Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Heather Dillaway


The construction and performance of gender reveal conceptions of femininity and masculinity that are exclusive to individuals and groups of individuals. As research suggests, societal gender norms are rooted in heteronormative ideologies suggesting that heterosexuality is ideal, and therefore to appropriately perform dominant femininity and masculinity is to perform heterosexuality. In this dissertation, I expand gender and sexuality knowledge by bridging the two in a population where sexuality studies are sparse: children, and more specifically, tweens. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 tweens (10 female and 10 male) between the ages of 8 and 12 and 15 mothers of tweens. Results indicated that tweens adhered to dominant prescriptions of gender and sexuality. Tween masculinity was constructed as action-based and tween femininity was defined by appearance. When in public tweens adhered to gender norms, but when home alone, tweens were less bound by gender norms and acted in gender-neutral (what I termed tween-normative) ways. Tweens’ constructions and performances of sexuality adhered to a heteronormative framework. Girls were more invested in the idea of (hetero) romance than were boys and they equated (hetero) romance with companionship. Conversely, boys were more likely to equate (hetero) romance with (physical) intimacy. There was some indication that what was most attractive to tweens in a potential (hetero) romantic partner was someone who stayed true to their authentic self and did not engage in overt displays of gender conformity. Interviews with mothers corroborated tweens’ interviews and they constructed themselves as the primary socializer in their tween’s life. They confirmed that tweens generally acted in gender conforming ways, with the exception of boys who sometimes acted in gender non-conforming ways when in the private space of the home, and they assumed a heteronormative framework when discussing their tween’s sexuality. Additionally, findings suggest that mothers established boundaries for their tweens, socializing them to dominant gender and sexuality norms. Research should continue to explore the gendered and sexual lives of today’s youth, especially the place-specific gendered performances of tween boys, and the various social agents influencing tween lives.