Essay: Gender Roles

Pages: 6 (1967 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … gender roles is one of the most important areas of human development. The process begins at birth with the sex of the child and how the child develops from that point forward will be influenced by his or her physical sexuality regardless of what turns the future might hold. Gender role development is a highly controversial subject which is highly affected by a variety of factors and has attracted the attention of researchers and scholars for many years. The reasons for this are several but include the fact that one's sexual identity is a significant part of everyone's overall identity and affects how each of us interacts with each other and with the environment. Who we interact with; what toys we play with; the classes that we choose in school; and what careers we ultimately choose are all affected by our sexual identity. In fact, and entire field of psychology, developmental, has emerged to study this phenomena and has fostered the age old controversy, nature vs. nurture, and has attempted to determine which factor is more significant. In making this determination, researchers and scholars have examined whether gender roles and sex differences are determined by biology or environment and how the two factors interact to affect human gender development.

II. Literature Review

As one might expect, the literature on this subject is often related to the study of genes and their effect on sexual identity or related to how one is a product of his or her environment. Too often the outcome of such study is determined by the educational background of the researcher and in one such study, British author Michael Rutter, examined this very issue in his book entitled, Genes and behavior: nature -- nurture interplay explained (Rutter, 2006). Rutter begins his journey by examining the influence of leading geneticists such Mendel, Haldane, Pearson and Fisher and moves quickly to review some of the twin and adoptee studies that have been done. Rutter is very direct in his criticism that such studies have done little to clarify the issue of nature vs. nuture. Similarly, Rutter draws the same conclusion when reviewing the various articles that examine the issue from the environmental point-of-view. Leaving aside his natural bias which is in the field of biology, Rutter openly admits that there is a definable correlation between environment and sexual identity but that, like the genetic studies on the same subject, there remains a great deal of work to do before any specific conclusions can be attained.

In a similar study, which is related more to the influences of birth parents vs. The influence of life parents, a group of psychologists examined how such influences determined the identity of the children that were the subjects of the study. Although this study, published in the February 2000 issue of American Psychologist was not limited to the gender issue, but its findings are consistent with most studies on this issue (Collins, 2000). As these researchers were not biologists, their study focused on the environmental effect and their conclusion was that environmental influences on child development are neither as unambiguous as earlier studies suggested nor as insubstantial as critics claim.

These two studies indicate the current status of the research in the area of gender role development. Despite the fact that the issue has been heavily researched by biologists, psychologists, sociologists and numerous other educational disciplines there has been no consensus developed as to what factors are most definitive in determining how individuals develop their gender roles. The undeterminative nature of these studies and the willingness of professionals in the field to admit that studies do not clarify the issue is highly revealing of the current state of the controversy.

III. Commentary

An interesting aspect of the issue of nature and nurture and their effect on gender role development is an understanding the distinction between sex and gender. In the nature-nurture controversy, scholars identify sex as the actual physical makeup of individuals that identify them as either male or female. An individual's sex is determined by actual genetic makeup, brain organization, and external genitalia. Gender, however, as evidenced by behavior, roles assumed, and personality are much more dependent on environmental factors and how these characteristics are developed is the subject of most studies in this area. Obviously, there is considerable overlap between sex and gender and both must be considered in any conclusive study.

The various studies are in agreement that the years from two to six are most determinative in the development of gender roles. Similarly, they all agree that gender differences between boys and girls in the first year of life are minimal. It is during this time, however, that environmental features begin to have their effect. Little boys are bounced harder and roughhoused while the studies indicate that parents talk to their little girls more. The studies also indicate that both parents pay more attention to the emotional expressions of their daughters and that fathers spend more time with their infant sons than they do their daughters. Boys are dressed in blue and girls in pink and so the socialization begins (Stern, 1989).

By the time children reach the age of two they are beginning to view themselves as either male or female. After all, they have been treated in accordance with their sex since their first day on earth and such treatment must have its effect. During this time, play styles and behavior begin to display themselves and parents reinforce behavior that is consistent with traditional gender roles and discourage behavior that is not gender consistent. For example, boys are expected to play with balls and trucks while girls are expected to play with dolls.

Gender socialization does not end when children finally exit the home and begin to attend school. Boys tend to gravitate toward boy oriented activities which involve high energy and exuberance while little girls tend to engage in quieter and less active behavior. There are exceptions but, as a rule, particularly in the earlier ages, the gender specific behavior remains consistent (Maccoby, 1998).

It is in the teenage years that experts believe that gender related behaviors began to diverge (Erikson, 1968). It is during these years that teenagers begin to question who and what they are and teenagers begin to test the restrictions posed by the gender roles that they had grown up being expected to fulfill. It is at this point that the issue of nature or nurture begins to emerge. It is at this point that nature factors such genetic makeup and nurture factors such as environment begin to take their effect and the debate begins as to which factors control how an individual develops. No less than an authority than John Hopkins University urologist/psychiatrist William Reimer epitomizes the confusion and uncertainty that surrounds the gender development field. Reimer began his career believing that gender was inborn but has, because of his clinical experience and research, adapted his opinion to the point that he now believes that individuals seem to know what their gender should be regardless of any genetic information they may possess or what their life experiences might be (Hendricks, 2000).

Recently, the highly respected historian and philosopher Evelyn Fox Keller published a small book in which she addressed the nature-nurture debate. In her book, The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture, Keller suggests that the debate between the influence of genes and environment in the nature-nurture is largely irrelevant and that the time has come to refocus the argument and not treat the situation as an either/or matter (Keller, 2010). Instead, she argues that it is time for experts in the field to begin considering both factors as being inseparable and both playing important functions in the determination of gender roles. She points out that treating nature and nurture as if they are separate dynamics in gender development is an archaic idea that emerged in the late 19th century and that it is time that researchers stop treating them as distinct. By doing so, new theories can be developed and research examining the issue from a new perspective may result in findings that are supported by the data.

The issue of gender development and whether nature or nurture plays a more significant role has intrigued researchers, scholars, and academics for many years (Colt, 1998). Yet, even with all the advances that have been made in genetics, DNA research, and psychological testing and observation the issue remains unresolved (Allen, 2001). The ideas suggested by Evelyn Fox Keller that those interested in the subject take a new approach and abandon the idea that one or the other has to control gender development is a good one. The current trend appears to be toward adopting a view that both nature and nurture play a significant role and that discriminating one influence over the other is not possible. Even the most respected experts in the field lean toward this viewpoint and, until such time as a definitive study can demonstrate otherwise,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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