Most major topics these days seem to be related to sexual identity, equal rights, and gender roles. It is no doubt that sex and gender roles play a substantial role in society; however, these terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably and incorrectly. The American Psychological Association defines ones sex as their biological determinant (i. e. male or female) and this does not naturally change from the time of birth; whereas gender “refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex” (Definition of Terms, para. ).
It is important when partaking in the gender debate to keep these two terms separate and understand their differences. Unless surgically and legally changed, one’s sex does not change after formation in the womb, yet it is understood that gender and one’s understanding and identity with gender can change over the years (McLeod, 2014). In fact, society is recently developing a more continuum sense of understanding than in the past where everyone had their own, strict ideas of what was appropriate gender identity (McLeod, 2014).
Even with these great advances in acceptance and diversity within gender, there is still much in question within the gender debate; does one’s gender stem from biological or sociological factors? When discussing the differences of theory in regards to gender, there are three main theories to consider: biological theories, the cognitive development theory, and, lastly, the social learning theory; but it is also important to consider any cultural factors in addition to major theories.
While it is a personal belief that the strongest theory lies in beginning with the biological theory as the springboard for development and continuing in to the social learning theory as development continues with spikes of influence lying in culture factors, it is important to look at and understand all the major contributors and how they fit together. The best place to beginning when looking into any subject relating to human development and fruition in society is without a doubt biological factors and evolutionary perspective.
In order to understand how the human race got to where it is currently, one must understand where it came from and the journey it took. The human race is essentially divided into two sexes, male and female, and these two sexes are driven between two different hormone components, testosterone and estrogen. When a body receives an influx on testosterone (the male sex hormone) it reacts in a way that is synonymous with most male gender stereotypes; for example, “aggression, competitiveness, higher sex drive, and [more developed] visio-spatial abilities” (McLeod, 2014).
Whereas when the body obtains an incursion of estrogen (the female sex hormone), this is where one sees the stereotypical female reactions such as mood swings and the desire to care for others (Gender & Identity, para. 2). However, imbedded gender roles go back to humans early ancestors. Humans are hard-wired to survive and the brain has “evolved to problem solve (McLeod, 2014); essentially, behavior in humans has been “coded by our genes because were and are continuing to be adaptive” (McLeod, 2014).
Because of these biological differences we saw major differences in societal roles in early humans contributing to stereotypical gender roles throughout the years. Testosterone makes men biologically stronger and typically the protectors of the pack; whereas estrogen and different reproductive organs made women the nurturers and child-bearers. Within these societal roles of gender also comes full circle the need for human survival; if a women were to hunt for food, the chances of successful reproduction would significantly decrease “as the woman was the one pregnant or producing milk” (McLeod, 2014).
Since the men were out using their brute strength, increased speed and agility, and better visual perception (due to largely in part to testosterone), the women (aside from childbearing) were able to tend to “growing food, making clothing and shelter and so on” (McLeod, 2014). One of the major theories in favor of gender roles being socially influenced is the cognitive development theory. The basis of this theory is that both biological and social environmental factors “form the basis for sex-typing” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993) and consists of two key components: gender identity and gender constancy (HaydenMcPeak, 1993).
Gender identity is a term used to describe one categorizing themselves as either simply a boy or a girl; while, gender constancy is the “understanding that gender does not change over time” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993). According to the cognitive development theory, gender identity starts to come into full focus around age three and these gender stereotypes are firm between the ages of two and seven and will not change again throughout development (Hayden-McPeak, 1993).
Social factors come into play in this theory in the idea that children “develop the stereotypic conceptions of gender from what they see and hear around them” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999). This theory differs from the others largely in part that it is set in the idea that once a notion is confirmed, it is irreversible and the motivation to maintain these gender roles is because they “value their gender identity and seek to behave only in ways that are contingent with that conception” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999).
In simpler vocabulary, it is essentially, “I am a boy, so I want to do boy things, therefore the opportunity to do boy things is rewarding for me” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999). The main issue is with this theory and how it pertains to gender is that it gives little acknowledgement to biological factors and places most of the determining role on the side of social and culture factors. However, to assume a child at such a young age is able to observe and model their environment for reasons of selfaffirmation in identity and then maintain that as life progresses through more trying events of development seems ostensibly rrational.
The most convincing pieces of research pertaining to the gender debate lie in the theory of social learning; this theory states that there is “social as opposed to fully organismic basis for behaviors [and that] sex-typing comes from observational learning and operant conditioning as major influences (HaydenMcPeak, 1993). This theory still acknowledges the “influential role of evolutionary factors in human development and change, but rejects one-sided evolutionism in which social behavior is solely a product of evolved biology” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999).
Essentially, these gender roles are just as much a factor as any other social behavior and is a product of evolved biology combined with “social and technological innovations” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999). A great example of this lies again in early humans, there was evolutionary pressure for humans to change their posture to upright, once that happened, there was the ability to use new tools and live life in a new way, which created a new environment with new evolutionary pressures to continue the cycle again (Bussy & Bandura, 1999).
The more humans biologically evolve, the more options they have to expand socially and culturally. Within this idea, children form their identities of gender based on observing behavior and its societal consequences and use that to form expectations for personal behavior; it is “as much an internal process as any other trait” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993). This theory also contributes itself to the idea of human observation and that observational learning”allows people to expand knowledge and skills rapidly through information conveyed by modeling influences without learning by response consequences” (Bussy & Bandura, 1999).
Observation and modeling have become particularly easy nowadays; mostly due to technology. As humans continued to evolve, technology became more advanced and readily available. With television and websites such as FaceBook and YouTube, it is particularly easy for anyone to get online and learn how others are living and reacting through observation. Additionally, it is important to also note the importance and relationship of cultural factors throughout this process. One’s sexual identity is identified while in the womb before a human even makes its official entrance into a world outside another body.
Even still before birth, “gender roles are established in things such as decorating the nursery, color-coding clothing, and sex-typed toys” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993); in addition, attitudes about the baby’s gender are also already formed in this such as naming the baby (Hayden-McPeak, 1993). Research has also shown us that new parents tend to react to crying female babies quicker than do to that of their infant male counterpart; possibly contributing later to “female levels of frustration, tolerance, and aggression” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993).
Some of the quickest ways gender ideas are introduced to children is through “toys, siblings, playmates, media, and books” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993) which means that parents have the ability to control the amount and types of access allowed to these items and “to some extent how their children perceive these” (Hayden-McPeak, 1993). The debate of sexual identity and gender roles is certainly a difficult one.
It is seemingly impossible to fully isolate the research into two, independently standing, black and white ideas: biological based or socially based. Ultimately, the strongest side of the debate lies in the grey area; a combination of theories. It is undeniable that sex and gender is at least rooted in biological theories as the foundation for developing these identities and roles; however, it is also obvious that the social learning theory and culture factors definitely have a hand in creating the bigger picture, as well.