Last Updated 08 Jan 2023

The Different Social Aspects Influencing the Development of Gender Roles In Children

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There are three different social influences of a child’s understanding of gender roles: Parents, peers and the media. Parents affect their understanding of gender by reinforcing gender-appropriate behaviour through their own personal gender schemas. They present children with toys that fit into their own schemas and discourage gender inappropriate behaviour, meaning that boys are given toys such as footballs and girls are given toys such as dolls which would then mould said child’s awareness of appropriate behaviours. One study that supports this theory was by Faggot et al. He found that parents who show the clearest patterns of differential treatment have children who are the quickest at developing strong gender preferences. This supports the theory because it shows that when differential treatment is present, a child’s gender awareness develops faster. Another social influence is peers. Peers are said to be secondary socialisers and reinforces which means they simply act as a reminder to what is learned from parents. Peers also act as models for gender appropriate behaviour and will punish gender inappropriate behaviour, while rewarding appropriate behaviour. As such, parents are the primary enforces of gender awareness whereas peers are just the reinforcers who punish and reward certain activities and behaviours. One research that criticises this was by Lamb and Roopnarine.

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They observed children playing in pre-school and found that when male type behaviour was encouraged in girls, the activity or behaviour would only be acted out for a short amount of time whereas boys would continue the effect for much longer. This suggests that peers act only as a reminder in gender awareness as they do not have a long lasting impact on behaviour. The last form of social influence is the media. The media is said to usually portray males as independent and direct whereas women are usually portrayed as dependent, unambitious and emotional. This therefore leads to males being in control of situations whereas women are at the mercy of others. McGhee and Frueh suggested that those who exposed to these stereotypes are more likely to exhibit behaviours fitting said stereotypes. One research that supports this was by Williams et al. He found that children in a Canadian town with access to multiple TV channels had more stereotypical gender views than those in towns with little to no TV. This supports the theory as it suggests that exposure to gender stereotypes from TV increases stereotyped gender views in real life. One issued with this theory as a whole is that it is deterministic. This is because it suggests that our ideas of gender are defined by only external factors such as by our peers, parents or the media, meaning that we lack the free will to explore the world and develop our own awareness of gender. Another issue with the theory is that it is reductionist. This is because it tries to reduce complex human behaviour into simplistic terms and concepts and as such only considers the role of social influences and therefore not biological influences such as the role of testosterone in the masculinisation of the brain.

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