Originally gender was meant to be female or male, which would be established given the biological characteristics at birth, but these days, gender is not as simple as that. Nowadays, it is common to hear that people identify as queer, transgender, or agender. This explanation looks into the topic of gender and how it is shaped. 

Gender Gender

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Table of contents

    Sensitivity banner, StudySmarter.

    • The explanation will first explore the gender definition.
    • Then the difference between sex and gender will be explored.
    • After, gender stereotypes will be presented.
    • Following, the explanation reviews the types of gender.
    • Gender dysphoria is defined before the explanations of gender are explored.

    Gender Definition

    Humans use the terms female and male in our daily lives quite often. Psychologists also care about gender differences when conducting research. But do we actually know how gender is defined?

    Gender involves social, psychological, cultural and behavioural factors associated with being male, female and other identities. There are specific characteristics/ traits related to each of these, and a person's gender is based on which of these they resonate with the most.

    It’s important to note that given that gender is a sense, it is subjective. A person with specific traits may experience gender in a way which may differ from the experience of the gender of someone else. In this way, gender is not black or white.

    In society, for example, men are often expected to be more aggressive, and women are expected to be more caring. These stereotypes associated with given genders can make people not feel that their sex matches the gender assigned to them by society.

    A male who shows likes wearing women’s clothes may not feel comfortable identifying as a male. This is known as gender dysphoria.

    Although, this is not always the case.

    Difference between Sex and Gender

    Although sex and gender are somewhat related, there are differences between both terms.

    Sex refers to the biological differences between males and females. This includes differences in chromosomes, hormones, and anatomy.

    Gender refers to the psychological and cultural differences between males and females. This includes attitudes, behaviours, and social roles. These can be stereotypical and do not necessarily fit with someone’s personal experience of gender.

    Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women. These differences take many forms:

    • Chromosomes: chromosomal structure differs in men (XY) and women (XX).

    • Hormones: these influence the development of reproductive organs and sexual characteristics

    Testosterone: the hormone which controls the development of male sex organs

    Estrogen: the hormone which controls the development of female sex organs.

    Oxytocin: a hormone produced in much higher amounts by women and used in reproduction and birth.

    Atypical Sex Chromosome Patterns

    Although most people conform to the XY / XX chromosome patterns, some have atypical chromosomes. Two examples of this are Klinefelter’s Syndrome and Turner’s Syndrome.

    Klinefelter’s Syndrome affects men; it is when a person has an extra X chromosome. A tall physique, small, infertile testes, and enlarged breasts characterise this. The Syndrome affects one in every 660 males.

    Whereas Turner’s Syndrome is when women have only one X chromosome. This causes developmental abnormalities such as underdeveloped ovaries, shortness, and infertility.

    Gender Stereotypes

    Gender stereotypes refer to societal expectations that dictate male and female-appropriate behaviour.

    A stereotype for males is that they should be hardworking and be able to provide resources for their families. In contrast, females should be in charge of household-related tasks and care for their families.

    Regarding social relationships, males are expected to be confident and fun, while females are expected to be slightly laid back and sophisticated.

    Gender, Image of a female nurse reading medical notes, StudySmarterFig. 1. Picture of a female nurse as a representation of gender stereotypes.

    Despite gender stereotypes, not all individuals feel reflected in these characteristics. Androgyny is a term used to refer to individuals who show features typical of both males and females. It refers to the presence of both calmness and agitation or bravery and softness in a single person in different situations.

    For example, a highly masculine woman would not be considered androgynous.

    Bem Sex Role Inventory (1974) was developed to measure this. It consisted of 40 characteristics commonly identified as either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Participants had to rate themselves on a 1-7 scale to determine if they were more masculine, feminine, or androgynous.

    It is important to note that, although Bem’s study is called the ‘Sex Role Inventory’, he was actually studying what we understand today as gender. This is because he was not looking at the biological differences between men and women but the differences in their expression of gender stereotypes.

    Types of Gender

    As you can see from the definition of gender, the term is limited by a person’s perception of their own body and identity. This makes gender a broad concept with many categories to fit all kinds of people.

    Types of gender are usually called gender identities. The term type implied classification and difference, while the research on gender aims to make everyone feel safe and represented in themselves.

    Here we will present and define ten different gender identities:

    1. Male refers to the gender identity that comes along with the presence of male biological characteristics.
    2. Female refers to the gender identity that comes along with the presence of female biological characteristics.Those individuals whose gender expression matches the one given at birth can also be called cisgender.
    3. Transgender refers to the gender that differs from the one assigned by sex due to the biological characteristics given.
    4. Gender neutral refers to individuals who do not identify as females or males.
    5. Non-binary refers to people who do not identify as a male or a female and not believing in the existence of only those two genders.
    6. Agender is the term that includes individuals who do not identify with a particular gender and that do not have an identity based on gender.
    7. Pangender refers to the type of gender identity that is not limited to a single category. These individuals exhibit and experience different genders at the same time.
    8. Gender outlaw refers to the gender identity through which individuals reject society’s idea of defining them as female or male.
    9. Two-spirit refers to the umbrella term that is used to acknowledge different sexualities and genders that are known to exist in Indigenous Native American communities.
    10. Omnigender refers to the gender identity that experiences all genders as a whole.

    Gender, Picture of rainbow flags which symbolise the LGBT community and gender diversity, StudySmarter.Fig. 2. Picture of LGBT+ flags which symbolise sexual and gender diversity

    Gender Dysphoria

    Despite the many gender identities, not all individuals can find a category that reflects their identity. And this triggers the emergence of gender-related difficulties.

    Gender dysphoria refers to the sense that who one is and who one sees are not aligned. It refers to the unease individuals experience when they experience a distinction between their gender and biological sex.

    Although gender dysphoria is not an illness, it is usually accompanied by psychological distress. Individuals with gender dysphoria typically present the following signs:

    • Low self-esteem
    • Social isolation
    • Depression
    • Neglecting their own needs

    Individuals with gender dysphoria usually undergo hormonal treatments or surgery to align their biological and physical looks with their gender identity.

    Cognitive Explanations of Gender

    There are two cognitive approaches to gender that we’ll look at, Kohlberg’s theory and the gender schema theory.

    Kohlberg’s Theory

    One of the first explanations of gender development, Kohlberg’s theory, states that gender develops in three stages:

    Gender Schema Theory

    A schema is a cognitive framework derived from the experience that helps us process information. Gender schemas direct someone’s understanding of their own gender and gender-appropriate behaviour in general.

    Gender schemas are a set of beliefs and expectations about gender derived from experience.

    Psychodynamic Approach to Gender

    The psychodynamic theory of gender is probably one of the most famous theories to come out of psychology.

    Freud’s Oedipus complex and Electra complex state that gender results from attraction to one parent and fear/jealousy of the other.

    This fear leads to identification and internalisation, wherein children internalise their parents’ behaviours, essentially acquiring gender identity.

    Social Learning Theory

    The social learning approach combines learning theory with cognitive factors to explain behaviour, for example, by using indirect and direct reinforcement to explain thoughts and behaviour.

    Social learning theory explains gender by stating that ‘gender-appropriate’ behaviour or behaviour that conforms to gender stereotypes is likely to be rewarded and, thus, reinforced.

    Indirect reinforcement of gender-conforming behaviour occurs when children see it rewarded in others, such as on TV.

    Finally, children also identify with the people around them and model the gender roles they display to ‘be like’ them.

    Gender - Key takeaways

    • Gender involves social, psychological, cultural and behavioural factors associated with being male, female and other identities. There are specific characteristics/ traits related to each of these, and a person's gender is based on which of these they resonate with the most.

    • The difference between sex and gender is that we are assigned to a sex when we are born, and gender is what we identify as.

    • Gender stereotypes are prevalent throughout society.

    • Many gender types have been identified, and people who do not identify with any gender may experience gender dysphoria.

    • The cognitive explanations of gender include Kolberg's theory and the gender schema theory.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Gender

    How many genders are there?

    Given the subjective nature of gender, there are many gender identities. However, some common ones are:

    1. Male.
    2. Female.
    3. Transgender.
    4. Gender neutral.
    5. Non-binary.

    How does gender affect behaviour in psychology?

    According to psychologists, gender affects our behaviour through the social expectations attached to gender.

    What is gender development?

    Gender development refers to the way gender is socially learned through reinforcement. Gender develops when people begin to adopt the socially established behaviour associated with their sex.

    What is gender?

    Gender is a person's sense of their biological sex, as well as their expression of it, which is often governed by societal stereotypes. 

    What factors influence gender? 

    Gender involves social, psychological, cultural and behavioural factors associated with being male, female and other identities. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was the gender schema theory developed?

    Who first proposed the idea of a schema?

    What is a methodological issue associated with conducting interviews with child participants?


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    Team Gender Teachers

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