Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Emily W. Kane's "The Gender Trap"

Emily W. Kane is Professor of Sociology, and a member of the Program in Women and Gender Studies, at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, and reported the following:
As I flipped to page 99, I felt lucky to discover the test seemed to work. Based on interviews I conducted with parents raising preschool aged children, from a wide range of backgrounds and family types, my new book’s broader argument and style are captured well by this particular page. It includes an interview quote I used in the title of a journal article I published several years before the book came out: “No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like That!” Though the article addressed just a small slice of the project, it emphasized two points that became central to the book: the complex ways parents feel constrained by how others may judge their children if they don’t live up to gender expectations and the “double standard” that makes that constraint particularly notable in relation to sons. The father quoted was expressing his strong preference that his two young sons play football, baseball or soccer, and not engage in activities like gymnastics or dance, which he considers socially appropriate only for girls.

In The Gender Trap, I explore how parents balance two kinds of explanations for the origins of gendered patterns in children’s lives, biological and social, and two kinds of actions, those that reproduce and those that resist traditionally gendered outcomes. Parents combined these beliefs and actions in five distinct configurations, and page 99 is in the chapter that presents a configuration I call “Cultivators.” These are parents who primarily view gendered childhoods as socially shaped, as reflected in the chapter’s title: “I Think a Lot of It Is Us, Parents and Society.” Not surprisingly, they report many actions that reproduce traditional gender patterns. They view gendering children as a routine aspect of their responsibility as parents. While some express fear or discomfort about non-traditional outcomes, as conveyed in the phrase “no way my boys are going to be like that,” they do so in the context of explaining their routine efforts to craft more traditional outcomes. In the rest of the book, these parents are joined by four other configurations that I call Naturalizers, Refiners, Innovators, and Resisters. I present each configuration by profiling several individual parents and addressing patterns across the group. Comparing and contrasting all five configurations, I make the broader argument that despite their best intentions and their desire to loosen at least some gendered constraints for their children, many parents fall into the gender trap, a trap baited by a variety of social factors I analyze throughout the book and with significant consequences for gender inequalities in the adult world.
Learn more about Emily W. Kane's The Gender Trap at the New York University Press website.

Writers Read: Emily W. Kane.

--Marshal Zeringue