The traditional nursery rhyme says that little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog's tails while little girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice . . . but are they? The gender stereotypes that divide male and female into two different types are everywhere - we can't escape them. That's why Trinity Western University is launching a Gender Studies Institute (GSI) - to foster research and discussion on the inescapable question of gender.
Researchers involved in TWU's Gender Studies Institute will explore the ways that gender influences the course of our lives. Associate Professor of Education at Trinity Western University and Co-Director of the Gender Studies Institute Dr. Allyson Jule has found that gender differences are apparent even in something as simple as the way that we talk. In fact, linguistic differences between genders are noticeable even in the way that infants respond to sounds and language while still in the womb.
While Jule is quick to note that there are "no clear differences" in language use between men and women, certain patterns emerge, especially in mixed settings. "Boys and men tend to talk more in public settings, to be report-givers, to interrupt more often (particularly girls and women), they tend to use more statements, fewer questions, and to use new words to express themselves. Girls and women, on the other hand, tend to talk more in smaller groups, to be rapport-makers; they tend to stop when interrupted, use more questions to keep conversations going and to make connections with the conversational group," says Jule.
But whether these differences are innate (something we are born with) or learned is a very complex question. Within seconds of being born - and more and more frequently when still in the womb due to parents being able to find out the gender of their child prior to birth - whether "it's a boy" or "it's a girl" impacts the way that parents treat their child. "The nursery is painted the ‘correct color' and certain gendered lives begin to take shape. A baby girl is celebrated as ‘beautiful;' a baby boy as ‘bouncing,'" says Jule, noting that these ideals conform to "cultural expectations concerning gender: that women must be beautiful and men must be active."
Although Jule states that gender tendencies are real and that it is helpful to be aware of them, she also notes the importance of not being limited by expectations. "If we say ‘men are like that' and mean ‘men must be like that' then we limit a man's wholeness. If we say ‘girls are like that' and mean ‘girls must be like that' then we limit her full flourishing as well," says Jule.
Jule's main research has focused on children in elementary school classrooms where she has found that due to gender stereotypes relating to language, teachers have unintentionally required the boys to talk aloud in class discussions while the girls do their work. "This sets up a whole lifetime of gendered roles in education, affects the way people choose careers, and the way they see their strengths and weaknesses," says Jule.
And gender stereotypes are a big issue when it comes to making career choices. Dr. Anne Condon, Professor of Computer Science at the University of British Colombia and NSERC/General Motors Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Colombia and the Yukon Regions explains that there are still large differences in men and women's participation in engineering and in many of the sciences. "Because science and engineering have huge impact on our lives, and because innovation in these disciplines relies on attracting the best talent, it's important that we remove barriers for women - and members of other underrepresented fields - to participation in these fields. I also believe that our society would benefit by greater participation of men in the caring professions - particularly nursing and teaching," says Condon.
Condon is excited to be one of the speakers at the Gender Studies Institute's Inaugural Dessert Evening taking place Tuesday, October 28th at 7 pm in the Northwest Auditorium. "I'm particularly glad that the Institute brings together researchers from sciences as well as the humanities, because there are still large differences in participation of men and women in engineering and in some sciences," she comments.
Although Gender Studies Institutes are not a new phenomenon at Canadian and International Post-Secondary Institutions, many Gender Studies schools are associated primarily with Women's Studies or the study of the female gender. What makes Trinity Western's institute unique is its commitment to exploring both what it means to be male and what it means to be female, as well as its inter-disciplinary focus. Faculty involvement in the program, with an equal number of representatives from each gender and across many different disciplines demonstrates this commitment to engaging both masculinisms and feminisms from diverse perspectives.
Event at a glance:
Event: TWU's Gender Studies Institute Inaugural Dessert Evening
Date: Tuesday, October 28th
Time: 7:30 pm
Location: Northwest Auditorium
Cost: Free of charge
Other: The GSI welcomes students, staff, faculty and the general public. Please RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers undergraduate degrees in 40 major areas of study ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology and leadership, and offers interdisciplinary studies in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Biblical Studies, Biology and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2008-10-24