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Gender Norms in School and Society - Reaction Paper: "Boys vs. Girls"

EssayChat / Jun 9, 2018

According to Debra Ringey's essay "Boys vs. Girls," even individuals who are committed to the ideal of equality often fall victim to making stereotyped assumptions about people, based upon gender. This reflects the notion of gender being embedded in the cognitive categories of people as soon as they acquire language. Feminist theorists have advanced the idea for many decades that sex is different from gender. While sex refers to the physical attributes of someone's body, gender refers to the cultural assumptions assigned to those bodies. Within Western society, we have generally referred to the existence of two genders, although some societies view gender in a more fluid way. As noted by Ringey when she was working in a daycare center, even as someone who identified as a feminist, she fell into a pattern of separating children by gender. This inevitably reinforced assumptions about gender and gender-based social norms and hierarchies.

Student Gender LawsRegardless of the ideological orientation of someone, in our society, one of the first distinctions people learn is boys versus girls and men versus women. Then, different and somewhat arbitrary ideas are assigned to those physical distinctions. For example, little girl are associated with the color pink while boys are associated with the color blue. Boys are assumed to like sports while girls are assumed to like dolls. Yet when boys play with doll-like action figures or girls are very physically adept at sports like figure skating, these actions are still viewed as stereotypically masculine and feminine, because the actions are made to conform in people's minds to comfortably preexisting categories.

There are no particularly logical or good reason for most gendered assumptions (for example, why is cooking considered a feminine occupation at home but a role for a male chef in a restaurant). But because of the limited nature of language, when feminists question stereotypes, it is difficult to do so other than to invert the assumptions assigned to different genders. For example, a strong woman is often said to be a woman who works for a living, is physically capable, and does not rely upon her attractiveness to get ahead. And while these attribute may be celebrated, such a statement associates typically male values with strength, even though a woman is embodying them. On the other hand, asserting that women's accomplishments like motherhood are strong and valuable likewise suggests that there are essential characteristics of being a woman like nurturing that are unavoidable, even if not all women necessarily feel that such values describe their innate sense of being.

Ringey notes that she observed in her own behavior different attitudes towards boys and girls when working in a daycare center. For example, when a little girl got in a fight or was hurt, Ringey was far more nurturing and protective to the child than she would have been to a boy in the same position; she was more inclined to let the boy take care of himself. On one hand, it is important to allow boys to cry and to be nurtured. On the other hand, it is important to foster independent values and being overly coddling towards girls can cause girls to view themselves as weak and in constant need of assistance. Of course, aggression is a continuum, and between both genders there are a wide range of behaviors. But the types of values that enable individuals to succeed and take risks such as independence have traditionally been sexed as masculine.

This may be one reason why girls tend to do better in school-they are rewarded for following the rules and seeking assurance when they experience trouble-but may face roadblocks when they go out into the workplace. The project of socializing girls, even if it may not be undertaken in an unintentional fashion, does not necessarily prepare girls for the emotional skills they need to function at an optimal level given workplace expectations.

There is no clear answer about how to eradicate sexism from society, given that women as well as men may perpetrate gender biases. Even women who want their daughters to grow up to be strong women may struggle with their attempts to raise their daughters differently than they raised them. It is very difficult to unsee and unhear sexist assumptions and attitudes given that the very youngest of children are raised with them from the beginnings of their ability to express ideas about themselves. Even young children may express contradictory ideas to try to make them conform to gender, such as a boy that insists his friend is a girl because the other child is playing with a Barbie doll, although his friend is actually male.

Doing away with the notion of gender in our society is unrealistic. But it is reasonable and realistic to ask individuals to be more self-critical about their gendered assumptions. This can begin with how they interact with the next generation of men and women (and those who identify with neither gender) but should also include adults, who are not too old to change.

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