Children & Youth

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Children & Youth

Organized by Hara Bastas, PhD.  LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York (CUNY)

Updated by: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York and Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University

When teaching about children and youth, the social categories of age can be examined separately or included across a discussion of the life course.  With this in mind, there are 110 articles in Gender & Society for this section.  Here are just a few of the more recent articles that research the experiences of children in the context of elementary and middle schools and community organizations and the experiences of youth in high school and college.  Understanding how children and youth socially construct their lives, the articles focus on how as active participants meanings are negotiated, challenged and re-created specifically regarding bodies and sexualities in informal and formal interactions.  Community organizations and social institutions are consistently part of the interaction, at times supporting and sometimes resisting current systems such as sports and formal education.  Ultimately gender itself becomes exposed to reflect the complexity within the lives of children and youth, where age is constantly intersecting with other social categories such as ethnicity and social class.  With a feminist analysis, the varied experiences of children and youth are placed in the center of the discussion and not in the margins, as too often pushed into by society.

Martin, Karin A. 2005. William wants a doll. Can he have one? Feminists, child care advisors, and gender-neutral child rearing. Gender & Society, 19 (4): 456-479.

Using an analysis of child care books and parenting Web sites, this article asks if second-wave feminism’s vision of gender-neutral child rearing has been incorporated into contemporary advice on child rearing. The data suggest that while feminist understandings of gender have made significant inroads into popular advice, especially with regard to the social construction of gender, something akin to “a stalled revolution” has taken place. Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.

Litt, Jacquelyn. 2004. Women’s Carework in Low-Income Households: The Special Case of Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Gender & Society 18 (5): pp. 625-644.

This article presents qualitative interview data to explore the health-related carework of low-income women caregivers with special-needs children and the implications of carework for women’s financial security. The author documents “direct” and “advocacy” carework as two types of caregiving that low-income women carry out in the context of declining government resources for poor disabled children. The author shows that the unique demands of carework responsibilities and the conditions of low-wage work combine to limit caregivers’ employment and education options as well as their long-term prospects for financial stability.

Fjær, Eivind Grip, Willy Pedersen, and Sveinung Sandberg. (2015). “I’m Not One of Those Girls”: Boundary-Work and the Sexual Double Standard in a Liberal Hookup Context”. Gender & Society, 29 (6): pp. 960-981.

Sexual morality is not keeping up with the new sexual practices of young people, even in cultures oriented toward gender equality. The Norwegian high school graduation celebration constitutes an exceptionally liberal context for sexual practices. Many of the 18-year-old participants in this three-week-long celebration engage in “hookup” activities, involving kissing, fondling, and sexual intercourse. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with 25 women and 16 men, we argue that while they avoided overt slut-shaming, the morally abject position of the “slut” was still sustained by implication. The young women drew symbolic boundaries against anonymous other women who failed to value safety, hygiene, and self-control. This boundary-work was combined with declarations of tolerance of hookup practices, reflecting a sexually liberal culture geared toward gender equality. That young women who hooked up also drew boundaries against “other” women indicates a lack of alternative gender beliefs that allow young women to positively associate with hooking up. The young men also drew symbolic boundaries in their talk about sex, but enjoyed more freedom in their moral positioning. Although the liberal context was evident, the gendered difference in sexual boundary-work may contribute to the persistence of a sexual double standard among young people.

Coe, Anna-Britt. (2015). “I Am Not Just a Feminist Eight Hours a Day”: Youth Gender Justice Activism in Ecuador and Peru. Gender & Society, 29(6): pp. 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. I examine how and why youth gender justice activists understand their political action differently from the professionalized adult feminists who mobilize them. Grounded theory was used to collect and analyze interviews with 21 young women and men activists on gender justice. Youth activists seek cultural changes using social advocacy to target the family, household, and intimate partnerships, what I describe as politicizing the sociocultural. They develop new ways of perceiving political action in response to challenges produced by emergent gender hierarchies, which they understand as blurred gender inequalities or processes that simultaneously enable and constrain gender equality.

Garcia, Lorena.  2009.  “Now Why do you Want to Know About That?”: Heteronormativity,  Sexism, and Racism in the Sexual (Mis)education of Latina Youth.  Gender & Society 23(4): 520-541.

Using in-depth interviews, Garcia challenges us to consider the ways that “young people have been a target audience for safe sex education campaigns”.   Focusing specifically on Latina youth in Chicago, Illinois the heterosexism, sexism and racism become intertwined to create and regulate the sexual identity of teens in both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education curricula.  Mexican and Puerto Rican young women “translate those messages and infuse them with their own meanings” for safety and pleasure in sexual identities.

Myers, Kristen and Laura Raymond.  2010.  Elementary School Girls and Heteronormativity: The Girl Project.  Gender & Society 24(2): 167-188.

Myers and Raymond remind us to include children’s own voices when researching children’s sexuality and how “most studies of heteronormativity among children focus on adolescent girls and boys (ages 12 to 18) or on those transitioning into adolescence (9- to 11-year-olds). It stands to reason that younger girls struggle with these pressures too”.  Through small focus groups in the Midwest of the United States, that is exactly what the research revealed.  Girls identified their sexuality as a part of their everyday lives — some rejecting while others co-producing the gendered expectations.

McCabe, Janice, Emily Fairchild, Liz Grauerholz, Bernice A. Pescosolido, and Daniel Tope.  2011.  Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.  Gender & Society 25(2): 197-226.

McCabe et. al ask us to look into how children’s books can serve to reinforce gender inequality.  Using a historical analysis that accounted for the gender shifts in political life and book series in the United States, the conclusion was the same: males are represented more frequently than females in titles and as central characters, with the most equity for child central characters and the most inequity for animal characters.   In turn, the research from 5,618 children’s books of the twentieth century demonstrate how “this widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys”.

Denny, Kathleen E. 2011.  Gender in Context, Content, and Approach: Comparing Gender Messages in Girl Scout and Boy Scout Handbooks.  Gender & Society 25(1): 27-47.

Examining the meanings of femininities and masculinities for girl and boy scouts in the United States, Denny describes how messages of gender become created for one of the oldest single-sex youth organizations.  By focusing on the “context of activities—with whom the Scouts participate in activities, content of activities—the types of activities and badges offered, and the approach to the activities—the attitude with which Scouts are expected to approach these activities” more variability within femininity than masculinity becomes available to troop members.  For Girl Scouts, there is a consistent blending of traditional and progressive femininity whereas the Boy Scouts use traditional masculinity based on social class.

Giffort, Danielle M.  2011.  Show or Tell? Feminist Dilemmas and Implicit Feminism at Girls’ Rock Camp.  Gender & Society 25(5): 569-588.

Through the use of participant observation and semi-structured interviews at Girls Rock Midwest!, Gifford asks us to consider the ways in which feminist organizations connect feminist politics for girls in the United States.  More specifically, how “implicit feminism is a strategy practiced by feminist activists within organizations that are operating in an anti- and postfeminist environment that involves concealing feminist identities, not labeling feminist ideas as such, and emphasizing more socially acceptable angles of their efforts to those outside of the organization”.  Even if not continuously self-identified as feminist, the organization provides opportunities for girl self-growth and musical empowerment in a traditionally masculine space.

Love, Adam and Kimberly Kelly.  2011.  Equity or Essentialism?: U.S. Courts and the Legitimation of Girls’ Teams in High School Sport.  Gender & Society 25(2): 227-249.

Analyzing the rulings of fourteen U.S. Court cases, Love and Kelly invite us to consider how integrated sports teams in high school can reduce gender inequality.  The contemporary use of sex-segregated teams is upheld through two specific social institutions — sports and law.  Together the social institutions support the traditional norms of femininity of “fragility and weakness”.  Thus, the experiences and opportunities for girl athletes become restricted and in-turn girls’ sports are not viewed as equally important as boys sports.

Mora, Richard.  2012.  “Do it for all Your Pubic Hairs!”: Latino Boys, Masculinity, and Puberty.  Gender & Society 26(3): 433-460.

Conducting interviews in a Northeastern city of the United States, Mora indicates the complexity of “the intersection of masculinity, ethnicity, and gender”.  Focusing on the impact of collective social formation of bodies, the construction of masculinity during puberty for second-generation Dominican and Puerto Rican boys becomes narrated through multiple interactions at school and in low-income working class neighborhoods.    

Weber, Jennifer Beggs.  2012.  Becoming Teen Fathers: Stories of Teen Pregnancy, Responsibility, and Masculinity.  Gender & Society 26(6): 900-921.

Asking for a more complex understanding of the social construction of masculinity, Weber provides an analysis of teen fatherhood through gendered assumptions regarding pregnancy and contraception, a “belief that male sexuality is uncontrollable” and the “utilization of love and intimacy talk”.  Through the three main ideals of masculinity, the stories of becoming and being a teen father are explored for young men in a Midwest city of the United States.

Pomerantz, Shauna, Rebecca Raby, and Andrea Stefanik.  2013. Girls Run the World?: Caught between Sexism and Postfeminism in School.  Gender & Society 27(2): 185-207.

Through interviews with girls in the Niagara Region of Canada, Pomerantz, Raby and Stefanik challenge us to consider the larger implications when girls become placed in the middle of social inequalities.  More specifically, when sexism becomes viewed as an individual problem, in a time of postfeminism that categorizes girls in the narratives of “Girl Power” and “Successful Girls”.  Girls are left to manage their identities in a space where “boys and girls are equal” and where maintaining a “nice” persona as an empowered girl becomes important “so they would not have to blame anyone for the social injustices”.

Rauscher, Lauren, Kerrie Kauer, and Bianca D.M. Wilson.  2013.  The Healthy Body Paradox: Organizational and Interactional Influences on Preadolescent Girls’ Body Image in Los Angeles.  Gender & Society 27(2): 208-230.

The culture of thinness and anti-fat bias for 8-14 year old girls was assessed through a girl-serving positive U.S. national youth development program, Girls on the Run, in Los Angeles, California.  Using mixed methods, Rauscher, Kauer and Wilson ask us to consider how community based organizations improve and impede the relationship between girls’ body and health.   More specifically, the “tension between telling girls that their bodies do not define who they are, while simultaneously encouraging them to maintain a nonfat body, the dominant                     form of body seen as healthy”.  The contradictions reflect the ways in which the body is socially constructed to represent the cultural ideals surrounding physical activity, weight and health.

Whittier, Nancy. (2016). Where Are the Children?: Theorizing the Missing Piece in Gendered Sexual Violence. Gender & Society. 30(1): pp. 95-108.