Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

By Barrie Thorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Children and Gender

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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