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Gender Roles And Stereotypes

This print version free essay Gender Roles And Stereotypes.

Category: Social Issues

Autor: reviewessays 18 February 2011

Words: 2564 | Pages: 11

Multitudes of studies have examined the effects of societal and parental influences on

children's own beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes. This paper, which is an

elaboration of a group project** created by the Gender Boundaries Group* conducted in

Eugene Matusov's Fall 1996 class, Psychology 100G, studies the research surrounding

gender roles and stereotypes perpetuated by parents onto their children via modeling,

clothing, toys, and television exposure, and its effects have been considered in an

attempt to encourage a gender neutral environment.

*The Gender Boundaries Group consists of: Barbara Burns, Dave Fellner, Elizabeth

Hom, Deborah Ingram, Edward Rivera, Lorraine Villoria, and Mary Zinsmeyer.

**My specific contribution to the group project centered on societal influences on

children and is included in the text of this report as the second paragraph. My extension

of the group project, this final paper, includes research conducted via the World Wide

Web as well as a section on androgynous gender role orientation.


Do parents inadvertently expose their children to their preconceived notions of

gender-stereotypical expectations and roles? Gender roles and boundaries can be

comforting and provide guidelines for people; however, these roles are both limiting and

constraining in today's rapidly changing society. Infants begin with many similarities; they

are born incompetent-- needing comfort, food, and warmth from a capable adult.

(Barbara Rogoff lecture, 11/19/96, UCSC) While some studies and theories have found

that gender differences are based in biology and evolution,

(http://fnord.dur.ac.uk/teaching/1childdev/h7ac_details.html) socialization, both parental

and societal, creates gender differences that become thoroughly entrenched in our

children. This paper will focus specifically on how steretypes prevalent in socialization,

modeling, clothing, room decor, toys, and televion influence children as well as the

introduce the benefits of creating a non-sex stereotyped environment.

Gender stereotypes in infants are perpetuated by society's expectations and

perceptions. Societal influences, preconceived notions and expectations enforce

already existing gender stereotypes. Society's gender stereotypes increase during the

preschool and childhood years, reach a plateau, and decrease in adolescence (Vogel,

Lake, Evans, & Hildebrandt Karraker, 1991). In the study of forty-eight children, their

mothers, and 16 college students, gender based stereotypes influenced interaction with

infants which in turn socialized the infants to conform to their respective gender role.

Ratings of the female infants centered on their small size and beauty. Male infants are

judged usually according to their ability and intelligence. While evidence of gender

stereotyping in infant ratings are becoming less dominant after adolescence, sex

stereotyping in adults' behavior towards infants has changed little. Obviously, society

shapes the gender stereotypes that both children and adults hold.

Parental expectations put pressure on offspring to perform in like ways to gender

specific behaviors. The formations of gender boundaries were found in the verbal

descriptions for newborn infants. In an early study, evidence was found to support the

theory that parents respond to their children in different ways according to the child's

sex, from gender stereotyped birth activities, clothing, to toys and bedroom decor

(Rubin, Provenzano, & Zella, 1974). This study also found that daughters were

described significantly different than sons, with adjectives of "little", "beautiful", "pretty",

"cute" and "resembling their mothers". The fathers were more extreme in stereotyping

their offspring than were the mothers. Twenty years later, in another study, white,

middle-class parents were asked to describe their newborn children using Rubin's

nine-point adjective scale and their perceptions and expectations of the new infant

(Hildebrandt Karraker, Vogel, Lake, 1995). The parents in this study showed no gender

stereotyping in verbal descriptions of the newborns, although some limited stereotyping

in ratings was observed. Specifically, parents described their daughters as finer

featured, less strong and more delicate than male babies. The mothers used fewer

terms than did the fathers.

These conflicting studies suggest that there may be decreasing expectations and

perceptions of gender specific behaviors by parents. In twenty-three studies reviewed

Stern and Karraker (1989), the strength and consistency of gender labeling was

evaluated. In each of the twenty-three studies, gender neutrally clothed infants were

labeled as "male" in some situations or "female" in other situations. The reactions of

both adults and young children towards the infants were recorded. Results indicate that

adults' reactions to the infants were not affected by their gender labels while young

children's reactions conformed to gender stereotypes. The inconclusiveness of these

studies is based on the fact that the time span between the two studies is about twenty

years and possible generational differences and evolving opinions surrounding gender

that occurred

within that time span.

Another way in which gender roles are instilled in children is via modeling and imitation.

Children learn how to behave through observation. Albert Bandura and Kay Bussy

conducted an experiment that demonstrated how sex-linked modeling can act as a

mechanism of sex role development. In one experiment (1984), 36 subjects (aged 29-68

months) were assigned randomly to a modeling group and a control group. These

subjects were selected based on gender constancy which stabilizes between ages four

and seven and occurs earlier and more often in cognitively advanced children

(http://fnord.dur.ac.uk/teaching/1childdev/h7ac_details.html). The same-sex models

would watch different videos with each individual child while seated in front of the

subject. The experiment showed that when children observed the videos with the

same-sex models, they exhibited behaviors and reactions (e.g. laughing, showing

agreement/disagreement, etc.) similar to those of the same-sex model. The experiment

also showed that the subject's level of gender constancy is irrelevant to gender role

development. Children pattern their behavior much earlier than they develop a sense of

gender constancy. This would signify that children learn to imitate their parents or the

adults around them earlier than than the time that they obtain a sense of gender


Clothing is an additional way in which parents cause gender boundaries to become

more salient. The color and style of the infant's clothing and their personal accessories

make a public announcement as to their baby's sex. In one study done with infants aged

five to twenty-five months, it was found that colors were commonly coordinated with

gender (Pomerleau, Bloduc, Malcuit, Cossette, 1990). Boys wore more blue, red, and

gray colored clothing while girls wore more pink. Additionally, personal accessories

helped to establish gender. Girls are commonly given pink pacifiers to use while boys

receive blue ones (Pomerleau et al., 1990). In another example that illustrates how

personal accessories label a child's sex, Sandra Bem describes the day her young son,

Jeremy, decided to wear barrettes to nursery school. A classmate determined and

insisted that Jeremy must be a girl because only girls wore barrettes. Finally,

exasperated, Jeremy pulled down his pants to offer proof of his sex. The other boy

replied, "Everybody has a penis, only girls wear barrettes". (Cole & Cole, 1993)

Parents establish gender salience by use of decorations in their child's rooms. In one

study done with families in well-to-do residential areas of Chapel Hill, North Carolina,

researchers indexed the contents of each child's room (Rheingold & Cook, 1975) It was

thought that the contents of the room would give a clue as to the parental behavior and

the formation of gender roles. In terms of decorations, boys' rooms were significantly

more likely to be decorated in animal motifs while girls' rooms were most likely to be

decorated with floral motifs, lace, fringe, and ruffles. In a more up-to-date study, the

researchers found that girls' rooms had more yellow bedding as opposed to boys'

rooms which were much more likely to have blue bedding and curtains (Pomerleau et

al., 1990). Overall, room decoration hasn't changed much for gender differences and

gender stereotyping are still evident.

When parents play with their children there are definite patterns that serve to reinforce

gender roles. According to the evidence gathered by Huston and O'Brien (1989), both

parents and children select the same sex-typed toys when they have the choice to do so.

The findings in this study suggest the following:

1. Parents showed subtle tendencies to respond more positively to and be more

involved with single-sex targeted toys rather than cross-sexed toys.

2. Stereotyped toys affect the nature of the parent-child interaction. With masculine toys

(e.g. trucks), parents would make animated sounds rather than offer verbal information.

With feminine toys, parents selected close proximity and more verbal interaction.

3. Neutral toys, puzzles and shape sorters, produced more positive and informative

verbal behavior from the parents when compared to other toys.

4. The effects observed in the experiment were generated from the types of toys and by

the parents' beliefs about play with each toy. Adults were also observed to allow girls to

play more often with dolls and more manipulative toys while boys were encouraged to

use sports equipment, tools and vehicles (http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html).

Parents tend to initiate more "rough and tumble" play, encouraging play fighting,

wrestling and chasing, with their sons than with their daughters

(http://fnord.dur.ac.uk/teaching/1childdev/n7ac_details.html) who are encouraged to play

house and engage other role playing situations. Girls' play seems to be more directed

and structured by adults (Carpenter, 1983), indicating that adults' stereotypical beliefs

influence young girls more often than they influence young boys.

While in the home, parents allow their children to watch between 3-4 hours of television

a day (Ruble, Balban, and Cooper, 1981). Television has the potential to have an

enormous impact on children, particularly toy commercials. Studies have shown that

commercials intensify gender boundaries, making gender categories more salient,

between boys and girls by producing toys made exclusively for each gender (Ruble et al,

1981). It is not the toys themselves that reinforce these boundaries, it is the way in which

they are presented. Toys for girls are usually presented in an indoor setting with soft

music playing in the background, usually with an adult present. Most often, the types of

toys that are featured include baby dolls, playhouses, princess and bride dolls, cooking

sets, and beauty items. Toys for boys are predominantly presented in an outdoor setting

without adult supervision, and with fast-paced music in the background. Toys featured

include fast cars, weapons, sports equipment, and construction sets. The emphasis in

commercials for girls' toys is on being--being a girlfriend, wife, mother, homemaker,

always being a source of comfort, and being a communication expert. The boys

commercials focus on doing--building, running, shooting, tackling, and exploring. Ruble

et al state that children want to play only with those playing with those toys that are

labeled as appropriate for their own gender. They further discussed that by playing with

gender appropriate toys, "... the type of toy or activity children spend time with ... affect

personality characteristics, such as compliance, cognitive development, and spatial and

verbal skills" (Servin and Connor, 1979) It is clear that the type of toy a child plays with,

and the types of commercials watched regarding gender appropriate toys, reinforce

gender boundaries between boys and girls.

As early as twenty-four hours after birth, parents already have differential expectations of

their children based on gender (Rubin, Provenzano, & Luria, 1974 in

http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.thtml).Any form of implicit stereotyping, whether it be

dressing children in specific colors or in the television shows that adults allow their

children to view, will be internalized in children at an early age. Often times, sex role

stereotypes are so engrained in a child's mind that even after exposure to different

attitudes and experiences, children will revert to the same stereotyped behaviors and

choices as before (Haslett, Geis, & Carter, 1992 in


Activities that adults encourage children to participate in alter the conceptions of gender

that the children hold. Parents have the strongest influence on gender role development

and seem to pass on, both overtly and covertly, their own beliefs about gender to their

children. Encouraging or even allowing young children to fall victim to gender

stereotypes preserves the society in which sex and gender constantly affect a child's

developing sense of self worth and self-esteem (http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html).

Granted gender roles provide a sense of security; however, they are also limiting and

perpetuate unfairness and negative attitudes within our society.

Children exposed to strict gender roles are often limited in their opportunities (Beal in

http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html). Young children who have been "taught" that girls

clean house or cook dinner while boys take out the garbage and mow the lawn tend to

link certain types of work or tasks to gender (Basow, 1992 in

http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html). These children limit themselves in that they do

not allow what innate qualities and urges they possess to be expressed. Emotionally,

boys and girls tend to imitate what is expected of them by society. "While all children

start out as emotionally responsive, by age 6 boys have learned to actively suppress

their emotions" (Park in http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr96/nuture2.html) Males and

females may feel the same emotions; however, their reactions are totally different. Men

tend to be passive while women are expressive when experiencing emotions. Following

gender roles and sex stereotypes not only suppress the emotions of children but also

suppresses their development.

Studies have shown that there are substantial benefits surrounding androgynous gender

role orientation (http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html). Higher self esteem, higher

levels of identity achievement, and more flexibility in dating and love relationships are

amongst the advantages of encouraging a non-gender stereotyped environment

(http://www.uakron.edu/hefe/parinf.html). The children exposed to these particular

households tend to be more knowledgeable about non-sex-typed occupations and

sustain the belief that their choices need not be hindered by their gender.

Gender boundaries and sex role stereotypes hinder the growth and potential of children

and people, in general. Yes, they are useful as guidelines and can be helpful in making

decisions; nonetheless, they are confining and must be used with great care and

reservation. Because of this, promoting an androgynous gender role environment would

produce an increasingly aware, progressive, and balanced society. Creating an

androgynous gender role environment requires both parents to break out of the sex role

stereotypes and engage in activities that aren't necessarily typical of their sex. This is

not an easy task for society already has such fierce gender role stereotypes; however,

the outcome of adopting a sex role stereotype free environment will be beneficial and

greatly advance the positions of both genders.




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