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Children at play and Gender roles

Updated on November 29, 2010

I took a Cultural Anthroplogy class not long ago and even after raising two children , I never thought for a minute about how much information can be derived from just casually observing four,five and six year olds at play. I would like to share my findings in the paper that I wrote

Girls playing together
Girls playing together
Boys in free play
Boys in free play
Boys & Girls singing together.   A more structured activity.
Boys & Girls singing together. A more structured activity.

Child Play/ Gender Roles

While many see gender as an expression of natural differences, the women's movement of the 1970s and 1980s launched a powerful alternative perspective; notions of femininity and masculinity, the gender division one sees on school playgrounds leans towards male dominance; the idea of gender all are socially constructed. In this perspective children,therefore are socialized into, "already in place gender arrangements".

Parents dress infant girls in pink and boys in blue, give them gender based toys and expect them to act differently, Children also pick up gender stereotypes from television, magazine covers, movies and many other types of media available. Lastly, peer groups deep into cultural ideas about what is to be a boy or girl, permeate and perpetuate gender play. In essence, if boys are different, they are not born that way but made that way.

Over the three day observation period I studied about fifteen children, eight boys and seven girls. Almost always the girls played with each other and likewise did the boys. When either gender was in solo play, it was very noticeable that males and females clustered in different areas of play. There was an instance when a young boy appeared to throw a ball harder to a girl when she wanted to join a group of boys in play. The little girl timidly frowned at the boys and instantly left to find somewhere else to play.This type of behavior could be an early precurser that develops into a gender subculture where although males and females are biologically different, our gender identity is culturally manifested, On another occasion, I observed three boys playing on a swing set and they appeared to be kicking up sand purposely to keep two girls from coming to play on the swings. Without any challenge, the two girls, with one more joining them, ran off to secure control over a large slide that no one was playing on. They quickly surrounded the slide and were joined by several other females. Since all my observations were on the playground, I was not able to hear dialogue between the kids, only voices at play. (As a side note, only when a teacher played music in one corner of the yard, did both genders participated without hesitation of who was dancing or singing alongside them). One can therefore discern that in unstructured play interaction between genders where there is teasing and taunting, it may very well increase the social distance between males and females, which in effect places gender boundaries early on. This behavior will keep kids from publicly choosing someone form the opposite gender in a social setting even as young as preschoolers playing on a playground.

On the second day of my observation a new little boy come ino the school. He was brought into the yard by an adult male. In order to acclimate the child to his new environment, the adult male automatically took him to an area in the sandbox where only boys were present. There were girls also playing in the sandbox, but no notice was given to them to acquaint them with the new little boy. At one time there was a girl who appeared to want to talk to the little boy. She began to slowly move towards him and as she got closer he stood up and moved further away. Parents are keen for their children to exhibit acceptable gender behavior, but I believe males in particular are anxious and will take steps to limit non-conventional behavior.

On the third and final day of observations the focus was on three girls and two boys. In this scenario all were engaged in trying to walk on tin cans that were attached by strings and held by each child. The girls were ooviously doing better than the boys because the boys kept falling off. A mutual alliance formed between the three girls as they appeared to sense with eye contact that they were in charge of the activity. They began to whisper in each others ears and laugh towards the two boys who by now had given up playing with the cans.

In closing, I found that beginning at a young age, boys stress position and hierarchy, whereas girls emphasize the construction of intimacy and connection. In every observation that was made, it is apparent how the roles of men and women are developed in our culture and ultimately the society as a hold. From the boys on the swings banding together to keep the girls away, or the girls who began their own alliance to stimulate their own interest and interaction on what they enjoyed (girls playing on tin cans).

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    • Darkproxy profile image

      Darkproxy 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Oddly enough, the case of David Remier debunks gender roles as a construct of society. I mean he was castrated and given female hormone treatments and had female gender roles hammered into him, through rather sickening methods, but he still challenged everything he was told and since the age of nine identified himself as a boy. Sadly, this evidence to disprove the feminist theory of gender roles resulted in not only David's suicide but also the suicide of twin brother Brian.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      6 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Thank you. I Originally did wrote this article for an Anthropology class. The first step was doing a real case study of children after observing them for several days. It was very enlightening.

    • profile image

      safia haris 

      6 years ago

      veryy nice :)

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      izetti, I agree with the genetics/ancestry connection too, although it can start in any generation, not necessarily going back. Although it wasn't accepted as it is now, people learned to live as society pretty much dictated.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 

      9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      I don't know if anyone has exactly pinpointed why some choose the opposite, but genetics would be my best guess too. Although that would mean somehow in that person's ancestry, there were others that were born like them- it came from somewhere.

      I am always interested in this and people's opinions. Also I saw a talk show about kids already leaning toward wanting to be the opposite sex they were born.

      Thanks- great hub.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Izetti, My belief is that as I heard doctors and therapists state before also, that no matter what gender you are born as, there is something in ones genetic makeup that predispositions them to lean opposite of the gender they were born as. I don't know if this is a solid factor but other societal reasons can play a part as well.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 

      9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      So how do you explain those with gender confusion, even if they played with and like those typical of their gender, but later want become a transsexual?

      If gender is programmed and taught by the way parents dress them and what toys they play with, why do some grow up believing they were not meant to be the sex they were born with.

      Just curious what your thoughts are.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Jerilee, I agree wholeheartedly with you. When I was younger and working everyday, I missed some of this my own children, but like you I get to see it with my 3 granddaughters.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Great hub! Watching children at play and work can be one of the most fascinating and enlightening things any of us can do. I learn something almost every day watching my granddaughter and her friends.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Lgali, I appreciate you commenting on my Hub.

    • laringo profile imageAUTHOR

      laringo 

      9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

      Thanks RGraf, It's really amazing how much you can pick up from just casual observations. The human species is very unique and sometimes very complex, beginning at a very young age.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 

      9 years ago

      very nicely written

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin

      Very insightful. thanks.

    • profile image

      laringo 

      9 years ago

      Thanks Earnestshub on the kind remarks and I do agree that slowly but surely a lot of the gender bias which use to exist has improved. I think if society as a whole ever accepts there is no difference in the equality of men and woman then these roles of male and female will no longer be an issue. I won't hold my breath though.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Very nice hub. I have 2 children and six grandchildren. I do heaps of babysitting especially my twin 3 year old girls an four year old grandson. No more nappys these days as they are all "housetrained" now. I did not mind the nappies too much but admit is smells better without them!

      Your observations are a great insite into the way children are conditioned and my children, their mother and I do all we can to assist the little ones to be individuals.

      Some of the newer childrens shows have helped with the gender bias and I am very glad to see the stereotyping slowly coming to an end on kids TV.

      I hope you write more hubs on children, as this one is a beauty.

      Love and joy to all the children of the world.

    • profile image

      laringo 

      10 years ago

      You are absolutely right on the conditioning according to gender. I think though over the years since my generation especially,society as a whole has relaxed and so has certain stereotypes. I do remember though in Catholic school when we had folk dancing days and the boys and girls partnered up and how upset I would get when a male was absent and already having more girls in the class, I had to fill and stand as a boy because I was one of the tallest girls in my class. I will never forget that.

    • profile image

      rockwell 

      10 years ago

      nice job YOU Rock

    • Melissa G profile image

      Melissa G 

      10 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Very interesting observation and insights. I remember attempting to play softball with a group of boys in elementary school, and one of the playground aides, an older lady, came over and led me away. It's interesting to think of the role social conditioning plays, from such a young age, in shaping our gender identities.

      Great hub!

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