Gender Identity


Social learning theory regards gender identity and role as a set of behaviours that are learned from the environment.  The main way that gender behaviours are learned is through the process of observational learning.  Children observe the people around them behaving in various way, some of which relate to gender.  They pay attention to some of these people (models) and encode their behaviour.  At a later time they may imitate the behaviour they have observed.  They may do this regardless of whether the behaviour is gender appropriate or not but there are a number of processes that make more likely that child will reproduce the behaviour that its society deems appropriate for its sex.  First the child is more likely to attend to and imitate those people it perceives as similar to itself.  Consequently, it is more likely to imitate behaviour modeled by people the same sex as it is.  Second, the people around the child will respond to the behaviour it imitates with either reinforcement or punishment.  It is likely that the child will be reinforced for acting in gender appropriate ways and punished or ignored for gender inappropriate behaviour.  Third, the child will also have observed the consequences of other people’s behaviour and will be motivated to imitate the behaviour it has seen reinforced and avoid imitating the behaviour it has seen punished.

Kohlberg’s Cognitive Developmental Theory

The basic principle of the theory is that child’s understanding of gender develops with age; as part of the theory, Kohlberg identified three stages in gender development.

The first is gender identity which happens at about 2 years of age, and it is where the child recognizes they are male or female and other people are as well.

The next stage happens at about 4 years and is called Gender Stability and the child now understands that their gender is fixed and will be male/female when they’re older.

Finally is Gender constancy which happens between 5 and 7 years and is the stage at which the child understands that cosmetic changes will not alter sex.  For example, a girl wearing jeans is still female.

Gender schema theory suggests that early childhood development is influenced heavily by the ideas and concepts about what maleness or femaleness means in a particular society.

Through the process of assimilation to a given gender, one will internalize gendered identity and will behave according to the societal norms given to that gender identity.  It explains how a child’s environment can influence the gender  role development.

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