Socialisation within the Family  
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Gender Role Development  

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Gender Role Development 


In a society filled with gender stereotypes, children regularly learn to adopt gender roles.  

         Gender stereotypes: widely held beliefs about characteristics 
          thought appropriate for males and females 

         Gender roles: the reflection of gender stereotypes in everyday 
          behaviour 
                                                                                                                                (Berk, 2000)  
 
 

 Parents
Siblings
 

Children are exposed to many factors which influence their attitudes and behaviours regarding gender roles. These attitudes and behaviours are generally learned in the home and are then reinforced by the child's peers, school experience and the media. 

The strongest influence on gender role development seems to occur within the family, with parents passing on, both overtly and covertly, their own beliefs about gender (Witt, 1997). 

Although the past three decades have brought a new level of awareness about the wide range of roles possible for each gender, strong beliefs about differences still remain. 
 
 

Personality Traits Regarded as Stereotypically Masculine and Feminine (Berk, 2000)
 
 
Masculine Traits
Feminine Traits
Active Considerate
Aggressive Devotes self to others
Ambitious Emotional
Competitive Gentle
Dominant Home oriented
Feels superior Kind
Independent Likes children
Self confident Passive
 

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Parents 

Infancy and early childhood 
A child's earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from parents. Children internalise their parent's messages regarding gender at an early age, with awareness of adult sex role differences being found in two year old children (Witt, 1997). 

Parents treat sons and daughters differently. Before children can express their own preferences, parents begin to create different environments for boys and girls. Bedrooms are decorated with colours and themes and infants are dressed in gender-specific colours - pink for girls and blue for boys.  

Parents encourage their sons and daughters to participate in sex typed activities. Girls are encouraged to play with dolls and tea sets and boys are encouraged to play with cars and footballs (Berk, 2000). 

Early in development, parents provide experiences that encourage assertiveness, exploration and emotional control in boys. In contrast they promote imitation, dependency and emotional sensitivity in girls (Berk, 2000).  

Middle childhood 
During middle childhood, issues of achievement become more important to parents as children's skills expand. Observations of mothers and fathers interacting with their school-age children reveal that they demand greater independence from boys and more often help their daughters than their sons. 

Parents also hold gender-differentiated expectations for children's competencies in school subjects. Parents rate daughters as more competent in English than sons but sons as more competent in maths and sports. These beliefs are stronger than the actual skill differences among children. 

Parents also allow greater freedom to boys than girls, allowing boys to roam further away from home than girls. 

Boys are more likely to have maintenance chores around the house such as painting and mowing the lawn, while girls are more likely to participate in domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning. This assignment of household tasks by gender leads children to define certain types of work as being male or female (Witt, 1997). 

Mothers versus fathers 
In most aspects of differential treatment of boys and girls, fathers discriminate the most. Fathers engage in more physically stimulating play with their sons than with daughters, whereas mothers tend to play in a quieter way with both sexes. In childhood, fathers more than mothers encourage "gender-appropriate" behaviour and they place more pressure to achieve on sons (Berk, 2000). 

Parents seem committed to ensuring the gender typing of children of their own sex. Mothers are more likely to go on shopping trips and bake biscuits with their daughters and fathers are more likely to play cricket or go fishing with their sons (Berk, 2000). 

Non-stereotypical parents 
There are costs involved in maintaining gender role stereotypes. These costs include limiting opportunities for both sexes, ignoring talent and perpetuating unfairness in society. When children are exposed to non-stereotyped models, for example, mothers who are employed or fathers who do the ironing and cooking, they are less traditional in their beliefs and behaviours. These children  have been found to have higher self-esteem, higher levels of identity achievement and more flexibility in dating and relationships (Berk, 2000 and Witt, 1997). 

Girls with career-oriented mothers more often engage in typically masculine activities, have higher educational aspirations and hold nontraditional vocational goals (Berk, 2000). 
 

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Siblings 

Growing up with siblings of the same or opposite sex also affects gender typing. Sibling effects are complex because their impact depends on birth order and family size. 

In an observation study of the play behaviours of 4 to 9 year olds, the activities of same sex siblings were highly "gender appropriate." However, among mixed-sex siblings, choices of play were determined by the sex of the older child. This effect was so strong that boys with older sisters played "house" and "dolls" as much as pairs of sisters did. In contrast, boys with older brothers never engaged in these "feminine" activities (Berk, 2000). 

Other research contradicts these findings. For example, when 9-year-olds were videotaped playing with toys in a laboratory, preference for "other gender" toys was more common with children who had siblings of the same sex as themselves. And individuals with same-sex siblings seem to be less stereotyped in their interests and personality characteristics than those from mixed-sex families 

In all-girl and all-boy families, children are more likely to be assigned "cross-gender" chores because no "gender-appropriate" child is available to do the job (Berk, 2000). 
 

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