In Becoming a Gendered Body, Karin A. Martin of the University of Michigan writes extensively about the development of gender in young people. Her study is an attempt to explain a significant phenomenon. At the heart of gender inequality, at least to many, is the fact that people seem to put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the natural differences between the genders. With this in mind, the author asks a critically important question – just how do these gender differences come to be? In order to study that, she observes the movements and use of physical space of young children. The author starts with a theory that schools use certain types of curricula in order to turn students who otherwise have similar body types into “boys” and “girls.” Those students are required, it seems, to act in certain ways and move in ways dictated by teachers and those who formulate school plans. The author believes that because of this, schools play a critical role in shaping the understanding of gender roles for young students, reinforcing those things that are otherwise considered “natural” differences between boys and girls or men and women.
The research method employed by the author was extensive observation. She went into five different classrooms in order to study the behaviors of the children there. This was not simply unstructured observation, though. In many respects, it was well-planned and well-structured, as the author ensured that she was in control of various aspects of the study at various points. She made sure that she went to different kinds of schools so that she could observe the activities of different kinds of children. At the pre-school level, the things that students are told to do differ largely between Christian and secular schools, so the author collected data by observing the students in these schools, as well.
Martin found that schools do have an influence in this realm. Schools, according to her, produce gendered bodies. This is because schools use a wide range of different methods in hopes of securing many different results. For instances, schools have to discipline students in order to maintain a docile learning environment. In the course of disciplining students, though, these schools are producing gendered bodies and altering the understanding of gender for these young students. She also found that clothing and so-called “dressing up” was especially important. Schools have a significant impact on more than just the things that students wear. They also impose rules on how items can be worn in the school setting. In doing so, they influence the perceptions of children, and those perceptions are later thought to be the result of some kind of “natural” phenomenon.
This social problem could be sorted out with better awareness on the part of teachers. After reflecting on the research, it seems likely that this is not an intentional effort on the part of teachers. More than that, teachers may not have any idea of the effect of their actions on students. If teachers were instructed more competently on these things, then they might not punish the way they do. It is possible to conduct school, especially at the youngest levels, in a way that male and female students are treated the same way and put through the same activities. This would clear up this problem.
The author writes about the ways in which society shapes the things that we later find to be “natural.” Schools, it seems, influence the understanding of young children on gender roles. They produce “gendered bodies” by putting children through different forms of discipline and even requiring different things of them. Though much of this is done without conscious thought, the effects are very real.