Gender roles begin to develop from the time a child is born. Generally by the time a child is 18 months old, he or she knows to identify him or herself as a “boy” or a “girl” (Sammons, n.d.). From the time that a child is born, his or her gender will determine the type of toys and clothes that the child has. The subject of gender development is a controversial subject, especially in developmental psychology. People like to debate whether or not whether gender roles are biologically determined or influenced by a person’s environment. However, when it comes to gender roles, there are four different cognitive terms that are related to gender development: gender concept, gender identity, gender stability, and gender consistency.
The gender concept is one of the most important terms because this related to a child understanding that his or her sex/gender is permanent and does not change. The first stage of gender development is gender identity, which occurs from nine months to three-years-old. In this stage, a child begins to identify his or her own sex and the sex of the people around him or her (Sammons, n.d.). The second stage, which happens around the age of four-years-old, is gender stability. This stage is where children understand that gender does not change. In the gender consistency stage, which in this stage a child begins to understand that gender is not dependent on external features, such as hair length or the clothing a person wears. This stage occurs around the age of four to five-years old.
Gender roles are adopted quite early by children. Research has shown that some children as young as two-years-old already use gender stereotypes (Witt, 1997). With this gender association and stereotyping, children begin to associate men and women with certain behaviors or roles. For example, children of this age will associate women with cooking and men as firefighters. This association even goes into play, where children think boys should play with trucks and girls with dolls. However, once a child reaches the age of seven-years-old, he or she will begin to think a more logical and begin to refine his or her ideas about male and female gender roles.
There are many factors that help shape a child’s perception of gender roles: culture, society, parents, media, and peers. The Social Learning Theory theorizes that children learn through observing behavior, which culture, society, parents, media, and peers are models for children (University of South Alabama, 2005). An example of how culture can affect the perception of gender roles is found in the Navajo culture with the berdaches. Berdache are anatomically men but are considered a third gender between male and females and marries males, but are not considered to be homosexual (Warren, 1998). Society also helps sets the perception of gender roles.In the past, society had certain jobs and roles for the different genders; however, time has changed these. What used not to be an acceptable gender role for a specific gender has now become acceptable. For example, men used to be seen as the source of income for a family, but because of the recession, many men have lost their jobs and their wives because the main source of income for the family. This also brings in how family and parents influence gender roles. Children model their parents’ behavior. For example, if a father likes to hunt, he will buy his son toy guns and encourage him to go hunting with him, when he gets older. Additionally, what children see on the television and in the media will influence their perception of gender roles. A young girl or boy sees how movies and shows set different gender roles for people and they will model that behavior.
With adolescence is when puberty occurs and where gender roles can become more flexible (Bee & Boyd, 2010). During adolescence, children begin to understand that gender roles are social constructs. However, if a teen has a gender identity disorder, this can be a very confusing time for them. Teenagers want to be accepted and do not want to be seen as “different.” Additionally, if a boy is not as masculine as his friends think he should be, his friends will probably tease him for being effeminate and call him “gay,” even though he is just effeminate.
A child’s gender identity is usually set by what he or she sees as gender roles. Once a child realizes and accepts his or her gender, he or she generally will find a role model to help form his or her gender roles. Additionally, children generally begin to show preference to playmates of the same gender to help reinforce these gender roles. Furthermore, a child will then start to practice the stereotypes of the two different genders. For example, most girls will play quieter than boys and dress more proper. A child will also do activities that they see people of the same sex/gender do. An example of this is that a little girl might want a play stove so she can cook like her mother. However, it is not uncommon for some girls to be tomboys or for boys to be a little effeminate.
PlaymatesStereotyped behaviorLearns same sexactivities
Bee, H., & Boyd, D. (2010). The developing child (12th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Sammons, A. (n.d.). Gender: cognitive theory. Retrieved from http://www.psychlotron.org.uk/newResources/developmental/AS_AQB_gender_CognitiveBasics.pd f University of South Alabama. (2005). Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from http://www.southalabama.edu/oll/mobile/theory_workbook/social_learning_theory.htm Warren, P.N. (1998). Berdaches ... and Assumptions About Berdaches. Retrieved from http://www.whosoever.org/v3i3/berdaches.html Witt, S.D. (1997, Summer). Parental Influence on Childrens Socialization to Gender Roles. Adolescence, 196-199. Retrieved from http://gozips.uakron.edu/~susan8/parinf.htm
Mancouch. (2010). Gender Roles. Retrieved from http://www.mancouch.com/734752184/gender- roles-in-todays-relationships/ Soda Head. (2011). Gender Identity. Retrieved from http://www.sodahead.com/living/ever- doubted-your-gender-identity/question- 1451013/?link=ibaf&q=&imgurl=http://images.sodahead.com/polls/001451013/71e326640dd2ee58 77f0_xlarge.jpeg