"Boys are from planet football? Girls are from planet pink?": Gender dualism and beyond in the construction of young children's gender identities in the early years of schooling

Martin, Barbara. 2009. "Boys are from planet football? Girls are from planet pink?": Gender dualism and beyond in the construction of young children's gender identities in the early years of schooling. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My aim in this thesis is to make a contribution to feminist understandings of how young children are active participants in the construction of their own individual gender identities. My theoretical framework draws on a Foucauldian analysis of power and feminist poststructuralist theory to explore the gender discourses within which young children are positioned. The thesis is based on a two year empirical research project in an inner London Primary school, using qualitative methods including participant observation and semi structured interviews. I understand the development of gender identity as relational, and I explore how children are positioned, and position themselves within discourses of gender, 'race', ethnicity, class, sexuality, (dis)ability and age. The children in the study came from diverse ethnic backgrounds and 13 languages were spoken in addition to English. My two year fieldwork project followed cohorts of 3 and 4 year old children as they joined Nursery and moved into Reception classes, exploring how children learned and performed masculinities and femininities in early years classrooms and playgrounds.

My data analysis focuses on how children learn about the salience of gender in local communities of practice, with local power/knowledge relations being central to children's understandings of gender. Newcomers learned to perform masculinities and femininities through legitimate peripheral participation in the activities of older children. My findings show that children learned to enact and embody hegemonic practices of gender dualism and heteronormativity through apprentice participation in play and schooling practices, with young children often interpreting gender positions as oppositional. Children experienced pleasure through demonstrating knowledge of gendered use of play technologies, toys and play spaces. Children learned that some 'masculine' marked objects carry more power and status than 'feminine' marked objects. The gender divide in terms of objects of knowledge often positioned girls as less powerful than boys, because masculine objects of knowledge such as construction, superhero and football games gave greater access to space and resources. Children sought to understand the gender boundaries in their social settings, and they negotiated these boundaries through interactions and gender performances.

My findings show how young children established and strictly policed gender borders between girls and boys, but also show that the borders remain fluid and open to change, as some children resist and contest boundaries. I argue that discursive practices are not simply reproduced, they are reinterpreted and recreated and sometimes modified and changed, and therein lies the potential for shifts in power relations and moves towards equity. I conclude that early years educators need to intervene to help children to discuss their ideas about gender and enable them to access a wider range of gender positions through which they can experience pleasure and power. Many schooling practices reinforced gender dualism, whilst some encouraged subversion of gender norms. I suggest that imaginative role play can provide an important way of working towards gender equity.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00028594

Keywords:

gender identity, children, school, feminism, Foucauldian analysis

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies

Date:

2009

Item ID:

28594

Date Deposited:

02 Jun 2020 10:13

Last Modified:

02 Jun 2020 10:14

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/28594

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