Children and Gender
During a child's development, they are exposed to socialization and are taught by their parents and society how they should act; this alters their gender schema, often times causing the child to negatively reflect upon society's gender roles. The gender schema theory suggests “gender identification emerged from his or her cognitive development and societal influences” (Bem 2). When children are in a cognitive development state (information processing), they are heavily influenced by those around them and more closely, their parents. They learn to think by association and knowledge acquired from those that are most often around them. This can lead to negative views on non-specific gender roles, allowing only for a more society-based approach. Sandra Bem, a psychologist specializing in gender studies, later goes on to define specific features of gender schematics: “1. Gender schemas develop through an individual’s observation of societal classifications of masculinity and femininity, which are evidenced in human anatomy, social roles, and characteristics. 2. Males and females cognitively process and categorize new information in the environment based on its maleness or femaleness. 3. Self-authorship is displayed by an individual’s categorization of and conformity to the sets of elements that belong to either definition of masculinity and femininity” (Hsiao 1). As children develop, they learn to associate things by said “maleness” and “femaleness” based on society. They are taught that as a male and female, they should do things specific to each gender, setting a foundation for later learning and behavior.
According to Deborah Rhode, a Professor of Law at Standford University, most research shows “Children receive strong cultural messages about sex-appropriate traits, tasks, and behaviors” (21). At such an early age, when cognitive skills are developing and when children are learning by viewing what is around them, children start to figure out how to act based off of their certain gender. Boys are taught that they must be forceful and girls need to be motherly, while seeing advantages and disadvantages to being of a certain sex. A study in Michigan on elementary students showed that the children were able to acknowledge the fact that there are indeed “gender hierarchies” or better or worse genders (Rhode 22). “When 1,100 students were asked to describe what life would be like if they were the opposite sex, over 40 percent of the girls saw advantages to being male; they would have better jobs, higher incomes, and more respect. Ninety-five percent of the boys saw no advantage to being female, and a substantial number thought suicide would be preferable” (22). How is it that at such a young age, the idea of suicide has already been associated with being female? Children are being taught this way, even if indirectly; children learn by seeing and hearing. Rhode even declares that “by age two, toddlers have sex-linked toy preferences; by age three they can identify certain occupations as more appropriate for each sex; and between ages four and six they separate into same-sex groups” (23). Gender identity comes at such an early age before “associate[d] with anatomical differences” (23). When children are learning that gender is related to all of these other things before even learning the physical, genetic differences, society should catch onto this problem. It is in fact the genetic makeup of a person that makes them either male or female, which should be the factor for this association.
Gender schematicity refers to organization based on feminine and masculine categories. Most parents allow their children to recognize this (not as the term but as the concept) by “offer[ing] differential opportunities for learning based on their children’s sex” (Sokal, Seifert, and Piotrowski 2). In practice, children tend to remove themselves from situations where learning becomes...
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