Gender stereotypes refer to the characterisation of groups based on their basic gender attribute as male or female. The gender-based stereotypes are the simplified evaluations of male and female groups that are shared by the community, a culture, a society. The evaluations usually encompass the attributes of physical capability, psychological state, personality, interests and behaviour. (Hogg & Vaughan, 2008) These attributions could be based on fact that such as the differences in the physiological and hormonal characteristics of males and females.
However, the evaluations may be overstated. The other attribute evaluations may not be supported by evidence. (Myers, 2008) The nature and source of stereotypes lead to two implications. One implication is on the positive or negative impact of gender stereotypes. Women as emotional and men as rational could be positive when considered as strengths but these stereotypes could also be negative when used to discriminate or exclude in the workplace and in other situations.
The other implications is the non-predictive value of these stereotypes over the individual attributes of members of the group. While women are stereotyped as emotional and men are stereotyped as rational, these are not necessarily the core attributes of all females or males. Nevertheless, gender stereotypes are pervasive in different cultures and form part of day-to-day lives. As such, gender stereotypes form during the growing up years (Hogg & Vaughan, 2008). Acquired gender stereotypes develop alongside gender roles, influence gender roles and are reinforced by gender roles.
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Understanding the factors that foster the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles provide the key areas in influencing the development or in changing the stereotypes and gender roles developed during childhood. Children going through the developmental stages are exposed to different factors that influence their development of gender stereotypes and gender roles. Two of the most pervasive influences on the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles in children are parental influence and media influence. The earliest exposure of children to the meaning of gender and gender differences is from parents.
During the development stage, children look up to their parents in developing perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards various aspects including gender characteristics and roles. (Erkes & Trautner, 2000) Gender socialisation is one concept that explains parental influence on the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles in children. Gender socialisation is the process that facilitates interactive learning of certain behaviours considered as acceptable for males and females based on social-cultural beliefs and values (Hogg & Vaughan, 2008; Myers, 2008).
The different expectations for males and females build stereotypes that are reinforced by how these are exacted from children by their parents, The attitudes of parents towards their children, in terms of the encouragement of gendered activities and interests, influence the development of gender stereotypes and roles (Eckes & Trautner, 2000). One manifestation of parental attitudes towards gender is differentiation through colours and patterns (Cunningham, 2001). As early as the pregnancy, the baby’s room is designed and furnished according to the expected gender of the baby.
When babies are born, parents buy things such as clothes and other items depending on the gender of their child. Typically, pink is the colour for female babies and blue for male babies. Floral and other similar patterns are bought for girls while cars and truck prints are designated for boys. Dolls are typically for girls and cars or trains for boys. These attitudes and behaviours of parents communicate differences between males and females together with expectations on the concurrent attitudes and behaviour of their male or female children.
Another manifestation of parental influence is the chores assumed by parents and assigned to their children (Cunningham, 2001). Usually, girls have more chores inside the household. Mothers usually obtain help from daughters. Sons are also assigned chores but these commonly pertain to work such as lifting or other manual work. These gendered attitudes and behaviours of parents exert influence during socialisation with their children who are receptive to the explicit and implicit messages communicated to them (Eckes & Trautner, 2000) As they become aware of gender differences, they also develop male and female stereotypes.
Concurrently, they also start to assume gender roles. Parental influence during the development stages is the key to the development of gender identity. Gender stereotypes and roles acquired during childhood are likely to be retained in the long-term. Parental identification is another concept that explains parental influence as a factor contributing to the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles in children. Parental identification is the process of internalising he attributes of parents and the unconscious repetition of the perceptions, attitudes and behaviour of parents by children (Hogg & Vaughan, 2008). Male children internalise the observed characteristics of their fathers and female children internalise the attributes of their mothers. The gender stereotypes shared and exhibited by parents and the gender roles assumed by the parents constitute signals of the attributes of males and females. Socio-economic background influence the extent of gendered attributes of parents.
Apart from an expected higher educational level for families with higher incomes, gender stereotypes and gender roles is linked to economic status. In developing countries with high poverty rates, gender stereotyping and gender roles are strong. Male preference is tied to expectations of bigger income. Manual work, which is the predominant work, is delegated to males. Domestic chores are assigned to females. In developed countries, female children tend to have lesser restrictions in terms of expected roles.
Nevertheless, other factors such as educational attainment of parents determine the gendered attributes observed from parents. Parental influence contributes to the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles in children through the processes of gender socialisation and parental identification with children becoming aware of gender differences through the attitudes and behaviours of parents. The media refers to a wide range of venues including television, gaming consoles, mobile phones, and the Internet. Exposure of children to media has increased over the past five years.
A recent survey showed that half of the children under the ages of 5-7 have televisions inside their rooms that they can use anytime without parental supervision. Households with a gaming console have also risen from 67 to 85 percent. Children in this age group also increasingly own personal mobile phones. Every one in five children between 5-7 years old can access the Internet in their homes without supervision from their parents. These support the strong influence of media on children during the development years.
There are benefits and downsides to the exposure of children to media. The benefits include reinforcement and support for academic learning. The Internet has become a virtual encyclopaedia for children. Another benefit is social learning. However, the benefits are not absolute and largely depend on the type of media content exposure (Villani, 2001). The downside is the adverse influences on perceptions, attitudes, personality and behaviour from the media content and lack of parental supervision to medicate media influence.
Media has an influence on the development needs of young children depending on the media content and the internalisation of this content. Gender stereotyping and gender roles are developmental areas strongly affected by media. Gender socialisation also occurs through media influence. Gender socialisation through media refers to the interaction between children and media content presented in various venues (Hogg & Vaughan, 2008; Myers, 2008). The nature of interaction involves the expression of messages pertaining to gender by media content and mode of delivery.
Children internalise these messages to influence their development of ideas on gender, which together with their experiences, affect the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles. Movies and television shows comprise a media more popularly accessible to children. When media portray gendered messages aligns with their actual experiences, then media becomes a reinforcement of their awareness of gendered meanings. If media portrayal differs from their experiences, then other influences such as peers and the school become mediating factors in the development of perceptions about gender.
The role of parental supervision is the key to how children internalise gendered messages from movies and television shows. Games are mostly role playing games with players selecting their characters, In the case of games designed for children, gender distinctions emerge from the creation of characters with physical attributes reflecting beauty for girl characters and strength for boy characters (Villani, 2001). The characters usually have clear-cut gender delineations with male characters with muscled physique and female characters with curvaceous physique.
The characters in games influence gender stereotypes by providing models of expected physical and psychological attributes of boys and girls. These influence the development of identity and assumption of roles of children. Advertisements express gender categorisation. In a study of advertisements targeting children in the United States and Australia, there is a common trend towards gender stereotyping. The portrayal of boys or the message of advertisements for products intended for boys express aggressiveness, mental dominance, active lifestyle and keenness in operating instruments.
The advertisement targeting girls express physical attributes and embellishments. (Browne, 1998) Exposure to gendered advertisements also influences the awareness of children of gender differences and expectations. Gender role identification and categorisation also explain how media contributes to the development of gender stereotyping and gender roles in children. Gender role identification pertains to the association with a gender by an individual. Gender categorisation refers to the classification of attributes for males and females. Hogg & Vaughan, 2008;Myers, 2008) During the development years, children internalise media influences in categorising attributes. Their awareness of gender then leads them to identify with the attributes and role expectations of their gender. The extent of influence of media on the development of gender stereotypes and gender roles depends on the extent of exposure of children and the mediating role of parental supervision or intervention together with other influences.
Parental influence and media influence are two factors that contribute to the development of gender stereotyping and gender roles in children. Gender socialisation and identification explain the influence on children. As strong influences, it is also through these factors that negative gender stereotypes and gender roles can be changed. Parents exercise authority and moral ascendancy over their children and children look up towards their parents for guidance or models during the development years.
Parents should recognise their role in guiding the perspectives, attitudes and behaviour of children towards gender and gender identity development. There is need for parents to become conscious of destructive gender stereotypes and gender roles and proactively make changes, The interaction between various forms of media and children is increasing in frequency. While there are more gender sensitive and androgynous media content, children need parental supervision in internalising media content, especially since children are exposed not only to media intended for them but also to media intended for adults.
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