Gender Development

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Gender shapes the lives of all people in all societies. The term ‘gender’ refers to the social construction of female and male identity. It can be defined as more than biological differences between men and women. It includes the ways which those differences, whether real or perceived, have been valued, used and relied upon to classify women and men and to assign roles and expectations to them ( Gender influences our lives, the schooling we receive, the social roles we play, and the power and the authority we command. Population processes – where women and men live, how they bear and rear children, and how they die – are shaped by gender as well (Riley, 1997).

Several theories of gender development have generated most of the research during the past ten years: social learning theory, cognitive-development theory, and gender schema theory.
Proponents of social learning theory believe that parents, as distributors of reinforcement, reinforce appropriate gender role behaviors. By their choice of toys, by urging boy or girl behavior, parents encourage their children to engage in appropriate gender-related behavior. Thus children are reinforced or punished for different kinds of behavior. They also learn appropriate gender behavior from other male or female models such as those in television shows.

A second explanation, quite popular today, is found in cognitive-development theory, which derives from Kohlberg’s speculations about gender development. It is known that from Piaget’s work that children engage in symbolic thinking by about 2 years of age. Using this ability, Kohlberg believes, they begin the process of acquiring gender-appropriate behavior.

A newer, and different, cognitive explanation is called gender schema theory. A schema is a mental blueprint for organizing information, and children develop gender identity and formulate an appropriate gender role. Consequently, children develop an integrated...
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