Book Review of “The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls” by Kane Emily W.
This is a book that explains why the gender trap is not the parent’s fault, but a social construction. One of the social institutions is the family. Through the family, Kane has explained the role of the parents in maintaining the social gender trap. Kane has analyzed her interviews with parents of preschool children to show the beliefs and motivations that construct the gendered society. In presenting this, Kane has made her book not only intriguing but also well organized.
In the book, Kane acknowledges that there are other factors that construct the children’s gender. She, however, states that her aim is to clarify the motivations and beliefs that shape the parents’ actions and, therefore, reveal the gendered traps and opportunities for social change (Kane 2-5). From this perspective, one can understand that the five types of gendered constructions are the gendered traps. Kane shows this is a well-organized manner. There is an introduction with detailed information about gendered traps and how she came to this approach of analysis. The introduction also states the aim of the book that is to describe the role of parents in constructing their children’s gender. The author established this by exploring their thoughts, interests, attributes, and behaviors they discourage or accept for their sons and daughters. Within the introduction, there is the definition of a gender trap. Gender trap is a “set of expectations and structures that inhibit social change and stall many parents’ best intentions for loosening the limits that gender can impose upon us” (Kane 3).
The author has classified the parent’s beliefs and motivations into what he believes to be their role in constructing the children’s gender. These classifications form the main chapters of the book. Chapter one describes the constitution of Kane’s approach in classifying the parents’ practices. Chapter two describes the first type of parental practice that constructs the children’s behavior. She says they are ‘naturalizers.’ Chapter three is all about the ‘cultivators’. Chapter four describes the refiners. Chapter five is about the ‘innovators’ while chapter six deals with the ‘resisters’ (Kane 24). The last chapter is a conclusion summarizing the themes and patterns in the book.
There are a variety of concepts within Kane’s book. The two main ones are; inequalities of gender, and the role of parents as agents of socialization. Inequalities of Gender are evidenced in the introductory section where Kane justifies her approach under “the continuing relevance of gender” (Kane 4). Kane explains the gender inequalities that are still predominant in the society and even the society’s role in constructing such genders. She provides some constraints and limitations on both girls and boys that are persistent in the society. Based on these limitations and constraints, Kane enlightens her readers about the role of parents in making these social characteristics persistent (Kane 1-199). Kimmel explains that the result of gender inequality is the gender difference. This is based on a sociological reasoning that the social institutions of the world such as family, politics, school and many more, are the gendered institutions. They reinforce and reproduce the dominant definitions of gender (Kimmel 16). From Kane’s book, an understanding of the parents’ role in creating gender inequality can be deduced.
Furthermore, the role of parents as agents of socialization is the main theme in the book. It is all about different beliefs and motivations that parents have that eventually shape the society into a gendered one. According to Kane, there are parents who naturally believe that boys are different from girls and should be treated differently. They believe that when a boy is given a truck, he will automatically love it (Kane 53). Such a belief reinforces the social structures that define a society’s gender roles. Kane has also described other types of parental practices that construct the gendered roles in the society. These are; the innovator, the cultivators, the refiners, and the resisters (Kane 53-172). Through these practices, the parents act like agents of the gender trap.
Kane’s book can as well be titled; “How parenting contributes to gender inequality”. As Kimmel explains, there are gendered institutions like the family that contributes to gender inequalities and further lead to gender differences. One of the ways through which the family contributes to inequality in gender is through parenting (Kimmel 16). Kane has just described the different types of parenting practices that contribute to gender inequality and differences (53-172). As Kimmel explained; the social institutions “express a logic, a dynamic, that reproduces gender relations between women and men and the gender order of hierarchy and power” (p. 95). Consider Lou’s Explanations. He believes that the girls are socially constructed to dress ‘girly’, different from boys (Kane 84). This explains how the family institution express logic that continues to reproduce gender relations between boys and girls. Lou’s belief is also full of life as expected to convince members of the society that it is worth nurturing girls in that manner.
As Kimmel sees it, an examination of gender should attempt to explain not only perceived differences between men and women but also male dominance.
The book is believable considering that Kane came to a conclusion about the type of parenting practices after interviewing 42 parents. It is an analysis of people’s responses and classifying them based on social beliefs and motivations. The parents’ answers help explain the types of practices that Kane has identified. Take an example of Maya and Charles’ responses. There is a detailed description of how Maya came up with her conclusion that “it is the way they are born” (Kane 53). The same is the case with Charles who believes that it is the parental influence. Charles’ father always took the boys when going out for farm work. The girls are only taken out by Charles wife, and they go out for shopping and “girl activities’.
Kane’s book is also well organized and perfectly complements the sociological perspective of the role of parents in Socialization. The introduction explains her approach and factors that led to her choice. It also captures the readers’ attention when she describes her experience with her children on the issue of gender. She makes her intention clear; to explain the unintentional and intentional roles of parents in constructing a gendered society, but acknowledges the existence of other social constructors. This makes her work capturing.
Presenting the book by first briefing the reader about her intentions, providing information about the scope of her approach, and sharing her experience makes the book intriguing. It is further made interesting by the way it has been organized. There is an introduction, and chapter one with the conceptual building blocks of a gendered society. These equip the reader with an understanding of how a gendered society is formed before explaining the parental practices that lead to it. The parental practices are organized in the following four chapters followed by a conclusion as the last chapter. Kane’s book can be considered reinforcement to Kimmel’s explanation on gender inequality. It has elaborate details on how the one of the social institutions, the family, cultivates gender inequality, hence gender differences.
Kane, Emily, W. The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls. New York: NYU Press, 2012. Print.
Kimmel, Michael, S. The Gendered Society. 5th Ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.