Monday, September 13, 2010

Kindergarten Fashion

Kindergarten Fashion
Did children always wear gender-specific clothing?
By Brian Palmer

Angelina Jolie, whose daughter Shiloh has often been photographed wearing "boys' " clothes like ties, jackets, and porkpie hats, defended her 4-year-old's fashion preferences in an interview with Reuters on Saturday. Did boys and girls always wear gender-specific clothing?

No. For most of U.S. history, nearly all infants, regardless of gender, wore dresses. Only in the 20th century did sex-specific clothing come into fashion: Boys started wearing pants, while girls continued to wear dresses. There was a second unisex period in the 1970s, with many catalogs from that decade presenting boys and girls in identical-looking pants. This trend was part of a larger movement to de-emphasize gender roles: On the popular 1972 children's album, Free to Be ... You and Me, for example, two babies try to figure out their gender, and a poem called "Don't Dress Your Cat in an Apron" reminds listeners, "a person should wear what he wants to, and not just what other folks say." The movement was relatively short-lived, however, as 1980s designers encouraged parents to outfit their girls in frills and dresses once again.

Parents used to clothe their male infants in dresses because pants symbolized an accession to manhood. The day a young boy received his first pair of pants—an event known as "breeching" to early Americans—was a seminal moment in his life. This sartorial bar mitzvah usually occurred between ages 4 and 7 for 17th-century lads. Boys made the switch to pants younger and younger until the early 20th century, when they stopped wearing dresses altogether. G. Stanley Hall, one of the fathers of American psychology, published a series of articles around that time arguing that gender distinctions were a hallmark of modern Western society. In his view, parents had an obligation to teach their children gender roles. (Prior to Hall, gender-appropriate behavior was assumed to come naturally.) The theory trickled down to ordinary parenting magazines, which started advising readers in the early 1900s to dress their male toddlers in pants to help them identify with their fathers. Hall's research notwithstanding, many dress-wearing babies of the time, like Ernest Hemingway and Ronald Reagan, grew up to be plenty manly.

Just as boys were once clothed in dresses, they were also once swaddled in pink. Historically, in many European countries, pink was the dominant color for boys, and blue—the official hue of the Virgin Mary—was the popular girls' color. In 1927, Time magazine found that American color conventions were completely unsettled, with six of 10 retailing giants, including Marshall Field's and Filene's, using pink as the dominant color for baby-boy accoutrements. It took two or three more decades for the modern convention to establish a firm hold on U.S. nurseries.

For what it's worth, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt may be at the leading edge of a backlash. Despite an uninterrupted quarter-century of lacy dresses and flowered pink headbands, observers of high-end children's clothing designers detect a trend back toward gender-neutral clothes.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer. thanks Brian Palmer article,, Linda Baumgarten of Colonial Williamsburg, Jo Paoletti of the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, and Kelly Richardson of the Sage Collection at Indiana University

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Back To School: Gender Stereotypes

Boys 'held back' by school stereotypes
Teachers may be fuelling the gender gap in education by stereotyping boys as badly behaved, research suggests.

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 12:01AM BST 01 Sep 2010

The use of phrases such as “silly boys” and “schoolboy pranks” can reinforce the view that boys are more likely to misbehave than girls, it was claimed.

The study said children’s beliefs could become a "self-fulfilling prophecy" and influence their achievement in the classroom.

The disclosure follows the publication of figures last week showing that boys are falling behind girls at the age of seven.

Data from the Department for Education showed that 24 per cent of boys in England failed to reach the standard expected for their age group in writing compared with just 13 per cent of girls.

In recent years, the gap has widened throughout primary and secondary education, with girls far more likely to gain good GCSE and A-level results in their teens.

But a report by Kent University suggests that results may be linked to girls’ and boys’ own perceptions of their abilities at a very young age.

The study – released at the British Educational Research Association annual conference at Warwick University on Wednesday – presented pupils aged four to 10 with a series of statements such as "this child is really clever" and "this child always finishes their work" and asked them to link the words to pictures of boys or girls.

It emerged that pupils from all ages were more likely to identify girls as being better behaved and harder working. Even boys were more likely to pick out girls as high achievers, researchers said.

Children were also split into two groups, with the first group told that boys did not perform as well as girls. Both groups completed maths, reading and writing tests.

The study found that girls’ results were broadly similar in both groups but boys in the first performed worse than those in the second.

Bonny Hartley, a researcher from the university’s school of psychology, who led the study, said that adults could contribute to this “self-fulfilling prophecy” by dividing classes into boys v girls or using stereotypical language.

"It is widely acceptable to pitch the boys against the girls or 'harmlessly' divide the class in this way for practical ease,” she said

"In addition, phrases such as 'silly boys', 'schoolboy pranks' and 'why can't you sit nicely like the girls?' are all likely to contribute to the expectation that boys behave worse and under-perform compared to girls.

“These phrases tend to slip off the tongue, yet they may be doing more harm than realised in reinforcing children's perceptions that it is acceptable to judge and evaluate people on the basis of their gender.”