Gender Stereotypes in Children

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Outline two factors that contribute to the development of gender stereotypes and gender role adoption in children

This essay will outline the biological and environmental factors that contribute towards the development of gender stereotypes and gender role adoption that is seen in children. Firstly, to define the term gender stereotype it tends to refer to the belief held by society of that time, or the culture of such about the physical and emotional characteristics of both genders. These concepts are then magnified, and belonging to either of the categories becomes essential which, in turn leads to a specific set of expectations, consequently individual differences are seen as ‘abnormal’. Within this there are two behaviours that can be considered, sex roles; which refers to the roles that are socially accepted to be more suited to one gender than the other for example women are expected to be expressive in the domestic type roles, teaching or nursing and men are expected to be in the instrumental role of ‘breadwinner’ and supporting the family financially (Gibbs et al, 1986). Also sex traits; which more refers to the innate characteristics, for example emotions and personality traits that are seen more in one gender than the other, for example women are seen as submissive, emotional nurturers whereas men are seen as dominant, aggressive, protectors and providers. Secondly, gender role adoption is the reaction to gender stereotyping, in order to be seen as either male or female. From birth, the child will become more aware of what is considered the ‘norm’ through various sources and will then choose, depending on what their sex is, what the ‘correct’ behaviour is that they should be exhibiting.

The biological aspects are clearly split into two factors, the first focused heavily on the genes and hormones, and the second is more focused on evolutionary factors; using the behaviour of primitive man to explain the differences between the sexes. Those purely basing their research on biological reasoning use the argument that, from the moment we are born there are innate differences between the genders in the fact that baby girls smile more, and react more to being spoken to then they do to being held, whereas baby boys cry more and react the same to both being held and being spoke to (Biddulph, 2003). Not only this but baby girls will tend to make more eye contact than baby boys will with those holding them, although these are obvious differences between them there may be other explanations. From the viewpoint of who researches environmental factors they will argue that it is in fact the way that the people who come into contact with the infant behave around it that influences the way the child reacts, for example Will et al (1980) showed that women were more likely to smile at the female child than the were a male and furthermore always offered the child a toy that would cohere with the ‘sex traits’ for the supposed gender of the child which shows that parents perception of girls and boys are very different and thus gender adoption could be just as easily socialised into an infant as it could have been innate. Though sex traits which we are assumed to be born with are said to come from the physical differences, for example girls tend to be smaller, weaker and emotionally volatile due to the natural hormones produced associated with the menstrual cycle and accordingly the role of child bearer may lead to possessing the traits that are seen as feminine and because males are generally larger, they tend to possess a more aggressive and protective personality (Buss & Schmitt). The purely biologist theory states that any differences between the sexes is because of genetics, however we must also take into consideration the biological evolutionary approach which looks at biology through the ages to determine gender adoption and gender stereotyping. This theory would suggest that the physical differences are because of the...
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