents may falsely believe that they must excel in one area or another, depending solely on their gender. Such stereotypes can have real consequences, such as when girls interested in mathematics or boys interested in writing are dismissed because parents and teachers do not expect them to have such interests (Hyde, 2005). In turn, girls may develop beliefs that they cannot succeed in challenging math courses or careers due to their supposed weakness in the subject; similarly, boys may start to perceive activities of literacy as more difficult for them or of less value to them. In fact, the "boy crisis" has gained traction, in part, by focusing on findings suggesting that achievement differences may be partially due to boys' lack of interest, motivation, and self-efficacy in literacy tasks--i.e., reading and writing--and perhaps even in school as a whole (for a treatment of these variables and their possible relationships, see Coddington & Guthrie, 2009; Orr, 2011; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2011).

The differences hypothesis states that males and females are vastly different psychologically (Hyde, 2005). For example, Gilligan's (1982) theory of women's moral reasoning and Tannen's (1991) theory of gendered communication capitalize on notions that women's moral reasoning and communication (respectively) are, in fact, distinct from that of men, but not inferior to men's. Gilligan, Tannen, and other researchers were, of course, responding (as many had before them) to a long-entrenched differences claim (see Eagly, Eaton, Rose, Riger, & McHugh, 2012; Maccoby, 1998; Tavris, 1992); that is, women lacked the intellectual capabilities of men and because of this "fact" their lives were best constrained to the domestic sphere. More recently, as girls and women have taken greater educational and economic strides, the differences model has shifted focus to the emotional and educational lives of boys. According to such theorists as Michael Gurian (2005), boys today are greatly underserved because they think, feel, and learn differently than girls, yet their educational and emotional needs are largely ignored. Contrary to a difference model, a gender similarities hypothesis states that males and females are similar on most, though not all, psychological variables, especially when context is taken into consideration (Hyde, 2005; 2007). Thus, despite long-standing cultural stereotypes, or what previous studies and the general public may believe, males and females are actually a lot more similar than different (Halpern et al., 2007; Hyde, 2005; Reis & Carothers, 2014; Speike, 2005). Nevertheless, because notions of large and meaningful cognitive, behavioral, and personality gender differences persist (rooted in a powerful history of sexual stereotypes and tendencies toward essentialism, e. …

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