Friday, February 17, 2012

the mixed-gender mixer

I have been thinking about things.


It was very nice to see Stick listed in The Horn Book's Recommended  LGBTQ Books list.

It's a great list of books, by the way.

Let's talk.

If you've read my books (and, thank you), maybe you'll have noticed something: My characters often challenge popular constructions of gender. These taken-for-granted attributes have become so fortified in society, education, and especially in popular media over the past decade or so that they are accepted as being innate, hard-wired, and immutable.

You want to take a look at how popular media build up constructs of gender?

Take a look at the covers of "Young Adult" novels.

I would really like to post some examples, but I don't have the balls. [cue ironic music]

I think it would prove to be a very interesting study for some graduate or doctoral student to analyze the gender representations and constructs of masculinity and femininity on the covers of books aimed at kids (including young readers and MG).

You can tell them you heard the idea here.

Because this is how we start to shape kids as to exactly what we expect of them. Images, like book covers in school libraries and on the shelves of the "YA" (yuck) section, have a tremendous impact on the ordering of kids' perceptions about themselves.

I have this idea that the so-called "Boy Crisis" in literacy has been largely manufactured by external forces that do a very good job at telling boys what, exactly, is expected of them -- what "good" and "normal" boys do.

Even the well-intentioned social leaders who attempt to bridge the achievement gap and focus only on gender (when, in reality there are much more pronounced achievement gaps in literacy when you study socioeconomic and ethnic groups) by approaching literacy in a this-is-what-all-boys-like manner, actually WORSEN the problem by perpetuating the external expectations of what it means to be a good, normal boy.

Think about that.

Here are two studies that looked at the "Boy Crisis" in literacy. First, a 2009 study conducted in Australia found that schools enlisting teachers as desired male role models to increase the literacy achievement of boys had an overwhelming tendency to select teachers who were athletic, straight, white, and disciplinarian.

Because everyone knows that's what good and normal boys need.

The study suggested that male teachers who do not fit that dominant perception of masculinity may likely have the greatest potential to influence the lives of boys and girls alike.

Food for thought.

The second study, from 2005, showed that teachers in single-sex classrooms have a tendency to adopt practices that simply conform to taken-for-granted assumptions about how boys and girls learn as a group.

When boys are labeled as at-risk, or "lagging behind" other groups (such as girls), given the dominant presentation of this-is-what-a-real-man-looks-and-acts-like, they seek out other sources of gratification and empowerment that manifest in these externally perpetuated "masculine" attributes, even if it leads them into underachievement.

You want to take a look at some representations of what popular media presents as normed constructs of masculinity (and femininity)? Spend some time looking at this website: The Gender Ads Project.

It will probably make you think about things, which is good.