Gender and Socialization

Gender Socialization

Gender socialization is the process by which males and females are informed about the norms and behaviors associated with their sex.

Learning Objectives

Explain the influence of socialization on gender roles and their impact

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender socialization is the process by which individuals are taught how to socially behave in accordance with their assigned gender, which is assigned at birth based on their biological sex.
  • Today it is largely believed that most gender differences are attributed to differences in socialization, rather than genetic and biological factors.
  • Gender stereotypes can be a result of gender socialization: girls and boys are expected to act in certain ways that are socialized from birth. Children and adults who do not conform to gender stereotypes are often ostracized by peers for being different.
  • While individuals are typically socialized into viewing gender as a masculine-feminine binary, there are individuals who challenge and complicate this notion. These individuals believe that gender is fluid and not a rigid binary.

Key Terms

  • Gender socialization: The process of educating and instructing males and females as to the norms, behaviors, values, and beliefs of group membership as men or women.
  • gender: The socio-cultural phenomenon of the division of people into various categories such as male and female, with each having associated roles, expectations, stereotypes, etc.
  • sex: Either of two main divisions (female or male) into which many organisms can be placed, according to reproductive function or organs.

Sociologists and other social scientists generally attribute many of the behavioral differences between genders to socialization. Socialization is the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members. The most intense period of socialization is during childhood, when adults who are members of a particular cultural group instruct young children on how to behave in order to comply with social norms. Gender is included in this process; individuals are taught how to socially behave in accordance with their assigned gender, which is assigned at birth based on their biological sex (for instance, male babies are given the gender of “boy”, while female babies are given the gender of “girl”). Gender socialization is thus the process of educating and instructing males and females as to the norms, behaviors, values, and beliefs of group membership.

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Rosie the Riveter: “Rosie the Riveter” was an iconic symbol of the American homefront in WWII. The entrance of women into the workforce (and into traditionally male roles) marked a departure from gender roles due to wartime necessity.

Preparations for gender socialization begin even before the birth of the child. One of the first questions people ask of expectant parents is the sex of the child. This is the beginning of a social categorization process that continues throughout life. Preparations for the birth often take the infant’s sex into consideration (e.g., painting the room blue if the child is a boy, pink for a girl). Today it is largely believed that most gender differences are attributed to differences in socialization, rather than genetic and biological factors.

Gender stereotypes can be a result of gender socialization. Girls and boys are expected to act in certain ways, and these ways are socialized from birth by many parents (and society). For example, girls are expected to be clean and quiet, while boys are messy and loud. As children get older, gender stereotypes become more apparent in styles of dress and choice of leisure activities. Boys and girls who do not conform to gender stereotypes are usually ostracized by same-age peers for being different. This can lead to negative effects, such as lower self-esteem.

In Western contexts, gender socialization operates as a binary, or a concept that is exclusively comprised of two parts. In other words, individuals are socialized into conceiving of their gender as either masculine (male) or feminine (female). Identities are therefore normatively constructed along this single parameter. However, some individuals do not feel that they fall into the gender binary and they choose to question or challenge the male-masculine / female-feminine binary. For example, individuals that identify as transgender feel that their gender identity does not match their biological sex. Individuals that identify as genderqueer challenge classifications of masculine and feminine, and may identify as somewhere other than male and female, in between male and female, a combination of male and female, or a third (or forth, or fifth, etc.) gender altogether. These identities demonstrate the fluidity of gender, which is so frequently thought to be biological and immutable. Gender fluidity also shows how gender norms are learned and either accepted or rejected by the socialized individual.

The Social Construction of Gender

Social constructivists propose that there is no inherent truth to gender; it is constructed by social expectations and gender performance.

Learning Objectives

Explain Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Social constructionism is the notion that people’s understanding of reality is partially, if not entirely, socially situated.
  • Gender is a social identity that needs to be contextualized.
  • Individuals internalize social expectations for gender norms and behave accordingly.

Key Terms

  • Gender performativity: Gender Performativity is a term created by post-structuralist feminist philosopher Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble, which has subsequently been used in a variety of academic fields that describes how individuals participate in social constructions of gender.
  • social constructionism: The idea that social institutions and knowledge are created by actors within the system, rather than having any inherent truth on their own.
  • essentialism: The view that objects have properties that are essential to them.

Social Constructionism

The social construction of gender comes out of the general school of thought entitled social constructionism. Social constructionism proposes that everything people “know” or see as “reality” is partially, if not entirely, socially situated. To say that something is socially constructed does not mitigate the power of the concept. Take, for example, money. Money is a socially constructed reality. Paper bills are worth nothing independent of the value individuals ascribe to them. The dollar is only worth as much as value as Americans are willing to ascribe to it. Note that the dollar only works in its own currency market; it holds no value in areas that don’t use the dollar. Nevertheless, the dollar is extremely powerful within its own domain.

These basic theories of social constructionism can be applied to any issue of study pertaining to human life, including gender. Is gender an essential category or a social construct ? If it is a social construct, how does it function? Who benefits from the way that gender is constructed? A social constructionist view of gender looks beyond categories and examines the intersections of multiple identities and the blurring of the boundaries between essentialist categories. This is especially true with regards to categories of male and female, which are viewed typically as binary and opposite. Social constructionism seeks to blur the binary and muddle these two categories, which are so frequently presumed to be essential.

Judith Butler and Gender Performativity

Judith Butler is one of the most prominent social theorists currently working on issues pertaining to the social construction of gender. Butler is a trained philosopher and has oriented her work towards feminism and queer theory. Butler’s most known work is Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, published in 1991, which argues for gender performativity. This means that gender is not an essential category. The repetitious performances of “male” and “female” in accordance with social norms reifies the categories, creating the appearance of a naturalized and essential binary. Gender is never a stable descriptor of an individual, but an individual is always “doing” gender, performing or deviating from the socially accepted performance of gender stereotypes. Doing gender is not just about acting in a particular way. It is about embodying and believing certain gender norms and engaging in practices that map on to those norms. These performances normalize the essentialism of gender categories. In other words, by doing gender, we reinforce the notion that there are only two mutually exclusive categories of gender. The internalized belief that men and women are essentially different is what makes men and women behave in ways that appear essentially different. Gender is maintained as a category through socially constructed displays of gender.

Doing gender is fundamentally a social relationship. One does gender in order to be perceived by others in a particular way, either as male, female, or as troubling those categories. Certainly, gender is internalized and acquires significance for the individual; some individuals want to feel feminine or masculine. Social constructionists might argue that because categories are only formed within a social context, even the affect of gender is in some ways a social relation. Moreover, we hold ourselves and each other for our presentation of gender, or how we “measure up.” We are aware that others evaluate and characterize our behavior on the parameter of gender. Social constructionists would say that gender is interactional rather than individual—it is developed through social interactions. Gender is also said to be omnirelevant, meaning that people are always judging our behavior to be either male or female.

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Judith Butler: Author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

Gender Identity in Everyday Life

Gender identity is one’s sense of one’s own gender. It is the result of socialization, but it also has a biological basis.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the difference between biological and social construction of gender identity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender identity typically falls on a gender binary —individuals are expected to exclusively identify either as male or female. However, some individuals believe that this binary model is illegitimate and identify as a third, or mixed, gender.
  • Individuals whose gender identity aligns with their sex organs are said to be cisgender. Transgender individuals are those whose gender identity does not align with their sex organs.
  • Gender identity discourse derives from medical and psychological conceptions of gender. There is vigorous debate over biological versus environmental causes of the development of one’s gender identity.
  • As gender identities come to be more disputed, new legal frontiers are opening on the basis that a male/female gender binary, as written into the law, discriminates against individuals who either identify as the opposite of their biological sex or who do not identify as either male or female.
  • The extreme cultural variation in notions of gender indicate the socially constructed nature of gender identity.

Key Terms

  • cisgender: Identifying with or experiencing a gender the same as one’s biological sex or that is affirmed by society, e.g. being both male-gendered & male-sexed.
  • transgender: Not identifying with culturally conventional gender roles and categories of male or female; having changed gender identity from male to female or female to male, or identifying with elements of both, or having some other gender identity.
  • gender binary: A view of gender whereby people are categorized exclusively as either male or female, often basing gender on biological sex.

Gender identity is one’s sense of being male, female, or a third gender. Gender identity typically falls on a gender binary—individuals are expected to exclusively identify either as male or female. However, some individuals believe that this binary model is illegitimate and identify as a third, or mixed, gender. Gender identity is socially constructed, yet it still pertains to one’s sense of self. Gender identity is not only about how one perceives one’s own gender, but also about how one presents one’s gender to the public.

Cisgender and Transgender

Individuals whose gender identity aligns with their sex organs are said to be cisgender. Transgender individuals are those whose gender identity does not align with their sex organs. These people generally dress according to how they feel but do not make an drastic change within their sexual organs. Transsexuals, however, take drastic measures to assume their believed identity. This includes hormone therapy and sexual reassignment operations. Recently, there has been a growing gender/queer movement consisting of individuals who do not feel that their sex organs are mismatched to their gender identity, but who still wish to trouble the notion of a gender binary, considering it overly simplistic and misrepresentative.

Causes of Confusion in Gender Identity

What causes individuals to sense a sort of confusion between their biological gender and their gender identity? This question is hotly contested, with no clear answer. Some scientists argue that the sense of confusion is a biological result of the pre- and post-natal swinging of hormone levels and genetic regulation. Sociologists tend to emphasize the environmental impetuses for gender identity. Certainly, socialization, or the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members, plays a significant part in how individuals learn and internalize gender roles and subsequently impact their gender identity.

Though the medical emphasis in some conversations about gender identity is frequently scrutinized by sociologists, there is clearly some biological basis to gender, even if it has more to do with appearances and social presentation than identity formation. Women have two X chromosomes, where men have one X and one Y chromosome. However, despite the deep relationship to biology, gender identity cannot only be biologically determined. However, gender identity has a larger social component that needs to be considered. For example, although a person may be biologically male, “he” may feel more comfortable with a female identity, which is a social construction based on how he feels, not his physical makeup.

Gender Identities and Law

As gender identities come to be more disputed, new legal frontiers are opening on the basis that a male/female gender binary, as written into the law, discriminates against individuals who either identify as the opposite of their biological sex or who identify as neither male nor female. On college campuses, gender-restrictive dorm housing is facing opposition by individuals who identify as neither a man nor a woman. Many public spaces and workplaces are instituting gender-neutral bathroom facilities. Gender identity has become a piece of international law as a branch of human rights doctrines. The Yogyakarta Principles, drafted by international legal scholars in 2006, provide a definition of gender identity in its preamble. In the Principles “gender identity” refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the biological sex assigned at birth, including the person’s sense of the body and other expressions of gender.

Gender Identities across Cultures

Gender identities, and the malleability of the gender binary, vary across cultures. In some Polynesian societies, fa’afafine are considered to be a third gender alongside male and female. Fa’afafine are accepted as a natural gender and are neither looked down upon nor discriminated against. They are biologically male, but dress and behave in a manner that Polynesians typically consider female. Fa’afafine are often physiologically unable to reproduce. Fa’afafine also reinforce their femininity by claiming to be only attracted to and receiving sexual attention from heterosexual men.

In the Indian subcontinent, a hijra is usually considered to be neither male nor female. The hijra form a third gender, although they do not enjoy the same acceptance and respect as individuals who identify along the gender binary.

The xanith form an accepted third gender in Oman, a society that also holds a gender binary as a social norm. The xanith are male, homosexual prostitutes whose dressing is male, featuring pastel colors rather than the white clothes traditionally worn by men, but their mannerisms are coded as female. Xanith can mingle with women where men cannot. However, similar to other men in Oman, xanith can marry women and prove their masculinity by consummating the marriage. This extreme cultural variation in notions of gender indicate the socially constructed nature of gender identity.

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Men in Montreal Dressed in Drag: The image above exemplifies the subjective and personal understanding people have of their own gender identities.

Gender Roles in the U.S.

Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be appropriate for people of a specific sex.

Learning Objectives

Describe how gender roles in the U.S. have changed since the 1950’s

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender roles are never universal, even within a single country, and they are always historically and culturally contingent.
  • Gender role theory emphasizes environmental conditions and the influence of socialization, or the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members, in learning how to behave as a male or female.
  • Current trends toward a total integration model of gender roles is reflected in women’s education, professional achievement, and family income contributions.

Key Terms

  • nuclear family: a family unit consisting of at most a father, mother and dependent children.
  • socialization: The process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it.
  • Division of labor: A division of labour is the dividing and specializing of cooperative labour into specifically circumscribed tasks and roles.

Gender roles refer to the set of social and behavioral norms that are considered to be socially appropriate for individuals of a specific sex. There has been significant variation in gender roles over cultural and historical spans, and all gender roles are culturally and historically contingent. Much scholarly work on gender roles addresses the debate over the environmental or biological causes for the development of gender roles. The following section seeks to orient the reader to the sociological theorization of the gender role and discuss its application in an American context.

Gender and Social Role Theory

Gender role theory posits that boys and girls learn to perform one’s biologically assigned gender through particular behaviors and attitudes. Gender role theory emphasizes the environmental causes of gender roles and the impact of socialization, or the process of transferring norms, values, beliefs, and behaviors to group members, in learning how to behave as a male or a female. Social role theory proposes that the social structure is the underlying force in distinguishing genders and that sex-differentiated behavior is driven by the division of labor between two sexes within a society. The division of labor creates gender roles, which in turn, lead to gendered social behavior.

Gender Roles in the United States

With the popularization of social constructionist theories of gender roles, it is paramount that one recognize that all assertions about gender roles are culturally and historically contingent. This means that what might be true of gender roles in the United States for one cultural group likely is not true for another cultural group. Similarly, gender roles in the United States have changed drastically over time. There is no such thing as a universal, generalizable statement about gender roles.

One main thread in discussions about gender roles in the United States has been the historical evolution from a single-income family, or a family unit in which one spouse (typically the father) is responsible for the family income, to a dual-income family, or a family unit in which both spouses generate income. Before the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s and the influx of women into the workforce in the 1980s, women were largely responsible for dealing with home matters, while men worked and earned income outside the home. While some claim that this was a sexist structure, others maintain that the structure simply represented a division of labor, or a social system in which a particular segment of the population performs one type of labor and another segment performs another type.

Nuclear Family Models

In 1955, sociologist Talcott Parsons developed a model of nuclear families in the United States that addressed gender roles. Family structures vary across cultures and history, and the term nuclear family refers to a family unit of two parents and their children. Parsons developed two models of gender roles within the nuclear family. His first model involved total role segregation; men and women would be trained and educated in gender-specific institutions, and high professional qualifications and the workplace would be intended for men. Women would be primarily focused on housekeeping, childcare, and children’s education. Male participation in domestic activity would be only partially desired and socially acceptable. Further, in the case of conflict, the man would have the final say. Parsons contrasted this first model with a second that involved the total integration of roles. In the second model, men and women would be educated in the same institutions and study the same content in classes. Outside the educational milieu, women and men would both perceive career to be important, and equal professional opportunities for men and women would be considered socially necessary. Both parties in a marriage would bear responsibility for housework and child rearing. Finally, neither gender would systematically dominate decision making.

Current Trends

Of course, neither of Parsons’s models accurately described the United States in the 1950s, and neither model accurately describes the United States in the present day. However, total role segregation was closer to the reality of the United States in the 1950s, whereas a total integration of roles is increasingly common in the United States today.

The national trend toward a total integration of gender roles is reflected in women’s education, professional achievement, and family income contributions. Currently, more women than men are enrolled in college, and women are expected to earn more graduate degrees than men over the next several years. In 2005, 22% of American households had two income earners, which suggests the presence of women in the workforce. However, in most contexts, women are still expected to be the primary homemakers, even if they are contributing to household income by working outside the home.

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Women Behind the Wheel, 1952: This image, from the magazine Beauty Parade, offers a stereotyped view of female drivers.

The Cross-Cultural Perspective

Gender roles vary widely across different cultural contexts.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast gender roles in different cultures

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • It is impossible to generalize what life is like for one woman from assumptions about gender roles in different countries.
  • To assess what daily life is like for women, one must learn the particulars about the cultural and historical moment she occupies.
  • In Sweden, all working parents are entitled to sixteen months paid leave per child. To encourage greater paternal involvement in childrearing, a minimum of two months out of the sixteen is required to be used by the “minority” parent, usually the father.
  • 62% of Chileans are opposed to full gender equality and believe that women should limit themselves to the roles of mother and wife. Until recently, women lost their right to administer their own assets once they were married, and were required by law to obey their husbands.
  • Women in Japan are usually well-educated and employed, though gender dynamics emerge in regards to social pressure to find a husband. Historically, gender has been an important principle of Japanese social stratification, but gender differences have varied over time and within social class.

Key Terms

  • Michelle Bachelet: Chile’s first female president (2006-2010).
  • parental leave: A leave of absence from a job for a parent to take care of a baby.

Gender roles vary significantly across cultures. Indeed, all gender roles are culturally and historically contingent, meaning that they cannot be analyzed outside of their cultural and historical contexts. This section attempts to provide a few examples of variation in gender roles and the lives of women in various places around the world. These small glimpses are not universal by any means, but this overview should provide a brief summary of just how much women’s lives vary and how much women’s lives seem similar across national boundaries.

Gender Roles in Sweden

Governments in Europe are typically more active in governing the lives of their citizens than the U.S. government. As such, European governments have used their social powers to encourage equality between men and women. In Sweden, for example, all working parents are entitled to sixteen months paid leave per child, with the cost shared by the government and the employer. To encourage greater paternal involvement in childrearing, a minimum of two months out of the sixteen is required to be used by the “minority” parent, usually the father. Through policies such as parental leave, European states actively work to promote equality between genders in childrearing and professional lives.

Gender Roles In Chile

As is the case for many women in the United States and in Europe, many women in Chile feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. A 2010 study by the United Nations Development Programme found that 62% of Chileans are opposed to full gender equality and expressed the belief that women should limit themselves to the roles of mother and wife. These social barriers to gender equality exist in the face of legal equality.

Chilean law has recently undergone some drastic changes to support gender equality. Until recently, women lost their right to administer their own assets once they were married, with their husbands receiving all of their wealth. Now, a woman is allowed to maintain her own property. Previously, women were legally required to live with and be faithful and obedient to her husband, but now it is not law.

Chile grants both men and women the right to vote and had one of the first female presidents in the world. From 2006 until 2010, Michelle Bachelet served as Chile’s first female president. Women are gaining increasingly prominent positions in various aspects of government. The prominence of female politicians is working to undo traditional stereotypes of women belonging only in the domestic sphere.

Gender Roles in Japan

Women in Japan are usually well-educated and employed, though gender dynamics emerge in regards to social pressure to find a husband. Historically, gender has been an important principle of Japanese social stratification but the cultural elaboration of gender differences has, of course, varied over time and within social class. After World War II, the legal position of women was redefined by the occupation authorities. Individual rights were given precedence over obligation to family. Women were guaranteed the right to choose spouses and occupations, to inherit and own property in their own names, and to retain custody of their children. Women were granted the right to vote in 1946. Legally, few barriers to women’s equal participation in social and professional life remain in Japan.

However, gender inequality continues in family life, the workplace, and popular values. A common Japanese proverb that continues to influence gender roles is “good wife, wise mother. ” The proverb reflects the still common social belief, encouraged by men and women alike, that it is in the woman’s, her children’s, and society’s best interests for her to stay home and devote herself to her children. In most households, women are responsible for family budgets and make independent decisions about the education, careers, and life styles of their families.

Better educational prospects are improving women’s professional prospects. Immediately after World War II, the common image of womanhood was that of a secretary who becomes a housewife and mother after marriage. But a new generation of educated woman is emerging who wishes to establish a career in the workforce. Japanese women are joining the labor force in unprecedented numbers such that around 50% of the workforce is comprised of women. One important change is that married women have begun to participate in the work force. In the 1950s, most female employees were young and single; 62% of the female labor force had never been married. By 1987, 68% of the female workforce was married and only 23% had never been married.

Despite changes in the workforce, women are still expected to get married. It is common for unmarried women to experience anxiety and social pressure as a result of her unwed status.

These examples from Sweden, Chile, and Japan hardly scratch the surface of demonstrating some of the extreme variation in gender roles worldwide.

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“The World Turned Upside Down”: Gender roles are reversed in this picture where the woman holds the scepter, while the man is spinning

Childhood Socialization

Gender roles are taught from infancy through primary socialization, or the type of socialization that occurs in childhood and adolescence.

Learning Objectives

Describe how society socializes children to accept gender norms

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender is instilled through socialization immediately from birth. Consider the gender norms with which society imbues infants. The most archetypal example is the notion that male babies like blue things while female babies like pink things.
  • The example set by an individual’s family is also important for socialization. For example, children who grow up in a family with the husband a breadwinner and the wife a homemaker will tend to accept this as the social norm.
  • Children sometimes resist gender norms by behaving in ways more commonly associated with the opposite gender.

Key Terms

  • socialization: The process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it.
  • primary socialization: The socialization that takes place early in life, as a child and adolescent.
  • secondary socialization: The socialization that takes place throughout one’s life, both as a child and as one encounters new groups that require additional socialization.

Social norms pertaining to gender are developed through socialization, the lifelong process of inheriting, interpreting, and disseminating norms, customs, and ideologies.The process of socialization continues throughout one’s life and is constantly renegotiated, but socialization begins as soon as one is born. Sociologists divide socialization into two different parts. Primary socialization takes place early in life, as a child and adolescent. Secondary socialization refers to the socialization that takes place throughout one’s life, both as a child and as one encounters new groups that require additional socialization.

Gender is instilled through socialization immediately from birth. Consider the gender norms with which society imbues infants: The most archetypal example is the notion that male babies like blue things while female babies like pink things. When a boy gets a football for his birthday and a girl receives a doll, this also socializes children to accept gender norms. The example set by an individual’s family is also important for socialization; children who grow up in a family with the husband a breadwinner and the wife a homemaker will tend to accept this as the social norm, while those who grow up in families with female breadwinners, single parents, or same-sex couples will develop different ideas of gender norms.

Because gender norms are perpetuated immediately upon birth, many sociologists study what happens when children fail to adopt the expected gender norms rather than the norms themselves. This is the standard model of studying deviance in order to understand the norm that undergirds the deviant activity. Children can resist gender norms by insisting on dressing in clothing more typically associated with the other gender, playing with toys more typically associated with the other gender, or having opposite-sex playmates.

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Halloween Costumes can be Revealing!: Notice how the little girls are dressed in “feminine norms” including a princess and queen, while the boy’s costume has more masculine characteristics, including the bow and arrow as a symbol of aggression.

Adolescent Socialization

Adolescence is a transitional stage of biological, cognitive and social development that prepares individuals for taking on adult roles.

Learning Objectives

Describe the three general approaches to understanding identity development

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Identity development is a normative process of change in both the content and structure of how people think about themselves. Identity development encompasses the following notions: self-concept, sense of identity and self-esteem.
  • Self-concept is the awareness of the self in relation to a variety of different characteristics and concepts.
  • A sense of identity is much more integrated and less conflicting than the self-concept, as an identity is a coherent sense of self that is consistent across different contexts and circumstances past, present and future.
  • Self-esteem is one’s perception of and feelings toward one’s self-concept and identity.
  • Familial, peer and sexual/romantic relationships exert a siginficant influence over adolescent development and can encourage either positive or negative outcomes.

Key Terms

  • identity: A coherent sense of self stable across circumstances and including past experiences and future goals.

Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical and psychological human development. The period of adolescence is most closely associated with the teenage years, although its physical, psychological and cultural expressions can begin earlier and end later. In studying adolescent development, adolescence can be defined biologically as the physical transition marked by the onset of puberty and the termination of physical growth; cognitively, as changes in the ability to think abstractly and multi-dimensionally; and socially as a period of preparation for adult roles. Major pubertal and biological changes include changes to the sex organs, height, weight and muscle mass, as well as major changes in brain structure and organization. Cognitive advances encompass both increases in knowledge and the ability to think abstractly and to reason more effectively. This is also a time when adolescents start to explore gender identity and sexuality in depth.

Identity Development

Among the most common beliefs about adolescence is that it is the time when teens form their personal identities. Empirical studies confirm a normative process of change in both the content and structure of one’s thoughts about the self. Researchers have used three general approaches to understanding identity development: self-concept, sense of identity and self-esteem.

Self-Concept

Early in adolescence, cognitive developments result in greater self-awareness, greater awareness of others and their thoughts and judgments, the ability to think about abstract, future possibilities, and the ability to consider multiple possibilities at once. While children define themselves with physical traits, adolescents define themselves based on their values, thoughts and opinions. Adolescents can now conceptualize multiple “possible selves” they could become and long-term possibilities and consequences of their choices. Exploring these possibilities may result in abrupt changes in self-presentation as the adolescent chooses or rejects qualities and behaviors, trying to guide the actual self toward the ideal self (who the adolescent wishes to be) and away from the feared self (who the adolescent does not want to be). In terms of gender socialization, boys and girls start to gravitate toward traditional roles. For example, girls may take more liberal art type classes while boys are more physical. Boys and girls tend to socialize together, although dating starts to occur. Girls generally look to their mothers or female role models for guidance, while boys tend to identify more with their fathers or male role models.

Sense of Identity

Unlike the conflicting aspects of self-concept, identity represents a coherent sense of self stable across circumstances and including past experiences and future goals. Development psychologist Erik Erikson describes adolescence as the period during which individuals ponder the questions: who am I and what can I be? As they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents ponder the roles they will play in the adult world. Initially, they are apt to experience some role confusion—mixed ideas and feelings about the specific ways in which they will fit into society—and may experiment with a variety of behaviors and activities. For example, a girl may want to pursue a career that is predominantly male, and if she is stifled by her sense of female identity, she may end up with a lifetime of regret. The same is true of males wishing to pursue a female-dominated career. Erikson proposed that most adolescents eventually achieve a sense of identity regarding who they are and where their lives are headed.

Self-Esteem

The final major aspect of identity formation is self-esteem, which is one’s thoughts and feelings about one’s self-concept and identity. Contrary to popular belief, there is no empirical evidence for a significant drop in self-esteem over the course of adolescence. “Barometric self-esteem” fluctuates rapidly and can cause severe distress and anxiety, but baseline self-esteem remains highly stable across adolescence.The validity of global self-esteem scales has been questioned, and many suggest that more specific scales might reveal more about the adolescent experience. For girls, they are most likely to enjoy high self-esteem when engaged in supportive relationships with friends, as the most important function of friendship to them is having someone who can provide social and moral support. In contrast, boys are more concerned with establishing and asserting their independence and defining their relation to authority. As such, they are more likely to derive high self-esteem from their ability to successfully influence their friends.

Relationships

Peers

Peer groups are especially important during adolescence, a period of development characterized by a dramatic increase in time spent with peers and a decrease in adult supervision. Adolescents also associate with friends of the opposite sex much more than in childhood and tend to identify with larger groups of peers based on shared characteristics. Peer groups offer members the opportunity to develop various social skills like empathy, sharing and leadership.

Romance and Sexual Activity

Romantic relationships tend to increase in prevalence throughout adolescence. The typical duration of relationships increases throughout the teenage years as well. This constant increase in the likelihood of a long-term relationship can be explained by sexual maturation and the development of cognitive skills necessary to maintain a romantic bond, although these skills are not strongly developed until late adolescence. Overall, positive romantic relationships among adolescents can result in long-term benefits. High-quality romantic relationships are associated with higher commitment in early adulthood and are positively associated with self-esteem, self-confidence and social competence.

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Hanging Out: Peer relationships play a significant role in adolescent socialization.

Gender Differences in Social Interaction

Masculine and feminine individuals generally differ in how they communicate with others.

Learning Objectives

Explain and illustrate gender differences in social interactions

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Differences between ” gender cultures ” influence the way that people of different genders communicate. These differences begin at childhood.
  • Traditionally, masculine people and feminine people communicate with people of their own gender in different ways.
  • Through communication we learn about what qualities and activities our culture prescribes to our sex.

Key Terms

  • gender: The socio-cultural phenomenon of the division of people into various categories such as male and female, with each having associated roles, expectations, stereotypes, etc.
  • gender culture: The set of behaviors or practices associated with masculinity and femininity.

Social and cultural norms can significantly influence both the expression of gender identity, and the nature of the interactions between genders.

Differences between “gender cultures” influence the way that people of different genders communicate. These differences begin at childhood. Maltz and Broker’s research showed that the games children play contribute to socializing children into masculine and feminine cultures. For example, girls playing house promotes personal relationships, and playing house does not necessarily have fixed rules or objectives. Boys, however, tend to play more competitive team sports with different goals and strategies. These differences as children cause women to operate from assumptions about communication, and use rules for communication that differ significantly from those endorsed by most men.

Gender Differences in Social Interaction

Masculine and feminine cultures and individuals generally differ in how they communicate with others. For example, feminine people tend to self-disclose more often than masculine people, and in more intimate details. Likewise, feminine people tend to communicate more affection, and with greater intimacy and confidence than masculine people. Generally speaking, feminine people communicate more and prioritize communication more than masculine people.

Traditionally, masculine people and feminine people communicate with people of their own gender in different ways. Masculine people form friendships with other masculine people based on common interests, while feminine people build friendships with other feminine people based on mutual support. However, both genders initiate opposite-gender friendships based on the same factors. These factors include proximity, acceptance, effort, communication, common interests, affection and novelty.

Context is very important when determining how we communicate with others. It is important to understand what script it is appropriate to use in each respective relationship. Specifically, understanding how affection is communicated in a given context is extremely important. For example, masculine people expect competition in their friendships.They avoid communicating weakness and vulnerability. They avoid communicating personal and emotional concerns. Masculine people tend to communicate affection by including their friends in activities and exchanging favors. Masculine people tend to communicate with each other shoulder-to-shoulder (e.g., watching sports on a television).

In contrast, feminine people are more likely to communicate weakness and vulnerability. In fact, they may seek out friendships more in these times. For this reason, feminine people often feel closer to their friends than masculine people do. Feminine people tend to value their friends for listening and communicating non-critically, communicating support, communicating feelings of enhanced self-esteem, communicating validation, offering comfort and contributing to personal growth. Feminine people tend to communicate with each other face-to-face (e.g., meeting together to talk over lunch).

Communication and Gender Cultures

A communication culture is a group of people with an existing set of norms regarding how they communicate with each other. These cultures can be categorized as masculine or feminine. Gender cultures are primarily created and sustained by interaction with others. Through communication we learn about what qualities and activities our culture prescribes to our sex. While it is commonly believed that our sex is the root source of differences and how we relate and communicate to others, it is actually gender that plays a larger role. Whole cultures can be broken down into masculine and feminine, each differing in how they get along with others through different styles of communication. Julia T. Wood’s studies explain that “communication produces and reproduces cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity. ” Masculine and feminine cultures differ dramatically in when, how, and why they use communication.

Communication Styles

Deborah Tannen’s studies found these gender differences in communication styles (where men more generally refers to masculine people, and women correspondingly refers to feminine people):

  • Men tend to talk more than women in public situations, but women tend to talk more than men at home.
  • Women are more inclined to face each other and make eye contact when talking, while men are more likely to look away from each other.
  • Men tend to jump from topic to topic, but women tend to talk at length about one topic.
  • When listening, women make more noises such as “mm-hmm” and “uh-huh”, while men are more likely to listen silently.
  • Women are inclined to express agreement and support, while men are more inclined to debate.
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Feminine Interaction: Women adhering to a feminine gender culture often feel more comfortable being intimate with one another.