In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Childhood

  • Introduction
  • Classic Texts
  • North American Studies
  • International Studies
  • Gender, Childhood, and the Developing World
  • Law and Adoption
  • Feminism and Childhood Studies
  • Intersection of Race, Gender, and Childhood
  • Gender, Child Development, and Education
  • Disparities in Education

Childhood Studies Gender and Childhood
Anna Mae Duane
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0025


The organization of this bibliography reflects the evolving, often contradictory state of scholarly work on childhood and gender. As in adult scholarship in gender studies, scholars constellate around two different perspectives, even as they acknowledge the points of overlap and exchange between them. Many scholars, particularly in the social sciences and education, are dedicated to charting the powerful and often damaging effects of gender expectations on children. Scholars working in queer and cultural studies often take a different approach, drawing on a host of cultural, literary, and historical sources to illustrate how children are shaped by, but can also transcend, gender norms. This bibliography seeks to acknowledge the productive tensions that are emerging in studies of childhood and gender by including sources that examine gender as it emerges in a variety of fields (e.g., education, literature, and adoption studies) and by including sources under the useful but perhaps problematic division of work into girlhood studies; boyhood studies; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies. As many of the sources cited here indicate, there is a vibrant and valid set of arguments that the study of gender in childhood should remain under the larger rubric of childhood studies. To do otherwise, to separate children out by gender, to draw attention to the workings of gender, runs the risk of imposing the very gendered dualisms on children that scholars seek to undo. Overall, this bibliography includes examples of various permutations of study in childhood and gender, with specific texts focusing on “girl” and “boy” studies that chart the demands of gender indoctrination, as well as more theoretical texts that argue that such binaries simply reinforce damaging stereotypes.

Classic Texts

A sizeable number of the works in this bibliography build upon the theories found in the following classic texts on feminism, gender theory, and queer theory. Mead 1963 was groundbreaking in documenting diverse gender roles in families and childrearing. Gilligan 1982 broke new ground in gender studies generally, and in undermining the argument that “normal” was inextricable from “male.” Halberstam 1998, an excavation of performed masculinity, and Sedgwick 1990, an analysis of male homoeroticism in literature, are studies essential to any scholar seeking to further decenter masculinist narratives. Fetterly 1978 discusses how one might resist the pedantry encoded in literature and culture and has proven particularly useful for scholars seeking to recover the experiences of child readers. In this vein, scholars seeking to excavate how children participate in, reiterate, and resist gender norms have found Butler’s ideas about the performativity of gender (Butler 1990) and Foucault’s argument about the working of disciplinary power to create and reinforce “normality” (Foucault 1990) to be particularly relevant. Finally, Scott 1986 presents a cogent argument that the study of gender allows scholars to uncover the scaffolding of cultural and political power; this work provides a useful framework for scholars in both the social sciences and the humanities.

  • Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

    Judith Butler pioneered the influential argument that links gender identity with performativity.

  • Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

    This classic of feminist literature offers a useful framework for thinking about how young girls (and boys) might respond to their culture’s narratives of gender.

  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1. New York: Vintage, 1990.

    This watershed book, available in many editions, is essential for entering the current conversation about how repression functions in the construction of “normal” sexuality.

  • Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

    This oft-cited text takes psychologists from Freud to Piaget to task for treating girls’ moral and psychological development as if it should be identical to the norms applied to male children and adolescents.

  • Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

    Halberstam argues that to fully denaturalize masculinity we should be studying it in contexts that are not inhabited by men—in butch lesbians, drag kings, and other transgendered performances.

  • Mead, Margaret. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York: Morrow, 1963.

    This watershed work of anthropology became a key feminist text because it documented that gender roles were socially, not biologically, determined.

  • Scott, Joan W. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” American Historical Review 91.5 (1986): 1053–1075.

    DOI: 10.2307/1864376

    This classic article lays out the stakes for studying gender as a way of distributing and organizing power.

  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

    A defining work of queer theory, this book argues that questions of sexual definition are at the heart of literary narrative.

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