Gender Roles and Gender Identity
The study of gender relations is of particular importance nowadays due to significant changes in the social life of people of different countries. Gender stereotypes are socially shared ideas about the personal qualities and behavioral patterns of men and women, as well as gender-specific social roles. Previously established gender differences, attitudes, and behaviors of males and females are now seen differently than in previous years. Gender identity, roles and stereotypes are key factors that determine people’s behavior and are constantly influenced by culture and society.
Every psychologist, teacher and parent knows that girls and boys gain the features of masculinity and femininity at a very early age. By the age of five, children begin to prefer the typical games defined by culture as appropriate to their sex. In psychology, the acquisition of appropriate sex preferences, attitudes, skills, and behavior is called gender typing. Three theories of gender typing are considered the most influential. They are a social learning theory, a theory of cognitive development, and psychoanalytic theory. However, recently, a gender schema theory has been presented in the psychological literature. In understanding of gender typing, it contains the features of both the social learning theory and the theory of cognitive development. This theory suggests that sex typing arises largely from the process of the gender schematization of a generalized ability of children to encode and organize information – including personal one – in accordance with the cultural definitions of male and female. The gender schema theory suggests that gender typing occurs in children through cognitive processes. It assumes that gender-schematization processes originate from social practice of differentiation by sex. Thus, the theory of gender schemes implies that sex typing is the result of learning. The author G. Bolich (2007) states that “If gender notions are learned, that means they are not inevitable, nor they immutable” (p. 148). To my opinion, this theory describes the gender role development in the best way because a developing child learns social representations of female and male without variations.
Gender stereotypes are based on socially accepted notions of masculinity and femininity. They are formed according to generalized representations and beliefs about how men and women actually behave (Unger, 2004). The emergence of these stereotypes is caused with the fact that the model of gender relations was historically lined up in such a way that gender differences were situated above individual and qualitative distinctions between a man and a woman. In my childhood, there were many gender stereotypes in my surrounding. I often heard that a man should be strong and independent. My mother always repeated that real men should not cry. On the contrary, I perceived women as a weak sex due to such upbringing. For me, females were always emotional, sensitive and gentle. Quite often, I heard that women are not as clever as men and they cannot hold senior positions. Gender stereotypes are very strong. They are imposed on people almost from birth. Gender stereotypes have had a great influence on my attitude to sex. Nowadays, I have reconsidered many stereotypes. I have made a conclusion that political and economic situation has changed worldwide. Thus, such gender stereotype as the fact that a woman cannot hold a senior position is not relevant at the present time.
Gender typing is a process with the help of which children recognize their gender and start behaving in accordance with it adopting attributes and values of members of a definite sex. In the article “Gender-Typed Play Behavior in Early Childhood: Adopted Children with Lesbian, Gay, and Heterosexual Parents,” the authors affirm that “A fairly large body of research has found that children demonstrate gender-stereotyped toy and activity choices from as early as 18 months of age, with boys choosing masculine-stereotyped toys and play activities and girls choosing feminine stereotyped toys and play activities” (Goldberg, Kashy, & Smith, 2012, p. 504). In my childhood, all preschool boys played with such toys as cars, planes, toy guns, and others. On the contrary, girls liked playing with dolls and teddy bears.
Gender identity is a base structure of social identity, which characterizes an individual in terms of his/her belonging to male or female group. The most significant is the fact how the person categorizes himself/herself (Unger, 2004). Gender identity is a complex and multi-level category. The formation of gender identity is influenced by the development of biological premises (Unger, 2004). However, culture also has a great impact on this notion. For example, a boy living with a father who loves baseball will be rewarded for the same admiration of this sport. However, this child will be hardly praised for his love for dolls.
Society and culture have a great influence on gender roles. From early childhood, people learn roles and professions expected for their gender. For example, girls pretend to be mothers, while boys play in the war. Children learn it from social media and friends. In such a way, this early introduction into a career lays the foundation for choosing a future profession.
Culture also has a great influence on gender stereotypes. In every culture, men are seen as independent and women are considered gentle. It is also a stereotype that a woman should do housekeeping while a man should earn money. This gender stereotype may cause disagreements in many families if, for example, a wife wants to make a career along with her husband.
Gender is one of the most important categories of human social life. It is manifested in everyday reality. There is a special set of behavioral norms and expectations for the representatives of each sex. These norms differ significantly from the requirements for the other sex. Culture and society have a great influence on gender stereotypes, identity, and gender roles. However, nowadays, the roles of women and men undergo considerable changes putting personal characteristics and inclinations at the first place.