Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

By Barrie Thorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Gender Separation: Why and How

The extensive research on "sex segregation among children" points to what social scientists call a "robust" finding: study after study concludes that when boys and girls have a choice of companions, they more often separate than integrate.1 But in schools like Oceanside and Ashton gender separation is rarely total; even when 80 percent of playground groups are either all-girl or all-boy, 20 percent of the groups contain both girls and boys. Furthermore, playgrounds are typically more gender-separated than other school settings. Emphasizing only the prevalence of "segregation" does little to illuminate an underlying question: What makes girls and boys more likely to separate or to choose to be together? Comparing kids' gender relations in different contexts--in schools and in neighborhoods, and across varied school settings such as classrooms, playgrounds, and lunchrooms--can help answer that question.

On the whole, schools like Ashton and Oceanside appear to foster more separation between girls and boys than is characteristic of kids' interactions in many neighborhoods. Since I couldn't go home with the kids I got to know in school, I wasn't able to observe them in their other social worlds. But some students talked about their activities and companions outside school, and these reports sometimes, although by no means always, showed a striking contrast. For example,

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