Discuss the formation and development of gender roles








Gender role theories


1. Evolutionary theory




2. Theory of psychosexual differentiation





3. The biosocial theory of gender role development






Case study





4. Social learning theory


Bandura’s (1977) theory assumes that gender roles are learned through the observation of same-sex models, direct tuition, and modeling.


  1. Modeling of gender role behavior by same-sex models: the child observes how others behave and then imitates (models) that behavior.


  1. Direct tuition: Acceptable gender behavior is rewarded (social approval) by significant others (parents, peers) and gender inappropriate behavior is discouraged (social disapproval).


Smith and Lloyd (1978): the Baby X experiment asked adults to interact with infants dressed in unisex snowsuits of either blue or pink. The snowsuits were randomly distributed and not always in line with the infants’ true sex. The adults played with the infants according to what they believed was the gender of the child (color of snowsuit). This indicates that a baby’s perceived gender is part of the baby’s social environment because people treat the child according to perceptions of gender. This could influence the child’s own perception of gender and become a determining factor in the development of the child’s gender role identity.


Sroufe et al. (1993) observed children around the ages of 10 and 11 and found that those who did not behave in a gender-stereotyped ways were the least popular. These studies indicate that children establish a kind of social control in relation to gender roles very early and it may well be that peer socialization is an important factor in gender role development.



5. Gender schema theory







Martin and Halvorson (1983) performed an experiment with boys and girls aged between five and six years. They saw pictures of males and females in activities that were either in line with gender role schemas (e.g. a girl playing with a doll) or inconsistent with gender role schemas (e.g. a girl playing with a gun). A week later, the children were asked to remember what they had seen on the pictures. The children had distorted memories of pictures that were not consistent with gender role schemas. They remembered the picture of a girl playing with a gun as a boy playing with a gun. This shows how information may be distorted to fit with existing schemas.