Professor S. Ragan
18 June 2018
The development of gender identity is a notion explored greatly through the social sciences, with emphasis being placed on anthropology, philosophy, psychology and sociology. This essay is going to discuss the development of gender identity through psychological works, with reference to the nature/nurture debate. In order to do this, the essay will be broken down into specific sections. Initially, the themes outlined in the title will be individually explored to offer their definitions.
Secondly, the essay will move on to look at the varying schools of thought within psychology surrounding gender identity development, where the essay will cite some key thinkers and their theories. Thirdly, the essay will move on to combine the notion of gender identity development with the nature/nurture debate to discuss and express any correlations between them. The essay shall then be wrapped up by way of a summary of the undertaken works, as a way of creating a conclusion. The essay shall now explore the themes within the title, to offer definitions.
Gender, in its common usage is the term used to denote the distinction males and females in accordance with anatomical sex. The term is often used interchangeably with the term ‘sex’ when discussing anatomical differences, however, depending on the approach taking, the definition of gender changes. For example, sociologically, gender refers to the socialized attributes of being masculine, feminine or androgynous, which is in keeping with the notion of one’s own ‘gender identity’.
Gender identity, is considered to be subjectively experienced, rather than being physically acted out. The nature/nurture debate is the endeavor to discover the extent to which human behavior is the result of hereditary or innate factors or are they determined by environmental and learning factors. Historically, each side of the debate has had its support, however, it is difficult to assess the contributions of each as both interact throughout human development. The essay shall now tackle the psychological theories surrounding gender identity development.
Psychodynamic theory is a label given to all psychological systems, and theories, which place emphasis upon the processes of change and development. Stemming from the works of Sigmund Freud, psychodynamic theory takes in to account both nature and nurture in the development gender identities. The nature side of the debate is represented through the innate sexual drives possessed by all human beings that motivate much of human behavior. However, these sexual drives do not outwardly influence gender identity development.
Instead the nurturing element arises through the phallic stage of Freudian psychosexual development. In this stage the Childs resolution of the Oedipus complex in boys and the Electra complex in girls identifies the beginning of appropriate gendered behaviors. The Oedipus complex is a label that describes the attraction between a male child and his mother. The Electra complex labeled the attraction between a female child and her father. The essence of these discoveries was the sexual attraction to the opposite sex and the hostility toward the same sex.
The premise is that the child will take on board the patterns of behavior, appropriate to and reinforce masculine and feminine behaviors to the child. Social learning theory is a psychological approach to the study of social behaviors. The premise of this theory is that of role observation, and the mimicking of behaviors, known as operant conditioning and vicarious learning, respectively. Applied to gender development by Bandura and Michel; Social learning theory stresses many important factors in the development of gender identity; these include reinforcement, observational learning, modelling and imitation.
Social learning theory incorporates both notions of primary and secondary socialization, including parents, peers and the mass media as important for gender identity development. Cognitive development theories stem from the works of Jean Piaget. Piaget was one of the first psychologists to look at the way in which children think and reason. Despite moves in the 1960’s and 70’s to reevaluate his theories, many of his basic principles and assumptions have been empirically supported to be correct.
Piaget’s works identified that children look only at a superficial level, focusing on surface appearances rather than looking for more depth. Piaget’s works were greatly extended by Kohlberg to explain the development of gender concepts – Kohlberg argued that an important factor in a child’s development of gender concepts is the acceptance that it is fixed and unchanging – regardless of surface appearances. Kohlberg advocates that a child must develop through three stages to understand gender – initially children do not use gender in any way, to categories themselves or others.
The first stage (1) occurs at the age of two years, at this point a child can consistently an accurately label themselves and others as male or female, however, this categorization is based on physical appearances and symbols such as clothing and facial hair. Stage 1 is regarded as ‘gender identity’. Stage 2 begins at the age of 3 – 4 years, a child now understands that that if someone is male or female then there were previously male or female and will continue to be male or female, therefore the child realizes that gender is stable across time.
Stage 2 is regarded as ‘gender stability’. Despite the child’s appreciation of gender stability, they still place emphasis on symbols as masculine or feminine – for example toys, if a boy is playing with a doll, a toy recognized as female then the child is unable to determine whether the child is male or female, the resolution of this comes into effect in stage 3. Occurring at the ages of around 5 years, the child realizes that gender is constant and consistent across both time and situations, the child now realizes that gender is an underlying and unchanging aspect of identity.
Stage 3 is known ‘gender constancy’. As well as theories arising from Psychodynamic psychology, social learning theory and cognitive theories, there are also notions for the biological perspective and humanistic theory. The theoretical approaches above support differing approaches in relation to the nature/nurture debate. The essay will now explore these to express their standpoints and cite any correlation. In brief, these theories assume different positions within the nature/nurture debate as follows.
Psychodynamic theory stands very much in the middle, accepting the importance of both innate and environmental factors in the development of gender identities, Freud famously quoted ‘anatomy is destiny’, yet speaks extensively of the importance of relationships with the same-sex parent. Social Learning Theory is in keeping with the nurture side of the debate, promoting the importance of all environmental factors, through reinforcement and modelling of acceptable gender appropriate behaviors.
Outlining the importance of socialization in the primary and secondary through peers and the mass media. Cognitive Development Theories are in keeping with the nature side of the debate, where, in Kohlberg’s view, gender development occurs through the resolution of three stages – where at the end of stage three the child is able to determine that gender is an underlying and unchanging aspect of identity. In conclusion, this essay has discussed the development of gender identities.
To summarize the works undertaken, initially definitions were offered of the themes in the essay title, which then moved on to discuss the psychological works of Psychodynamics, Social Learning Theory and Cognitive Development Theories, writing in relation to the nature/nurture debate. Despite there being many more theories of gender identity development, certain aspects were omitted in order to reflect on different positions in the nature/nurture debate.
As well as issues such as sexual orientation and androgyny were also over looked. Despite strong arguments arising from each theory, it is difficult to accurately and empirically deduce the exact role of nature or nurture in the development of gender identities as both are constantly interacting throughout one’s own life, and at a time of radical social changes), with immense family diversity including single parent and same sex families.
When compared to the rest of the world the U. S. can be considered somewhat “liberal” in the way gender roles and sexuality are interpreted within its society. A hundred years ago maybe even just a few decades ago women in the U. S. were confined to limited roles at home and in the economy and lacked the civil liberties that they enjoy today. It was the advent of World War 2 and the creation of birth control that helped to liberalize women within the U. S. and helped them stand on equal footing as men.
This revolution for women unfortunately did not spread as popular sentiment to all countries. In places such as the Middle East, China and Africa even in certain parts of Eastern Europe and Russia women are still marginalized and worse yet are at times treated as nothing more than assets or objects. Since women and men enjoy similar roles within the U. S. it must be mentioned that the U. S. also happens to enjoy a sort of sexual liberalism wherein men and women are free to express themselves in any sexual manner that they want.
This has resulted in a diverse sexual orientation present within the country wherein heterosexual relationships coexist beside those of homosexuality, transvestism, transsexualism and other such orientations. This is due to the freedoms given to them by the U. S. constitution however such liberalness is unfortunately also not present in other cultures. Within cultures such as that present with the Middle East, Africa, China and notably Japan a culture of conformity is present wherein those who do not conform are socially ostracized not only from society itself but at times from their very family and friends (Thorson-Smith 2010).
This paper seeks to explore the reasons behind the liberties enjoyed by women today in the U. S. , the different trends in sexual liberation as well as seeks to compare the state of gender roles and sexuality of the U. S. and that of other countries. Societal trends of equal status of men and women World War 2 Though it may not be immediately obvious World War 2 can be considered one of the tipping points wherein women were able to gain the liberties that they enjoy today. Before the war started most if not next to all forms of labor were considered a man’s world.
Women were rigidly placed into two roles such as being school teachers, nurses or secretaries without being given the chance to prove themselves in other forms of industry. It was when the war started that the men that worked in factories and other forms of industry men were drafted into wartime service. It was due to this sudden lack of labor and a shortage of income that women had to take up the jobs that were left behind in the factories or in other industries in order to support their families and support the war effort. It was the arrival of women to labor force that changed the face gender roles within the U.S.
Due to their new status as the driving force behind America’s economy women felt empowered by their new roles as providers for their families. After the war was over and the men tried to get their old jobs back they found that the women now on possession of them refused to go back to their old roles and give up their new jobs. As a result this was the start of an era of equal opportunities for both genders in the workplace (Schultz 2010). When women were introduced to the work force the resulting consequences were that they started marrying earlier on in life in order to concentrate on their work.
They relied less and less on their husbands after the end of the war and as a result the rate of divorce in the U. S. climbed to unprecedented levels and gave rise to the term “single mother”. This was due to their belief that women could live by themselves without the need for a husband (Schultz 2010). Advent of the Pill With the creation of the contraceptive pill women became more empowered to choose when they could have children and who they could have it with while enjoying the benefits of having worry free sex with their partners (Fine 2007).
This resulted in women being able to pursue more advanced professional careers since child rearing could come at a more convenient time for the woman’s career. Not only that but as a result of this women delved into their sexuality more and more resulting in the development of a sexual culture wherein sex is was no longer discussed nor done behind locked doors and whispered conversations rather it was freely mentioned and became a popular topic (Fine 2007). Working household It was only in the past few decades that the concept of both parents working became the norm rather than the exception.
It was usually the case in the early 1900’s and well before that men were the providers of the household bringing in money while women stayed at home to fix meals, take care of the kids and make sure the house is in order. With the advent of the Great Depression in the U. S. as well as the subsequent changes in the economy the need for both parents to work became more and more of a necessity (Schultz 2010). Combine this with the arrival of women to the workforce due to World War 2 the result being women were begrudgingly allowed by their husbands to work for the sake of having enough income for the family
Comparison to other Cultures Though women in the U. S. currently enjoy a nearly equal status as men in the workforce women in other countries are not as fortunate. In the Middle East especially in countries like Saudi Arabia the concept of women working is still an alien one. There women are expected to conform to the traditions of having to keep their faces covered and to stay within the confines of their homes (Scott 2010). Though this attitude may be changing due to the recent economic downturns which have forced people to change their views in order to survive there is still a certain level of discrimination.
Women in countries such as Africa, Russia, Japan and the Middle East are all too often relegated to lesser roles while the men take the more preeminent ones despite assurances of sexual equality in the workforce by these countries (Scott 2010). Not only that but sexual liberalism in the Middle East is frowned upon, even resulting in violence due to strict cultural boundaries placed on women there. Sexual Liberalism in the U. S. Sexuality in the U. S. is among the most liberal in the world with the topic of sex being almost common place.
Popular media has promoted a view wherein sexual liberalism is a perfectly natural thing to do and as such should be encouraged (Fine 2007). The result is the near obsession of the population with sex with different products promoting virility in bed, women and men alike undergoing plastic surgery in order to look more sexually appealing and finally the obsession with the idea of beauty of making sure you look thin and athletic (Fine 2007). This has resulted in a culture that values aesthetics over that of mentality and attitude.
It is this culture of sexual liberty that has given rise to numerous groups practicing homosexuality, transvestism, transsexualism and other forms of sexual liberation (Zerilli 2010). Though still somewhat frowned upon by society these groups are still begrudgingly allowed to do as they please since it is their right to do so (Zerilli 2010). Comparison with other countries. Comparing the case of the U. S. with that of conservative Middle East and Japan it is obvious that there is a great divergence in the sexual liberation granted to its citizens. Japan can be considered a sexually liberated country only behind closed doors.
This is due to the fact that overt displays of public affection or sexuality are usually frowned upon by general society and the Japanese cultural attitude of conformity to the ways of the general public enforces this. Compared to the U. S. where overt forms of physical intimacy and affection are common place shows the just how different the U. S. is from the Japan. When talking about public displays of affection nowhere is this more frowned upon than the Middle East. Due to their cultural traditions of inhibiting sexual behavior public displays of affection there are not only frowned upon but can result in jail terms and stoning.
Conclusion The gender roles and views on sexuality in the U. S. are definitely different than those of some countries. The creation of single mothers, women in the workplace and sexual liberalism are all concepts which started in the U. S. and are only now slowly being integrated into other societies. As such it can be said that those living within the U. S. , especially women, are lucky to be able to enjoy an environment of freedom that so many other people are unable to enjoy themselves.