The last two things I have to say about parenting styles.
|Gender Development in Early Childhood: How Boys will be Boys and Girls Learn to be Girls|
ANOTHER TRUE STORY
Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, the McMartin Preschool case was in the news every day (kind of like the impeachment hearings or, a couple of years ago, the O.J. Simpson trial). Because it was located fairly close to where we lived, and because most of us had small children, my fellow students and I became somewhat paranoid about child sexual abuse. So, when the student next to me in class commented that her three-year-old had come home from preschool and said,
"I know all about the differences between boys and girls,"
those of us sitting next to her gasped,
The mother laughed and said,
"That's what I thought, too, but instead of saying anything about penises and vaginas, she went through this whole thing about how'Boys play with firetrucks and girls play with dolls. Boys play in the sandbox and girls play in the housekeeping area. Girls wear dresses and boys don't. Boys are doctors and girls are nurses.'
So, by age three, this young lady had learned gender roles.
Gender roles are “attitudes and activities that a society links to each sex.” These roles are closely related to gender stereotyping-- a prejudiced description of who ‘men’ are and ‘women’ are. Think about the last statement she said, "Boys are doctors and girls are nurses." This is particularly interesting because this little girl's mommy happens to be a doctor.
This is NOT, NOT, NOT! the same thing as gender identity. Gender identity is knowing whether you are a boy or a girl.Gender roles are your conceptions of how a boy or girl should act and be.
SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT EFFECTS ON GENDER ROLES
How I found out that I am not as important as I thought
I used to think, back before I had children and therefore knew everything about how to raise them correctly, that I couldraise a child unaffected by social stereotypes. MY daughter was not going to be restricted. MY daughter was not going to wear dresses. MY daughter was not going to sit at a table pretending to sip tea while the boys were having a good time climbing the jungle gym and running around the playground.
As your textbook says, peers and adults reward behavior they perceive as gender appropriate and punish behavior they see as gender inappropriate. I was an engineer, for God's sake! I didn't buy my daughter ANYTHING pink. She had
firetrucks and building blocks and a thousand legos. I took her to the gym with me every day. She crawled on the judo
mat. She did pull-ups on the bars. I didn't let her watch MTV or most movies or most TV because I thought they
portrayed women as objects or helpless. For years, we did not have a TV.
Her grandma bought her every pink outfit they sold at Dayton's. Her aunt gave her a Cabbage Patch Doll. The other
girls at preschool invited her to join them in the housekeeping corner. The boys did not invite her to join them on the
jungle gym. She wears dresses now, and make-up, and is far more reluctant to speak her mind than I think is a good
thing. She is also far too concerned about being thin, and does not show much interest in sports, even though she has
tremendous athletic ability. When her sisters demonstrate gender inappropriate behavior, such as playing soccer with the boys at recess every day, or being overweight, or not concerned about their appearance, she is highly critical.
Is the moral of this story that you cannot have any effect? No. For example, I think my daughters have all learned to
have higher goals than girls considered in my day. One wants to be a novelist and live in Paris because she thinks that
will be a better place to write. Another is seriously exploring careers now, and is considering diplomacy or journalism. A third wants to be a marine biologist and is attending a magnet school for science. They all know they are expected to do well in every subject, including math and science. The moral is that you cannot make your children into the image that you want. Society - their peers, teachers, television and movies - all have an effect. Yes, we need to work with our children, but if we are really serious about reducing gender roles, we need to work on changing society, too.
I am not a tremendous activist - having four children doesn't leave lots of spare time. I don't buy, or allow them to buy, anything which I think is disrespectful towards women, the leaves out a lot of popular rap CDs their friends have and they don't. When I witness sexual harassment, for example, a group of boys making sexual remarks to a girl, I speak up and tell them to stop it. It's just a little every day, but, I think that's how a lot of changes happen in the world, not world leaders making a statement, but a million every day people doing things a little differently. That's my opinion.
SOUND BITES ON GENDER ROLE DEVELOPMENT
Your textbook has a lot of information on this topic, and we do need at some point (possibly now!) to move on to the next topic, which is middle childhood. So, I just want to throw out a few last pieces of information.
- Fathers are key in gender role development. Boys who have a father in the home, especially one with whom they have a good relationship, show more appropriate masculinity. That is, they are appropriately assertive, but not too aggressive, etc. Boys who do not have a good male role model tend to either be too aggressive (and are more likely to commit illegal acts as a juvenile) or too passive. Bandura (remember the social learning theory guy?) has done some interesting research in this area.
- Girls who have a good relationship with their fathers tend to be more feminine. The exception to this is when the daughter is the oldest of all girls or an only child. In this case, fathers may transfer the attention and expectations they have for sons to their daughter. A fascinating book that looks at this topic is Women at the Top. It is a study of women CEOs. Interestingly, all of them cited their FATHER as a role model.
- It is not necessarily recommended that you completely shield your child from all gender stereotypes, because they are going to have to live in society. Little boys who play with dolls in the first grade are likely to endure a lot of teasing from other kids in their class.
- Gender roles are enforced more strongly for boys than girls, and more by men (particularly fathers) than women. One survey I did several years in a row with students in developmental psychology simply asked what toys they would pick for a girl or boy (they were given a selection of girls', boys' and neutral (e.g., a teddy bear) toys. Male students were always significantly much more likely to pick a gender-appropriate toy than female students. Also, it was not uncommon for a boy's toy, e.g., a small football, to be picked for a girl, but almost no one (and NEVER any males) picked a doll or other girl's toy for a boy.
- At many schools, it is common for children to be told they can bring a favorite toy to their first day of kindergarten. Would you allow your little girl to bring a truck, if that was her favorite toy? Almost all students say "yes". Would you allow your little boy to bring a Barbie? Almost all students say "no", and the few students who say "yes" are almost invariably males.
SOCIAL INFLUENCES ON GENDER ROLE: AN EXAMPLE
My friend's husband died when her little boy was six months old. He had no relatives nearby and was raised by his mother without a lot of male
influence. He was a very intelligent little boy, but quiet and not very active. He didn't mind playing with girls, and he did not get invited to other
children's house very often, so we invited him over to play. Living out in the country, we also didn't have many children over. He brought a
Little Mermaid doll, just like my six-year-old daughter had. He wanted to play dolls with her. My husband (Ron) did not say "What a sissy," or yell at him
or in any way treat the boy negatively. He just gave me an odd look, took the doll without comment and put it up on a high shelf. Then, Ron bent down
put his arm around the little boy and said, "Son, you and me are gonna go huntin' and leave all these women here. First, we need a gun."
So, the two of them went out to the workshop, where Ron let his "little buddy" draw out a gun on a piece of scrap wood and then he cut it out and
nailed it together. Next, they went four-wheeling, with each of them with their own gun, got out of the Bronco and took shots at coyotes. Ron even
showed his buddy how to shoot a real pistol.
As you read this example you can see positive reinforcement (in attention) for gender appropriate behavior, punishment (in withholding attention) for gender
inappropriate behavior, and role modeling of gender appropriate behavior.
Gender roles are a complex and interesting issue which we don't have lots of space to devote to right here. However, I highly recommend you look at some of the following links just for your own information.
Nonverbal communication by gender and culture. This is a short student's paper I found on the Internet reflecting on a chapter in a book he had read for a course. The book is called Gendered Lives, by the way. It is quite good.
Children's books showing non-traditional roles: Since much of what children learn about gender roles happens in the early childhood years, it might be nice to include in the classroom some books which question those. The only one on this list I have read is William's Doll. I thought it was quite good, and just at a child's level. If you have read any of these, click here to send email and let me know what you thought about the book.
Women's role according to some churches: This link includes quotes from the Bible to define men's and women's roles. I do not agree with all of it. The web page is from the Faith Bible Church. The reason I included it is I do think it is important that we consider the perspectives of other cultures and groups. Diversity does not just mean including the views of different groups you agree with. Click here to send email about what you think of this view of gender roles.
Click here to go to the quiz on social development in early childhood. Be sure you have read chapters seven and eight first. (Remember that the discussion of gender role development was in chapter seven.)
Click here to panic and go back to the home page.