Gender Differences in Graves (1975)
My suspicions about subtle, unconscious gender bias in this research began when I read the descriptions of the subject groups, every one of which contained more boys than girls, and the decision to focus only on Michael (a strong "Reactive" writer--see 32) as an illustrative example. In the 1970s, scientific awareness of gender bias was still only just being explored. I strongly doubt Graves or his team was consciously designing the study to tilt toward boys' processes and problems, but it starts to look like it. Or am I seeing an illusion produced by misreading Graves?
1) The girls' "longer writing" raises the question of writing quality again, and it also makes one wonder about the physical activity rate of boys vs. girls at seven. If the boys are up doing things that interrupt the composing process, or at least the seated-pen-in-hand part of it, could this reduce writing length in a way that would disappear when boys develop longer attention spans (around 40, my wife says) and lower physical activity rates (after they get cable?).
2) Boys' topics tend to be outside school, "beyond home and school" including "current events, history and geography on a national and world scale." OK--that is validated by later feminist analysis of college-level student writing (see Flynn, "Writing Like a Woman" (1988, in Perl). But could this be entirely socially induced by games, media, parental expectations, etc.?
3) Boys don't use "I" unless "developmentally advanced," perhaps, but how is developmental advancement being measured? They don't report, but we might infer, that girls do use "I" even if they're not "developmentally advanced, but the absence of mention increases my suspicion of unconscious gender-bias in the research or in the report. Even if both are true, does this persist in college-level writing, or has high school experience and biological development altered it? Do these results agree or disagree with Flynn's (1988--see above).
4) Boys' themes about the "secondary geographical area" again raises the question of why writing about home is not as important ("developmentally"?) as writing about cave men and whales and dinosaurs. Is this conclusion gender biased?
5) Girls' themes are about home and school, but aren't these crucial and rich subjects in their own right? Should boys learn to write more about home and school while girls are given more help visualizing places and things distant in space or time?
6) Boys' definition of "good writing" at seven involves mainly "neatness"! How amazingly this trend is reversed by the time they get to college, where expressiveness and forcefulness are their primary criteria. Why?
7) Girls' definition of "good writing" at seven involves prethinking and organization, as well as their feelings about the writing, and they can support their descriptions of it with examples. Would this have anything to do with their relative success (vs. boys) in structured classrooms and assigned writing? Are the two naturally reinforcing each other?