GIRLS, BOYS AND JUST PEOPLE: THE INTERACTIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF GENDER IN THE DISCOURSE OF THE NURSERY SCHOOL
Jenny Cook-Gumperz University of California, Santa Barbara
Barbara Scales University of California, Berkeley
The continued reproduction of unambiguously differentiated gender roles by children, evident from kindergarten play, through the gender separation of middle school into the highly genderized life of high school students, presents a puzzle to all those concerned with gender socialization. Despite major changes in power relationships between the genders in contemporary society and the influence of these on adult lives, children continue to reproduce behaviors evocative of earlier social arrangements. Recent work in elementary school shows that children insist on a clearcut separation of gender roles in elementary school life and tease their peers who want to crossboundaries ( Thorne, 1993). Such boundary drawing becomes even stronger in high school with its ritual divisions between boys and girls, who often belong to separate, named groups, and where such group divisions have persisted through several generational cohorts of students ( Eckert, 1988). Psychologists and sociologists who long ago rejected a simplistic biological determinism as the explanation for gender differentiated roles find these phenomena particularly challenging.
Gender reproduction theory in its strongest form, argues that the social roles of women and men, girls and boys cannot change in substantial ways until gender specific, stereotypic behaviors no longer exist. In this view gender differentiated behaviors will need to be eradicated before a cognitive and emotional basis for social change can be established ( Connell 1987; Holland & Skinner, 1990). Traditional views of social gender distinctions assume fundamental nature-nurture differences common to all and built into the very origins of human society ( Rosaldo, 1974; Ortner, 1974). Such views propose that any changes in the social arrangements of gender would require a complete reversal of the given social order and the adoption of an "ideology of opposites" such that, for example, girls should hunt and fight, and boys should hoe and cook. Exploring such gender ideological views in contemporary classrooms, Bronwyn Davies found in her study of middle school children, "Frogs and Snails and Feminist Tales" ( 1987), that children were resistant to the idea of exchanging gendered behaviors, prefering differenc-