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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Miller, Sarah A. 2016. “How You Bully a Girl: Sexual Drama and the Negotiation of Gendered Sexuality in High School.” Gender & Society 30(5): 721–744.
Abstract: Over the past decade, sexual rumor spreading, slut-shaming, and homophobic labeling have become central examples of bullying among young women. This article examines the role these practices— what adults increasingly call “bullying” and what girls often call “drama”— play in girls’ gendering processes. Through interviews with 54 class and racially diverse late adolescent girls, I explore the content and functions of “sexual drama.” All participants had experiences with this kind of conflict, and nearly a third had been the subject of other girls’ rumors about their own sexual actions and/or orientations. Their accounts indicate that sexual drama offers girls a socially acceptable site for making claims to, and sense of, gendered sexuality in adolescence. While they reproduce inequality through these practices, sexual drama is also a resource for girls—one that is made useful through the institutional constraints of their high schools, which reinforce traditional gender norms and limit sexuality information.
Powell, Amber Joy, Heather R. Hlavka, and Sameena Mulla. 2017. “Intersectionality and Credibility in Child Sexual Assault Trials.” Gender & Society 31(4): 457–480.
Abstract: Children remain largely absent from sociolegal scholarship on sexual violence. Taking an intersectional approach to the analysis of attorneys’ strategies during child sexual assault trials, this article argues that legal narratives draw on existing gender, racial, and age stereotypes to present legally compelling evidence of credibility. This work builds on Crenshaw’s focus on women of color, emphasizing the role of structures of power and inequality in constituting the conditions of children’s experiences of adjudication. Using ethnographic observations of courtroom jury trials, transcripts, and court records, three narrative themes of child credibility emerged: invisible wounds, rebellious adolescents, and dysfunctional families. Findings show how attorneys use these themes to emphasize the child’s unmarked body, imperceptible emotional responses, rebellious character, and harmful familial environments. The current study fills a gap in sexual assault research by moving beyond trial outcomes to address cultural narratives within the court that are inextricably embedded in intersectional dimensions of power and the reproduction of social status.
Henriksen, Ann-Karinna. 2017. “Confined to Care: Girls’ Gendered Vulnerabilities in Secure Institutions” Gender & Society 31(5): 677–698.
Abstract: In Denmark, secure care institutions are gender-integrated and accommodate young people with a wide range of psychiatric and social troubles. The large majority of young people are placed here in surrogate custody, and a minority, mostly girls, are placed here in protective care. Based on a qualitative study of gendered practices and experiences in Danish secure care institutions, this article provides insight into how gender and pathology merge to produce vulnerabilities in care. The study finds that while girls are viewed through a lens of pathology, secure care practices largely fail to provide treatment for girls. Drawing on feminist scholarship on penal–welfare responses to women, I argue that institutional practices contribute to the production of disordered selves and the marginalization of girls in secure care. This demonstrates how welfare provision for the most marginalized girls reproduces and reinforces the inequalities that brought them into secure care. The study hereby supplements an emerging scholarship on how gender underpins penal–welfare responses and interventions.
Fefferman, Ann M. and Ushma D. Upadhyay. 2018. “Hybrid Masculinity and Young Men’s Circumscribed Engagement in Contraceptive Management.” Gender & Society 32(3): 371–394.
Abstract: This research explores how gender shapes contraceptive management through in-depth interviews with 40 men and women of color ages 15 to 24, a life stage when the risk of unintended pregnancy is high in the United States. Although past research focuses on men’s contraception-avoidant behaviors, little sociological work has explored ways men engage in contraception outside of condoms, such as contraceptive pills. Research often highlights how women manage these methods alone. Our research identifies how young men of color do help manage these methods through their engagement in contraceptive decision making and use. Men accomplish this without limiting their partners’ ability to prevent pregnancy. This is despite structural barriers such as poverty and gang-related violence that disproportionately affect low-income young men of color and often shape their reproductive goals. However, men’s engagement is still circumscribed so that women take on a disproportionate burden of pregnancy prevention, reifying gender boundaries. We identify this as a form of hybrid masculinity, because men’s behaviors are seemingly egalitarian but also sustain women’s individualized risk of unintended pregnancy. This research points to the complexity of how race, class, and gender intersect to create an engaged but limited place for men in contraceptive management among marginalized youth.
Oh, Eunsil. 2018. “Who Deserves to Work? How Women Develop Expectations of Child Care Support in Korea.” Gender & Society 32(4): 493–515.
Abstract: This study extends our understanding of the positive relationship between kin-based child care support and mothers’ ability to stay in the workforce by examining why and how women seek such help. Using 100 in-depth interviews with Korean mothers, I find that although child care provided by grandmothers helps mothers maintain their employment, a mother will ask for support only when she constructs strong career aspirations and generates agreement amongst family members that she deserves support. Both of these center around the notion of who deserves to work as a mother. Mothers’ explanations of why they deserve support vary based on their educational backgrounds: less-educated mothers stress economic stability, whereas better-educated mothers emphasize the symbolic meaning of sustaining their high public status. Most mothers, however, feel the need to “prove” to themselves and to certain others that they deserve child care support. Based on these findings, I develop a theory of deservingness to explain how mothers account for their work and make decisions to seek child care support.
Gonzalez, Shannon Malone. 2019. “Making It Home: An Intersectional Analysis of the Police Talk.” Gender & Society 33(3): 363–386.
Abstract: Black mothers often are responsible for teaching their children how to respond to police violence. Through 30 in-depth interviews with black mothers from diverse social class backgrounds, I investigate how they address the gendered racial vulnerability of their children in the “police talk,” a socialization practice designed to prepare children for police encounters. I identify mothers’ primary discourse as “the making it home” framework, which encapsulates in parent–child socialization their use of double consciousness around the police. This framework marginalizes girls’ experiences in three ways: it conceptualizes boys as the primary targets of police, while constructing girls as collateral targets of police violence; it emphasizes masculine forms of violence; and it is directed almost exclusively at boys. An intersectional analysis is applied to redress the limitations of the police talk and to highlight the need for structural reforms to recognize and combat police violence against black women and girls.
Small, Jamie L. 2019. “Constructing Sexual Harm: Prosecutorial Narratives of Children, Abuse, and the Disruption of Heterosexuality.” Gender & Society 33(4): 560–582.
Abstract: Sociologists have identified many factors that mitigate the progressive effects of the legal mobilization to end sexual violence. Within this body of research, however, there is little interrogation about the social construction of sexual harm. I use the case of child sexual abuse to investigate how prosecutors make sense of sexual harm. Data are qualitative interviews with 43 prosecutors. Findings reveal that prosecutors use a framework of sexual identity to construct sexual injury on the child’s body. The perceived harm centers on the anticipated loss of the child’s heterosexual potential. Girl victims are thought to grow into sexual promiscuity, and boy victims are thought to grow into sex offenders. Prosecutorial constructions of child sexual abuse cases are future-oriented, which increases their urgency, and these constructions also imagine the child as a person in formation, rather than a fully actualized person with intrinsic rights. In revealing how the state of sexual victimization is not only deeply gendered but also heteronormative, this research has theoretical implications for childhood studies, queer studies, and anti-violence advocacy.
Duckworth, Kiera D. and Mary Neil Trautner. 2019. “Gender Goals: Defining Masculinity and Navigating Peer Pressure to Engage in Sexual Activity.” Gender & Society 33(5): 795–817.
Abstract: A significant part of hegemonic masculinity is proving one’s heterosexuality though sexual experiences. Peer pressure to conform is particularly acute for adolescent boys and young men. We analyze interviews with 87 boys in middle school, high school, and college about how their masculinity goals and subsequent achievement of those goals influence their navigation of pressure to engage in sexual relations with girls and women to “prove” themselves. Our findings show that, while boys and young men recognize dominant notions of hegemonic masculinity, most do not subscribe to those uncritically. Rather, they struggle to balance personal ideas about masculinity with consistent pressure from others to demonstrate their heterosexuality. As a result, they employ various strategies to negotiate such pressures, including avoidance, acceptance, and outright rejection of this particular expectation. These strategies, however, ultimately contribute to a broader gender culture among adolescents in which expectations and privileges associated with hegemonic masculinity that dominate U.S. culture remain largely unchallenged.