Just Sociology

Breaking Down Gender Boundaries: How Children Navigate Gender Identity in Schools

Gender identity is a crucial determinant of one’s social and psychological development as it influences how individuals define themselves in society. At an early age, children are exposed to gender stereotypes that inform their gender identities.

These stereotypes continue to shape their behaviors, roles, and expectations along binary gender lines. However, children also play an active role in constructing their gender identity, which reflects their unique social and cultural contexts.

Additionally, school organizations play a significant role in shaping gender relations through the enactment of both formal and informal structures that either reinforce or challenge gender stereotypes. In this article, we will discuss two main topics: Gender Identity in Children and School Organization and Gender Relations.

Gender Identity in Children

Active Role of Children in Gender Identity

Construction and reproduction of gender inequalities are powerful markers of socialization, identification, and classification of persons into gender categories. Gender identities in children are not only constructed by adults but are also influenced by the children themselves through their interactions with peers, family, and the larger social context.

Children construct their gender identity through their interactions with individuals of different age groups, ethnicities, religions, social class, and geographical locations. Through these interactions, children learn what constitutes appropriate male and female behavior, and what is not.

This leads to the reproduction of gender inequalities as children are socialized to adopt stereotypical gender roles and expectations, such as boys being assertive and girls being passive. Furthermore, children learn from their parents, siblings, and peers, but also from the mass media, literature, and popular culture.

These cultural channels often reinforce gender stereotypes that are embodied in masculine and feminine personas (Goffman, 1959). Additionally, through the “presentation of self” (Goffman, 1959), which involves the way one’s behavior and appearance are perceived by others, children learn to construct socially acceptable gender identities.

This process can lead to rigid constructions of gender identities that exclude people who do not fit into traditional gender categories. Therefore, it is important to recognize the active role of children in the construction of their gender identities and to challenge the reproduction of gender inequalities.

Fluidity of Gender Identities and Interpretations

Masculinity and femininity are not fixed concepts, but instead, they are socially constructed and constantly evolving. Recent scholarship in difference feminism suggests that gender is not limited to binary categories, but instead, it operates on a spectrum (Butler, 1999).

Gender identities are fluid, and they can shift over time, allowing individuals to reinterpret what it means to be masculine or feminine. Transgender and non-binary individuals challenge traditional gender roles by rejecting the binary system altogether.

Additionally, children are beginning to experiment with gender and introduce new gender identities, such as genderqueer, gender-nonconforming, and genderfluid, that do not conform to traditional gender norms. Ervin Goffman’s theory of the “presentation of self” aligns with the fluidity of gender identities as individuals can present themselves as masculine, feminine or something else entirely.

The gender identity of an individual can change over time and presents an ongoing process that is shaped by the individual’s personal experiences, self-identification, and interaction with others. This fluidity in gender identities highlights the importance of challenging the imposition of rigid gender norms and allowing individuals to define their gender identities.

School Organization and Gender Relations

Classroom Organization and Gender Segregation

Schools often reinforce gender stereotypes through their organizational structures. In many countries, single-sex classrooms are organized, especially in the primary school levels.

Boys and girls are often segregated into separate classrooms, and, at times, into separate schools. This gender segregation has negative consequences as it limits interactions and socialization between children of different genders.

Thus, it produces antagonism and rivalry between boys and girls. The clear separation in the classroom creates a sense of homogeneity within groups and passes on gender norms that are exclusive to boys and girls.

Additionally, gendered teams in physical education and lunch queues enforce gender boundaries that limit interactions between the genders and reinforce gender stereotypes. Moreover, school organizational structures can lead to the exclusion of gender-nonconforming students who do not fit into traditional gender categories.

This sort of gender segregation can cause communities to exclude gender-non-conforming students from classroom activities, giving rise to a sense of isolation and rejection.

Peer Groups and Gender Socialization

The gender segregation within peer groups initiates the construction of gender identities and stereotypes. During playtime, students segregate themselves into gender groupings and take part in distinct games that reinforce gendered expectations.

Boys, for instance, are more likely to play rough games than the girls, and this is often reinforced by gender norms, where boys are expected to be assertive and aggressive. Additionally, within these peer groups, power dynamics exist, and policing of behavior takes place.

Peer groups often function to reinforce the gender boundaries that have been set up by the formal school organization. Borderwork occurs where boys and girls monitor each others movements and behavior, often leading to either harassment or exclusion of those who do not conform to the expected norms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, gender identities in children are socially constructed through their interactions with adults, peers, family, mass media, and cultural products. Additionally, schools play a significant role in shaping gender relations through their organizational structures and classroom practices.

Therefore, it is crucial to recognize the active role of children in constructing their gender identities and to challenge the reproduction of gender inequalities. This is achieved through a more inclusive approach to teaching and organizing where diversity, equality, and inclusivity are accepted as key principles of learning.

By doing so, schools can create a more inclusive environment that supports all students to define and express their gender identity in a healthy and fulfilling way.

Expansion

3: Borderwork and Gender Segregation

Gender segregation in schools is a common occurrence and is often enforced by teachers, students or by school structures. One common phenomenon found in schools, particularly in early years, is the borderworking between genders.

Borderwork theory explains how gender segregation within peer groups initiates the construction of gender identities and perpetuates gender stereotypes. The concept refers to the marking of boundaries and the policing of these boundaries between genders, resulting in the creation of gender borders that separate boys and girls.

It often occurs during unstructured playtime, where children engage in cross-gender activities such as kiss chase or cootie queen. These activities can produce anxiety or fear amongst students who want to avoid transgressing the boundaries in fear of being ridiculed, bullied or marginalized.

Moreover, borderwork tends to be more pronounced among children who demonstrate exaggerated gender differences. For example, boys who act ‘too feminine’ and girls who act ‘too masculine’ may be more likely to experience borderwork in schools.

Borderwork serves to reinforce gender differences, and as a result, students encouraged to act according to gender norms against their natural inclination. Conversely, schools with little to no borderwork have been found to reduce gendered stereotyping and promote respect for all genders.

By interrupting and disrupting gender-segregated games, students are provided with an opportunity to recognize and reflect upon their gendered assumptions and challenge traditional gender roles. This breakdown of borders can facilitate new gender expressions and may result in the creation of new peer groups with more fluid gender roles.

Reasons for Gender Segregation

There are several reasons why gender segregation is common in schools. One reason is the crowded environment, which happens when there is a high number of students, and separation of girls and boys is viewed as a way to alleviate social crowding.

As a result, gender segregation acts as a solution to manage disruptive behavior and control the classroom environment.

Additionally, peer surveillance is a factor that plays a role in gender segregation.

Children tend to observe others with the aim of confirming or adjusting their behavior to align with the expectations within their social environment. When each gender’s behavior is monitored too closely by the opposite sex, gender stereotypes and gender roles become more apparent, and in many cases, it reinforces the existing stereotypes.

Another reason for gender segregation is public choosing. According to this theory, children prefer to interact and align themselves with people who are similar to them concerning gender, and therefore, cross-gender interaction within a school can be infrequent.

This preference could be the result of the way children tend to stereotype mothers and fathers and from media images that suggest certain behaviors and interests for boys and girls respectively. Public choosing contributes to the students’ tendency to choose and develop friendships within gender boundaries.

In addition, adult presence may also be a reason for gender segregation. Teachers and other adults present may feel more comfortable if students are separated based on gender.

Believing that boys and girls have different learning and communication styles or that girls need more class attention, for example, may enforce gender segregation in the classroom. Finally, there is an overlap between structure and gender identities, especially in the school system.

Whereas the school is a structured environment that becomes an integral part of students’ life, each individual also constructs their gender identity within that structure. As such, students tend to gravitate towards certain gender identities in the school system that helps shape the environment around them.

4: Evaluation of Thorne’s Study

Challenges to Dualistic Gender Norms

Thorne’s study challenged dualistic gender norms by highlighting the subtle differences in how boys and girls construct their gender identities. She challenged the notion that children’s gender identities form in isolation, instead arguing that gender identity is constructed through social interaction.

Additionally, Thorne emphasized that girls and boys respond to social constructions of gender in different ways, with girls often using subversive tactics to contest gender boundaries while boys tend to conform to traditional gender norms. The study also affirmed feminist concepts, such as the idea of ‘doing gender’, which highlights the performative aspect of gender identity.

Rather than being a fixed and static construct, gender is something that we do, and we construct it through our daily interactions. By highlighting this performative nature of gender, Thorne offers an alternative way of thinking about gender identity that is less deterministic and more fluid.

Limitations and Criticisms

While Thorne’s study offers insights into how gender identities are constructed, there are limitations to the study that need to be acknowledged. Firstly, the role of structure in the creation of gender identity was somewhat understated in Thorne’s account.

The study pays little exploration into how school structures and policies can reinforce gender stereotypes and support traditional gender roles. Likewise, school structures have been known to influence the creation of gender identities over time, and the extent to which this occurs should have been explored more in the study.

Moreover, the study was limited in scope and duration. Although the study took the time to observe the children throughout their school experience, it did not account for much of their past or future development.

As such, its ability to draw strong conclusions regarding how gender identity changes throughout childhood is limited. Finally, it is important to note that gender identity is an active process, and it is subject to change throughout time.

While Thorne’s study was groundbreaking in examining children’s gender identity formation, it remains that there is much to be learned about the fluidity of gender identity over time.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this article explored the complex theories behind gender identity in children and the ways in which school organizations and peer groups perpetuate traditional gender roles and stereotypes. We discussed how children play an active role in the construction of their gender identity and how gender identities are fluid and constantly evolving.

Additionally, the article touched on the borderwork theory and the reasons for gender segregation in schools. It also evaluated Thorne’s study, highlighting its strengths and limitations.

The article emphasizes the need to challenge strict gender norms and structures to create a more inclusive environment that celebrates diversity in gender identities. FAQs:

1.

What is gender identity, and how is it constructed in children? Gender identity is a crucial determinant of one’s social and psychological development as it influences how individuals define themselves in society.

Children learn what constitutes appropriate male and female behavior from adults, siblings, peers, the mass media, literature, and popular culture. 2.

How do school organizations and peer groups perpetuate traditional gender roles and stereotypes? Schools often reinforce gender stereotypes through their organizational structures, such as single-sex classrooms, gendered teams in physical education, and lunch queues that enforce gender boundaries that limit interactions between the genders.

3. What is the borderwork theory, and how does it contribute to gender segregation in schools?

The borderwork theory explains how gender segregation within peer groups initiates the construction of gender identities and perpetuates gender stereotypes. It refers to the marking of borders and the policing of these boundaries between genders, resulting in the creation of gender borders that separate boys and girls.

4. What are the reasons for gender segregation in schools?

Gender segregation in schools happens for several reasons, including crowded environments, public choosing, peer surveillance, adult presence, and the overlap between structure and gender identities. 5.

What are the limitations of Thorne’s study? Although Thorne’s study was groundbreaking in examining children’s gender identity formation, it was limited in scope and duration, and the role of structure in the creation of gender identity was understated in her account.

6. How can we challenge strict gender norms and structures in schools?

We can challenge strict gender norms and structures in schools by creating a more inclusive environment that celebrates diversity of gender identities and facilitates interaction between genders. This can be achieved through more inclusive approaches to learning and organizing where diversity, equality, and inclusivity are accepted as the key principles of teaching.

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