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How children become gendered adults

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 1111 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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At birth we are identified as male /female through biological factors, whereas our gendered identity is produced through how female /male we feel, and our gendered role is nurtured through our cultural environment and social beliefs. The nature side of the debate suggests that our gender is decided at the same time as our sex, and our behaviour differences are instinctive and have helped us survive. The differences are mostly put down to the way our bodies and brains differ. Our chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs put us in one gender category. However it does not explain how there is different gender roles across different cultures hence ignores how gender roles could be learnt. Nurture helps explain our development within our cultured environment, and life experiences prepare us for our gendered adulthood.

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Environmental theories highlight how culture affects the individual, social learning theorists suggest that our gender is learnt, and challenges the nature point of view that it is innate. When we are born our sexual organs decide what gender we are, and our parents and culture influence our gender identity through learnt behaviours. Males and females are treated differently from birth; parents are powerful role models in the early years and expectations of appropriate behaviour for the child’s gender can be rewarded or punished, thus a child will be more likely to repeat the rewarded behaviour which helps reinforce what is considered acceptable behaviour for the child’s gender. As a child develops and grows they gain an understanding of gendered behaviours through their social environment, developing an understanding of gender identity. They learn to identify particular behaviours appropriate to their gender and will model and imitate through reinforcement, association with same sex parent, and same sex models, and it is ongoing throughout their childhood and on into adolescence. (Smith 2002)

Criticisms to this are that when a baby is born the way it is treated by adults is influenced by its sex. A study done by Will, Self and Datan in 1976 shows that when the same baby is dressed in blue/ pink adults behave differently to it. Children tend to model their behaviour on the same sex parent and learn what is most appropriate for their gender, leading to praise which reinforces their identity, they can also imitate their same sex models behaviour through play and toys. In today’s society children are often raised by one-parent families and this theory does not allow for the fact that these children may be being brought up by a different sex model yet still continue to behave in their gendered role through dress and encouragement of appropriate/ behaviour regardless of having anyone to model it on. It can be criticised for placing too much importance on particular models behavioural influences and losing site of the child’s individual personality by portraying children as a passive part of the process and ignores individual motivation and self-regulation

Cognitive development was developed by Piaget believing that our gender identity develops first and then children pay attention to same sex role models. Kohlberg went on to suggest there are three main stages to gender identity that children go through; gender identity (up to three years) where the child can identify their sex but are not aware that it is fixed and cannot change. Gender stability, (three – five years) where the child is aware that their gender is fixed but still make assumptions of people’s gender by clothes and hairstyles. Gender constancy (six years onwards) where the child is aware of their gender regardless of people’s appearance. (Stainton Rogers, 2001). When gender constancy is reached Kohlberg believes that children pass through cognitive development stages and acquire gender related behaviours by developing gender identity. Although cross cultural studies support the Kohlberg’s stages through this theory children can describe themselves as boys or girls and know how to choose gender associated toys and activities before they can relate to gender sexual differences. It supports that gender recognition happens before gender identity becomes fixed. Weakness of this theory suggests that it solely takes stages of development into account, placing little importance on the role of biology, emotion, social environment or culture. It also does not account as to why masculinity and femininity are valued by society differently. (Haralambos.M, 2002) Sandra Benn says “that it fails to explain why sex has dominance other potential categories such as race, religion and eye colour.” (Stainton Rogers, 2001)

In conclusion one thing both theories have in common is that they rely on observation and identification children have with members of the same sex. The differences Kohlberg believed that as a result of three stages of gender identity a child goes through, the child develops a gender recognition through cognitive understanding to his/her gender and gender roles. Bandura social learning theory suggested that children’s gender identity was done through socialization rather than biology and that children’s behaviour is seen to be learned from their society through process of reinforcement and modelling. Gendered behaviours can be learned through reinforcement and we are more likely to copy behaviour if we have seen others rewarded for that same behaviour. .

I believe that both social learning theorist and cognitive development theorists oversimplify gender identity, although both agree that society and culture have some influence over gender identity, it is difficult to accurately assume that the role of socialisation alone produces gender identity as they do not take in to consideration the biological factors of chromosomes, hormones and sexual organs in the development of gender identity or roles. Both biology and socialization play a part in our understanding of our gendered identities and roles in our cultures.

(973 words)

Works Cited

Haralambos.M, R. F. 2002. Psychology in Focus for A Level . Lancashire: Causeway Press.

Maccoby. E.E, J. C. 1974. The Psychology of Sex Differences, (as reported in various commentaries). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Stainton Rogers, R. R. 2001. the Psychology of Gender and Sexuality. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Unkown. 2007. About Gender. Retrieved January 3, 2010, from www.gender.org.uk: http://www.gender.org.uk/about/index.htm#psycho


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