Outline the social factors that may influence gender roles
- Outline the social factors that may influence gender roles
Parents may influence gender roles. This can be explained using operant conditioning- i.e. Parents would praise gender appropriate behaviour and punish gender inappropriate behaviour. For example, if a boy wanted to do ballet, his parents may ignore or shout at him for wanting to do ballet (punishment) and this could then discourage the child from doing ballet because he may think that he would get punished even more if he carried on doing it. Instead, the child may decide to do a more gender appropriate activity that his parents would approve of, such as playing football, in order to get rewarded by his parents. Parents may also influence gender roles as they may serve as role models. A child may observe what their parents are doing, then try to imitate them, and then that behaviour would be reinforced.
Peers could also influence gender roles. They could offer a model of how boys and girls should act. Boys may act in a boyish way, such as fighting and being aggressive, and girls may act in a feminine way, such as being calm and playing with dolls. So, for example, if a child was a girl, they would focus on what other girls are doing and then copy them in order to be liked by other girls, and then may lead them to avoiding doing anything that other boys are likely to do.
The media, particularly the television, could also influence gender roles. On the children’s programmes, boys are often portrayed as being aggressive and very heroic, whilst it seems that girls are often seen as house maids and cleaners etc... So, for example, if a boy was watching such programmes, he may pay attention and imitate what the boys in the programmes are doing, and this could then mean that the child would likely to only show those behaviours and he may ignore and avoid showing other behaviours that girls are more likely to show.
Education, to an extent, could also influence gender roles. Schools often offer a gendered curriculum. For example, usually girls are likely to do subjects such as Food technology and textiles, whilst the boys are likely to do sports. This may then divide the two sexes up- boys are likely to do what other boys do and behave in a way that other boys behave, and girls are likely to follow other girls and behave in a way that other girls behave.
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- Use research evidence to assess the influence of such factors on gender roles.
The idea that parents can influence gender roles could be explained by the research that was carried out by Lytton and Romney in 1991. It supports the idea that the parents reinforce gender appropriate behaviours. For example, Lytton and Romney found that in North American studies, girls were more likely to be encouraged to help with housework and boys with outdoor tasks. This shows that boys are encouraged by their parents to act in a way that they think other boys would act and girls are encouraged to act in a way that they think other girls would act. This is likely to influence the child’s gender role as they may feel that it is unacceptable and unnatural to act like their opposite sex. For example, girls may feel that if they acted or did what other boys did, then it would be wouldn’t be normal, so they may only behave in the way that their parents told them behave.
However, the research is ethnocentric because Lytton and Romney focused on western countries. The results cannot be generalised because it cannot be assumed that every parent will reinforce gender appropriate behaviours. For example, there may be others cultures where parents do not reinforce gender appropriate behaviours. This would then mean that parents are not as influential when it comes to their children’s gender roles because it could be suggested that their children’s gender roles may have been influenced by other factors such as by education and class mates etc...
Research carried out by Fagot et al could also explain how parents can influence their child’s gender roles. They compared 27 egalitarian families with 42 traditional families and found out that children in traditional families tended to use gender labelling earlier than those children in egalitarian families and they showed more gender stereotyping at the age of 4. It supports the view that parents are important role models. The fact that those children raised in a traditional family showed more gender stereotyping when they were only 4 just goes to show that parents can be very influential as to their child’s gender role because the their children may have copied their behaviour and then reinforced it as they may have thought that it was the way they should act.
However, having said that, it could be argued that not all children view their parents as role models, so they are less likely to be influenced by them. They may not seek guidance from their parents and instead, they may seek guidance from their peers and other people, so their parents may not be as important when it comes to their gender role.
The idea that peers could influence gender roles can be explained by Langlois and Downs’ study that was done in 1980. They found that when boys played with girl toys, they were more likely to be teased by other male peers. So peers are more likely to influence gender roles. Children, after they have reached a certain age, tend to spend more time with their peers, so does make sense that they are likely to be influenced by the way they are treated by their peers. For example, if a boy does something that other boys don’t usually do, it does make sense that the child is likely to be teased by other peers. This may affect them as they may stop from repeating that behaviour and this may make them start to act like other boys in order to fit in. The child’s gender role behaviour can be affected because they may end up avoiding doing anything that would be considered girlish.
However, it could be argued that not every child gets affected by their peers. Some children are not really bothered about whether they are teased in school or not because they may have been taught by their parents not to care about what other people think. So this may mean that those children who are taught not to care about what other people think about them are less likely to be influenced by peers, so their gender roles may not be caused by peers- they may be caused by their parents instead, so it could be argued that peers are not as important when it comes to a child’s gender role development.
Tannis Williams’ study carried out in 1985 could be used to explain the media’s influence on gender role behaviour. She studied three towns. One town was code-named Notel as no television signal was available there. Another town was called Unitel which only had TV channel available. Multitel had access to US channels. Williams found that children in Notel and Unitel had weaker sex-typed views than the children in Multitel. Two years after the introduction of TV in Notel, it was found that the children’s views had become significantly more sex-typed.
The study has got high ecological validity as it took place in a natural environment, so the results are likely to be applied in a real life situation. It could be argued that, based the results of this study, the media can influence gender roles because Notel children’s views became more sex-typed after the introduction of the television.
The study, however, is ethnocentric as it took place in Canada. This makes the results unable to be generalised because in different cultures or areas around the country, children may be brought up differently and are likely to behave differently. They may behave differently because they may be more influenced by their parents, so their parents may be more important than TV when it comes to their gender stereotypes. Also, it cannot be assumed that the TV causes the children’s gender stereotypes. There may be other factors that influence a child’s gender role development such as peers and education, so the media may not be as important when it comes to a child’s gender role development.
Education is likely to influence gender roles. Connell (1995) states that boys are slower to read than girls, more likely to drop out of education, be excluded and disciplined and taught in Special Needs programmes. This may be due to school factors that may influence their gender role behaviour. For example, because the school offers a gendered curriculum, this may cause problems to the children if, for instance, a girl decided to do a boyish subject. This may cause problems because the boys may feel that they are becoming feminine if they notice more girls also doing their subject. This may then lead them to dropping out of education or being excluded.
However, not all children are bothered about the education, so it cannot be assumed that all children’s gender roles will be influenced by education- some children may not even care about whether girls do the same subjects as them or not, so it could be argue that education may not always be important when it comes to a child gender role development. The children who are not influenced by education may develop gender roles from their parents or peers or the media.