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Boys Just Don’t! Gender Stereotyping and Sanctioning of Counter-Stereotypical Behavior in Preschoolers

Abstract

Although children start to adopt gender stereotypes by the age of three, there is less evidence about how early they start to sanction other children’s counter-stereotypical behaviors. The present study explored the two processes in a single design, comparing younger/older preschool boys and girls and using a two-task procedure involving (a) categorization of pictures of masculine/feminine colors, toys, and objects as more suited for boys/girls or both and (b) descriptions and evaluations of boys/girls playing with gender counter-stereotypic toys. One hundred Serbian children aged 3–4 or 6–7 years-old, balanced by gender, were individually interviewed. Although all three sets of stimuli were stereotyped, toys were stereotyped more often than colors and objects. Overall stereotyping, as well as stereotyping of colors and toys, was more frequent in the older group. Gender differences were more complex, showing some gender x age interactions wherein boys stereotyped masculine stimuli more often than girls did; the older boys, but not the other groups, sanctioned counter stereotypical behavior more often than accepted it; and boys’ behaviors were sanctioned more often than girls’. Finally, stereotyping and sanctioning were strongly positively related. Our study shows that, at early preschool ages, children are not only aware of gender norms, but also ready to sanction peers violating them. Boys seem to be more likely to stereotype, particularly the masculine stimuli, and be sanctioned for not conforming to stereotypes. The findings can help educators and media identify groups that need to be empowered to explore behaviors beyond gender-prescribed roles.

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Correspondence to Iris L. Žeželj.

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Skočajić, M.M., Radosavljević, J.G., Okičić, M.G. et al. Boys Just Don’t! Gender Stereotyping and Sanctioning of Counter-Stereotypical Behavior in Preschoolers. Sex Roles 82, 163–172 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01051-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01051-x

Keywords

  • Gender role
  • Gender-stereotypes
  • Counter-stereotypical
  • Sanctions
  • Preschool
  • Child development