Gender Development (and
a few last words on parenting)
The last two things I have to say about parenting styles.
- It is easier if you begin as an authoritative parent early
on. I know someone who has three teenage daughters, who are pretty much
out of control. He asked me, after many years of extremely permissive parenting,
what I recommend he do to keep his daughters from using drugs, sleeping
with strangers, stealing, and so on. I thought that was a rather sad question
to be asking when your child is sixteen. That's why we discuss parenting
in early childhood. (Don't worry, we'll get back to it in adolescence!).
- You can change. I would say that I used to be a permissive
parent, particularly after my husband died. I pretty much gave the kids
everything I could and disciplined them very little. After all, I felt
bad for them that their father had died, plus I was exhausted most of the
time from working two and three jobs, cleaning house, and doing all of
the general child care - taking them to school, doctors' appointments,
and so on. My children's behavior pretty much bore out the research. At
13, my daughter was drinking and partying hard, especially whenever I was
out of town. My 10-year-old was putting on weight... it was all a disaster.
I would say that my parenting style now is much more authoritative. This
is, in large part, I think, due to having a supportive husband and having
enough energy to devote to parenting now that I do not have to do everything
myself. (I know what happened to Superwoman, by the way, she died - of
exhaustion.) It was a long, hard struggle and change did not happen overnight.
My children did not welcome an increase in structure and discipline with
open arms. Three and a half years later, they are doing much better (again
consistent with the research). From my experience, the earlier you change,
the easier it is. I shudder to think how hard it would be with a sixteen-
||Gender Development in Early Childhood: How Boys will
be Boys and Girls Learn to be Girls
ANOTHER TRUE STORY
Many years ago, when I was
in graduate school, the McMartin Preschool case was in the news every day
(kind of like the impeachment hearings or, a couple of years ago, the O.J.
Simpson trial). Because it was located fairly close to where we lived,
and because most of us had small children, my fellow students and I became
somewhat paranoid about child sexual abuse. So, when the student next to
me in class commented that her three-year-old had come home from preschool
"I know all about the differences between boys and
those of us sitting next to her gasped,
The mother laughed and said,
"That's what I thought, too, but instead of saying
anything about penises and vaginas, she went through this whole thing about
'Boys play with firetrucks and girls play
with dolls. Boys play in the sandbox and girls play in the housekeeping
area. Girls wear dresses and boys don't. Boys are doctors and girls are
So, by age three, this young lady had learned gender
Gender roles are “attitudes and activities that
a society links to each sex.” These roles are closely related to gender
stereotyping-- a prejudiced description of who ‘men’ are and ‘women’ are.
Think about the last statement she said, "Boys are doctors and girls are
nurses." This is particularly interesting because this little girl's mommy
happens to be a doctor.
This is NOT, NOT, NOT! the same thing as gender identity.
identity is knowing whether you are a boy or a girl.Gender roles are
your conceptions of how a boy or girl should act and be.
SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT EFFECTS ON GENDER ROLES
How I found out that I am not as important as I thought
I used to think, back before I had children and therefore knew everything
about how to raise them correctly, that I couldraise a child unaffected
by social stereotypes. MY daughter was not going to be restricted. MY daughter
was not going to wear dresses. MY daughter was not going to sit at a table
pretending to sip tea while the boys were having a good time climbing the
jungle gym and running around the playground.
As your textbook says, peers and adults reward behavior they perceive
as gender appropriate and punish behavior they see as gender inappropriate.
I was an engineer, for God's sake! I didn't buy my daughter ANYTHING pink.
firetrucks and building blocks and a thousand legos. I took her to
the gym with me every day. She crawled on the judo
mat. She did pull-ups on the bars. I didn't let her watch MTV or most
movies or most TV because I thought they
portrayed women as objects or helpless. For years, we did not have
AND THEN ... Her grandma bought her every pink outfit they sold at Dayton's. Her
aunt gave her a Cabbage Patch Doll. The other
girls at preschool invited her to join them in the housekeeping corner.
The boys did not invite her to join them on the
jungle gym. She wears dresses now, and make-up, and is far more reluctant
to speak her mind than I think is a good
thing. She is also far too concerned about being thin, and does not
show much interest in sports, even though she has
tremendous athletic ability. When her sisters demonstrate gender inappropriate
behavior, such as playing soccer with the boys at recess every day, or
being overweight, or not concerned about their appearance, she is highly
Is the moral of this story that you cannot have any effect? No. For
example, I think my daughters have all learned to
have higher goals than girls considered in my day. One wants to be
a novelist and live in Paris because she thinks that
will be a better place to write. Another is seriously exploring careers
now, and is considering diplomacy or journalism. A third wants to be a
marine biologist and is attending a magnet school for science. They all
know they are expected to do well in every subject, including math and
science. The moral is that you cannot make your children into the image
that you want. Society - their peers, teachers, television and movies -
all have an effect. Yes, we need to work with our children, but if we are
really serious about reducing gender roles, we need to work on changing
I am not a tremendous activist - having four children doesn't leave
lots of spare time. I don't buy, or allow them to buy, anything which I
think is disrespectful towards women. This leaves out a lot of popular rap
CDs their friends have and they don't. When I witness sexual harassment,
for example, a group of boys making sexual remarks to a girl, I speak up
and tell them to stop it. It's just a little every day, but, I think that's
how a lot of changes happen in the world, not world leaders making
a statement, but a million every-day people doing things a little
differently. That's my opinion.
SOUND BITES ON GENDER ROLE DEVELOPMENT
Your textbook has a lot of information on this topic,
and we do need at some point (possibly now!) to move on to the next topic,
which is middle childhood. So, I just want to throw out a few last pieces
Fathers are key in gender role development. Boys who have
a father in the home, especially one with whom they have a good relationship,
show more appropriate masculinity. That is, they are appropriately assertive,
but not too aggressive, etc. Boys who do not have a good male role model
tend to either be too aggressive (and are more likely to commit illegal
acts as a juvenile) or too passive. Bandura (remember the social learning
theory guy?) has done some interesting research in this area.
Girls who have a good relationship with their fathers tend
to be more feminine. The exception to this is when the daughter is the
oldest of all girls or an only child. In this case, fathers may transfer
the attention and expectations they have for sons to their daughter. A
fascinating book that looks at this topic is Women at the Top. It is a
study of women CEOs. Interestingly, all of them cited their FATHER as a
It is not necessarily recommended that you completely shield
your child from all gender stereotypes, because they are going to have
to live in society. Little boys who play with dolls in the first grade
are likely to endure a lot of teasing from other kids in their class.
Gender roles are enforced more strongly for boys than girls,
and more by men (particularly fathers) than women. One survey I did several
years in a row with students in developmental psychology simply asked what
toys they would pick for a girl or boy (they were given a selection of
girls', boys' and neutral (e.g., a teddy bear) toys. Male students were
always significantly much more likely to pick a gender-appropriate toy
than female students. Also, it was not uncommon for a boy's toy, e.g.,
a small football, to be picked for a girl, but almost no one (and NEVER
any males) picked a doll or other girl's toy for a boy.
At many schools, it is common for children to be told they
can bring a favorite toy to their first day of kindergarten. Would you
allow your little girl to bring a truck, if that was her favorite toy?
Almost all students say "yes". Would you allow your little boy to bring
a Barbie? Almost all students say "no", and the few students who say "yes"
are almost invariably females.
|SOCIAL INFLUENCES ON GENDER ROLE: AN EXAMPLE
My friend's husband died when her little boy was six months old. He
had no relatives nearby and was raised by his mother without a lot of male
influence. He was a very intelligent little boy, but quiet and not
very active. He didn't mind playing with girls, and he did not get invited
children's house very often, so we invited him over to play. Living
out in the country, we also didn't have many children over. He brought
Little Mermaid doll, just like my six-year-old daughter had. He wanted
to play dolls with her. My husband (Ron) did not say "What a sissy," or
yell at him
or in any way treat the boy negatively. He just gave me an odd look,
took the doll without comment and put it up on a high shelf.
bent down put his arm around the little boy and said,
"Son, you and me are gonna
go huntin' and leave all these women here. First, we need a gun."
So, the two of them went out to the workshop, where Ron let his "little
buddy" draw out a gun on a piece of scrap wood and then he cut it out and nailed it together. Next, they went four-wheeling, with each of them
with their own gun, got out of the Bronco and took shots at coyotes. Ron
showed his buddy how to shoot a real pistol.
As you read this example you can see positive reinforcement (in attention)
for gender appropriate behavior, punishment (in withholding attention)
inappropriate behavior, and role modeling of gender appropriate behavior.
Gender roles are a complex and interesting issue which
we don't have lots of space to devote to right here. However, I highly
recommend you look at some of the following links just for your own information.
Should I buy my little boy a Barbie for his birthday? Read the answer from Dr. Greene, when you should and should not worry if your little boy wears a dress or your little girl plays with toy trucks.
Gendered Lives is a basic textbook on how people develop their gender identity and how gender affects us across the lifespan. A good book review is found here in the Canadian Journal of Communication.
books showing non-traditional roles: Since much of what children learn
about gender roles happens in the early childhood years, it might be nice
to include in the classroom some books which question those. The only one
on this list I have read is William's Doll. I thought it was quite good,
and just at a child's level. If you have read any of these, click
here to send email and let me know what you thought about the book.
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