Friday, June 6, 2008

Gifted Androgyny

Gifted girls and gifted boys are generally more androgynous than other children (Kerr, 1997; Kerr & Cohn, 2001), a condition that results in both benefits and problems. Interests of gifted girls are usually much broader than the typical girl. They may enjoy girl Scouts, craft projects, and dance, but they may also like rock climbing, fishing, and distance running - the more traditional male interests. Interests of gifted boys likewise are generally more androgynous and have a broader range (Herbert, 2002). Gifted boys may like the traditional football, but they may also enjoy dance and gardening. It is gratyfying to see these children develop their potential in so many areas. However, their androgyny may cause them, and others, to be somewhat concerned about gender identity. Adults with broad and androgynous interests may also experience problmes deriving from their multipotentiality. Their changing passions may make it difficult to establish a long-term career commitment to any one field. Others may judge them to be superficial and flighty.

-Webb, Amend, Webb, Goerss, Beljan, Olenchak, "Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults"

The discussion here focuses on two issues: multipotentiality and androgyny. For now, we'll set aside the multipotentiality and examine only the androgyny issues.

I've mentioned before that I'm not a social scientist. One of the most interesting courses I took in college, however, was a sociology course on gender roles. My background is technical, and due to the fact that I was one of the few women in many of my courses, I was beginning to experience stereotypes about women in those fields. I felt this course would give me a way to explain my experiences.

Surprisingly, the most important information that came out of that course didn't address the issue of women in technical fields. Instead, I learned something very jarring: men have more stringent stereotypes than women, and the consequences for men and boys who try to buck the stereotypes have serious consequences.

That isn't meant to negate the experience of women, but it is important to realize that these stereotypes are harmful to both genders. When dealing with gifted boys and girls in a normal classroom setting, the issue of androgyny become very obvious. Gifted boys may not be as interested in sports and may not be confrontational, thus diminishing their masculinity. Girls who are interested in math or less passive and interested in their appearance than their peers may not seem as feminine. Breaking from these stereotypes causes issues with peers, who will reject the gifted children for their differences.

Hoagies Gifted has several references on the influence of gender stereotypes and how they affect the gifted. In particular, there is a link to Jane Piirto's article on personality types of teachers and gifted children. She makes the point that gifted children very often, especially in the early school years, spend time with teachers who do not understand or appreciate their gifts. Teachers, early on, communicate that they don't value boys who like ideas and non-conformity. They may not take well to a girl who challenges or questions her teacher. In a school setting, teachers appreciate hard working children who follow rules. Gifted children have personality types which vary from the normal child, and these types seem to be somewhat linked to gender. This may be very perplexing to teachers who may expect behavior along gender lines.

Gifted children will undoubtedly receive negative feedback from both peers and teachers. Therefore, it is important for the parents of gifted children to nurture their interests and understand that they may be more varied than the typical age-mate of the same gender. Finally, they may have more friends of the opposite gender who share their interests. The varied nature of their interests and friends from both genders is very normal for a gifted child and should not be discouraged or criticized.

1 comment:

Jan Falk,LCSW said...

This is a topic that I am fascinated with. I am a therapist and the mother of two GT students. In therapy and anecdotally GT students are androgynous, celibate and gay/bisexual more often. This was recently explained to me by a very very GT girl who said: "everything is more complicated for us, why should sexuality be any different..."?