Living With Gender Roles And Stereotypes In The Story Boys And Girls

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Stereotypes have existed for as long as people could assume things about one another. Good or bad, they are the foundation that people view each other as. It was only recently that society began to dismiss said stereotypes as fact, and instead began to see one another as they truly are. This change did not come fast enough, as the story Boys and Girls by Alice Munro was mostly based around the stereotypes surrounding men and women. The story at hand follows the perspective of the nameless daughter of a fox farmer. She loves working on the farm with her quiet father but her mother continues to push her into working in the kitchen with her instead. The girl opposes to this because she does not want to inevitably become like her mother, the stereotypical woman and housewife. These female stereotypes were pushed onto her from such a young age in such a manner that they eventually were able to changes the girls views on herself and her passion for farming.

The people and beliefs that a child spends their developmental years around have a strong influence on who they will inevitably become in their adult years. For example, the majority of people that consider themselves of the Christian faith have said beliefs because he or she grew up around people with Christian beliefs. This of course is not limited to religious stances as there are many other ways of being that children may pick up on. Whether someone grows up to be racist, misogynistic, bigited, generous, kind hearted, religious of any kind, or anything else good or bad, these things are developed from a very young age. These traits are mostly taught to children by their parents or the people they spend prolonged periods of time with in their youth. In David M. Csinos’ article Will Boys Be Boys and Girls Be Girls? Correcting Gender Stereotypes Through Ministry with Children, he asks the question of whether or not children do in fact develop personality traits through their surroundings. He turns to the words of Barbara Rogoff to answer this pressing question. Csinos goes on to say “In [Rogoff’s] words, ‘the rapid development of young children into skilled participants in society is accomplished through children’s routine, and often tacit, guided participation in ongoing cultural activities as they observe and participate with others in culturally organised activities.’”(25) In Boys and Girls it first becomes prominent that the main character is aware of the female stereotypes when she talks about the fact that she finds it odd that her own mother is down by their family’s barn and not in the house or the garden (156). She says this because she grew up seeing her mother nowhere but the said places so now she thinks it is weird for a woman like her to be near a barn.

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Many kids spend their childhood blind to society's expectations of them in their near future. It is not until children grow to be young adults that the worlds intentions shines light on the young and impressionable minds. In Boys and Girls the narrator and her brother Laird start the story practically gender-less. They do not fit into the set gender stereotypes that many would associate with a little girl and little boy. The narrator enjoys farming, dreads staying in the house with her mother and dreams of being a hero. While Laird starts the story as a sensitive superserviant little boy doing anything his family, including his sister, tells him to do. Marlene Goldman talks about the progression of the children into their initial gender roles in her article Penning in the Bodies: The Construction of Gendered Subjects in Alice Munro’s ‘Boys and Girls’. She uses the children's room as an example of symbolism to show that the children have yet to grow into their specific roles. She states, “Laird has not yet adopted a gender role associated with the father. Nor has the narrator been forced to sever her connections to the father and take up an identity aligned with her mother. This hypothesis concerning her male orientation gains support from the nature of her nocturnal fantasies.” The narrator, by the middle of the story, begins to struggle to keep in touch with her true self, that being the girl that loves to be outside with her brother and father on the farm.

Many children also end up growing up to be the people that others treat them as as a child. This is quite prominent in Boys and Girls. There is a transition in the story where the narrator begins to throw away her tomboyish persona and begins to act like the little girl that others see her as happens. This happens when a salesman comes to their farm and her father says “Like to have you meet my new hired hand.' The salesman then responds with, “Could of fooled me… I thought it was only a girl'(155). After this incident the story and the narrator begins to shift. She begins to see what people expect from her as a girl and slowly, but surely conforms to the world's beliefs. In Maria Olsson and Sarah E. Martiny’s article Does Exposure to Counterstereotypical Role Models Influence Girls’ and Women’s Gender Stereotypes and Career Choices? A Review of Social Psychological Research, they state “Early gender-stereotypical beliefs may shape children’s interests and have an accumulative effect on their skill acquisition and aspirations”(4). This proves true when, by the end of the story, the narrator gives up on her want to be a farmer with her father and gives into everyone's thoughts of her as just another little girl.

Many kids, like the narrator, want nothing more that to become someone of their own. Most people like to think of themselves as unique and one of a kind, but just simply is not the case in most situations. In the story, the narrator tries her best to stay herself, a girl that works hard and is not fit stereotypes. It is not until the climax at the end of the story that she breaks. She can not force herself to keep her emotions in and as she apologises for her actions, she cries and her father responds with “Nevermind, [...] she is just a girl”(161). In the article (Un-)Doing Gender: Alice Munro, ‘Boys and Girls’ (1964) by Reingard M. Nischik, she shines like on this moment saying, “this reaction represents her initiation into a female gender role [...] The implications are disastrous for the narrator. Girls behave irrationally and - like the mentally handicapped - cannot be held responsible for their actions”(213). This shows that after everything is said and done. It is inevitable that children will grow into their stereotypes no matter how strongly willed they are.

As time goes on, stereotypes will always exist. As long as children are raised by people who believe these stereotypes, they will be passed on generation by generation. People have only recently lowered their standards when it comes to gender roles and stereotypes. The narrator tried her hardest to be herself and not give in to her family and the world’s demands, but at the end of it all, there was no happy ending. Life goes on and the world keeps on turning. Time progresses and so do people, but will it ever be enough to satisfy everyone? The answer is most likely not, but we can only hope.

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Living With Gender Roles And Stereotypes In The Story Boys And Girls. (2021, August 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Living With Gender Roles And Stereotypes In The Story Boys And Girls.” Edubirdie, 31 Aug. 2021,
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