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The Gender Trap

The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

Emily W. Kane
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 297
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  • Book Info
    The Gender Trap
    Book Description:

    From the selection of toys, clothes, and activities to styles of play and emotional expression, the family is ground zero for where children learn about gender. Despite recent awareness that girls are not too fragile to play sports and that boys can benefit from learning to cook, we still find ourselves surrounded by limited gender expectations and persistent gender inequalities. Through the lively and engaging stories of parents from a wide range of backgrounds, The Gender Trap provides a detailed account of how today's parents understand, enforce, and resist the gendering of their children. Emily Kane shows how most parents make efforts to loosen gendered constraints for their children, while also engaging in a variety of behaviors that reproduce traditionally gendered childhoods, ultimately arguing that conventional gender expectations are deeply entrenched and that there is great tension in attempting to undo them while letting 'boys be boys' and 'girls be girls.'

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3878-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION “Glamour Babies” and “Little Toughies”
    (pp. 1-26)

    Slogans emblazoned on baby bibs marketed by a leading retailer tell a striking tale about the gender expectations parents face as they outfit their daughters and sons. “Glamour Baby,” “Daddy’s Princess,” “Born to Shop,” “Diva,” “Hot Babe,” and “Pretty Girl” adorn the girls’ bibs versus “Wild One,” “Little Toughie,” “All Star,” “Rebel,” “The Boss,” and “Trouble Maker” for the boys. An equally gender-marked array of shirts is produced by major companies. One store features tees for sizes six months and up announcing, for girls, “Little Angel” and “I’d Rather Be Shopping with Mommy” and, for boys, “Little Bruiser” and “Play...

  5. ONE Wanting a Girl, Wanting a Boy: Conceptual Building Blocks
    (pp. 27-52)

    From the earliest moment potential parents contemplate raising a child, they wander into a social landscape filled with gendered images, a key feature of the backdrop against which they eventually raise children. For that reason I began my interviews by asking the parents of preschoolers whether they had ever preferred having a son or a daughter, either before they had planned to have children or while awaiting the arrival of the child who would be the focus of our interview. For the many parents who did express a preference, we talked about what a son or daughter meant to them...

  6. TWO “It’s in Their Nature”: Naturalizers
    (pp. 53-81)

    Maya, a twenty-nine-year-old, low-income, African American mother raising her three children on her own, had scheduled our interview in the morning, before her office work shift began at noon and while her children were at a local day care center. We met in her small apartment, a tidy and well-organized space with a few toys neatly stowed in a bookcase in the sparsely furnished living room. Maya spoke in a quiet voice and seemed nervous initially. But she soon settled into a confident rhythm as she responded to my questions. At the time of the interview, I had not yet...

  7. 3 “I Think a Lot of It Is Us, Parents and Society”: Cultivators
    (pp. 82-110)

    Charles, a thirty-year-old, white, middle-class, small-business consultant, became a participant in this book when his wife, Susan, a stay-at-home mother, responded to a posting about my project. At the time, I had enough mothers participating but was still looking for fathers. Given Susan’s interest throughout the interview, Charles likely volunteered because of his wife’s desire to be involved in the project, but nevertheless he was attentive and engaged. His interview took place in their home, which was remarkably spotless and orderly given the presence of four small children, but in a warm and casual way.

    Although nervous at first, perhaps...

  8. 4 “We Try Not to Encourage It, but I Know It Gets in There”: Refiners
    (pp. 111-140)

    Ben, a white, heterosexually partnered parent, is thirty-five years old and considers himself upper-middle class, an identification consistent with his luxurious home in a tree-lined neighborhood of similar houses. On the evening of our appointment, his wife was in the kitchen making tea and scones as we sat in the dining room talking about his experiences raising two sons and two daughters, all under the age of six. Ben concluded his assessment of the origins of gendered childhoods by saying, “If I had to throw something out there, I’d say sixty/forty, sixty environment, parents. . . . I do definitely...

  9. 5 “You Applaud All the Other Stuff”: Innovators
    (pp. 141-171)

    Anthony, a white, working-class, heterosexually partnered father of three who works as a sales representative, belongs in the group I classify as Innovators. His small, neat, and carefully maintained gray duplex, nestled close to its neighbors on a densely populated side street, was the site for our interview. Like his fellow Innovators, Anthony believes that parents can raise children in less gendered ways, a belief shared with the Refiners profiled in the previous chapter. But Innovators are more confident than Refiners that they can achieve this outcome and are willing to go to greater lengths to succeed. These are parents...

  10. 6 “Surviving in a Gendered Culture”: Resisters
    (pp. 172-198)

    Resisters, numbering only five parents among all those interviewed, resembled Innovators in some ways but differed markedly in others. Like Innovators, Resisters reported resistant actions and also endorsed less gendered childhoods. They also shared a tendency to report relatively little action that reproduces gendered childhoods. Resisters focused nearly as much attention as Innovators on social forces over biological ones. And, to an even greater extent, they emphasized the importance of power, societal structure, and intersectionality. They differ, however, in voicing a preference for avoiding the gender trap, not only by accepting what might be considered unusual behavior, but also by...

  11. CONCLUSION “A Better World”: Dismantling the Gender Trap
    (pp. 199-218)

    “Is that kid’s meal for a boy or a girl?” a cashier asked me at a fast-food restaurant. Why, I wondered, were chicken nuggets different for boys and girls? Of course, it was not the food but the free toy that came with the meal that was intended for a boy or girl. Instead of asking if I preferred, for example, race cars or dolls, Spiderman or My Little Pony, the cashier assumed that my children’s gender determined which toy they would want. Though I had hoped to sidestep that trap as I raised my twins, it was much more...

  12. APPENDIX: Research Methods
    (pp. 219-236)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 237-254)
    (pp. 255-270)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 271-286)
    (pp. 287-287)