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Theories of Sex and Gender

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Theories of Sex and Gender Sex and gender are two very separate factors in the debate of how gender acquisition occurs. Sex is a biological fact determined by the chromosomes inherited from parents. Gender however, refers to the behaviour, beliefs, attitude and sense of identity that society perceives as being appropriate for either a male or a female, and therefore gender is regarded as a social fact. MOGHADDAM (1998, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002). There are four main theories in the gender acquisition debate, Evolutionary Psychology, Psychoanalytical Theory, Social Learning Theory and Cognitive-development Theory. This paper aims to describe and evaluate Social Learning Theory and Cognitive-development Theory. Social Learning theorists believe the development of gender occurs as a result of a child's social experience and think much of this learning can be explained by conditioning and observational learning. Sex-role and gender behaviours are learned in the same way as any other behaviour. In terms of conditioning, parents socialise their children, preparing them for adult gender roles by providing them with gender-appropriate toys. In many societies girls are given dolls and cooking equipment in preparation for the maternal and domestic aspects of their adult gender role. BANDURA & WALTERS (1963, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002) Social Learning theorists also think that children learn gender roles from same sex role models such as parents, peers, teachers and media figures who provide children with opportunities to observe and imitate behaviours, this is known as observational learning. ...read more.


However this is not always the case, as a review of 80 studies of same gender imitation found that this only occurred in 18 of the studies. BARKLEY et al (1977, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002) Gender stereotypes shown in the media have a strong influence on children who are acquiring their gender identity. Evidence on the effects of stereotypes is shown in a study by WILLIAMS (1985, as cited in CARDWELL et al, 2000). Williams compared gender role attitudes of children in three Canadian towns. Notel had no TV channels, Unitel had one TV channel and Multitel had 4 TV channels. After two years, Notel had acquired 1 TV channel, Unitel now had 2 TV channels and Multitel still had 4 channels. Behaviour was observed over the two year period and one of the main findings was that Notel's children's view on gender roles changed to become very traditional and gender stereotyped with the advent of TV. LEARY et al, (1982, as cited in CARDWELL et al, 2000) found that children who watched television frequently were more likely to have stereotypical views of gender and more likely to conform to gender role attitudes. However these sets of data are correlational and therefore it cannot be shown whether television programmes make children more stereotyped or that gender stereotyped children watch more television. However, Duck (1990, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002) ...read more.


Kohlberg was strongly influenced by PIAGETS' "Stages of Cognitive Development" and he argued that gender identities and roles are only possible when children have reached the necessary stage in their cognitive development; when they have developed the mental structures required to understand gender and its' constancy. Once fully aware of the concept of gender, children relate to relevant information i.e. particular clothes, hairstyles and gender appropriate behaviours. At this stage, models become important and children select gender appropriate behaviours from the range of available models, they imitate models they themselves consider appropriate. Children therefore socialise themselves. FREY & RUBLE, (1992, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002). According to Kohlberg there should be a close relationship between cognitions about gender and gender typed attitudes and behaviour. HUSTON, (1985, as cited in HEFC class notes, 2004), argued that this was exaggerated as the relationship was weak especially in girls. A number of studies have indicated a link between the various stages and gender typed behaviour. WEINRAUB et al, (1984, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002), studied 2-3 year olds and found that those with the most developed gender identity were more likely to play with gender typed toys. Further to this, a study of gender constancy looked at the response of 4-6 year olds to TV adverts in which toys were presented as suitable for either boys or girls. Children with a high understanding of gender constancy were more likely to pick up these gender messages. RUBLE et al, (1981, as cited in HARALAMBOS et al, 2002). ...read more.

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