Gender differences, reflected in play | Education Dissertation

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Children in the primary years of school learn much both in and out of the classroom. This is the time they begin reading, writing, and basic mathematics. During these crucial years they are also learning who they are and how they relate to the world around them. One important aspect of this development of self-concept is the idea of gender. Children bring to their primary years an understanding developed through home, community, and previous educational experiences of their own genders and those of others. However, gender concepts are often encouraged and reinforced significantly during the primary years, both in the classroom and through structured and unstructured play.

It is important to begin with an examination of what gender really is. Most research into genderhas been undertaken by those representing feminist, homosexual, orother non-traditional gender constructs, and possibly for this reasonhas received less attention in traditional media or education forums.This leads to a misunderstanding of gender, its implications on theindividual’s development, and its influence on the education and playof children. However, the conscious or unconscious attitudes towardsgender that surround children have great impact both on their conceptsof gender definition and their own understanding of their freedom todevelop a self-image within gender boundaries.

Gender and chromosomal sex are often confused in the minds of manypeople. A person is born with either male or female genitalia, which determines both their sex and gender. This is a misunderstanding of both gender and its development within the individual. Most people are born from a physical standpoint as either female or male, although somerare individuals are born with part or all of both physical attributes,and a rarer group with neither (). However, physical equipment is not the determinant of gender, society is. Most societies have historically held that physical “maleness” or “femaleness” determines gender, which then leads to the development of certain sexual desires,attributes and actions (Butler 1990). Physical differences werebelieved to create two distinct genders, male and female. Being a man,that is, having masculine desires and performing masculine actions, isdistinct and wholly separate from being a woman, with feminine desiresand performances. Masculine and feminine traits were believed to notbe a matter of choice, which caused all individuals to be classified as either male or female (Hawkesworth 1997). Importantly, this leads mostsocieties to value a heteronormality, and try to conform to themale/female binary or somehow bring under control anyone with desiresor actions outside of the these gender distinctions. (Gamson and Moon2004).

People who behave outside of the traditional genders have been found tobe stigmatised by society and considered deviant (Epstein 1997). This is particularly difficult for young children who do not fit gendernorms. Little girls who excel at traditionally male activity, such as sport, or who have a boyish appearance are often the targets of slursand bullying; even more often such are directed at effeminate boys oryoung men participating in traditionally feminine pursuits (). Whilst there has been a relaxation of gender absolutes in recent years,children (and adults) still face a strong pressure from society toconform to the community’s ideas of male and female.

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