The process of the development of gender role identification involves three aspects:

1.  Gender Role Preference

2.  Gender Role Adoption, and

3.  Gender Role identification (Lynn, 1959) The child prefers attributes and objects associated with his\her sex, adopt these, and identifies one’s self as a member of that sex and sees others as different.

Gender Role Preference

It is the perception that the role of one sex is more desirable in comparison to the other. This preference begins at around 3 years of age and is quite firm and established by 5 years of age. This preference is commonly manifested in children’s preference for toys considered to be associated with the sex of the ones going to play with them; toys are seen as “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys”. Around 3 years of age girls prefer to play with dolls, doll’s house, playing house, tea cups etc. usually indoors. Boys on the other hand prefer to play more outdoors than indoors, and show preference for cars, trucks, and airplanes. Children younger than these do not seem to be bothered about the gender association of toys. In a study reported by Jacklin et al. (1973), a variety of toys were presented to one year old boys and girls, in the presence of their mothers. The toys included robots, stuffed animals, and a ferries wheel that was decorated with pink ribbons. No significant sex differences were found in the children’s preference for toys except that boys preferred robots; nor were the mothers’ selection of toys for boys and girls.

Gender Role Adoption

Displaying sex-typed or sex-related behaviors In this aspect children adopt observable, sex-related behaviors performed by members of their own sex. There are difference in gender role adoption by boys and girls. In case of girls, gender role adoption and gender role identification develops simultaneously with gender role identification. For boys the processes follow a sequence. In case of girls when they start exhibiting sex-typed behavior, at the same time they begin internalization of the female role and its related attributes (Williams, 1987). In a study reported by Ward, 1969, girls, 57 years of age, could perceive similarities between their mothers and themselves; same aged boys could not do so with reference their fathers.

Gender Role identification

Gender role identification incorporates the response characteristics of a gender role into one’s personality. In early childhood both boys and girls are closely attached to the mother, but development of gender identity requires boys to detach from the existing behavioral pattern. Gender role identification is easier for girls, since all they have to do is to elaborate the early parented identification. The boy has to step out of the early parental identification, learn and adopt the “masculine” role.

Gender Identity, Gender Roles and Socialization

Gender identity refers to children’s identification and acceptance of themselves as male or female. It is the “awareness developed in early childhood that one is male or female” (Papalia, Olds, and Feldman, 2001). Although used interchangeably, the terms “gender identity” and “gender roles” have a different connotation. Gender identity is more of an internal phenomenon, whereas gender roles pertain to observable behaviors typically associated with the two genders. Children may have developed gender identity but may not behave in a gender typical way.

Basic ingredients of gender identity

Certain elements have to be present, in order for a child to develop gender identity:

a.The awareness that human beings exist in two categories with separate labels i.e. males and females.

b.Males and females are different from each other in terms of their characteristics.

c.What behaviors or activities are undertaken by men and women?

d.The basic cognitive data or information about the basis on which the child fits into one category or the other.

Gender Identity in Early Infancy

Infants do not have a sense of gender identity; however parents usually set up the environment in such a manner that children, as they grow in age, are automatically steered toward developing accurate gender identity. Some research evidence suggests that even infants have some sense of gender typical or atypical behaviors. In one study 7, 9, and 12 month old infants could distinguish between male and female faces when showed their photographs. The distinguishing cue was the length of hair of the person (Fagot, and Leinbach, 1994; Leinbach and Fagot, 1993). Another study yielded some clues to suggest that 24 months old infants have some knowledge of the gender- typical or gender-atypical activities. Infants attended to those photographs for longer durations where people were performing gender-atypical activities (Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, and Eichstedt, 2002). 12 and 24 months old children were studied in another research that investigated their knowledge of gender- typical toys. It was reveled that girls demonstrated some such knowledge but not the boys (Serbin, Poulin- Dubois, Colburne, Sen and Eichstedt, 2001).

Beginning of the use of gender labels

When children start talking, they start using different words denoting gender.This is the beginning of gender-labeling. Children may make errors in their use of gender labels in the beginning e.g. a girl addressing herself as a boy or labeling boys as girls. This error may be found more commonly in languages like Urdu that treat not only people but also all objects and even events as male or female and grammar changes with the gender of the person or object being talked about. But children soon overcome this problem with the guidance of significant others.Gender-labeling has been observed to develop after 18 months of age. In a study by Fagot and Leinbach, (1989), no toddler under 18 months of age could pass the gender-labeling tasks.The gender-labeling task could be done successfully by few children 20 months olds (Levy, 1999). Most children are capable of correct gender-labeling by 24 months of age. Correct gender-labeling by half of the 27 months olds sampled has been reported in a study (Fagot and Leinbach, 1989). Another study found that 67% of two-year olds could use gender-labeling accurately. All 28 months olds have been reported to be successful in gender-labeling (Levy, 1999).

Knowledge of Gender-related Behavior, Traits and Attributes

Successful gender-labeling does not ensure that the child can successfully adopt and understand gender roles. Their labeling may not be based upon accurate cues of information; they may label a person as male or female considering his\her dress or haircut. Accurate understanding and knowledge about gender-related behaviors and characteristics develops after accurate gender-labeling. Some indication of the understanding of male and female categories, and objects associated with each category has been found in 20-28 months olds (Levy, 1999). Research shows that 3 year olds are able to label the sexes, from groupings based on gender, and exhibit some knowledge of the behaviors typically associated with men and women (Martin, and Little, 1990; Ruble, and Martin, 1997).Most children have not developed gender-constancy at three years of age. Although they are aware of their own gender they thin gender can be changed by changing appearance e.g. hairstyle, make-up or dress.

Gender Constancy, Stability, Consistency, and gender Discrimination

Gender constancy refers to the knowledge that gender is a permanent an unchangeable feature of one’s self. Gender-stability and gender-consistency are two cognitive ingredients of gender constancy. Gender stability refers to the awareness and knowledge the gender is a stable personal characteristic. Gender consistency refers to the beliefs that gender is an unchangeable characteristic, that remains fixed and unalterable even when appearances or actions change.

Gender stability can be observed in children even in the absence of gender-consistency, but the latter can not be in the absence of the former (Martin, and Little, 1990).Most children, by years of age are successful in tests of gender-discrimination and gender-stability; they also have developed an understanding of gender-typical clothes and toys that is closer to the stereotype (Martin, and Little, 1990; Ruble, and Martin, 1998).But this can not be taken as a rule. Preschoolers and even some elementary school children may not have acquired gender-stability and gender-consistency (Warin, 2000). In elementary school children, changed appearance, and changed name of a character may produce confusion about the character’s gender (Beal, and Lockhart, 1989). Once children have developed both gender-stability and gender-consistency, gender becomes a more salient aspect of their lives. They are more concerned about gender-appropriate behavior and making gender fiends (Warin, 2000). Children who develop gender constancy become motivated to adopt gender role behaviors, causing them to avoid some activities and engage in others (Newman, Cooper, and Ruble, 1995). Therefore gender constancy is accompanied by a motivation to adopt, and practice gender-typical behaviors.

External variables contributing to gender identity

  • Parental attitudes
  • Peers and siblings
  • School
  • Media
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