Gender Development (and a few last words on parenting)

The last two things I have to say about parenting styles.

  1. It is easier if you begin as an authoritative parent early on. I know someone who has three teenage daughters, who are pretty much out of control. He asked me, after many years of extremely permissive parenting, what I recommend he do to keep his daughters from using drugs, sleeping with strangers, stealing, and so on. I thought that was a rather sad question to be asking when your child is sixteen. That's why we discuss parenting in early childhood. (Don't worry, we'll get back to it in adolescence!).
  1. You can change. I would say that I used to be a permissive parent, particularly after my husband died. I pretty much gave the kids everything I could and disciplined them very little. After all, I felt bad for them that their father had died, plus I was exhausted most of the time from working two and three jobs, cleaning house, and doing all of the general child care - taking them to school, doctors' appointments, and so on. My children's behavior pretty much bore out the research. At 13, my daughter was drinking and partying hard, especially whenever I was out of town. My 10-year-old was putting on weight... it was all a disaster. I would say that my parenting style now is much more authoritative. This is, in large part, I think, due to having a supportive husband and having enough energy to devote to parenting now that I do not have to do everything myself. (I know what happened to Superwoman, by the way, she died - of exhaustion.) It was a long, hard struggle and change did not happen overnight. My children did not welcome an increase in structure and discipline with open arms. Three and a half years later, they are doing much better (again consistent with the research). From my experience, the earlier you change, the easier it is. I shudder to think how hard it would be with a sixteen or seventeen year old.
Gender Development in Early Childhood: How Boys will be Boys and Girls Learn to be Girls


    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,
"Oh, no!"
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.
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.


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.


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.