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Learning Gender

February 16, 2010

By Sarah Michele Ford

Interacting with young children can be a great window into the ways in which we are socialized into all sorts of things, but most especially gender. This weekend my husband came downstairs wearing a hoop earring instead of his usual stud. As soon as our five-year-old daughter noticed this, she protested.

Kid: DADDY! You can’t wear that earring!
Husband: Why can’t I wear it?
Kid: It’s a GIRL EARRING!
Me: What makes it a girl earring?
Kid: It just IS! Daddy, go change it!

We probed further to try to get her to explain why dangly earrings are for girls and stud earrings are for boys and the best we could get out of her was that girls wear big earrings and boys wear small earrings. Despite us providing her with lots of counter-examples, she stood firm in her belief that certain types of jewelry are gender-marked.

How did she come to make a connection between hoop earrings and gender? What subtle forces are at work here?

(Image credit: Native American Art – Ear Rings; Originally uploaded by Tobyotter)

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