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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

March 10, 2004

Prof attempts to put 'tomboy' to rest

"Tomboys" would be a thing of the past if Sherrie Carinci had her way.

"I have a mission to address 'tomboy,'" says the teacher education professor. "As a society we tend to label risk-taking in girls as the activities of a tomboy. Instead of tomboy, why don't we call them active, adventurous girls?"

Carinci has a children's book, Girls on the Bench, coming out on the "tomboy" topic this month. She says, "It's not that girls can't be feminine. It's a stereotyping issue."

As girls enter their teens the fear of standing out can cause them to subdue their active spirit, she says. When formerly adventurous girls turn 12 or 13 and taking risks gets them labeled as a tomboy, many girls stop the behavior - behavior that would be encouraged in boys.

Carnici also wonders if the skimpy outfits popular among girls today discourage them from physical activity. Call it the "Britney" syndrome.

As much as the emergence of active female role models like the Women's World Cup Soccer team has encouraged more girls to play sports, the pressure to dress like Britney Spears and her contemporaries in low-riding pants, cropped tops and clunky shoes, makes it more difficult for girls to participate. "We have to ask ourselves, 'Are we dressing girls appropriately for active play?'" Carinci says.

Her decision to write Girls on the Bench, a book that features an "active, adventurous" girl is part of her effort to undo negative portrayals of non-conforming girls while also raising their profile.

For several years Carinci has studied gender and culture in education, particularly in literature. She has given presentations all over the country examining gender roles in children's books. "I want to get teachers aware of the main character in the storyline, so they notice when boys or girls are not represented or are presented as stereotypical images," she says.

Her research has given proof to her concerns. For example, on one national children's literature provider's list of books about camping and adventure, she found that of the 14 books there was not one that had a female lead character. Another reading list of the 20 most popular children's books had only three on the list that were about girls. Even among her students, she found eight of their 10 favorite books they read as children featured a male main character.

"We've been trained, socialized to not question when boys are the main characters in children's stories. But when males see females only in subordinate role in books, they become socialized to view this as the norm. Books that feature girls as main characters need to be on boys' shelves as well as girls'."

She's compiled an extensive list of non-gender biased books - which include strong female characters - as a guide for teachers and parents. She notes that books for children also need to include diversity, characters who are multiracial or have disabilities.

Gender representation also crops up in computer technology, she says. By the age of 13, both boys and girls consider computers a masculine discipline. Research suggests that boys at an early age feel more confident using computers. As with books, she says, there are more male characters and the game are being written for a male audience - the male player.

"These are very important education concerns that we in academic community need to learn and address," Carinci says.

Carinici's book, which contains illustrations by CSUS art studio graduate Katie Hamilton, is set for release on March 15 and will be available at the Hornet Bookstore. Carinci will also have a book signing for Girls on the Bench at 11 a.m., Saturday, April 3 at Borders Books, 2339 Fair Oaks Blvd.


California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •