New Girlish childhoods?

i’m copying a bit from Facebook which got NO response AT ALL.  Having spent a great deal of my time in convent schools in the D.C. Area, I’m certainly prepared to face the fact that I did’t have a normal childhood, but I have a hard time recognzing the ones described below as one neighborhood kids went through.  ‘Be feminine and marriageable’ was the imperative govering us all, to most girls’ misfortune, I think.


Girlish Childhoods:
I’ve been looking at David Amodio’s work on gender development. I don’t recognize his picture of childhood and I’m wondering whether others do. Here is one major theme: in preK and K, little girls insist on frilly pink dresses. But then they start on a tomboy phase:
“Studies of elementary school children have observed similar rates of prevalence, with approximately one-third to one-half of girls labeling themselves as tomboys (Dinella & Martin, 2003; Jannone et al., forthcoming). Indeed, girls in elementary school show increasing interest in masculine activities and behaviors –they like to play more sports, wear pants, talk and act like boys, and play with male-typed toys (Bailey, Bechtold, & Berenbaum, 2002; Paechter & Clark, 2007; Sandberg & Meyer-Bahlburg, 1994). Some research suggests that girls also develop an active aversion to feminine activities and interests (Carr, 1998), and they may actively shun pink objects and female-typed activities (McHale, Shanahan, Updegraff, Crouter, & Booth, 2004). As tomboys, they report an adamant refusal to wear skirts or dresses (Paechter & Clark, 2007). Hence, these normative shifts suggest major changes in the gender identity and attitudes of many girls in a relatively short period of time.”

I was mostly educated in convent schools in D.C., 6 years of which were single-sex. So maybe I missed a lot. But then my son went to mostly mixed sex schools in Princeton. Amodio says that older children become more tolerant about gender expectations and will even in teen years not be bothered by a boy wearing fingernail polish. That was a huge surprise to me, who had been bombarded with concerns about whether my mildly gender atypical son would survive. I got so sick of frowning salesmen and intolerant teachers.

There is no comparable division for boys between a pink phase and a tomboy phase.

Does all this make sense to you?  Seem right?


One thought on “New Girlish childhoods?

  1. Amodio’s description of gender development fits my experience as a (female) kid in the 90s pretty darn accurately. Though, this may be somewhat atypical, as I went to progressive alternative school in the Pacific Northwest–a region that seems to me to do gender somewhat differently than other parts of the US.

    There are a couple things that complicate this picture though: (1) For myself and many of my peers, the rejection of the overtly feminine was pretty inconsistent. I may have shunned skirts, pink, and bows most of the time, but I was still stoked to wear fancy dresses at special occasions. (2) The tomboy identity that became cool around age seven didn’t at all preclude a certain feminine self-objectification or sexualization. “Prissiness” may have been uncool, but it was still of central importance to be pretty–even sexy–and to get attention from boys (depressingly, even long before puberty hit). This involved a good deal of cognitive dissonance. It was important to not care about being pretty or liked by boys, but we all baldly did. I suppose it could be understood as the childhood precursor to the female-chauvinist-pig phenomenon.

Comments are closed.