Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Girls feel they must ‘play dumb’ to please boys

pereiraDr Maria do Mar Pereira's, from the Department of Sociology, recent book entitled Doing Gender in the Playground: The Negotiation of Gender and Sexuality in Schools, has just been awarded the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry's Award for Best Qualitative Book in Spanish or Portuguese (2010 - 2014).

Her book is based on a research project. To conduct the research Dr Pereira spent, with permission of the school and relevant authorities, three months as a student in a Year Eight class observing the everyday lives of school children. In order to gain as much insight as possible, she participated in all aspects of their day at school: she attended classes, did PE lessons, took exams, had lunch in the cafeteria, played in the playground and joined them in trips to shopping centres after school. As a result, she was able to observe aspects of young people’s interactions, feelings and behaviours that teachers and parents are often unable to access.

Based on these experiences, Dr Pereira says:

Our ideas of what constitutes a real man or woman are not natural; they are restrictive norms that are harmful to children of both genders. The belief that men have to be dominant over women makes boys feel constantly anxious and under pressure to prove their power – namely by fighting, drinking, sexually harassing, refusing to ask for help, and repressing their emotions.Girls feel they must downplay their own abilities, pretending to be less intelligent than they actually are, not speaking out against harassment, and withdrawing from hobbies, sports and activities that might seem ‘unfeminine’.”

The research found that boys aged 14 had acquired the belief that girls their age should be less intelligent, according to Dr Pereira;

"Trying to live up to these unreal ideas of masculinity and femininity leads to a range of problems; low self-esteem, bullying, physical and verbal violence, health problems and a tragic loss of potential in our young people. Therefore, we must promote ideas about gender which are less rigid, and recognise there are many ways of being a man and a woman”.