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Understanding the Impact of Gender Differences in Social Development

Understanding the Impact of Gender Differences in Social Development
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  • 0:07 Gender Differences in…
  • 1:37 Learned Gender Stereotyping
  • 4:17 Kohlberg's Cognitive…
  • 6:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

How does one's gender impact behavior and interactions with others? Research has shown that men and women interact differently in social settings and society has ideas for what is appropriate male and female behavior.

Gender Differences in Socialization

It has been discovered that children exhibit different tendencies toward socialization purely based on their gender. There is debate over how much these differences arise from biology and how much come from being taught how to act, but most agree there is some mixture of both. Before we get into how gender roles are learned, we are going to mention some observed differences in male and female interactions.

Researcher Eleanor Maccoby evaluated the typical patterns of socialization of children. Her results showed that girls tend to choose same-sex partners by age 3 and continue this preference into elementary school. They tend to favor one-on-one interaction, as opposed to boys, who lean toward large group relationships based on shared interests. Girls are more likely to form tight bonds, share secrets and wait their turn to speak. While boys are more likely to threaten, boast, or call each other names and display an importance of hierarchy in groups.

When children grow up, many of these tendencies in socialization continue. Women tend to build closer bonds overall, with more affectionate language and lengthy conversations. Men, on the other hand, tend to spend time with friends during activities or shared professions. While women tend to seek out friends in times of struggle or weakness, men are less likely to share weaknesses or emotional concerns with their friends. Both genders tend to choose friends on the basis of proximity, acceptance, communication, and mutual interests.

Learned Gender Stereotyping

As mentioned earlier, children can be taught how to behave in ways that are considered appropriate for their gender. Gender schema theory states that children learn about gender roles and cultural expectations from their surroundings. There are three main sources within a child's surroundings that shape his or her perspectives on gender. These include: parents, teachers, media and culture.

1. Parents have a huge impact on a child's understanding of his or her gender. The parents' own thoughts on what is expected from men and women become the foundation for the child's perspective. They can influence children through their instruction and their modeling.

First, we have the way they instruct and guide their children. Parents will make statements to children in order to guide them toward what they believe is gender-appropriate behavior. For example, if a boy is upset and crying, some fathers may tell their sons, 'Don't cry. Boys don't cry.' If a boy is playing with his sister's doll, his father may tell him to stop and tell him to go get his car toys.

Second, we have the way the parents model behavior, or how they act out their gender in front of their children. Perhaps a father works, comes home in the evening, and is served dinner. The daughter grows up watching her mother stay at home, prepare meals and do household chores, so she believes this is the appropriate role for women. Chances are she will grow up acting similarly when she is a wife one day.

2. Teachers are also shown to be responsible for guiding children and adolescents into particular gender roles. Research reveals a great deal of evidence that teachers can treat boys and girls differently in the classroom. It has also been found that some teachers encouraged and complimented girls to be calm, neat, and quiet, whereas boys were encouraged to think independently and speak up. Since the classroom can be seen or experienced by children as a microcosm for society, they may expect the same kind of behavior from males and females as they age.

3. Media and culture tend to promote gender roles as well. Have you seen the movie Meet the Parents? It opens up with Ben Stiller in a hospital room, drawing blood from a patient. Afterward the patient thanks him, assuming that since he is a man, he must be the doctor. He says, 'You've got a great touch, Doc.' Stiller replies, 'Thank you. And actually, I'm a nurse. The doctor will be in shortly.' Many of us who watched this scene also thought that Stiller was the doctor, based on our own learning that doctors are male, and nurses are female. Later in the movie, Stiller gets mocked for being a nurse when he stands next to a doctor.

Kohlberg's Cognitive Developmental Theory

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg was a pioneering theorist in the idea that children learn how to understand gender. His idea was known as Kohlberg's cognitive developmental theory. There were three stages to his theory: basic gender identity, gender stability, and gender consistency.

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