Is non sexist childrearing possible? An investigation of the relationship mothering between gender-sensitive and children's use of gender stereotyping
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The study investigated the possibilities of non-sexist childrearing practices: it inquires to what extent children can be raised to be relatively free of gender discrimination and prejudice. It examined the relationship between mothering and childrearing as social (-1y constructed) processes and practices with a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, it explored how these two social sites are constructed, represented and interact to form a basis for the acquisition of stereotypes which encourage gender discrimination and inequality among children in particular, and society in general. However, it was also concerned with the extent to which these institutional sites contain possibilities for resisting and challenging dominant social- constructions about the meaning of gender difference. A structured questionnaire with open-ended questions was developed and used Lo form the basis for interviews with eight mothers. Based on the literature reviewed, the questions were designed to elicit the participants' perspectives on the meaning/s and significance of mothering in relation to children's gendered status. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcripts were generated. Thematic analysis was applied to observe and discuss dominant patterns in the participants' responses. Another structured questionnaire was developed and used as the basis for exercises with the (ten) children of these mothers to determine the extent. Lo which the former recognise and make use of gender stereotypes circulating in the wider culture. It was observed to what extent these children made gender-stereotypical associations : in relation to "masculine" and "feminine" colours, ds well as in relation to gender-appropriate tasks, dress, attributes, qualities and forms of p1ay. A simple frequency count of children's responses indicated the extent to which they recognise and use gender stereotypes. The results revealed a general awareness that mothering and childrearing are socially constructed, and not biologically-driven, processes, and hence, subject to revision and change. In addition to the perception that gender differences are socially engineered and reinforced by real constraints of social pressure and conformity, participants felt that men, as fathers should equally share in the responsibility for rearing children. Although the children who partook in the exercises showed a general awareness and use of gender stereotypes, it was pointed out that these can and should be challenged, given the realities of social (peer) pressure, at both the levels of interpersonal interaction and structural constraints. However, there was a generalised difficulty, as far as undoing gender stereotypes are concerned, to conceive of alternative meanings of ,'masculinity,' and "femininity" (as gendered identities) beyond the binary opposites which inform dominant social constructions of gender and gender relationships. As institutional domains for contesting varying and competing discourses on gender and gender relationships which circulate in the wider culture, childrearing and mothering practices are sites of potential resistance: they have the potential to resist and derail dominant patriarchal constructions and practices which generate social relationships based on gender inequality; which, in turn, fosters social oppression and violence. If dominant patriarchal discourses and practices about gender are responsible for generating so much violence, particularly by men as a group against women as a group, then these need to be seriously revisited and challenged. It needs to be challenged at both a social structural level, and at the level of interpersonal interaction. For it is at the level of everyday interpersonal interaction between men and women, men and children, and women and children that the "obviousness" of gender relations are culturally relayed and appropriated. Yet social/power relations structured along differential axes of "race", class , language , religion, ethnicity, sexuality - which inform everyday social interaction - intersect with issues about gender difference to make any simplistic notions of mothering and childrearing problematic.