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Parent Talk: How Parents Discursively Construct, Co-Construct and Re-Do Gender Expectations and Practices in Their Young Children

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

This research explores how parents discursively construct, co-construct and re-do gender expectations and practices of their young children. Using the social construction of gender approach, which views the accomplishment of gender as an ongoing and multifaceted process, the author investigates parents’ of young twins’ discursive engagement with, and commitment to, the gender binary. It examines the ways in which parents are invested in the gender binary, feel accountable to other people regarding their children’s gender and how they resist gender expectations. Further, this study examines how parents “do” gender embodiment through the practices they engage in while raising their young children.

This study draws off of 40 in-depth interviews and 8 observations with parents of twins between the ages of 12 and 60 months. What emerged were rich descriptions of parents’ gender ideals, gendered practices and resistance to gender expectations. The strength of the gender binary and parents’ investment reinforcing gender was strong and varied amongst the twin pairs, with parents of boy/girl twins expressing the most commitment to the gender binary. The study found that parents of boy/boy twins were the most invested in constructing and upholding social expectations of hegemonic masculinity, often rooted in homophobia and prompting them to “closet” behavior and practices the parents deemed non-gender appropriate. Whereas, parents of girl/girl twins often avoided gendered language and expressed the most comfort with gender fluidity and non-gender conformity.

This research also found that parents feel responsible for constructing and upholding gender expectations for their children and their children’s gendered bodies. The study found that children’s bodies are often scrutinized by networks of accountability (e.g. family, friends, and other people) and parents’ feel accountable for their young children’s bodies living up to these gender expectations. Accountability also emerged as a reason parents often felt constricted to uphold gender expectations and practices and often didn’t engage in resisting gender norms.

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