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The Gender Trap

Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls

Emily W. Kane

Publication Year: 2012

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.'

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book is about how parents navigate the complex task of managing their children’s gender, and so the first round of thanks goes to the mothers and fathers who shared their experiences with me. Some participants may agree with my analysis more than others, but I hope they all recognize the respect I feel for the hard work ...

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Introduction: “Glamour Babies” and “Little Toughies”

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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,”...

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One: Wanting a Girl, Wanting a Boy: Conceptual Building Blocks

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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, ...

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Two: “It’s in Their Nature”: Naturalizers

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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 ...

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Three: “I Think a Lot of It Is Us, Parents and Society”: Cultivators

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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. ...

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Four: “We Try Not to Encourage It, but I Know It Gets in There”: Refiners

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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 ...

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Five: “You Applaud All the Other Stuff”: Innovators

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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. ...

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Six: “Surviving in a Gendered Culture”: Resisters

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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. ...

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Conclusion: “A Better World”: Dismantling the Gender Trap

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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. ...

Appendix: Research Methods

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pp. 219-236


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pp. 237-254


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pp. 255-270


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pp. 271-286

About the Author

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pp. 287

E-ISBN-13: 9780814738788
E-ISBN-10: 0814748821
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814748824
Print-ISBN-10: 0814748821

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012