Gender Identity among African
American and European
American Adolescents
Susan A. O’Neill
Melanie H. Overby
Oksana Malanchuk
University of Michigan
Society for Research in Child Development
April 25, 2003
Previous Conceptions of
Gender Identity
• Categorization of oneself and others as
female or male (Golombok & Fivush, 1994)
• Gender knowledge and behavior viewed as
separate and distinct (Burn, 1996)
Gender Identity as
Socially Constructed
• Recent approaches view gender behavior as
socially negotiated (Beall, 1993).
• Representations of gender derive from the
social structure.
• Gender identity is historically and culturally
relative, dependent on social, economic, and
political structures.
Discursive Psychology and
Gender Identity
• The image of the self is dependent on the
language used in everyday life
• Identify respondents’ patterns of language
and related practices
• Language enables and constrains expression
of ideas and behavior – “language culture”
Power and Gender Identity
• Gender and power are closely connected
and power is inequitably distributed
• Differences in the discourses available to
males and females (Gergen, 1984)
• Experimental psychology has been limited
in its ability to explain the dynamics of
power relations.
Positioning Theory - Conceptual
• Individuals are subjected to and produced
by societal ideologies
• Ideology creates “subjects” by drawing
people into particular positions or identities
(Althusser, 1971)
• Individuals interpret their own and others’
actions from the vantage point of their
subject position.
Positioning Theory - Methodological
•
Who is implied? What does a statement say
about the respondent?
Examination of three basic features:
1. The subject positions in relation to socially
prescribed rights and actions
2. The context in which respondents construct their
position and others
3. The ideologies that shape interpretations and
understandings of groups
Research Questions
• How do African American and European
American female and male adolescents
negotiate and formulate their gender
identities?
• Where do adolescents position themselves
in relation to different and opposing power
ideologies?
Data Analysis
• “Voice of authority” framework associated with
the construction of a national identity (Berman,
1999)
• Allowed categories to emerge from the data
• Focused on the inconsistency and diversity within
and across respondents’ accounts
• Used individual and team analysis
• Considered alternative interpretations and our own
biases and experiences
Subject Positions of Gender Representations of
Empowerment and Disempowerment
EMPOWERED
DISEMPOWERED
Dominance
Marginalization
Provider/Protector
Dependent
Individual Agency
Group Constraints
Virtuous Status
Presumed Guilty Status
Dominance and Marginalization Positions
of Black and White females and males
Dominance
Females
Tracy
Males
Clarence
Anthony
Henry
Leon
Travis
George
Carl
Marginalization
Females
Tracy
Belinda
Lakeisha
Kendra
Katrina
Antoinette
Crystal
Males
Leon
White female
Black female
Black male
White male
Dominance
• Manipulation and authority

“We rule the world…God created
women to be in subjection to the
male.”
Marginalization
• Inequality between the
sexes

– Anthony, Black male
• Occupational prestige associated
with race and gender

“top of the corporate ladder is
generally a white male.”
– Carl, White male
– Crystal,
White female
• Differential treatment

• Sexuality as a means of
empowerment:

“You can get boys to do whatever
you want. Boys are stupid.”
– Tracy, Black female
“We’re not characterized as
equals. I don’t think we
will be for a long time, if
ever.”
“I have to talk a little louder
to be seen or heard”
– Belinda, Black female
Provider/Protector and Protected Positions
of Black and White females and males
Provider/Protector
Females
Ann
Males
Brian
Henry
Leon
Carl
Protected
Females
Ann
Males
White female
Black female
Black male
White male
Provider/Protector
• Adopting the traditional
role of primary bread
winner

“What I believe to be a
male is, I guess, should
be in charge, take care of
his home and family, stuff
like that.”
– Carl, White male
• Female as nurturer

“I have to be there for my
boyfriend and support
him and take care of
him.”
– Ann,
White female
Protected
• Supported
 “I don’t have a problem if
my husband was my
provider and I didn’t work
and I raised the kids.”
– Ann, White female
Individual Agency and Group Constraints Positions
of Black and White females and males
Individual Agency
Females
Males
Antoinette James
Lakeisha Malcolm
Marjorie
Kendra
Joan
Group Constraints
Females
Males
Brian
Carl
Leon
Travis
White female
Black female
Black male
White male
Individual Agency
• Emphasizing humanity

“I feel that to be a person,
period, you have to be
responsible, regardless of
whether you’re male or
female.”
Group Constraints
• Male stereotypes

Males are viewed as
“corrupt”, “wild and
crazy”
– Travis, White male
– James, Black male
• Overcoming gender
constraints

“I have to keep focused on
what I want to do with my life
and I can’t let people, or
things like boys and stuff, get
in my way.”
- Lakeisha, Black female
• Intersectionality and
stereotypes

“You get blamed for stuff
that you didn’t even do. It’s
a double negative when
you’re a black male
teenager.”
– Brian, Black
male
Virtuous Status and Presumed Guilty Status Positions
of Black and White females and males
Virtuous Status
Females
Stacy
Colette
Ann
Jane
Males
Presumed Guilty
Status
Females
Males
Belinda
Colette
Katrina
Jane
White female
Black female
Black male
White male
Virtuous Status
• Entitlement through
experience

“It’s more acceptable for a girl
my age to have babies.”
– Ann, White female
• Autonomy

“I hate for a person to
approach me wrong.”
– Stacy, Black female
• Apportion blame to others

“silly” for girls to have sex to
keep boyfriends
– Colette, Black female
Presumed Guilty Status
• Guilt by association

“It’s amazing how you tell
people where you go to
school, and they find out it’s
all girls, and especially boys,
and they’re like, what are you
all lesbians or something?”
– Belinda, Black female
Subject Positions of Black and White females and males
EMPOWERMENT
Females
Tracy
Black female
White female
Dominance
Black male
White male
Ann
Provider/
Protector
Individual
Agency
Virtuous
Status
Antionette
Lakeisha
Marjorie
Kendra
Joan
Stacy
Colette
Ann
Jane
DISEMPOWERMENT
Males
Clarence
Anthony
Henry
Leon
Travis
George
Carl
Brian
Henry
Leon
Carl
James
Malcolm
Females
Tracy
Belinda
Lakeisha
Marginalization
Males
Leon
Kendra
Katrina
Antoinette
Crystal
Ann
Dependent
Brian
Carl
Leon
Group
Constraints
Presumed
Guilty
Status
Belinda
Colette
Katrina
Jane
Summary of Findings
Empowered representations of gender were shaped
by:
1. Positioning the person as “an individual” and
emphasizing a common humanity
2. Ascribing personal responsibility to the
individual
3. Renouncing historical and institutional restraints
associated with constraining gender roles
4. Endorsing positions that were situated in the
traditional discourses of power
Conclusion
•
Representations of power were apparent in
adolescents’ accounts of what their gender
means to them
•
Findings are intended to open new avenues for
exploring the complexity of gender identity
•
Possible to understand how adolescents’
representations of power create both
opportunities and barriers
Thank you!
•
For more information about this paper and
other research projects, please visit
http://rcgd.isr.umich.edu/garp/
Language Culture
• Although there is a number of available
discourses, some discourses are more
privileged than others
• Variation in discourses allows for fluidity of
gender-related identities
Sample and Procedure
• 16 (11 = female, 5 = male) African American
adolescents
• 8 (4 = female, 4 = male) European American
adolescents
• Semi-structured interviews at the end of 11th grade
by matched interviewers
• Interview protocol: Meaning and salience of
race/ethnicity, gender, and spirituality
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