Dr. Warren Spielberg
The Crucible of Current Gender Demands and Their Effect on Adolescence
Gender has always had a major impact on adolescence for several obvious reasons.
Adolescence is the time when our physical sexual characteristics are developing, along
with an influx of hormones, and the onset of sexual urges towards one another. It is
virtually impossible to ignore the concepts of gender and gender related issues during
adolescence not only due to these physical and chemical changes, but socially, sex will
Now more than at perhaps any other time in modern history gender-role, gender
identity, and sexuality in general, are at the forefront of society issues. Naturally this is
having a greater impact on adolescents than at any other time before. Sexuality is
everywhere in the media; on television, in magazines, in the movies, and in our music.
Ideas about gender, gender-roles, and sexual orientation are changing rapidly, while at
the same time igniting vigorous debate and discourse from all sides of the issues. Along
with changing attitudes of gender demands and expectations are open discussions about
gay marriage, gays in the military, women in the military, HIV and other sexually
transmitted diseases, child molestation etc. Now more than any other time in our
country's history, adolescents are openly exposed to sexuality issues, and sexually
explicit material and information, perhaps complicating what, obviously, is already a very
intense time in ones life as far as gender and sexuality issues are concerned.
Gender, to begin with, refers less to one's physical reality as it does to society's
ideas and concepts of what it means to be male or female. Gender-role refers to patterns
of behavior that are partly due to genetic makeup, but perhaps more profoundly from
traits that are considered in fashion at a particular time and in a particular culture.
Since adolescence is a very intense time in social terms and for sexuality issues
and the development of gender concepts, it stands to reason that adolescents have a
higher level of concern over conforming to gender expectations and demands of the day,
even if they are stereotypes. This creates an environment that has led to what is known as
the Gender Intensification Hypothesis (Hill & Lynch 1983). The idea is that various
changes, chemical and otherwise, associated with puberty contribute to an increased
concern about conformity to such gender stereotypes. Because adolescents are still
unclear on the meaning of gender and sexuality issues they are more likely to be very
rigid in their stereotyping of gender behavior. It is this rigidity in the face of very
complex concepts that allows adolescents to develop a clearer understanding of gender
and expected gender behavior. Only once they have solidified their understanding of
gender, can they begin to think of these concepts in a more flexible manner.
Even more difficult, especially in today's society, and specifically in our Western
culture, are the specific issues of sexual identity for the adolescent. Sexual Identity is
described as the development of a cohesive sense of self as a sexual being in relation to
culturally determined categories (Savin-Williams & Rodriguez 1993).
In today's society, the adolescent is bombarded with strong images and expectations regarding gender and sexuality. The media sends very strong messages to today's teens about gender-role behavior, the extent to which one's behaviors are considered masculine or feminine according to cultural norms. Many of these images and messages that teens are exposed to via advertising, television, movies, and music, for example, tend to escalate the rate at which teens might otherwise normally mature into sexuality. There is also a tendency for these influences to heighten the pressure on teens to conform to certain...
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