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Gender Development

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Gender Development

"Girls are from Venus, men are from Mars."

This phrase is commonly used to describe the differences between males and females. While there are several similarities across humankind, our gender differences play a large role in defining who we are.

  • In this article, we will begin by defining gender development.
  • Then we will explore the three categories of psychological theories of gender development -- biological, social, and cognitive.
  • We will continue by listing a few examples of gender development, as well as psychological concepts of gender.
  • Finally, we will discuss the importance of gender development.

Gender Development Definition

One of the most important elements of human development is gender development. From birth, our sex is assigned as either male or female. Sex is based on one's biology such as anatomy and chromosomes. For many people, but not all, their biological sex also helps to define their assigned gender.

Gender identity is a person's personal sense of gender - male, female, both, or neither

For a person who is transgender, their gender identity differs from their birth-assigned sex.

“It’s not that [these] individuals think they are a different gender than they actually are. It’s that they [are] stuck with bodies that are a different gender from who they actually are.” - Robert Sapolsky, 2015

From a very early age, we begin to form our own views on gender and begin to identify our own. By around age two, we become aware of the physical differences between girls and boys. By age three we begin to label our own gender. Finally, by age four, most of us have a relatively stable sense of our gender identity. It is important to note the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation, which refers to a person's sexual attraction. Transgender people may be sexually attracted to the same gender, opposite gender, both genders, or not attracted to anyone at all.

Gender Development, face with female right side male left side, StudySmarterMale and female gender identity. Freepik.com

Gender roles are also formed early in childhood. Gender roles differ from gender identity in that they refer to the expected social or cultural behaviors, traits, or attitudes assigned to males or females. From an early age, we search for clues about gender and begin to conceptualize the expected behavior for girls and boys that society has determined. As a result, we may begin to adjust our behavior to align with whichever gender we identify with. Androgynous people, however, may feel that a combination of both male and female gender roles feels best to them. This may also apply to a person's gender identity and gender expression.

Gender expression is the external presentation of gender through behavior, mannerisms, clothing, or interests.

Psychological Theories of Gender Development

There are several psychological theories of gender development. However, many of them can be broken down into one of three categories - biological, social, or cognitive theories of gender development.

Biological Theories of Gender Development

Biological theories of gender development are linked to many Darwinian theories of evolution. The biological approach assumes that behavioral and psychological differences in gender are a consequence of biological differences between males and females. Biological theories suggest that these differences in behavior are a part of the evolutionary process and are required for successful reproduction.

Social Theories of Gender Development

Social theories of gender development, on the other hand, suggest that our gender identity is motivated by the social norms and pervasive stereotypes of gender that we encounter from a young age. According to these theorists, we learn our gender identity by observing and imitating others' gendered behaviors.

We are often rewarded for behaviors consistent with gender norms and punished for behaviors that are not. For example, a little girl may receive praise and attention for playing with a kitchen set, but may be ignored or even reprimanded for playing with a fire truck. Through this reinforcement, we learn to align our behaviors with traditional gender norms that are taught to us. However, children may still find their way towards whatever feels right to them.

Cognitive Theories of Gender Development

Finally, cognitive theories of gender development are geared more towards a child's thinking in regards to gender. Cognitive theorists may suggest that children, after forming their own understanding of gender, seek to match their behavior to that understanding. A cognitive approach to gender development is more self-driven and should not be confused with a social approach that is socially driven. A child's knowledge of gender constancy may be an important factor in how they shape their gendered behaviors. There are three stages to gender constancy:

  1. Gender identity (boy, girl, other)

  2. Gender stability (gender remains the same throughout life)

  3. Gender consistency (despite a change in activities or appearance, gender does not change)

Cognitive consistency is an inherent need for children and is a strong motivator for adjusting behavior to match their perceptions of gender.

Examples of Gender Development

Males and females have many similarities as well as differences. Genetically, 45 of the 46 chromosomes we receive are similar. Both men and women must survive. Both must reproduce and avoid predators or other threats. Gender does not determine a person's basic abilities such as vocabulary learning, seeing, or remembering.

While men and women share many similarities, their few differences are most important to note.

Females

  • Able to express and access emotions more freely.

  • More at risk of developing an eating disorder.

  • Can detect fainter odors.

  • More at risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Males

  • More likely to develop an alcohol use disorder.

  • More at risk for antisocial personality disorder.

  • More at risk of autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and colour-deficient vision.

  • More likely to die by suicide.

Gender Development in Psychology

Many researchers have sought to understand how men and women differ psychologically, and have found that they probably differ in aggression as well as social connectedness.

Aggression

In psychology, aggression refers to any behavior that is intended to hurt someone physically or emotionally. This may be physical or verbal behavior. Worldwide, men commit more violent crimes (Antonaccio et al., 2011). However, women may be more likely to exhibit relational aggression.

Relational aggression is a physical or verbal act intended to harm a person's relationship or social status.

Social Connectedness

The need to belong is true for every human being, male or female. However, we may satisfy this need in different ways. Women, for example, are often more concerned with making meaningful connections in their relationships. Consequentially, teenage girls spend more time with friends than time alone.

Men may be more focused on problem-solving in their conversations. Or, men may risk answering a difficult question with "hazard answers" rather than admit they do not know. On the other hand, female ties within the family bind that family together. Additionally, women will turn to others for support more than men do.

While men and women differ in how connectedness plays a role in their lives, brain scans show no significant difference between the male and female brains. However, the female brain may be wired to enable social connectedness.

Gender Development, three girls smiling and hugging, StudySmarterGirls laughing and connecting. Freepik.com

Importance of Gender Development

Gender plays a major role in our world and will inevitably impact the world of a child. Parents who choose to raise their children in a gender-neutral space may improve their child's awareness of their identity and self-esteem. However, due to the inevitable impact of gender norms in a child's world, it may also bring confusion.

Educators may also support children by creating a gender-neutral space. It may help children explore who they are, make choices, and make connections to the people around them (Lahelma, 2011). King and Hill (2013) found that training teachers with a gender-sensitive approach may improve a child's participation in a learning environment, particularly in girls' performance in mathematics and science.

Children learn through teacher-child interactions, which may form stereotypical attitudes towards masculine and feminine gender roles. These views often develop before adolescence, meaning that childhood is an especially active time in gender development. It plays a significant role in forming a child's self-concept.

Gender Development - Key takeaways

  • Gender identity is a person's personal sense of gender - male, female, both, or neither.
  • For a person who is transgender, their gender identity differs from their birth-assigned sex.
  • Biological theories of gender development are linked to many Darwinian theories of evolution. Social theories of gender development, on the other hand, suggest that our gender identity is motivated by the social norms and pervasive stereotypes of gender that we encounter from a young age.
  • Cognitive theories of gender development are geared more towards a child's thinking with regard to gender.
  • Many researchers have sought to understand how men and women differ psychologically and have found that they likely differ in aggression as well as social connectedness.

References

  1. King, E. M., & Hill, M. A. (1993). Women's education in developing countries. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47 (3), 297–328. https://doi.org/10.1596/0-8018-4534-3.
  2. Lahelma, E. (2011). Gender awareness in Finnish teacher education: An impossible mission? Education Inquiry, 2 (2), 263–276. https://doi.org/10.3402/edui.v2i2.21979.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gender Development

Many researchers have sought to understand how men and women differ psychologically in  areas of gender identity, gender roles, and gender expression.

Cognitive theories of gender development are geared more towards a child's thinking in regards to gender. Cognitive theorists may suggest that children, after forming their own understanding of gender, seek to match their behavior to that understanding

From a very early age, we begin to form our own views on gender and begin to identify our own. By around age two, we become aware of the physical differences between girls and boys. By age three we begin to label our own gender. Finally, by age four, most of us have a relatively stable sense of our gender identity.

Gender plays a major role in our world and will inevitably impact the world of a child. Educators may also support children by creating a  gender-neutral space. It may help children explore who they are, make choices, and make connections to the people around them.

Factors that may affect gender development include genetics, familial expectations, social expectations, or the media. 

Final Gender Development Quiz

Question

Define gender identity.

Show answer

Answer

Gender identity is a person's personal sense of gender -- male, female, both, or neither

Show question

Question

True or False? For a person who is transgender, their gender identity differs from their birth-assigned sex.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

 True or False? We do not begin to form our own views on gender and identify our own until a later age. 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

_______ refers to the expected social or cultural behaviors, traits, or attitudes assigned to males or females.


Show answer

Answer

Gender roles

Show question

Question

____________ people, however, may feel that a combination of both male and female gender roles feels best to them.


Show answer

Answer

Androgynous

Show question

Question

How does the social learning theory apply to gender development?

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Answer

To apply the social learning theory we learn our gender identity by observing and imitating others' gendered behaviors.

Show question

Question

______________ is the external presentation of gender through behavior, mannerisms, clothing, or interests.

Show answer

Answer

Gender expression

Show question

Question

____________ theories suggest that these differences in behavior are a part of the evolutionary process and are required for successful reproduction. 


Show answer

Answer

Biological

Show question

Question

_________ theories of gender development, on the other hand, suggest that our gender identity is motivated by the social norms and pervasive stereotypes of gender that we encounter from a young age.


Show answer

Answer

Social

Show question

Question

__________ theories of gender development are geared more towards a child's thinking in regards to gender.


Show answer

Answer

Cognitive

Show question

Question

What are the three stages of gender constancy?


Show answer

Answer

  1. Gender identity 

  2. Gender stability 

  3. Gender consistency

Show question

Question

True or False?  Gender can determine a person's basic abilities such as vocabulary learning, seeing, or remembering.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False? Men are more likely to exhibit relational aggression than women. 

Show answer

Answer

False, women are more likely

Show question

Question

Men may risk answering a difficult question with __________  rather than admit they do not know.

Show answer

Answer

hazard answers

Show question

Question

Parents who choose to raise their children in a ____________ space may improve their child's awareness of their identity and self-esteem.


Show answer

Answer

gender-neutral

Show question

Question

True or False: Social theories of gender development are linked to many Darwinian theories of evolution.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: The biological approach assumes that behavioral and __________ differences in gender are a consequence of biological differences between males and females. 

Show answer

Answer

psychological 

Show question

Question

True or False: A biological approach to gender development is more self-driven and should not be confused with a social approach that is socially driven. 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

True or False: Cognitive consistency is an inherent need for children and is a strong motivator for adjusting behavior to match their perceptions of gender.  

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: Genetically, ___ of the 46 chromosomes we receive are similar. 

Show answer

Answer

45

Show question

Question

Who is more at risk of developing an eating disorder? 

Show answer

Answer

Females 

Show question

Question

Who is more at risk of developing depression and anxiety? 

Show answer

Answer

Females 

Show question

Question

Who is more at risk of autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and color-deficient vision? 

Show answer

Answer

Males 

Show question

Question

True or False: While men and women differ in how connectedness plays a role in their lives, brain scans show no significant difference between the male and female brains. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Who is more at risk for developing an antisocial personality disorder? 

Show answer

Answer

Males 

Show question

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