From "Mystory" to A Story of Concurrence:
Gender Constancy and Gender Fluidity

Kim Cassidy (Psychology) and Anne Dalke (English)
Bryn Mawr College

July 16, 2005 Draft

One of the oddest thing about the university is that it calls itself a "community of scholars," yet organizes itself in a way that conceals the intellectual links of that community....[We enact a] course fetish, the assumption that the natural unit of instruction is the autonomous course, one not in direct dialogue with other courses. (Gerald Graff, "How Curricular Disconnection Disempowers Students")

This story of the coming together of two different stories being taught concurrently--one in a psychology course, another in a humanities class at Bryn Mawr College during the fall of 2004--has two points of origin, one historical and theoretical, the other local and personal. The theoretical framework began to take shape nearly thirty years ago, when Gerald Graff first began addressing the experiences of students who were moving "from one disconnected course to another, and one discipline to another, often manuevering 'among radically divergent theories of knowledge without...getting adequate help'" (x, 161). The personal origin story is that of a student simultaneously taking two gender courses in two different departments. As Jana McGowen explained,

... the first semester of my senior year... unexpectedly involved the collision of the science, literature, and politics of gender....on the next to last day of the shopping week period, I found myself adding two gender studies classes to my schedule, one entitled Advanced Topics in Developmental Psychology, the other Interdisciplinary Perspectives of Sex and Gender. Both classes, although very different in their methodology - (one placing a profound importance on precision, cautious and careful experiment design, and the other on "stories" both individual and collective, and their relation to society) - hoped to find the "real" gender problems, look at them with the attention they deserve, and encourage some kind of dialogue for change. Jana was hearing, in these two courses, two different kinds of stories, each of which translated into a different way of teaching. Beginning anew with the sense of dissonance which Jana expressed at semester's end, her psychology and literature professors here want to take on a task with three stages. We will first lay out the psychological data about when and how children form gender constancy, in contrast to a range of biological and literary accounts of gender fluidity. We'll next reflect on the ways each of these different kinds of stories dictate certain pedagogical strategies in our classrooms. We hope finally ?? (who knows? let's see where this goes!) In doing so, we have been motivated by Gerald Graff's identification of the problem of classrooms as "privitized spaces" of "patterned isolation" (xxxii), and by the efforts of his followers to describe an alternative: "Concurrence is not based on consensus....the differences among those concurring are the values they bring to the collaboration. The paradox in this situation is that the more diverse the disagreement, the more perspicuous the problem becomes because there are more perspectives involved...." (211).

Works Cited

Cain, Willaim, Ed. Teaching the Conflicts: Gerald Graff, Curricular Reform, and the Culture Wars. New York; Garland, 1994.

McGowen, Jana. The Female and Her Story on Trial. General Programs 290: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender. Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges. Fall 2004.

Other possible quotes to use, from Cain:

The problem...[of] classrooms as "privatized spaces" is exaggerated in virtual environments...Debates on "computer party lines" tend toward a chaotic state. Everyone is talking at the same time to no one in particular but to everyone in general. This propagates pandemonium. In such an environment, the tendency from citics to behave as "schools unto themselves" is magnified. In virtual classrooms "conversations" tend toward solipsistic cybercism or critical self-envelopment because they lack the constraints of real-tine duialogue (e.g., a listener's bored countenance) (204-205).

There are two interrelated cyberspace problems that are connected to privatization--solipsism and discursive violence (208).

all stories become "mystories" (210).

(from Jana, continued--and somewhat edited by me....)

Gender Development, as a psychology class, was focused on the role of psychology in reporting only what can be proven, or statistically "significant." It took the stance that science, although slow, has the advantage of facts, which my professor insisted are key for social recognition of a problem which can be sited and lead to broad social change. My other class was the core course in Bryn Mawr and Haverford's Feminist and Gender Studies Program. Although it spent a few classes dedicated to looking at gender from a biological perspective, in general it looked less at the science, and more at the story or groups of stories that intellectuals tell about their own personal experience, as well as their observations of the larger societal picture concerning gender and sexuality. The class also encouraged intellectual discussions in class about these topics and believed the dialogues were key for opening an awareness that might lead to social improvement.

I have continually struggled with the scientific and intellectual representations of gender development and stigmatization, especially regarding the role of socialization (by "socialization" I mean the stereotypes and stigmas placed on individuals by society based on their sex, sexuality, or gender). How do I define my own experience. Do either of these classes tell a better picture for me and my story, or for society? Do either provide a better or at least more useful story?

My thinking about these questions came to a head when, for the first time in Advanced Topics in Developmental Psychology, the professor had not asked the class to read a cluster of psychological studies. Instead, we were discussing two popular non-academic books written for a broad audience--but mostly for parents--about the difficulties of growing up based on societal expectations of gender. One of the books was about the trials of girls losing confidence in subjects like math and science, eating disorders and expectations of their physical attractiveness. The other looked at the alarming amount of clinical depression in boys and encounters with the law that young men face today as they approach adolescence, and the societal expectations to stay unemotional and to deal with anger or sadness through physical aggression.

Instead of talking about whether or not the class thought boys or girls "had it worse," the class focused on the unscientific nature of the two books, especially the one about girls. Peggy Orenstein, author of Schoolgirls, took the role of reporter in her book, and she did an in-depth journalistic report of twelve adolescent girls. Observing the struggles they encounter,Orenstein says middle school is "the beginning of the transition from girlhood to womanhood and, not coincidentally, the time of greatest self-esteem loss" (xxiv). Full of "science-thinkers," my class saw Orenstein's book as offensive and dangerous. Where was her research? Why did she seem to chose only cases of girls with the worst possible exemplification of female societal victimization? The lack of statistics, lack of a large subject sample, lack of good procedure (interacting with the girls sometimes when she felt the girls were unsafe, but not in others) was extremely upsetting to my professor and my class.

I honestly hadn't had too much problem with unscientific nature of the book. Maybe it's because I'm not a Psychology major, but an English major. When I read it, I just took the story for what it was: one woman looking at two schools in one city in America. Of course it couldn't account for every girls' experience, but it was an interesting case study. As I thought more about it, however, perhaps the bigger reason that I didn't have an issue with the lack of science in the book was that I agreed with the story that Orenstein told. I could pick out a number of quotes from Schoolgirls that expressed how I felt about the female disadvantage better than all the sentences of all the psychological reports I had read put together. I raised my hand and asked something like, "Perhaps we might excuse Oreinstein for her lack of attention to detail, and perhaps even for a possibly inappropriate exaggeration, because her goal is social change." I could tell I hurt my professor with this remark, as she got flustered and mentioned that she thought it was interesting how different people go about trying to change society in "their own way": some dedicate their lives to scientific research, while others write books based on limited research or data. As the class ended, I realized that I was sorry for saying what I had. The psychology was just as--if not more--important than the book, but I couldn't help wondering which was better. Was Orenstein perhaps actually better or more important than my professor's psychological studies? Was the story better than the science?

In writing her book, Orenstein had not taken the scientific approach that she complained the girls she studied were not expected nor encouraged to learn: although they are still doing well in the scientific field of biology, where they have always shown skill and interest as both mothers and nurses, and are now making a good appearance in the role of doctor, women are still not getting involved in many other scientific fields like engineering or computers.....