Lecture 4 9/27/2000
Early childhood gender socialization
Socialization is the process by which a society’s values And norms, including those pertaining to gender, are taught and learned. Some of the theories that have been developed to explain how young children acquire their gender Identities.
Research indicates that children as young as 18 months old show preferences for gender-stereotyped toys. By the age of two, they are aware of their own and others’ gender, and Between two and three years of age, they begin to identify specific traits and behaviors in gender-stereotyped ways.
How do children come to adopt this information as part of their images of themselves and their understanding of the world around them?
Psychodynamic views of gender development - Object- relations Theory or Identification Theory - relationships are central to the development of human personality and Specifically, gender identity.
Identification Theory –Freud – Unconscious process -
During first two stages – oral and anal stages, boys and girls are fairly similar in their behavior and experiences.
For both girls and boys, their mother is the chief object of their emotions since she is their primary caretaker and
gratifies most of their needs.
Around age four, divergence. Children become aware both of their own genitals and of the fact that the genitals of boys and girls are different. – The Phallic stage –
It is during the phallic stage that identification takes place.
The boy’s identification is motivated by castration anxiety – he sexually desires his mother – sees his father as the rival (Oedipus complex). His desire is extinguished by the glimpse of the female genitalia, assuming that all
girls have been castrated. Castration might befall him, therefore, represses his desires for mother. Boys perceive
fathers as the castrators (since they have the size and the penis, so instead of competing, they become more like their father, ergo the boy gets to keep his penis and he can have a sexual relationship with his mother vicariously
In contrast – girl – penis envy. She witnesses the male’s "far superior equipment", the little girl thinks she has been castrated. She becomes overwhelmed by her sense of incompleteness, her jealously of boys, and her disdain for her mother and all women since they share her "deformity." Instead, she shifts her love to their father, who does possess the coveted penis and begins to identify with her mother as a means to win him. Eventually, the girl realizes that she can have a penis in two ways: briefly through intercourse and symbolically by having a baby, especially a baby boy. In other words, her wish for a penis leads her to love and desire men (initially in the person of her Father), since they have a penis and can also provide a baby. However, a female never fully overcomes the feeling of inferiority and envy, which leave indelible marks on her personality:
According to Freud – narcissism, vanity, shame, … The fact that women must be regarded as having little sense of justice is no doubt related to the predominance of envy in their mental life.
Criticisms – can’t be verified since subjective –
Gendered behaviors as fixed and stable over time. Little room for personal or social change.
Antifemale bias. Females are defined as inadequate, jealous, passive, masochistic. Freud defined women as "an
inferior departure from the male standard."
Reinterpretations of Freud’s work:
Karen Horney, Erick Erikson, and Melanie Klein (60s –70s) – believed Freudian theory too phallocentric -Although each theorist continued to focus on how innate differences between the sexes influenced their respective psychological development.
Horney – promoted womb envy of men as opposed to penis envy
Erikson – since women have an inner space in which to carry and nurture new life – causes them to develop a psychological commitment to caring for others. In contrast, men’s reproductive organs are external and active, which in turn is reflected in the male psyche with its external focus and action orientation.
Clara Thompson, Jacques Lacan, Juliet Mitchell – "The penis is a symbol of male power in a patriarchal society."
Klein argued that the primary relation in the development of gender identity is the mother -daughter relationship
centering on the breast, especially in terms of the emotions and conflicts the breast evokes in children
Mother-child relationship is thought to be the most fundamental influence on how an infant comes to define
herself or himself
Internalizing others is not merely acquiring roles; instead, it creates the basic structure of the psyche - the core self.
We are all mothered by women -
For the mother and daughter there is a fundamental likeness, which encourages close identification between
them. Mothers generally interact more with daughters and keep them physically and psychologically closer than sons. This intense closeness allows an infant girl to import her mother into herself in so basic a way that her mother becomes quite literally a part of her own self.
The fact that girls typically define their identity within a relationship may account for women’s typical attentiveness to relationships.
The relationship between a mother and son typically departs from that between mother and daughter. Because they do not share a sex, full identification is not possible. Theorists suggest that infant boys recognize in a primitive way that they differ from their mothers. More important, mothers realize the difference, and they reflect it in their interactions with their sons. In general, mothers encourage more and earlier independence in sons than in daughters, and they interact less closely with sons.
To establish his identity, a boy must differentiate himself from his mothers - declare himself unlike her. The idea
that a boy must renounce his mother to establish masculine identity underlies the puberty rites in many cultures.
She suggests that identification is more difficult for boys since they must psychologically separate from their mothers and model themselves after a parent who is largely absent from home, their fathers. Consequently boys become more emotionally detached and repressed than girls.
Independence becomes an essential component to selfhood and security.
Chodorow’s work has been criticized since it lacks supporting evidence. Chodorow says it is supported by
clinical observations. Reliability?
It is criticized as ethnocentric. – Sexual division of labor in which only women care for infants is not present in all societies, yet children in all societies acquire gender, whatever its specific content.
Some argue that it does not accurately reflect the experiences of most African American mothers and daughters
or in Mexican American families which have the presence of multiple mothering figures –grandmothers, godmothers, and aunts
Social learning theory
Based on behaviorism & notion of reinforcement: A behavior consistently followed by a reward will likely occur again, whereas a behavior followed by a punishment will rarely reoccur.
Social learning theory posits that children acquire their respective gender identities by being rewarded for
gender-appropriate behavior and punished for gender-inappropriate behavior.
Moreover, children also learn through indirect reinforcement. They may learn about the consequences of certain behaviors just by observing the actions of others. (MODELING) - Children will be rewarded for imitating some
behaviors and punished for imitating others. At the same time, children will most likely imitate those who positively reinforce their behavior. In fact social learning theorists maintain that children most often model
themselves after adults whom they perceive to be warm, friendly and powerful (i.e. in control of resources or
privileges that the child values). Girls are more likely to imitate male models than boys are to imitate female models, which may be because females are considered less powerful than males.
Behavior comes first, identity flows from the behavior.
Criticism of the theory – children are passive in their learning
Cognitive Development Theories –
Work of psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg
Unlike social learning theory, however, this approach assumes children play an active role in developing their
own identities. Researchers claim that children use others to define themselves, because they are motivated by an
internal desire to be competent, which includes knowing how to act feminine or masculine in Western culture.
According to cognitive developmental theorists, young children accomplish creating order out of disorder by
looking for patterns in the physical and social world. Children have a natural predilection for pattern seeking;
"once they discover those categories or regularities, they spontaneously construct a self and a set of social rules
constant with them."
The organizing categories that children develop are called schemas. Sex is a very useful schema for young children. Why sex? The answer lies in the second major principle of the cognitive developmental perspective: Children’s interpretations of their world are limited by their level of mental maturity.
Early on in their thinking children tend to be concrete; that is, they rely on simple and obvious cues. In our
society (and most others), women and men look different. So sex is a relatively stable and easily differentiated
category with a variety of obvious physical cues attached to it.
"I am a girl, therefore, I do girl things."
Developmentally at age 3, a child knows that they are a boy or girl. Gender identity comes first, and then behavior
is organized around it. (different from social learning theory)
Cognitive developmental theory helps explain young children’s strong preferences for sex-typed toys and
activities and for same-sex friends, as well as why they express rigidly stereotyped ideas about gender.
2 to 6 – preoperational stage – not yet capable of conserving variance, that is, they cannot understand that even if superficial aspects of an object change (the length of a man’s hair), the basic identity of the object remains
unchanged (the person is still a man)
Studies indicate that as children get older and their cognitive systems mature, they appear to become more
flexible with regard to the activities that males and females pursue, at least until they reach adolescence.
Critics – the age when children develop their own identities. As young as at 2 but cognitive developmental places it between 3 – 5 yrs.
In addition, recent research indicates that not everyone uses sex and gender as fundamental organizing categories or schemas; there are some individuals who may be considered gender "aschematic" although they themselves have developed gender identities.
Research conducted with white, middle-class children – don’t know how race, ethnicity, social class, family
structure might affect using sex/gender as the schema.
Greater criticism – By portraying gender learning as something children basically do themselves, and by presenting the male-female dichotomy as having perceptual and emotional primacy for young children because it is natural and easily recognizable, cognitive developmental theorists downplay the critical role of culture in
We may agree that children actively seek to organize their social world, but that they use the concept of sex as a
primary means for doing so probably has more to do with the gender-polarizing culture of the society in which they live than with their level of mental maturity.
Cultural/ Social Influences on Gender
Gender Schema Theory (Sandra Bem) once the child learns appropriate cultural definitions of gender, this becomes the key structure around which all other information is organized. This compatible with cognitive development theory in two major ways. First, a schema is a cognitive structure, which helps to interpret prespectives of the world, and second, before a schema can be formulated and gender-related information process appropriately, children must be at the cognitive level to accurately identify gender. When a girl learns that the cultural prescriptions for femininity include politeness and kindness, these are incorporated into her emerging gender schema, and she adjusts her behavior accordingly.
Bem begins with the observation that the culture of any society is composed of a set of hidden assumption about
how the members of that society should look, think, feel, and act. These assumptions are embedded in cultural
discourses, social institutions, and individual psyches, so that in generation after generation, specific patterns of
thought, behavior are invisibly, but systematically reproduced. Bem calls these assumptions lenses.
There are 3 gender lenses
Gender Polarization – refers to the fact that not only are males and females in the society considered fundamentally different from one another, but also these differences constitute a central organizing principle for the social life of the society.
Androcentrism – refer to both the notion that males are superior to females, and to the persistent idea that males
and the male experiences are the normative standard against which women are judged.
Biological Essentialism – the lens that serves to rationalize and legitimate the first two by portraying them as the natural and inevitable products of the inherent biological differences between the sexes.
The process of gender acquisition is simply a special case of the process of enculturation or socialization in general. She discusses two processes that she considers critical to "successful" encultration. First, the
institutionalized social practices of a society preprograms individuals’ daily experiences to fit the "default
options" of that society’s culture for that particular time and place. At the same time, individuals are constantly
bombarded with implicit lessons – what Bem calls metamessages about what is important, what is valued, and
what differences between people are significant in that culture. It is through these two processes that the lenses
of the culture are transmitted to the consciousness of the individual, and the processes are so thorough and complete, that within a fairly short period to time, the individual who has become a "cultural native"
Bem’s theory has both aspects of the social learning perspective as well as cognitive developmental perspective
Gender socialization may be explicit – but Bem focuses on the metamessage –
Children are not passive receptors.
Children use social cues (e.g. hairstyle, clothing, rather than biological cues) in identifying gender (give example
of Bem’s own son who wore barrettes to nursery school – other boy’s reactions).
Bem also extends the cognitive developmental perspective by emphasizing that the lens of androcentrism is superimposed onto the lens of gender polarization.
Growing up Feminine or Masculine
Parents do have different expectations of their baby boy and girls and treat them differently
In their descriptions of their infants – boys described as bigger, tougher, more active.
In how they respond - parents verbalize more to girls than boys
Clothing plays a significant role in labeling – also certain types of clothing encourages or discourage particular behaviors or activities – frilly dresses
Parents report that male infants and toddlers are "fussier" than female infants and toddlers;
Boys are more active and anger more easily
Girls are better behaved – more easy going.
Adults tended to respond to boys when they "forced attention" by being aggressive, or by crying, whining and
Whereas similar attempts girls were usually ignored – instead when they used gestures or gentle touching or
when the girls talked, more attention.
13 –14 month olds
More talking to daughters – sadness, emotion boys they talk more about anger with sons.
Mothers engage more often with daughters than sons.
Parents tend to engage in rougher, more physical play with infant sons than with infant daughters. Fathers usually play more intense games with infant and toddler sons and also encourage more visual, fine-motor, and locomotor exploration with them, whereas they promote vocal interaction with their daughters. At the same time fathers of toddler daughters appear to encourage closer parent-child physical proximity than fathers of toddler sons.
"Boys are often socialized by fear, power and shame."
Gender – stereotypical behavior is still promoted even when parents professed not to adhere to gender stereotypes.
Toys and gender socialization – great socializers. Toys for boys tend to encourage exploration, manipulation,
invention, construction, competition, and aggression. Catalogs depict girls and boys engage in "gender-appropriate" behavior with toys, e.g. girls playing with kitchen equipment.
Gendered Images in Children’s Literature – 1997 Kathleen Odean – although over four thousand children’s books are published each year, she compiled just 600 books about girls who take risks and face challenges without having to be rescued by a male, girls who solve problems rather than having the solution given to them.
Books depicted by African American artists and written by African American authors seem less stereotoypical.
Early Peer Group Socialization – Same-sex peer play develops between the ages of two and three and grows
stronger as children move from early to middle childhood. Moreover, when compared with girls, boys tend to interact in larger groups, be more aggressive and competitive, and engage in more organized games and activities.
Both boys and girls who choose gender-appropriate toys are more liked by their peers and have a better chance of getting other children to play with them.. However, boys are criticized more by their peers for cross-gender
Thorne (see for example "Children and Gender: Constructions of Difference") is critical of much of this research
for focusing solely on sex differences and ignoring sex similarities and cross-sex interaction. She gives a number
of examples in which young children work cooperatively and amiably in sex-integrated groups. Collective projects, handball and dodgeball in mixed groups.
Gender separation among children is not so total as the separate worlds rendering suggest, and the amount of
separation varies by situation.
Much of the research on children and gender has neglected the importance of social context – variations in
society and culture. A different perspective emerges when one shifts from individuals to group life, with attention
paid to social contexts. Sometimes gender is largely irrelevant .
Multiple Differences In specific social contexts, complex interactions among gender and use other social divisions as age, race, ethnicity, social class, and religion are another source of multiplicity.
Multiple Standpoints – Crossing involves definition,activity, and the extent to which a child has a regular place in the other gender’s social networks. Boys who frequently seek access to predominantly female groups and activities ("sissies") are more often harassed and teased by both boys and girls. But girls who frequently play
with boys ("tomboys") are much less often stigmatized and they continue to maintain ties with girls, a probable
reason that, especially in the later years of elementary school, crossing by girls is far more frequent than crossing
When girls are accepted in boys’ groups and activities without changing the terms of the interactions (one girl
called it being a "buddy") gender becomes low.
She also points out that children frequently engage in "borderwork", that is, they attempt to cross over into the world of the other sex and participate in cross-gender activities.
Can be used to conceptualize social relations maintained across yet based upon and strengthening gender boundaries. When girls and boys are organized as opposing sides in a math contest or in cross-gender chasing,members of both sides may express solidarity within their gender and playful and serious antagonism to the other.
Borderwork is asymmetric. –boys invade girls’ games and scenes of play much more than girls invade boys. Girls are more often defined as polluting and boys as running he risk of contamination ("cooties")