From Nature to Nurture
Theories of Gender
Evolutionary theory is an environmental theory in one important sense, for it is the environment that does the selecting in natural selection. Furthermore, evolutionary theories often argue that evolved dispositions are sensitive to environmental conditions. A man may be especially aggressive when his sexual jealousy is aroused, for example. A woman may be particularly maternal when there are adequate resources to rear a child and she has had a chance to bond with her newborn. Nonetheless, biological theories do not focus predominantly on the social environment as a cause of sex differences in behavior or as a cause of individual differences in masculinity and femininity. We turn now to theories that do.
Social Learning Theories
Biological theories entertain the possibility that some differences between men and women may by innate. In contrast, social learning theories argue that they are learned. According to theorists such as Walter Mischel (1966), Bussey & Bandura (1999) and Albert Bandura (1986), the differing behaviors of women and men can best be explained in terms of well understood principles of learning, such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling.
Classical conditioning is the kind of learning that occurs when a formerly neutral conditioned stimulus (e.g., a bell) is paired repeatedly with a second, unconditioned stimulus (e.g., food). The unconditioned stimulus (the food) automatically produces a response (salivation), whereas the conditioned stimulus (the bell before learning takes place) does not. Think of Pavlov's famous dogs. Classical conditioning occurs when the conditioned stimulus (the bell) acquires the power to trigger the response (salivation), which initially was triggered only by food. Such conditioning occurs readily for involuntary responses such as salivation, changes in heart rate, and reflexive eye blinks, responses that are not under conscious, voluntary control.
How might classical conditioning apply to gender? According to Walter Mischel (1966), classical conditioning helps explain why "labels like 'sissy,' 'pansy,' 'tough,' or 'sweet' acquire differential value for the two sexes" (p. 61). The word sissy is usually used to ridicule a boy, and because it is associated with events that trigger shame and disgust, it becomes a very unpleasant label for most boys. A boy will not want to behave like a sissy if the very concept is conditioned to produce loathing in him. Boys often are unwilling to engage in girlish activities such as playing with dolls, playing house and dress up. According to Mischel, this may be because boys are conditioned to have horrible feelings about such activities.
A second kind of conditioning—operant conditioning—occurs when voluntary (i.e., consciously controlled and chosen) behaviors are molded by rewards and punishments. Social learning theorists argue that boys and girls are systematically rewarded and punished for different kinds of behaviors throughout their lives. Imagine that little Joey dresses up in his mommy's stockings, dress, and high-heeled shoes. Is he likely to be rewarded or punished for this behavior? Imagine instead that Joey plays with trucks, puts on a baseball cap, and joins the local Little League team. Will he be praised or ridiculed for these actions? Common sense tells us that boys and girls are rewarded to do quite different sorts of things throughout their lives.
Finally, children learn to behave as boys or girls by observing and imitating the behavior of others. Although children may not be directly rewarded or punished for behaving like boys or behaving like girls, they nonetheless may follow a monkey see, monkey do path to gender. Children learn to be male or female by imitating same-sex parents, siblings, friends, and media figures. Considerable research suggests that children are most likely to imitate people who are powerful, nurturing, and who control rewards in their lives (Bandura & Huston, 1961; Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963; Mischel & Grusec, 1966). Parents fit the bill on ail of these dimensions. This leads to the obvious prediction that boys are particularly likely to imitate their fathers and girls are particularly likely to imitate their mothers.
Modern social learning theories also emphasize self-efficacy beliefs that are linked to gender, that is, children's beliefs about their capabilities to engage in various activities, such as doing math or taking care of babies (Bussey & Bandura, 2004). According to Albert Bandura (1986), self-efficacy beliefs depend on graded mastery experiences as well as observations of models. For example, if a boy has gradual, increasingly successful experiences (due to his educational and social environment) performing mechanical tasks—playing with erector sets, replacing the wheel on his bike, working on the family car with dad—then he will develop self-efficacy beliefs about his mechanical skills. Conversely, his sister (with just as much mechanical aptitude) may develop insecurities and self-doubts about her mechanical ability because of her lack of graded mastery experiences.
Note that modeling and social learning theory can help explain both gender differences in behavior and individual differences in masculinity and femininity. Because males on average behave differently from females, when boys imitate other males and when girls imitate other females they learn sex differences. However, some boys may have more masculine models than others, and some girls may have more feminine models than others. To the extent that children imitate same-sex parents and siblings—who necessarily vary in their own levels of masculinity and femininity—they will vary somewhat in the degree of masculinity and femininity they learn and display.
Social learning theorists make a distinction between the acquisition and the performance of behaviors. Although children can learn how to do something through observation, they do not necessarily do everything they have learned. For example, most women know how to shave their faces, and most men know how to shave their legs and underarms, even though they do not usually do so. Similarly, many women could walk with a male swagger if they chose to do so, and many men could sit with one leg crossed tightly atop the other and their hands folded on their laps, as some women do. Women could wear jockey shorts and suit jackets if they wanted to, and men could wear lace panties and dresses if they wanted to. Social learning theories argue that men and women do not want to because of past conditioning, rewards, punishments, and observational learning. In short, men and women behave differently because of all the many ways in which society teaches them to behave differently. According to social learning theory, change society (and the conditioning and modeling it provides for the two sexes) and you will change the behavior of boys and girls. Eliminate differences in the ways boys and girls are reared, and you will go a long way to eliminating sex differences in behavior.
Cognitive Theories of Gender
Social learning theories portray the learning of gender as a rather passive process. Girls and boys behave as conditioning, rewards, and social models dictate. For human beings, however, gender is in the mind as well as in the environment. Becoming male or female not only is a matter of genes, hormones, and social conditioning but also depends on how we view ourselves.
Kohlberg's Cognitive-Developmental Theory.
Lawrence Kohlberg (1966) argued that children's conceptions of gender are critical in motivating them to behave in masculine and feminine ways. These conceptions develop in step with children's more general levels of mental development. For example, most children can correctly identify their sex by age 2 or 3 (Gesell, Halverson, & Amatruda, 1940). This requires that they acquire stable gender categories; that they understand that people come in two varieties: male and female. About the same time that children understand the difference between male and female, they acquire other kinds of object constancy as well; knowledge that classes of objects (cats, tables) have stable, enduring qualities.
According to Kohlberg, once children develop a stable gender identity ("I am a boy" or "I am a girl") and stable gender categories for others ("All people come in two varieties, either male or female; John's a boy and Mary's a girl"), they begin to identify with and prefer others of their own sex ("I am a girl, I like other girls, and girls are good"). Although young children are aware of gender as a social category, they do not think about gender as adults do. For instance, toddlers do not always realize that gender is defined most fundamentally by genital differences. Instead, they may define gender by its surface features, such as clothing, hair length, and kinds of play. Three- and 4-year-old children will often state that they could be the other sex if they wanted to—all they have to do is change their clothing, hairstyle, and toys.
By age 6 or 7, most children realize that sex and gender are constant (i.e., you cannot readily change them) and linked to male and female genital differences. (Chapter 5 presents a more detailed account of research on children's conceptions of gender.) According to Kohl berg's theory, children older than age 7 nonetheless continue to develop their gender concepts. For example, they learn gender stereotypes ("Women are nicer and gentler than men" "Men are more violent than women"), and they learn that some cultural symbols (butterflies and flowers) are more associated with girls, whereas others (worms and frogs) are more associated with boys.
Kohlberg proposed that the act of categorizing themselves as male or female leads children to acquire stereotypically feminine or masculine behaviors, in Kofilberg's words, "cognitive theory assumes this sequence: 'I am a boy, therefore I want to do boy things, therefore the opportunity to do boy things... is rewarding.'" According to Kohlberg, social learning theory argues for a different sequence: "I want rewards, I am rewarded for doing boy things, therefore I want to be a boy" (1966, p. 89). It is not rewards that make the boy masculine, Kohlberg argued. Rather, it is identifying oneself as male that makes masculine activities rewarding. (Chapter 5 presents evidence on the adequacy of Kohlberg's theory.)
In a sense, Kohlberg argued that sex differences are an inevitable consequence of identifying oneself as male or female. In a society in which men and women behave differently, once boys realize they are boys, they will want to act like other males. And once girls realize they are girls, they will want to act like other females. There is a chicken and egg issue here, however. Perhaps in a society without strong gender differences, self-identification as male and female would not lead so inexorably to sex differences in behavior. On the other hand, if there is a biological basis to some kinds of sex differences (e.g., physical aggression, rough-and-tumble play doll play), then when children become mentally sophisticated enough to label themselves and others as male or female, self-identification may inevitably heighten these sex differences, for children will notice these sex differences and try to act increasingly like members of their own sex. Indeed, modern research suggests that it is during middle childhood (5 to 7 years of age) that children hold their most rigid and sexist views of gender (Ruble & Martin, 1998).
Kohlberg's theory does not speak directly to the issue ot individual differences in masculinity and femininity. A related cognitive theory by Jerome Kagan (1964), however, does. According to Kagan, to decide how masculine or feminine they are, boys and girls compare their own behavior to that of other males and females and to societal norms of male and female behavior. This process, like the one Kohlberg described, would seem to require that children first acquire stable gender categories. If a boy observes that his behavior is similar to that of most other males, then he will infer that he is masculine. If a girl observes that her behavior is similar to that of most other females, she will decide she is feminine. Once children develop such self-concepts, they may try to act in ways that are consistent with their self-concepts (Swann, 1999). Thus gender labels and self-concepts may serve to accentuate sex differences and to perpetuate individual differences in masculinity and femininity.
Gender Schema Theories.
Sandra Bem (1981b) extended Kohlberg's cognitive analysis of gender to adults. According to her gender schema theory, people learn a complex network of gender-related concepts and symbols from their culture. For example, the moon and petunias are feminine, and the sun and jackhammers are masculine. Once people have acquired gender schemas—organized knowledge and beliefs about gender—they then perceive their own and others' behavior through the filter of those schemas. For example, if you have strong gender schemas, you may judge a new acquaintance in terms of her masculinity and femininity. On the other hand, I—a persnickety college professor—may judge the same woman more in terms of her intelligence and vocabulary size. Bem's theory moves beyond Kohlberg's in that she argued that gender schemas do not simply motivate males and females to act like members of their own sex. They also affect the way we perceive our own and others' behavior.
Bem's theory proposes that people who are strongly gender-schematic tend to perceive the world in terms of male and female, and they try to keep their own behavior consistent with stereotypical standards for their own sex, Thus Bem would view highly masculine men as highly gender-schematic men. They hold strong gender stereotypes, and they strongly categorize their own and other people's behavior in terms of gender. Agreeing with Kohlberg's theory, Bem saw a motivational consequence to gender categorization. Gender-schematic men see masculine behavior to be desirable and feminine behavior to be undesirable, both in themselves and in other men. In contrast, gender aschematic people do not care whether their own or others' behavior is masculine or feminine. Gender-schematic men readily notice masculine and feminine behaviors in other men. Gender-aschematic men do not.
In a sense, gender aschematic people are androgynous, in that they may display both masculine and feminine behaviors without worrying about the gender of their behaviors. Indeed, Bem's gender schema theory evolved from her earlier theorizing about the androgynous personality (see Chapter 2). The emphasis of gender schema theory is different, however. The androgynous person, according to Bem's original theory, possesses both masculine (instrumental) and feminine (expressive) traits. In gender schema theory, however, Bem focused not so much on the kind of person you are (masculine, feminine, or androgynous), but rather on the strength and organization of your beliefs about gender (gender-schematic versus gender-aschematic).
Where do gender schemas come from? Here Bem's theory is only suggestive. Bem proposed that gender schemas come from one's culture, family, and peers. Thus, if you grow up in a strongly gender-polarized culture that emphasizes differences between men's roles and women's roles, you will likely end up being highly gender-schematic. On the other hand, if you grow up in settings that minimize the differences between men and women, you are more likely to end up being gender-aschematic. Bem (1998) described her own attempt to raise her own two children in a totally nonsexist and gender-aschematic environment. (Read more about this in Chapter 7.)
Other researchers have offered different gender schema theories (Markus, Crane, Bernstein, & Siladi, 1982; Martin, 2000; Martin & Halver-son, 1981, 1987). Some of these have focused, more than Bem's theory, on the cognitive consequences of gender schemas, for example, how gender schemas influence attention and memory. Arizona State University psychologist, Carol Martin, described how her 4-year-old niece Erin concluded that girls have eyelashes, but boys do not. Accordingly, when Erin drew stick figures of boys and girls, the girls had eyelashes and the boys did not. One suspects the Erin's developing gender schemas would lead her to focus more on certain aspects of girls' physical appearance and on somewhat different aspects of boys' physical appearance. Departing from Bem's contention that there is a unitary gender schema, some theorists have argued that people possess different schemas for the two sexes, and that same-sex schemas often are more complex and well-developed than other-sex schemas (Martin, 2000).
In essence, both Kohlberg's cognitive-developmental theory of gender and gender schema theories assign a central importance to people's beliefs about gender and the ways in which people label themselves and their own behavior in relation to gender. Sex differences and individual differences in masculinity and femininity follow from the beliefs and identities we hold. The ultimate sources of gender schemas are cultures, families, teachers, and peers. In this regard, cognitive theories of gender emphasize nurture more than nature.
Social Psychological Theories of Gender
According to social psychology, the current social setting is a major cause of our behavior (see Fig. 3.1, Level 3), Gender stereotypes and beliefs also have an important role in many social psychological theories of gender. However, social psychological analyses tend to focus more on how stereotypes affect other people's behavior toward us, and how stereotypes lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Social psychological theories of gender emphasize nurture (environmental and social influences) over nature (biological influences).
Let's briefly examine four important social psychological theories: Alice Eagly's social role theory of gender, gender as a self-fulfilling prophecy, Claude Steele's stereotype threat theory, and self-presentational theories of gender. Because the concept of a gender stereotype is common to all these approaches, let's briefly examine the nature of gender stereotypes.
The word stereotype was coined by the journalist Walter Lippmann (1922), who wrote of the simplified pictures that we carry around in our heads about social groups. Contemporary social psychologists view stereotypes as probabilistic beliefs that we hold about groups of people. For example. Deaux and Lewis (1983) asked college students to estimate what percentage of men and women possessed various traits (Table 3.1). Students' beliefs about men and women were not black-and-white. Nobody believed that all men were aggressive, for example, or that all women were kind. Nonetheless, people do believe that, on average, more men than women aggressive and more women than men are kind.
Social psychologists have long wrestled with this question: Are stereotypes wrong? Considerable research suggests that stereotypes are often oversimplifications of reality. They may cause us to overestimate differences between groups and to underestimate variability within groups. This notion is captured by the bigoted statement, "They all look the same to me." Furthermore, stereotypes may distort our perceptions and memories, leading us to see what we expect to see and to remember only information that confirms our stereotypes. (See Lippa, , for a review.)
At the same time, it is important to note that many social psychologists recognize that there can be a kernel of truth to some stereotypes. Indeed, research suggests that people's social beliefs may at times be surprisingly accurate (Eagly & Diekman, 1997; Hall & Carter, 1999; Lee, Jussim, & McCauley, 1995). It makes sense that our beliefs about men and women are often quite accurate because most of us have had lots of experience with men and women. Thus our gender stereotypes are not based just on hearsay but rather on our actual observations of many men's and women's behaviors.
What are common gender stereotypes? People hold strong stereotypes about the personality traits possessed by men and women. In one early study, college students agreed that certain kinds of traits (e.g., competitive, logical, skilled in business, and self-confident) were more characteristic of men, whereas other kinds of traits (e.g., gentle, aware of the feelings of others, and easily expresses tender feelings) were more characteristic of women (Rosenkrantz, Vogel, Bee, Broverman, & Broverinan, 1968). These stereotypes—that men possess instrumental, agentic traits and that women possess expressive, communal traits—have been documented in many later studies as well (Ash in ore, Dei Boca, & Wohlers, 1986; Deaux & La France, 1998). These stereotypes are held by children, teens, and adults; by single and married people; and by educated and uneducated people. Furthermore, these personality stereotypes are fairly consistent across cultures (Williams & Best, 1982), and they are endorsed by both women and men. Despite dramatic changes in women's roles over the past half-century, these stereotypes about men and women's personalities have remained relatively unchanged over time. You may recall from Chapter 1 that research offers some support for these stereotypes, for two personality dimensions that show some of the biggest sex differences, as assessed by standardized personality tests, are assertiveness (an instrumental trait) and tender-mindedness (an expressive trait).
Or course, gender stereotypes are not just about personality. People also hold stereotypes about men's and women's physical traits (muscular, soft, hairy), social roles (provides, does house work), occupations (engineer, librarian), and sexuality (has a high sex drive, sexually attracted to men). One kind of gender stereotype that may have especially negative consequences for women is that there are differences between men and women's abilities. Although research findings on this topic are complex and sometimes inconsistent, they suggest that, in some circumstances, women are judged to be less able and qualified than men, even when they are evaluated on the basis of identical information (Swim, Borgida, Maruyama, & Myers, 1989). Furthermore, there are certain kinds of abilities, such as math and mechanical skills, that people believe show sex differences favoring men.
Social Role Theory.
How do gender stereotypes get established in the first place, and once they are in place, do they then constrain what men and women do? In most cultures, women and men occupy quite different roles (Barry, Bacon, & Child, 1957; D'Andrade, 1966). Women are more responsible for child rearing, foraging, and domestic duties; men are more responsible for hunting, fighting, and in modern society, income-producing work. According to Alice Eagly's social role theory (Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000), this sex-based division of labor leads necessarily to gender stereotypes and to sex differences in behavior. Constrained by gender roles to rear children and take care of homes, women show more nurturing behaviors, and, as a result, people perceive women to be more nurturing. Constrained by their roles to participate more in the competitive world of work, sports, and public service, men display more assertive behaviors, and, as a result, people perceive men to be more assertive than women.
Eagly's theory does not focus on biologically determined differences between women and men, although it does not deny that some may exist. Nor does it primarily attempt to explain the origins of gender roles. However, it seems plausible that biology plays a role, or at least that it played a role in the past, in molding gender roles. For example, female gestation and lactation would lead women in pre-industrial societies to be more responsible for child care, and male upper body strength would lead men to be more responsible for hunting and fighting. Note, however, that the biological explanations offered here focus on physical differences between men and women, not on innate psychological differences. According to social role theory, "differences in the minds of men and women arise primarily from experience and socialization" (Eagly & Wood, 1999, p. 414).
Eagly's social role theory stresses the power of social roles and settings to mold men's and women's behaviors, which then determine people's stereotypes about men and women. It argues that gender stereotypes are valid, in the limited sense that they reflect real differences in the current behavior of men and women. Where stereotypes err, however, is in attributing these differences to innate dispositions rather than to the invisible hand of powerful social roles that channel men's and women's behavior.
Change the traditional roles of men and women (e.g., place women in high management positions, encourage men to stay home and take care of children) and you will dramatically change the behaviors of men and women, according to social role theory. Ultimately, these new behaviors will alter people's stereotypes about men and women. Behavior and gender stereotypes are a function of roles rather than sex chromosomes, hormones, and brain physiology.
Although social role theory focuses more on sex differences in behavior than on individual differences in masculinity and femininity, it could easily be extended to explain such individual differences. To the extent that women occupy varied social roles (business manager, mother, teacher, U.S. Senator), social role theory would predict that women's degrees of masculine and feminine behaviors would vary Thus the source of individual differences in masculinity and femininity is seen to reside in variations among social roles and settings, not in genes, hormones, brains structures, or immutable personality traits.
One prediction of social role theory, then, would seem to be that societies that have more variations in their gender roles will produce men and women who vary more in their levels of masculinity and femininity. Conversely, societies that have more limiting and rigid gender roles will produce men and women who vary less in masculinity and femininity. Strong gender roles would serve to encourage sex differences, but they would discourage variations within each sex. On the other hand, weak and varied gender roles would do Just the opposite.
Gender Stereotypes as Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.
Once people believe something to be true, they often act to make it come true. The sociologist Robert Merton (1948) coined the phrase self-fulfilling prophecy to capture this idea. Many social psychology experiments have probed how social beliefs becomes social reality. The self-perpetuating nature of gender stereotypes was demonstrated in a clever experiment by Berna Skrypnek and Mark Snyder (1982). Pairs of University of Minnesota college students—one male and one female—were asked to divide stereotypically feminine tasks (e.g., decorating a cake) and stereotypically masculine tasks (fixing a light switch) between them. The man and woman could not directly see one another in this experiment. Rather they sat in different rooms and communicated via switches that signaled their task preference on a light panel before each student. This arrangement allowed the experimenters to play a trick on some of the male students, who were told that their partner was another man, when he was in fact a she.
Perhaps it would come as no surprise to you if this experiment found that in actual male-female pairs, men chose more of the masculine tasks and women chose more of the feminine tasks. But what do you think happened when a man and a woman were paired together, but the man falsely believed that his female partner was another man? The experiment showed that women chose more feminine tasks when they were labeled as women, but fewer feminine tasks when their partners incorrectly believed they were men. In other words, women's choices of activities depended not only on their own preferences but also on the expectations of their partners.
Research on self-fulfilling prophecies argues that once gender stereotypes exist, we all unknowingly behave in ways that make them come true. If a teacher, for example, believes that boys tend to do better at math, the teacher may then subtly behave in ways that encourage the boys to do better at math. For example, he or she may smile more when boys answer math questions, respond more to boys' questions about math, and call on them more when they raise their hands in math classes.
Stanford University psychologist Claude Steele (1997) has described another way in which gender stereotypes may lead to sex differences behavior. When stereotypes describe women in a negative light ("Women aren't good at math"), they may trigger in women anxiety, negative self-evaluations, and concerns about how well they will come off in front of others when working on math problems. Steele coined the term stereotype threat to refer to this process, which occurs when a negative stereotype about a group triggers thought processes and anxieties that serve to undermine the performance of someone who belongs to the group.
According to Steele, stereotype threat effects occur particularly among people who possess the requisite ability to perform well and who are highly identified with the ability in question. For example, stereotype threat experiments on the effects of stereotypes about women's math ability often study women who have taken many college-level math classes and who want to do well in math. Experiments find that when college students are given challenging math tests, women perform worse than men do when the test is described as related to math ability and to gender. However, women perform as well as men when the test is seen as unrelated to their ability or to gender.
Why is the performance of competent women undermined when ability and gender are made salient? According to Steele, when women take a math test, the negative cultural stereotype about women's lack of math ability is always lurking in the background, ready to create worry and anxiety, which will undermine test performance. Women worry most about negative gender stereotypes (e.g., about their math ability) when they believe that a test measures their ability and when they are induced to think about gender stereotypes.
Self-Presentation and Social Constructionist Theory.
The various theories we have examined try to explain how people end up with something called gender. Gender shows itself in two ways: as differences between males and females and as individual differences in masculinity and femininity within each sex. According to the theories we have considered, gender either is dictated by genes, hormones, and brain structures or it is molded by early relations with parents, by conditioning and modeling, by cognitive labeling and schemas, by social roles, and by stereotypes. Whichever approach you prefer, gender is a real thing that people end up possessing, in one form or another.
More radical views—often proposed by feminist theorists—hold that gender is a cultural invention, a social construction, and a self-presentation we enact in certain settings, with certain people (Fausto-Sterling, 1992; Gergen & Davis, 1997; Kessler & McKenna, 1978; Marecek, Crawford, & Popp, 2004). According to this perspective, gender is not something we are; rather it is something we do (West & Zimmerman, 1991). Social psychologists Kay Deaux and Brenria Major (1987) argued that we play our roles as men and women depending on our own conceptions of gender (self-schemas and self-concepts), others' gender expectations (gender stereotypes), and the setting we happen to be in. For example, a woman may be a no-nonsense, assertive executive at work, but quite feminine when she's on a first date. Furthermore, this woman may alter how she behaves on a date depending on the setting (hiking versus dancing) and depending on what she thinks her date expects of her.
One study found that college women performed worse on an intelligence test and described themselves in more stereotypicaily feminine terms when they anticipated meeting a very attractive man who said he preferred traditional women (Zanna & Pack, 1975). Another study found that women changed the amount of food they ate depending on the man they were with (Mori, Chaiken, & Pliner, 1987). Because people stereo-typicaily judge women who eat small amounts to be more feminine, if a women wants to present a feminine image, she may eat less. Indeed, this study found that when a woman talked to a man she considered to be attractive, she tended to eat less snack mix (which was sitting on a table nearby) than when she talked with an unattractive man. Another study found that college women changed their style and tone of voice when they were talking with intimate versus casual male friends on the telephone (Montepare & Vega, 1988). When women spoke with boyfriends, their voices became more feminine, baby-like, high pitched, and cutesy. All of these studies suggest that femininity and masculinity may be acts that we go into or out of, depending on the situation.
Self-presentational theories propose that gender is socially constructed; gender is defined, enforced, and created by cultural beliefs. Furthermore, gender is reinforced by societal power arrangements, linguistic usage, and social interactions (Marecek, Crawford, & Popp, 2004). Such theories stand in opposition to essentialist views of gender, which hold that there are in fact real differences between the two sexes and that the traits of masculinity and femininity actually do exist. At their most extreme, social constructionist theories construe gender to be a social fiction, a chimera stitched together by cultural traditions, social roles, and gender stereotypes. In a utopian nonsexist society the very concept of gender would cease to exist, according to this point of view. If boys and girls were treated the same and if gender stereotypes were abolished, many behavioral sex differences would disappear, and although people would vary in the myriad ways that people inevitably do, masculinity and femininity would have no meaning. In short, there would be nothing for theories of gender to explain.