Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Gender Styles as Form and Content: An Examination of Gender Stereotypes in the Subject Preference of Children's Drawing

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Gender Styles as Form and Content: An Examination of Gender Stereotypes in the Subject Preference of Children's Drawing

Article excerpt

Gender-preferred characteristics have been, for the past century, a consistent focus in the study of children's artistic development. However, many of these studies have neglected to interpret data in the context of gender stereotyped content, and this has led to biased assumptions about gender difference in children's drawing. For instance, Kerschensteiner concluded in 1905 that boys' drawing abilities were superior to those of girls. He drew this conclusion based on his analysis of children's ability to render spatial relationships, yet he failed to take into account the different social interests (i.e., fights or flowers) in the drawings of boys and girls, themes that, if examined, might have lead him to different conclusions. Another study that highlights some of the problems concerning research assumptions about gender and the analysis of data is Goodenough's research (1926) on children's drawings of the human figure. Goodenough claimed that elementary school-aged girls are more advanced than boys in their ability to represent the human figure in detail and proportion. While this finding was confirmed by American, English, and Danish investigators in later years (Cox, 1993; Harris, 1963; Koppitz, 1968; Mortensen, 1991; Papadakis, 1989; Willsdon, 1977)), questions are still raised as to whether these abilities stem from biological or psycho-cultural differences in the development of boys and girls. Recent research also argues against Goodenough's findings (Scott, 1981). Had these studies focused on elements of figure gesture drawing other than detail and proportion (elements traditionally associated with girls' drawing), these studies might have concluded that boys' drawings were superior. These examples of past research studies that have used inconsistent criteria for judging and interpreting gender differences in children's drawings are not untypical.

More recent investigators have turned their attention away from questions of 'superiority' and 'inferiority' and have begun examining the more subtle nuances of the relationship between gender and style. Research studies agree that girls possess a marked interest in rendering the human figure as an embellished, well-proportioned, portrait often surrounded by a balanced, realistic, natural or domestic environment (Koppitz, 1968; Machover, 1960; Cox, 1979; Majewski, 1978; McNiff, 1981). A masculine approach to the figure has been described as individual, spontaneous, and animated (Burt, 1921; Machover, 1949; Harris, 1963; Koppitz, 1968; Majewski, 1978; Mortensen, 1991). Humans and the environment appear less important to record in detail, as boys have been found to prefer to document figures in imaginary episodes of conflict, humor, fantasy, and action with warriors, monsters, armies, and machines (Duncum, 1989; Feinburg, 1973, 1976, 1979; Lindstrom, 1957; Lark-Horovitz et al., 1967; McCarty, 1924; McNiff, 1981; Wilson &Wilson, 1974, 1977, 1979).

Researchers have asserted that subject preference in art results from socialization of gender roles (Duncum, 1986; Flannery & Watson 1995). Flannery and Watson argue that boys' drawing content reflects a socialized interest in fantasy and violence that extends beyond their everyday life experience, whereas girls' drawing content appears to be more realistic and tranquil and to relate to their everyday experience. Duncum (1986) suggests gendered content is a reflection of children's developmental preoccupations, as they are challenged to conform to social models.

Research has also considered the notion that favored engendered content domains may foster favored tendencies in characteristics. Feinburg (1976) was the first to find that when boys and girls were asked to draw pictures in response to the words "fighting" and "helping," girls portrayed "fighting" in terms of emotional conflict between friends or family, and "helping" in terms of personal assistance or care for someone they knew. By contrast, boys portrayed "fighting" as an indirect aggressive action between violent armies, fantasy creatures and teams, and "helping" as a hands-on contribution to a production task such as building a skyscraper or constructing a bridge. …

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