There are many stereotypical ideas of how males and females should act; however it is important to consider why people conform to these and why such sex typed behaviour is present.
Psychologists such as Kohlberg claim that a child’s sex role concepts are created by their own active structuring of it’s own experiences, this is called the cognitive developmental theory. Kohlberg states that children relate to same sex models as they have already developed a consistent gender identity and find it rewarding to behave in the same way as someone of the same sex. Kolhberg argues that children go through three stages before they achieve gender identity: the first of these is during the child’s second and third year, when both sexes are aware of their sex but believe it is possible to change, later the child realises that sex is stable over a period of time however does not realise that sex still remains the same in different situations, for example, changing clothes. Thirdly, the child realises sex is stable over time and situations, Kohlberg called this ‘gender consistency’
A study by Slabey and Frey supported Kohlberg’s cognitive development theory by testing the prediction that children who have reached the stage of gender consistency will pay more attention to the behaviour of same sex models than children at earlier stages of gender development. They found that children who were high in gender consistency showed greater tendency to the same sex models than those with low gender consistency. In a cross-cultural study Munroe, Shimmin and Munroe found children in several cultures had the same sequences of stages, this consistency shows that gender stereotypes are not completely due to the media but the cognitive development a child goes through when growing up. Kohlberg’s theory, although having strong evidence supporting it fails to recognise that gender behaviour doesn’t always depend on gender consistency, and doesn’t take external factors such as reward and punishment.
Another Psychological theory of gender development was developed by Freud. Freud argued that during a boys early years they develop an Oedipus complex, this is where they have sexual desires for their mother alongside an intense fear for their father, girls however resolve the crisis at a similar age with the Electra complex (penis envy) this term is used to describe the process a girl goes through when they identify less with their mother.
According to Freud as the child grows older these conflicts are resolved as the superego balances the child’s moral views, Freud claims identification plays a major role in development of gender stereotypes. An adaptation of Freud’s theory has been offered by Chodrow who claims girls develop a sense of gender indentity based on their close relationship with their mother, by doing this they associate femininity with feelings of closeness. In contrast, boys have to move away from their relationship with their mother in order to develop gender indentity.
As we can see from Freud’s psychoanalytical theory the is no empirical research to support it and no evidence supporting the Oedipus and Electra complex’s. Freud’s argument that boy’s identification with his father would be greater if his father was a threatening one has been heavily criticised by Mussun and Rutherford who found boys are much more likely to identify with a loving supporting father than an overbearing one.
Freud focused on the influence of the same-sex parent in influencing gender development in children; by doing this he ignored the impact of the opposite-sex parent, single-parent families and other members of the family along side biological and social factors.
When assessing gender development we cannot discard factors such as biological differences. It is a scientific fact that boys and girls produce hormonal differences at an early age. Young, Goy and Phoenix gave testosterone to pregnant monkeys, this produced a greater aggressiveness and higher frequency of rough and tumble play in the mother’s female offspring. Research evidence has shown individuals accept their sex and lean appropriate gender role behaviours in association with the gender assigned at birth, for example, some babies have testicular feminising syndrome, these are males but don’t respond to testosterone, therefore they develop a female body shape, a study by Goldwyn shows how controversial gender types can be, a study of a women who found it impossible to become pregnant consulted a doctor and found out she was biologically male, although the women was affected by biological factors as she was exposed to male hormones, social factors such as the act she was raised as a girl need to be considered.
Most evidence implies that biological factors have a role in gender development, therefore it can not be ruled out, however they only provide a partial explanation and do not account for the substantial changes in gender roles in western society in recent years, because of these social factors need to be considered.
To assess the effects society has on gender roles, the social learning theory needs to be explored, Bandura expanded the social learning theory to include ‘self efficacy’ this refers to the child’s assessment of its own ability to cope with situations, this new adaptation of the social learning theory is called the ‘social cognitive theory’. For Bandura a child’s experiences construct their gender development, in other words, children learn to behave in such a way that it is rewarded and avoid behaviour that carry punishment (such as a comment like ‘you look like a girl in that shirt’ to a boy) This theory suggest children learn behaviour from observations of various models of the same sex, and can also be applied to ideas in the media. The effects of media stereotypes were observed by Williams who found the impact of TV was stronger in developing countries where children have relatively less information to influence their lives.
In conclusion we can see that there is no real clear cut explanation to why gender roles appear, to completely understand the cause of gender roles a multi-perspective must be used combing the issues raised by psychologist such as Kohlberg and Freud yet also account for the effects social factors such as media and society has on a child’s development.