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de Marneffe, D. (1997). Bodies and Words: A Study of Young Children's Genital and Gender Knowledge. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1):3-33.

(1997). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 2(1):3-33

Bodies and Words: A Study of Young Children's Genital and Gender Knowledge Related Papers

Daphne de Marneffe, Ph.D.

This study was undertaken to investigate several issues relevant to a psychoanalytic understanding of gender identity development. Forty-six children between the ages of 15 and 36 months were presented with a pair of dolls that differed in terms of genitals but were identical in every other respect. The children were asked which doll had genitals like themselves; which doll was a girl and which was a boy; and whether they preferred the boy or the girl doll. Parents were also asked what names for genitals they had provided for their children.

Case vignettes and numerical findings are presented. Children over 24 months tended to communicate a clear recognition of their genitals, but their ideas about how genitals relate to gender tended to be confused and changeable. In addition, children able to identify the doll like themselves had a strong tendency to choose that doll as their favorite. Boys in the sample had more often been provided with names for their genitals than had girls. Girls tended to have been given words for both sexes' genitals, whereas boys had more often been taught words only for male genitals. Results are discussed in terms of their implications for psychoanalytic theory and research on gender development.

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