Children at play and Gender roles
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
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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