Tag Archives: gender

Gender and physical activity representation in children’s colouring books

colouring books word cloud

Word cloud of common words found in colouring books for boys (left) and for girls (right)

Books and other curricular materials are vehicles of knowledge, ideas and values that may contain messages that teach children normative ways to be a boy or a girl. Children take seriously the messages they receive from books, toys, marketing and the adults around them.

Despite some publishers recognising the importance of ensuring equal representation of all people in curricular materials, it is still common to find stereotypically gendered books.

In this post I report on some qualitative and quantitative research on children’s colouring books series where there is a book for girls and a book for boys. It was carried out by Vladimir Martínez-Bello (Universitat de València) and Joanne Hill (University of Bedfordshire).

As physical activity and sport researchers, we felt that it was particularly important to avoid gendered representation of physical activity. In the last 12 years, a couple of studies of American children’s books have found them to portray boys more often in active or outdoor play and girls in indoor or static positions (Fitzpatrick and McPherson, 2010; Hamilton, Anderson, Broaddus and Young, 2006). Gender representation in sports media has been investigated extensively, including presenting some sports as male-appropriate and some as female-appropriate, supporting assumptions of female frailty and male strength, and presenting female athletes in a sexualised manner, although some research points to the latter diminishing somewhat over the last 25 years. Assumptions that girls and boys are simply different also restrict girls’ and boys’ opportunities to play sports together (Cooky, Messner & Musto, 2015; Koivula, 1999; Messner, 2000; Messner, Duncan & Jensen, 1993).

The aim of this study was to investigate the representation of female and male characters in the illustrations of six colouring books published by well-known publishing houses in the UK that were entitled “Book for Girls” or “Book for Boys”. We took a sample of 136 illustrations of human characters and analysed the gender and age of the human characters in the pictures, the place (indoors or outdoors), and the type of activity (including physical activity, sedentary activity and active transport). 

1: Representation of gender

  • In the books for girls 75% were depicted as female, 13% as male and 12% as unclear.
  • In the books for boys, 60% were depicted as male, 18% as female and 22% as unclear.

In one of the books for girls, there was only one male character present in all the sampled images, represented as a bridegroom at a wedding.

It appears that publishing houses may assume that boys are not interested in seeing female characters and likewise, that girls are not interested in seeing male characters. I agree with Let Books Be Book’s (2018) concern that gender segregation in itself is an artificial and damaging divide. Their social media sites highlight the stories of a number of parents and children frustrated by implicit messages that a certain toy or book is not for them, claiming that it restricts children’s opportunities and dreams. This labelling of books and toys may also lead to bullying of any children who make the so-called ‘wrong choice’.

***

2: Gender and physical activity

  • Of the female characters represented in the books for girls, 26% were doing physical activity, 67% were sedentary, and 7% doing other activities.
  • Of the male characters represented in the books for boys, 44% were doing physical activity, 42% were sedentary, and 14% doing other activities.

So, there was a trend towards boys being represented as more active, but it was not statistically significant. Other activities means active transport, household work, or occupational work.

These quantitative results for physical activity obscure some differences in the ways that active female and male characters were represented. In the books for girls, where leisure time physical activity was displayed, it was frequently dance, such as ballet or bharatanatyam (Indian dance). In one image of horse riding, a female character rides behind a male companion who holds the reins. This is one example of female characters being submissive to or relying on men, or having a lesser role.

Physical activities that only male characters were in engaged, in the books for boys, included football and fishing. One image of active transport showed a number of men dressed in suits, walking to work. The opportunity and encouragement of leadership in work and adventure settings was also clear in the books for boys.

The written language accompanying some images invited readers to imagine themselves as part of the story; in the boys’ books, readers see ‘you have discovered…’ or ‘you have created…’ that position readers (that is, boys) as the protagonists in science or adventure settings. In sedentary activity or static positions, female characters in the books for girls were represented in fashion or fantasy settings; written instructions encouraged girls to imagine her own appearance in the future, or to imagine herself kissing someone.

The subject positions available to girls in these books have a narrow scope and reproduce discourses that girls are less active. This could affect the participation of girls in a variety of physical activities.

***

We also had some results which did not support what we expected to find:

3: Representation of gender and age

  • In the books for girls 66% were depicted as adults, and 34% as children.
  • In the books for boys, 65% were depicted as adults, and 35% as children.

We had expected to find female characters more often represented as children but this was not supported. This is possibly a good thing, as it means there is some similarity in how female and male characters are presented, and female characters are not infantilised.

***

4: Gender and location

  • Of the characters in the books for girls, 48% were depicted outdoors, 18% indoors, and 34% in unclear locations.
  • Of the characters in the books for boys, 57% were outdoors, 8% indoors, and 35% in unclear locations.

We had expected to find boys represented more often outdoors. The main difficulty was the amount of images where the location was unclear.

However, qualitative analysis of the books for boys suggested it was common for male characters to be represented in workplace, discovery or adventure settings, depicting boys or men as scientists, astronauts, pirates, divers, strong men and superheroes. There was no space travel in any of the books for girls. Strong men and superheroes had muscular bodies or demonstrated strength through lifting heavy objects, for instance. In one image, one strong man was drawn with smaller muscles, unable to lift a heavy object – but this could be seen as providing an opportunity to laugh at a character unable to carry out his role. 

Some images in the books for girls stand in contrast; there were superheroes featured, but they were girls rather than women; female characters sometimes had jobs, but were ‘closer to home’ or smaller in scope – such as pet shop owner – compared to the astronauts and pirates of the books for boys. Female characters were close to or part of nature, for instance drawn as the size of small animals and interacting with birds. This contrasts with male characters in the books for boys who conquered nature – explorers on safari or anglers catching large fish. Although one image in a book for boys depicted a female pilot, she was sat behind the male main character, perpetuating an idea that men lead.

***

Although the scope of this paper is only on gender, the analysis also highlighted a lack of representation of larger bodies, non-white bodies and people with disabilities.

What can we conclude? Despite decades of research into gendered books (and other children’s items) our results don’t show all that much is new or has changed. We argue that girls and boys do not need separate books. To separate children generates a feeling of difference and impassable boundaries around ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ (Messner, 2000).

A number of publishers of children’s colouring books have recently agreed to produce no more gendered titles, instead agreeing to gender-neutral books (Let Toys Be Toys, 2016). In the past there might have been an assumption that showing evidence of stereotyping would be enough to persuade publishers, writers and illustrators not to produce books which encourage gender stereotyped views, and as a result the next generation would be free of stereotypes. Today, consumer pressure meets some resistance from publishers and retailers who claim that consumers seek and appreciate security in gender-differentiated goods. This suggests education should continue. Parents and teachers might find ways to encourage critical reflection on gendered materials when they discuss books with children. Talking about gender in books is just one element in a difficult journey towards less prescribed gender roles and greater acceptance of gender diversity.

 

References

Cooky, C., Messner, M.A., & Musto, M. (2015). “It’s Dude Time!” A quarter century of excluding women’s sports in televised news and highlight shows. Communication & Sport, 3(3), 261-287.

Fitzpatrick, M., & McPherson, B. (2010). Coloring within the lines: Gender stereotypes in contemporary coloring books. Sex Roles, 62(1-2), 127-137.

Hamilton, M.C., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M. & Young, K. (2006). Gender stereotyping and under-representation of female characters in 200 popular children’s picture books: A twenty-first century update. Sex Roles55(11-12), 757-765.

Koivula, N. (1999). Gender stereotyping in televised media sport coverage. Sex Roles, 41 (7/8): 589–604.

Messner, M. A. (2000). Barbie Girls versus Sea Monsters: Children constructing gender. Gender & Society, 14(6), 765–784.

Messner, M. A., Duncan, M. C., & Jensen, K. (1993). Separating the men from the girls: The gendered language of televised sports. Gender & Society, 7(1), 121–137.

Let Toys Be Toys. (2016). Buster Books becomes 10th publisher to agree to #LetBooksBeBooks. Retrieved from http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/letbooksbebooks/.

Let Toys Be Toys. (2018). Why it matters. http://lettoysbetoys.org.uk/why-it-matters/

 

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Rethinking the ‘aspirations’ of Chinese girls within and beyond Health and Physical Education and physical activity in Greater Western Sydney

This post summarises my published work Pang, B. and Hill, J. (2016). Rethinking the ‘aspirations’ of Chinese girls within and beyond Health and Physical Education and physical activity in Greater Western Sydney. Sport, Education and Society [iFirst], 1-14. The paper can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13573322.2016.1217517

Although researchers have attempted to understand why so few Chinese girls participate in physical activity, attempts have not before taken into account girls’ aspirations for sport, education and career and how their aspirations have been shaped. In this paper, we made visible how girls’ engagement in physical activity relates to what is thinkable, desirable and achievable for themselves and in relation to parental expectations. Aspiration is a term that has been co-opted by neoliberal discourse to point blame at those who do not ‘achieve’; it goes along with post-feminist ideas that girls have all options open to them now.

This strengths-based research calls for a rethinking of how aspirations are conceptualised. It does this by bringing a Chinese feminist perspective into physical education and sport pedagogy in order to demonstrate a need to reconsider dominant racialised perspectives on feminism and on physical activity/sport in education. We took inspiration from Raewyn Connell’s writings on Global South feminisms and gender theory, where she raises questions about a Western or white focus that reifies the ‘othering’ of Global South women and girls. Different perspectives are needed to understand their experiences.

Abstract

This paper aims to explore young Chinese girls’ aspirations and ideal
environments for engagement in Health and Physical Education (HPE)
and physical activity (PA) in Greater Western Sydney. Interviews are used
to elicit these girls’ perceptions of their future and ideal environments in
relation to HPEPA. Their data offer insights into key influences regarding
what is thinkable, desirable and achievable in their HPEPA environments.
Results showed dimensions of environments, such as social and
pedagogical aspects, that are conducive to these girls’ aspirations in
HPEPA (e.g. social support from parents, and functional built environment
for HPE). This paper aligns with a strengths-based approach to
understanding and recognising young Chinese girls’ perceived
aspirations within their socio-cultural environment. In doing so, we
discuss how feminism and femininity are positioned from a Chinese
perspective that may provide alternative views to a post-feminist
panorama in promoting advancement of all young girls in HPEPA.
Results invite us to take into account some of the girls’ ambivalence
towards being an ‘autonomous’ and ‘dependent’ modern Chinese young
girl. This paper calls for a rethinking of how aspirations that shape
young people’s future in HPEPA in much of the contemporary Western
world are conceptualised in academic research.

Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education

This post summarises my published work Hill, J. (2015) Girls’ active identities: navigating othering discourses of femininity, bodies and physical education, Gender and Education 27(6), 666-684. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540253.2015.1078875.

While all of the research and writing I did from my PhD studies tried to challenge the accepted, to complexify what we think we know about young people and their physical activity experiences, one of my favourite things about what my participants told me has made its way into this paper. Here, I talk about girls who are physically active – although they might not think of themselves as active. Girls being physically active is a challenge to the accepted for two reasons: the field talks so much about girls being inactive and disengaged in PE; and what counts as sport and physical activity, as a physically active body, and especially as a feminine appropriate physically active body are narrowly constructed so that girls who don’t ‘fit’ cannot see themselves in the images of ideal fit bodies. Ideal bodies can marginalise and other some girls.

For the girls in this paper, the ideal was not enough to put them off being active (unlike some of their peers who I talked about in other paper). However, they couldn’t entirely get away from discourses of gender that regulated them and a system of penalties and rewards for reinforcing or deviating from gender norms.

For instance, one girl Lucy was highly active in a range of team and individual sports. But she was beginning to moderate the types of activities she did to concentrate on ones that would help her attain a slender body, rather than continuing to develop the muscular body she had. She did this because she claimed that boys at school called her fat. She was punished for gender inappropriate activity and physicality.

Other girls enthusiastically took part in physical activity as long as the environment was right and they were surrounded by similar people, that is, girly-girls. Ayesha liked single sex PE where she could be with ‘just girls’ who ‘understood each other’. She also claimed that they didn’t have to act like tomboys in this setting. While she felt included, the question remains about how excluded tomboys might have felt in a setting that still reproduced gender regulation. Neither single sex or mixed classes intrinsically have the answer.

Girls here were othered by discourses of fatness, whiteness and femininity and I discuss ways of listening to girls’ voices on the struggle to challenge gender norms, call for equality and avoid surveiling/regulating other girls’ bodies. Girls and boys can be supported to identify and make sense of gender boundaries, acceptable gendered and racialised performances, and create discussion out of instances of diversity or regulation.

Abstract

Within physical education and sport, girls must navigate discourses of valued athletic and gendered bodies that marginalise or ‘other’ non-normative performances through systems of surveillance and punishment. The purpose of this paper is to share girls’ perspectives on how these discourses affected their gender performances and activity engagement. Students aged 13–14 in one ethnically diverse UK secondary school were invited to create a photo diary of the physical activities they engaged in. Photo-elicitation interviews in small groups followed. The girls positioned themselves as physically active but had to carefully manage their activity choices and gender performances in a single-sex physical education environment that regulated deviation from the fit, slender, girly-girl. Although the girls demonstrate the difficulty of resisting, they indicate moments of positioning themselves against norms that suggest the possibilities of shifting gendering processes. The paper points out the importance of listening to ‘other’ girls’ narratives in building positive physical education engagements.

Body-positivity in dance: the importance of community

For World Ballet Day (1st October 2015), I talk about a recent research project carried out in London-based dance school Irreverent Dance, research that has been published as Hill, J., Sandford, R. and Enright, E. (2015). It has really amazed me what my body can now do’: boundary work and the construction of a body-positive dance community. Sport in Society. You can find the paper at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17430437.2015.1073946.

As a scholar of physical education and sport pedagogy, I am often on the look out for good examples of physical activity sites that offer something new for (future) teachers and coaches to learn from. It’s what can help guide developments in the ways physical education, sport and dance are taught. This led me to get in touch with Irreverent Dance, when it was coming up to a year old and offering mainly ballet classes. For me and my co-researchers, Irreverent Dance seemed to offer the sort of positive experiences and environments in physical activity that we were looking to learn from, in its challenging and alternative approaches to dance teaching and practice.

At the risk of starting on a negative point, traditional ballet teaching styles and spaces have often been considered a little exclusionary or marginalising of body sizes and shapes that don’t fit the expected in ballet. Amanda from Irreverent Dance writes here about her perspective on these aspects of ballet and why it is important to challenge them.

While there are many valuable things to say about the teaching styles found in Irreverent Dance, this piece (and the research behind it) concentrates on how the teachers and dancers worked to create a community – in and out of the studio and also online – that supported everyone in that space developing a greater sense of their own body capabilities: that is, how body positivity was encouraged. This idea, body positivity, is highlighted by Irreverent Dance in its promotional material as a central goal. Body positivity is becoming a popular idea that might counter the marginalising of anyone outside the norm. As a goal in sport and physical activity it could be useful alongside well-being, pleasure and other social or personal outcomes. So how does it work in practice? What do teachers or coaches need to do?

We sat in on some Irreverent Dance ballet classes and a showcase, and interviewed dancers and teachers, to find out what body positivity meant to them and how it was developed. Three things stood out to us:

1. Celebrating bodily capability

There was a high level of celebration of what bodies can do. This sense of achievement was expressed both in relation to specific ballet technique and in terms of general physical ability. Irreverent Dancers were able to develop their dancing ability at a pace they were comfortable with, progressing gradually through ballet grades and repeating terms if they wished. Even if the moves were not reproduced in a textbook fashion, the developments that learners had made were much more important. The learners’ reflections suggest that their understandings of the body as ‘not capable’ of doing something might have arisen in previous dance or movement experiences. Learners were instead actively encouraged to think ‘I can’ in Irreverent Dance. As a result, many felt that they could now own the identity of dancer. The community of Irreverent Dance worked hard to create a ‘freeing’ space, with a commitment to inclusion, respect and not judging others. From the first class, learners were asked to treat others and, importantly, themselves, in a positive manner.

2. Committing to gender neutrality

Alongside body positivity, another vital element of Irreverent Dance that appeared to have been built into the environment of the school was gender neutrality. Boundaries of gender in sport and physical activity are usually quite deep seated – separate competitions and classes for men and women, and distinct deals of masculine and feminine appearance or comportment. Irreverent Dance notes that traditional ballet expectations that men and women wear different outfits, different colours, do different dances and take on distinct roles can be quite limiting and normalising. Elements of dance that have typically gendered boundaries were addressed: for example, men were invited to learn to dance en pointe if they wished. Dancers commented that their perception of what their bodies could do developed positively, when heteronormative and cisnormative boundaries (in dance movement and performance) were eliminated.

3. Challenging ballet norms

A central element in the learning and community of ID was deconstructing ballet’s gender boundaries; challenging dominant notions about what gendered ballet bodies look like, what they should do and what progress must be made. Some learners reflected on how they had been looking for a dance class that would suit their ‘uncoordinated’, ‘geeky back of the class loner’ or ‘fat’ bodies. Ballet norms in the sense of technical requirements, language, music and dress styles were recognized but with gender norms being challenged or even removed, this meant that learners who would previously have not had access to ballet could find a space that was safe and positive for them.

Committing to these positions in a dance school might take a lot of work, as dancer habits can be difficult to shake off and the broader culture of ballet still promotes traditional and restrictive movements, clothing, and so on. By working together to ensure a respectful community, learning about having a positive attitude to your own and others’ bodies, identity and physical capabilities has become an integral part of Irreverent Dance, not just learning about ballet itself. In a way, this means that dancers can just learn about ballet, without worrying about how they fit in (or don’t).

My thanks again to the members of Irreverent Dance who shared their experiences.

Theoretically, this paper uses Bourdieu’s ideas of habitus and field to explore how Irreverent Dance and Dancers crossed, transformed or shifted boundaries of physical capability, gender and dance. We developed a methodology based on appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based, as opposed to deficits-based, approach to creating change.

Abstract

Boundaries around normative embodiments in physical cultures can be exclusionary if one’s embodied identity does not ‘fit’. Normative boundaries are particularly marked in codified forms of dance such as ballet. Moves towards body positivity aim to challenge these normative boundaries by redefining what dancers’ bodies can look like and how they should move. This paper stems from an appreciative inquiry undertaken with one such project, a gender-neutral, LGBTQ friendly adult ballet school in the UK; a subcultural context that marks itself as distinct from broader cultures of dance. Interviews with learners are analysed through a Bourdieuian lens to explore the construction and maintenance of a body-positive subculture. Findings suggest that boundaries of ability were crossed, with celebration of all bodies’ capabilities, and boundaries of normative gender expression were transformed through a commitment to gender-neutrality and LGBTQ-friendly behaviours. However, boundaries around technical and aesthetic norms, while shifted or challenged, ultimately remained in place.

If you miss the ball, you look like a total muppet! Boys investing in their bodies in PE

This post summarises my published paper Hill, J. (2015) If you miss the ball, you look like a total muppet! Boys investing in their bodies in physical education and sport, Sport, Education and Society 20(6), 762-779. It can be read in full at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13573322.2013.820695#.VHCLsPmsWSo

The title of this paper refers to a comment made by one of the boys who participated in this study of Year 9 (13-14 year olds) students in a secondary school (11-16 years old) in the UK. This boy, who has the pseudonym Harshul, was explaining why he likes to practice golf and tennis at home, away from school. He told me that the pressure to be competent in physical education, to be good at sports, was high, and he felt like he needed to practice lots in order to be good, or at least to not look like a “muppet” if he swung the club or racket and missed the ball. That is, to avoid looking uncoordinated and unskilled.

Harshul and other classmates suggested that there were pressures to demonstrate a supposedly natural ability or display a muscular and fit body. They showed, in a series of participant-created photographs, how they took part in out of school activities that would help to develop the right body that would provide status in PE.

The association between traditional or typical ways of doing PE and boys or masculinity can obscure the concerns some boys encounter in sports-based settings. Perhaps it is because sport is associated with masculinity that the pressures for boys to be competent are so large. Sports are supposed to provide status for boys, as well as popularity “off the pitch”. If we look at how gender intersects with ethnicity, body size and shape, we might note some of the reasons why boys can have less than positive experiences in PE. White, muscular, fit and competent bodies are most often high status as sporting bodies.

Although the boys in this study claimed to enjoy PE and sport, and were active in and out of school, their stories suggest that they encountered normative discourses about masculine sporting bodies that required them to put effort into reshaping their bodies to fit.

Abstract:
Connections have been drawn between masculinity, muscularity and physical or social status in sport. Not only are sporting bodies often related to masculinity but also to whiteness, leading to the devaluing of Asian boys’ bodies and sporting experiences. This paper draws on three British Asian teenage boys’ visual and verbal narratives to enquire how they negotiate these connections in their physical education and recreational sport experiences. Bourdieu’s notion of capital is used to make sense of boys’ ways of investing in their bodies to manage their status in school. Drawing from focus-group interviews which used participant-driven photography and photo elicitation techniques, the research indicates how three boys invested in their bodies by doing particular types of physical activity that would enable them to develop muscularity, fitness and/or motor competence, to attain or retain physical and social capital in school. Along the way, they add pertinent comments on the intersections of masculinity and ethnicity in constructing and performing a sporting body.

Conference abstract: Girls’ meanings of their physically active bodies at the intersections of gender, race and age

This is the abstract from a conference presentation (presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, September 2014). The work is from my PhD research.

Joanne Hill

The physical education (PE) experiences of girls of a South Asian heritage, in the UK, have recently been of some focus in working for inclusive or gender-sensitive PE programmes (e.g. Azzarito and Hill, 2013; Stride, 2013). They are often constructed as inactive, their gendered and racialised bodies rendered invisible against a white feminine norm. The voices of those young people who might be othered are increasingly valuable in working towards relevant and enjoyable learning experiences. This project in part attempts to offer further contextualised research on how girls construct themselves as active as they make sense of their physical selves as they intersect with gender, ethnicity and age.
The focus of this enquiry was to co-produce visual and verbal accounts of girls’ physical activity and embodied selves as they make meaning of physical activity in and out of school.
This research used a visual ethnographic framework. Students aged 13-14 in one school with an ethnically diverse population in the UK were provided with a digital camera and invited to create a two-week long photo set of the physical activities they engage in, where and with whom. Group interviews followed, during which the participant-photographers explained their photos’ meanings to each other and to the researcher (Harper, 2002). This paper concentrates on four girls’ visual narratives.
Theoretically, the paper recalls that we position ourselves in relation to the multiple narratives that are available to us, such that we have multiple embodied selves across different spaces (Cox and Thompson, 2000; Garrett, 2004).
The girls variously constructed themselves as active or able amongst different activities, physical cultures and peers. Notable themes included negotiating gender relations and normalised (South Asian) girlhood; remaining active during transitions from girlhood to young womanhood; reclaiming team games as a choice in PE; and a desire for “free” or unconstrained activity in public spaces. These girls, representing an othered group, used their visual narratives to show themselves as active agents in creating meaning for PE and physical activity. By seeing and listening to these girls’ narratives, teachers and researchers can contribute to positive engagement in PE programmes that take into account their choices and identities.

Gender in children’s colouring books

Yesterday’s research seminar (from our almost-every-week PESP seminar series here at the University of Bedfordshire) enabled me to put together a few thoughts on a current project on gender in children’s colouring books which my colleague Dr Vladimir Martinez-Bello and I are building. We are concerned with stereotypical gender representations in books aimed at girls or at boys. That is, where a publisher produces two similar books, one for girls and one for boys, with different pictures inside. We have started with three sets of colouring books (six books in total: three aimed at girls and three, from the same publishers, aimed at boys). As a significant part of the market for children’s books, colouring books encourage some creativity and imagining different worlds that children can contribute to (even if only deciding what colour to make everything).

What gender diversity is shown among the characters in the books?
In a quantitative content analysis of the six books, the coding done by our independent (adult) coders showed that books for girls overwhelmingly contain female (girl or woman) main characters. Books for boys contained 100% male main characters.

What age are the characters represented?
Often, male characters are men and female characters are girls. As a similar project in the USA noted,

‘Boys get to envision their grown up selves, whereas girls may infer that they remain young and childlike’ (Fitzpatrick and Macpherson, 2006: p.135)

Where are they shown?
Male characters were shown outside much more than female characters, who tended to be shown indoors. Male characters were more often in static poses and female characters in

Our current thoughts on the direction of the project is to delve into a more qualitative analysis, using Gillian Rose’s outline of Foucauldian discourse analysis. This concerns images’

production by, and their reiteration of, particular institutions and their practices, and their production of particular human subjects’ (Rose, 2001: p.164)

We anticipate that the social construction of gendered bodies in these colouring books will represent body tyoes and patterns of movement and comportment that reflect dominant ideologies concerning girls and boys, and that the types of and spaces for physical activity will also reflect gendered restrictions on movement that result in marginalisation and disengagement. As the project develops I will blog more results and discussion.

After my presentation it was great to listen to the resulting discussion between MA Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy students and Sport Science and Physical Activity staff from the University of Bedfordshire. Here’s my general reflections on the perspectives from the discussion (not my own words but anonymised words from participants in the discussion).

Our project has been so far constructed around adult-published colouring books and adult researcher coding. How do children define and see gender? Does it come from nurture and the relentless difference that is constructed by adults in their organisation of children’s play and education and the selling of toys? Could children’s interpretations alongside or instead of the adult coders progress the project into new areas? How would they /respond to this? Could we co-create a colouring book with children that represents a diversity of moving bodies?

Gendering of children is ubiquitous; from new baby greetings cards to the “river of pink” in the toy shop. Presents bought for a new baby girl, or for her later birthdays, invariably reflect this. Some said that there is a clearly a market for gendered toys (toys that say “for boys” or “for girls” on them), with consumers liking to choose these products (in the fear that they might get it wrong with a gender-neutral toy?) and children, it was said, go for the toy aimed at them every time. In response: that children are hard pushed to choose otherwise given the extent of this social construction of gender. The punishment for children who do not conform is potentially high. There are very few alternatives to the extreme pinkified version of feminine girlhood. A question was asked, is this a problem? In response, another pointed out that the choice to be girly-girl or hyper-feminine needs to be reflected upon – we might consider how this relates to our feminist perspectives – and recognise this as one option for girls (I’d add, and for boys, and anyone else). The solution is not more conformity but less restriction and more options for expressing and accepting diverse gender identities. It was pointed out that as a continuum, gender is much more than the two boxes of pink and blue.

There are two points then: the construction of difference between boys and girls, and the signs or symbols that are used as a result of this difference. In books for boys it is clear that there is little diversity in terms of the characters represented, but encountering a diversity of people should be seen as highly important. By all means, create a colouring book of princesses, and one of trucks and cars, but they don’t need to be labelled as for girls and for boys, respectively. What possibilities are there instead for “green books” (a nod to the pink and blue of many toys and books) – those that represent both (or rather all) interests? As Let Toys Be Toys would say, books are for all children.

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