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Psychology Learning Outcomes 3 - 4

Discuss the formation and development of gender roles.


Ever since a child is born, he or she is given a name which immediately signifies the gender of the child.
After this the world will then identify the gender of the child according to their name and will treat them
so accordingly. When the child is 2 years old, they can identify, and label their gender and the gender of
others around them. This is called gender identity. The development of gender identity is an important
step towards a child assuming a gender role. (Psychology Text book pg. 207) Hover it is only when the
child is about 7 years of age, he or she will realize that no matter what one wears, their gender will
remain constant. This realization is called gender constancy.
Children are also made to assume appropriate gender roles through child rearing practices. An example
of this is the boys are given action toys and cars etc. to play with whereas girls are given Barbie dolls and
toy houses to pay with. Whiting and Edwards in 1973 studied children in countries like Kenya, Japan,
India and the US. They found that mostly girls were nurturing and made more physical contact. Boys on
the other hand were aggressive, dominant and engaged in several rough play. (Psychology Text book pg.
207)
Nature vs Nurture has been a major conflict between psychologists in the development of gender roles.
From the nature point of view, biological and hormonal factors play an important role in the
determination of gender identity. The childs gender identity is programmed before birth due to genes
and hormones and this is unchangeable. The nurture point of view is that the way the child is dressed
and treated by the people around him determines the childs identity. (Psychology Text book pg. 208)

The Biosocial Theory
The theory of biosocial theory of gender development was developed by Money and Erdhardt in 1972.
According to the theory, hormones according to the way the child is labelled sexually determines the
way the child is socialized. Money believed that children are gender neutral at birth which means at
birth a child is neither a girl nor a boy. (Psychology Text book pg. 209)
Money then studied on individuals who had ambiguous genitals. This is termed as intersex. He found
that children with ambiguous genitals could be raised as members of the opposite sex. David Reimer
(named Bruce at birth) was born a boy but due to a circumcision accident which burnt his penis, Dr.
Money suggested that he grow up as a girl. At 22 months, David was castrated and a vaginal canal was
constructed. He was given the name as Brenda and was raised as a girl. However Brenda hated dresses
and preferred playing with her brothers toys. She refused to have a surgery and oestrogen and refused
to meet Dr. Money. Thus this case questioned Dr. Moneys theory about socialization and how it can
override biological factors. (Psychology Text book pg. 210)

Social Learning Theory
According to this theory, boys and girls behave differently because they are treated differently by their
parents. Children learn to behave in ways that are accepted and thus are rewarded and to avoid
behaviours which are punished. This is known as direct tuition. One important factor is that the absence
or presence of rewards for gender appropriate behaviour. The other factor is modelling of behaviour
Psychology Learning Outcomes 3 - 4
demonstrated by members of the same sex. Thus by observing, children learn to behave in certain ways
and thus imitate other people. This was seen by Bandura in 1977. Children are also gender police.
Fagot conducted studies and she found that boys made fun of other boys if they were seen to be playing
with dolls. Girls too didnt like it when another girl played with boys. Thus there was pressure from
member of ones own sex to conform to a particular way of behaving. Sroufe observed children aged
between 10 and 11 and found that children who did not gender stereotype were the least popular. Thus
the study shows that children establish a social control in relation to gender roles. Thus peer
socialization is important in gender development.
Thus the social learning theory is good because it takes into account both the social and cultural context
of a child. However, the theory cannot explain why there are variations in the degree to which boys and
girls conform to gender roles. Another limitation is that the theory suggests that gender is passively
acquired but through research it is known that this is not the case.

Gender Schema Theory
Gender schemas are mental representations of the two genders. The theory is based on the assumption
that cognitive processes play an important t role in the development of gender identity. Children are
actively constructing gender identities based on their experiences. It also argues that the important
factor in gender identity is that children have the ability to label themselves as boys or girls. When they
have able to do that, they have established gender identity. This as seen by Martin and Halvorson.
Children have gender schemas for their own sex and for the opposite sex. This schema includes
information about attributes, activities and objects that are gender consistent. It also determines what
the child pay attentions to and what they interact with. However these gender schemas are prone to
becoming stereotypes. Martin and Halvorson conducted an experiment where they used a sample
consisting of children of both genders aged between 5 and 6 years. They showed them pictures of male
and females engaged in some activity such as a girl playing with a doll. They were also shown pictures of
the genders engaged in activities that were inconsistent such as a girl playing with a gun. A week later
the children were asked to recall the pictures and the researchers found that they were inconsistent
when remembering pictures of gender consistency. However they were better in recalling pictures that
were gender inconsistent.
Thus the gender schema theory can explain why a childs gender role does not change after middle
childhood. The gender schema remains because children pay attention and remember information that
is consistent with their own schema. It also shows that children try to make sense of their world by using
their own information.
However gender theory is limited because it focuses too much on an individual child during gender
development. Social and cultural factors are not taken into account and it also doesnt explain how
gender schemas are developed and what form they take.



Psychology Learning Outcomes 3 - 4
Discuss cultural variations in gender roles.
Men and women have always had different jobs. The social role theory suggests that gender stereotypes
arise from the differing roles and men and women generally occupy. According to Williams and Best in
1990, gender stereotypes arise form gender roles. Once these stereotypes become the norm, they serve
as models for gender role socialization. Best et al in 1997 conduced a cross cultural study on gender
stereotypes. They took children aged between 5 and 8 from the UK, Ireland and the US. They found that
a majority of the boys and girls in the groups agreed that girls were soft hearted and kind whereas males
were seen as strong, aggressive and cruel.
Mead in 1935 compared gender roles in the New Guinean tribes who all lived within a radius of 3 miles.
The Arapesh people were categorized by women and having both sensitive and non-aggressive
personalities. Men and women both shared with tasks relating to crops and children. Among the
Mundugamor tribe, both the women were seen as ruthless and aggressive and quite masculine. They
were always quarrelling and neither of the sexes were interested in their children. Thus the children
became self-reliant. In the Tchambali tribe, women were seen as dominant whereas the men were
emotional and were quite concerned about their personal appearances. Mead was able to bring out the
cultural differences between tribes that lived so close to each other. She was also able to show that
labour division is not that same between all cultures. She argues that human behaviour is not
determined by genes alone but that it is the product of beliefs and values in a particular culture.
However the times are changing and gender role stereotypes are slowly disappearing from modern
countries. Women have entered the labour market and all kinds of other manly professions. However
there will always exist certain professions where there are more women working then men. A research
study conducted by Reinicke showed that fathers in Denmark agreed that it is important for them to
have close contact with their child. This supports Mead statement when she said that gender role
ideology has an impact on what is expected from men and women and that gender role differences
reflect cultural expectations.