Theories for gender role identification

1802 words (7 pages) Essay

11th May 2017 Psychology Reference this

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This essay concerns the development of gender-role identification and what theories have been regarded as the most influential in explaining the process.

One theoretical approach into gender-role identification is the social learning theory. Bandura (1973) pioneered work on gender development. The social learning theory contends that gender roles are heavily determined by environmental factors (Bandura,1986; Bandura and Bussey, 2004; Bussey and Bandura, 1999 in Brannon, L. 2008) and most importantly they are learnt. One way in which children may come to acquire their targeted gender roles is through operant conditioning (in Brannon, L. 2008). Skinner (1970, in Brannon, L. 2008) stressed the importance of reinforcement and punishment in children. For instance, if a child finds that by behaving in a certain way e.g. a boy who plays with car toys receives approval from his parents, they are more likely to repeat this behaviour. However, if a girl is found to be jumping or behaving in an erratic manner she will receive disapproval from her parents hence not repeat the behaviour (in Brannon, L. 2008). A vast amount of studies have demonstrated and partially blamed parents for acting in a gendered stereotypical manner. According to Wood, Desmaratis and Gugula, (2002 in Brannon, L 2008) parents encourage and provide toys that are associated with the child’s gender and therefore treat children differently.

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One study into the effects of differential treatment amongst boys and girls comes from Fagot’s (1978, in Smith, P.K., Cowie, H & Blades, M. 2003) research. Fagot (1978) found that boys and girls received reinforcement and punishment for different behaviours. For example, girls were discouraged from shouting, jumping and reinforced for taking on the caring role whilst boys were highly discouraged from seeking help and reinforced for playing with toy cars (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).This can be explained in terms of the way parents socialise their children into what is gender appropriate behaviour and what is gender inappropriate behaviour which usually begins in infancy (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).

The social learning theory also posits that learning occurs through observation and imitation of models. According to Bandura and Bussey (2004, Brannon, L. 2008) children are most influenced by models who are of the same sex and those who are perceived as being most powerful. However, not all models exert the same level of influence amongst children and are highly successful (Bussey and Bandura, (1984 in Brannon, L. 2008). Bandura (1973, in Brannon, L. 2008) also stresses the importance and existence of the mass media in inducing stereotypes in children and influencing gender-role identification. According to Leaper, Breed, Hoffman, and Perlman, (2002 in Brannon, L. 2008) the way the media portrays the different sexes leads to an association for the child as to what is, and what is not gender appropriate behaviour. Girls are commonly portrayed in domestic settings and take the role of caring characters, whereas boys are shown to be aggressive and the breadwinners of the family. On the other hand, a study by Thompson and Zebrino’s, (1995 in Brannon, L. 2008) found a change in the presentation of women from the 1970’s onwards as being more ambitious, career minded and more competitive.

The social learning theory acknowledges that the social environment is partially responsible for the acquisition of certain gender-related behaviours and the stereotypes associated with gender (Martin, Ruble, & Szkrybalo, 2004 in Brannon, L. 2008). Despite the social learning theory being an influential one, it fails to take into account the cognitive factors such as gender schemas in the development of gender role identification; the idea that certain schemas drive particular behaviours associated with gender. The theory also recognises the power of observation and imitation of models and reinforcement and punishment in children in being the foremost components of gender role development (Katz & Ksansnak, 1994 in Brannon, L. 2008).

A second theory that has been extremely influential in attempting to explain gender- role acquisition comes from Kohlberg’s (1966 in Brannon, L. 2008) cognitive developmental theory. The underlying principle of the theory is that children come to acquire their gender identity through their organisation of thoughts and perceptions about gender through their schemas, in other words they are active recipients in their own development.

Kohlberg (1996 in Berk, L.E. 2009) identified a 3 stage process of gender development: 1) Gender labelling; (age 2yrs) children have the ability to discriminate themselves from the opposite sex and can label their sex correctly on the basis of physical appearance. Thompson (1975 in Berk, L.E. 2009) found that 76% of 24 months olds could distinguish between men and women based on stereotypes. 2) Gender stability; (age 4yrs) child recognises that gender is stable over time and across situations e.g. boys will grow up to be men and girls will grow up to be women. However, an alteration in the physical appearance creates the assumption that the sex of the person has changed e.g. male doll wears skirt. 3) Gender constancy; (age 7yrs) child fully comprehends that gender is permanent throughout life despite any adjustments made to physical appearances.

Kohlberg (1996) has been heavily disproven for focusing predominantly on gender constancy as being the main culprit of achieving gender identity (Martin & Little, 1990 in Brannon, L. 2008). The theory has also been discredited for ignoring situational factors in the development of gender role identification and for viewing children as being passive recipients as suggested by the social learning theory. Instead the cognitive developmental theory emphasizes the active role in children in constructing and organising their thoughts (Bem, 1985 in Brannon, L. 2008).

Another theory is the gender schema theory which stems through the cognitive developmental theory. The gender schema theory highlights the importance and existence of the cultures that children are brought up in determining their gender schemas and the way children organise and process gender- related information which in return reflects their behaviour ( Brannon, L. 2008). According to Martin and Halverson, (1987 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) gender schemas are a set of mental guidelines and cognitions that construct important and appropriate information about masculine or feminine behaviours.

One negative outcome for the existence of gender schemas is that if often leads to engaging in gender stereotyping behaviours and can be misleading in the sense that children have a fixed opinion of what behaviours are appropriate for women and men and what are not (Harper and Schoeman, 2003 in Brannon, L. 2008). However, Martin et al., (2002 in Brannon, L. 2008) pointed out that gender stereotyping can increase a child’s understanding of certain gender related behaviours.

Furthermore, the theory also postulates that children encode gender related information and observe and imitate models that are of the same sex. In other words, they take in information that fits in well with their gender schemas and apply them (Martin et al., 1995 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003). Martin et al., (1999 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) also found that 3-6 yr olds preferred being around their same sex group.

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The gender schema theory highlights the importance of schemas in children as they mature. When children grow up their schemas change and through this they learn different characteristics about their gender which in return modifies their cognitions (Brannon, L. 2008).

The gender script theory also falls below the cognitive developmental theory and coincides with the gender script theory. The gender script theory contends that children can systematize events in their life in an organised manner via social knowledge. It is widely thought that children acquire their gender identity through the organisation of events in the same way they acquire information about daily routines e.g. how to put shoes on. A study conducted by Boston & Levy, (1991 in Brannon, L. 2008) showed that older children were more precise in arranging gender scripts in order.

A further theory of gender-role identification is the biological explanation. Biological explanations derive simply from the fact that sex is determined through the different pairs of chromosomes that boys and girls have. That is boys have one X and one Y chromosomes whilst girls possess two X chromosomes. This chromosome differentiation has resulted in the different functional characteristics amongst boys and girls (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).

A study conducted by Money and Ehrardt (1972 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) looked into one of the most common syndromes of hormonal differentiations; the Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) syndrome. A condition whereby female foetuses are subjected to high levels of a male hormone called androgen. The findings established a clear cut relationship between girls with CAH and their adolescence years in comparison to girls without CAH. CAH girls displayed non feminine characteristics e.g. played with car toys.

This clearly indicates that CAH can elicit a major impact on gender role behaviours.

According to Collaer and Hines, (1995 in Berk, L.E. 2009) they found that hormone abnormalities affected the behaviour of young children therefore providing support for the theory.

In conclusion, the theories proposed in attempting to explain the process of gender role- identification are many and varied and compose of different ideas yet coincide such as the social learning theory and the cognitive developmental theory. The social learning theory underlines the importance of external factors in child’s gender development whilst the cognitive developmental theory substantiates that children actively organise their thoughts and perceptions. The biological theory stresses the differentiation in chromosome pairs in leading to hormonal abnormalities whilst the gender schema theory highlights the role of schemas in playing a crucial role. The gender script theory, however, explains a child’s gender development in terms of actions being performed in a sequentional form.

All the theories discussed above have shown to be useful in explaining gender role identification and therefore one cannot be regarded as superior to another, however, the social learning theory and the cognitive developmental theory seem to be the most compatible.

This essay concerns the development of gender-role identification and what theories have been regarded as the most influential in explaining the process.

One theoretical approach into gender-role identification is the social learning theory. Bandura (1973) pioneered work on gender development. The social learning theory contends that gender roles are heavily determined by environmental factors (Bandura,1986; Bandura and Bussey, 2004; Bussey and Bandura, 1999 in Brannon, L. 2008) and most importantly they are learnt. One way in which children may come to acquire their targeted gender roles is through operant conditioning (in Brannon, L. 2008). Skinner (1970, in Brannon, L. 2008) stressed the importance of reinforcement and punishment in children. For instance, if a child finds that by behaving in a certain way e.g. a boy who plays with car toys receives approval from his parents, they are more likely to repeat this behaviour. However, if a girl is found to be jumping or behaving in an erratic manner she will receive disapproval from her parents hence not repeat the behaviour (in Brannon, L. 2008). A vast amount of studies have demonstrated and partially blamed parents for acting in a gendered stereotypical manner. According to Wood, Desmaratis and Gugula, (2002 in Brannon, L 2008) parents encourage and provide toys that are associated with the child’s gender and therefore treat children differently.

One study into the effects of differential treatment amongst boys and girls comes from Fagot’s (1978, in Smith, P.K., Cowie, H & Blades, M. 2003) research. Fagot (1978) found that boys and girls received reinforcement and punishment for different behaviours. For example, girls were discouraged from shouting, jumping and reinforced for taking on the caring role whilst boys were highly discouraged from seeking help and reinforced for playing with toy cars (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).This can be explained in terms of the way parents socialise their children into what is gender appropriate behaviour and what is gender inappropriate behaviour which usually begins in infancy (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).

The social learning theory also posits that learning occurs through observation and imitation of models. According to Bandura and Bussey (2004, Brannon, L. 2008) children are most influenced by models who are of the same sex and those who are perceived as being most powerful. However, not all models exert the same level of influence amongst children and are highly successful (Bussey and Bandura, (1984 in Brannon, L. 2008). Bandura (1973, in Brannon, L. 2008) also stresses the importance and existence of the mass media in inducing stereotypes in children and influencing gender-role identification. According to Leaper, Breed, Hoffman, and Perlman, (2002 in Brannon, L. 2008) the way the media portrays the different sexes leads to an association for the child as to what is, and what is not gender appropriate behaviour. Girls are commonly portrayed in domestic settings and take the role of caring characters, whereas boys are shown to be aggressive and the breadwinners of the family. On the other hand, a study by Thompson and Zebrino’s, (1995 in Brannon, L. 2008) found a change in the presentation of women from the 1970’s onwards as being more ambitious, career minded and more competitive.

The social learning theory acknowledges that the social environment is partially responsible for the acquisition of certain gender-related behaviours and the stereotypes associated with gender (Martin, Ruble, & Szkrybalo, 2004 in Brannon, L. 2008). Despite the social learning theory being an influential one, it fails to take into account the cognitive factors such as gender schemas in the development of gender role identification; the idea that certain schemas drive particular behaviours associated with gender. The theory also recognises the power of observation and imitation of models and reinforcement and punishment in children in being the foremost components of gender role development (Katz & Ksansnak, 1994 in Brannon, L. 2008).

A second theory that has been extremely influential in attempting to explain gender- role acquisition comes from Kohlberg’s (1966 in Brannon, L. 2008) cognitive developmental theory. The underlying principle of the theory is that children come to acquire their gender identity through their organisation of thoughts and perceptions about gender through their schemas, in other words they are active recipients in their own development.

Kohlberg (1996 in Berk, L.E. 2009) identified a 3 stage process of gender development: 1) Gender labelling; (age 2yrs) children have the ability to discriminate themselves from the opposite sex and can label their sex correctly on the basis of physical appearance. Thompson (1975 in Berk, L.E. 2009) found that 76% of 24 months olds could distinguish between men and women based on stereotypes. 2) Gender stability; (age 4yrs) child recognises that gender is stable over time and across situations e.g. boys will grow up to be men and girls will grow up to be women. However, an alteration in the physical appearance creates the assumption that the sex of the person has changed e.g. male doll wears skirt. 3) Gender constancy; (age 7yrs) child fully comprehends that gender is permanent throughout life despite any adjustments made to physical appearances.

Kohlberg (1996) has been heavily disproven for focusing predominantly on gender constancy as being the main culprit of achieving gender identity (Martin & Little, 1990 in Brannon, L. 2008). The theory has also been discredited for ignoring situational factors in the development of gender role identification and for viewing children as being passive recipients as suggested by the social learning theory. Instead the cognitive developmental theory emphasizes the active role in children in constructing and organising their thoughts (Bem, 1985 in Brannon, L. 2008).

Another theory is the gender schema theory which stems through the cognitive developmental theory. The gender schema theory highlights the importance and existence of the cultures that children are brought up in determining their gender schemas and the way children organise and process gender- related information which in return reflects their behaviour ( Brannon, L. 2008). According to Martin and Halverson, (1987 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) gender schemas are a set of mental guidelines and cognitions that construct important and appropriate information about masculine or feminine behaviours.

One negative outcome for the existence of gender schemas is that if often leads to engaging in gender stereotyping behaviours and can be misleading in the sense that children have a fixed opinion of what behaviours are appropriate for women and men and what are not (Harper and Schoeman, 2003 in Brannon, L. 2008). However, Martin et al., (2002 in Brannon, L. 2008) pointed out that gender stereotyping can increase a child’s understanding of certain gender related behaviours.

Furthermore, the theory also postulates that children encode gender related information and observe and imitate models that are of the same sex. In other words, they take in information that fits in well with their gender schemas and apply them (Martin et al., 1995 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003). Martin et al., (1999 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) also found that 3-6 yr olds preferred being around their same sex group.

The gender schema theory highlights the importance of schemas in children as they mature. When children grow up their schemas change and through this they learn different characteristics about their gender which in return modifies their cognitions (Brannon, L. 2008).

The gender script theory also falls below the cognitive developmental theory and coincides with the gender script theory. The gender script theory contends that children can systematize events in their life in an organised manner via social knowledge. It is widely thought that children acquire their gender identity through the organisation of events in the same way they acquire information about daily routines e.g. how to put shoes on. A study conducted by Boston & Levy, (1991 in Brannon, L. 2008) showed that older children were more precise in arranging gender scripts in order.

A further theory of gender-role identification is the biological explanation. Biological explanations derive simply from the fact that sex is determined through the different pairs of chromosomes that boys and girls have. That is boys have one X and one Y chromosomes whilst girls possess two X chromosomes. This chromosome differentiation has resulted in the different functional characteristics amongst boys and girls (in Smith P.K. et al., 2003).

A study conducted by Money and Ehrardt (1972 in Smith P.K. et al., 2003) looked into one of the most common syndromes of hormonal differentiations; the Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) syndrome. A condition whereby female foetuses are subjected to high levels of a male hormone called androgen. The findings established a clear cut relationship between girls with CAH and their adolescence years in comparison to girls without CAH. CAH girls displayed non feminine characteristics e.g. played with car toys.

This clearly indicates that CAH can elicit a major impact on gender role behaviours.

According to Collaer and Hines, (1995 in Berk, L.E. 2009) they found that hormone abnormalities affected the behaviour of young children therefore providing support for the theory.

In conclusion, the theories proposed in attempting to explain the process of gender role- identification are many and varied and compose of different ideas yet coincide such as the social learning theory and the cognitive developmental theory. The social learning theory underlines the importance of external factors in child’s gender development whilst the cognitive developmental theory substantiates that children actively organise their thoughts and perceptions. The biological theory stresses the differentiation in chromosome pairs in leading to hormonal abnormalities whilst the gender schema theory highlights the role of schemas in playing a crucial role. The gender script theory, however, explains a child’s gender development in terms of actions being performed in a sequentional form.

All the theories discussed above have shown to be useful in explaining gender role identification and therefore one cannot be regarded as superior to another, however, the social learning theory and the cognitive developmental theory seem to be the most compatible.

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