Learning to “Do Gender”
The Case for Nurture
Do parents' beliefs about gender influence their treatment of infant boys and girls? Both cursory observation and the research literature indicate that differential treatment by sex begins at birth. The newborn nursery is likely to be decked out in pink if the infant is a girl, and gifts to the newcomer are carefully selected by sex. Girls receive pastel outfits, often beruffled, whereas boys are given tiny jeans and bolder colors.... It is virtually automatic to present one's child, like oneself, as male or female, signaling to the world what the newcomer's gender role will be and how she or he is to be treated. Thus is the dance of gender begun.
(Fagot, Rodgers, & Leinbach [2000, pp. 72-73])
Boys' and Girls' Toy Preferences
Boys and girls show different toy preferences at a very early age, certainly by the time they are toddlers (Caldera, Huston, & O'Brien, 1989; Carter &Levy, 1988; Eisenberg, Murray, & Mite, 1982; Martin, Eisenbud, & Rose. 1995). On average, boys prefer blocks, transportation toys (e.g., toy trucks and trains), construction toys (e.g., tool sets, erector sets), and action-oriented, mock aggression toys (e.g., guns, swords), whereas girls prefer dolls, sex-typed clothing (e.g., dress-up props, jewelry), and domestic toys (e.g., tea sets, play houses). Boys and girls not only differ in their toy preferences but also in their play styles. For example, boys like rough-and-tumble play more than girls do. One study observed trios of nursery school boys or girls as they jumped on a trampoline. Boys were three to six times more likely than girls to throw themselves on top of one another and engage in mock wrestling and fighting (DiPietro, 1981).
Some studies have found that sex differences in toy preferences already exist in one-year-old children (Jacklin, Maccoby, & Dick, 1973; O'Brien & Huston, 1985; Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, Colburne, Sen, & Eichstedt, 2001; Snow, Jackiin, & Maccoby, 1983), and one recent study found sex-typed toy preferences in boys who were only 9 months old (Campbell, Shirley, Heywood, & Crook, 2000). How do such differences come to be? Biological theories would argue that hormones and brain structures lead the two sexes to prefer different toys. But there is another plausible explanation. Perhaps boys and girls are offered different kinds of toys to play with from birth on, and they are reinforced (rewarded) when they play with "sex appropriate" toys and discouraged, even punished, when they play with "sex inappropriate" toys.
Other factors may also influence sex-typed toy preferences. Once children label their own gender and understand basic gender stereotypes (typically, after 2 years of age), they become more motivated to behave like members of their own sex. In essence, they then want to act like their own kind. Later still, after children learn to evaluate their behavior according to internal standards (typically, by age 4 years), they acquire powerful internal rudders that guide their further gender development. A boy will then deliver self-rewards (e.g., a strong feeling of pride) when he masters a masculine activity such as hitting a baseball, or he will deliver self-punishment (feelings of shame and embarrassment) when he is seen by his friends carrying his mother's purse. After age 4 years or so, children carry a kind of gender gyroscope in their heads that exerts pressure for them to stay on course as boys or girls. This gender gyroscope may be particularly helpful (or harmful, depending on your point of view) in encouraging children to adopt the gender standards and practices of their local community.
Parental Treatment and the Social Learning of Gender
Social learning theory proposes that rewards and punishments mold gender-related behaviors. Can this explain children's early sex-typed toy preferences? Parents do in fact encourage sex-typed toy play and activities in their children (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). At the same time, parents seem to treat their sons and daughters similarly in many other ways. University of Calgary psychologists Hugh Lytton and David Romney (1991) conducted a meta-analysis of 172 studies that measured parents' behavior toward their children, and they found little or no difference in the warmth, restrictiveness, or encouragement of achievement that parents directed at their sons versus daughters. However, parents did encourage girl-typical play (e.g., play with dolls) more in girls and boy-typical play (e.g., play with trucks) more in boys. Among North American parents, fathers encouraged sex-typed behaviors in their children more strongly than mothers did (effect sizes were d = 0.49 for fathers versus d = 0.34 for mothers). Other reviews confirm that fathers encourage sex-typed behaviors in their children more strongly than mothers do (Collins & Russell, 1991; Huston, 1983; Ruble & Martin. 1998; Russell & Saebel, 1997; Siegal, 1987).
Children's play expert Thomas Power (2000) reviewed a number of studies that were not include in Lytton and Romney's meta-analysis, and he concluded that these studies showed some additional differences in parents' treatment of boys and girls (see also Leaper, 2002). Some research has found that baby boys are handled more roughly than baby girls are (Lewis & Weinraub, 1979) and that parents—particularly fathers—roughhouse more with their sons than daughters and physically stimulate boys more than girls (Jacklin, DiPetro, & Maccoby, 1984; Shields & Sparing, 1993). As noted before, boys like to roughhouse more than girls do, and maybe fathers and sons together are like two boys together; their rough-and-tumble activities reflect male preferences rather than fathers' intentional attempts to encourage sex-typed behavior in their sons.
Parents sometimes talk and smile more with infant girls than with infant sons (Leaper, Anderson, & Saunders, 1998; Levine, Fishman, & Kagan, 1967; Tauber, 1979; Thomas, Leiderman, & Olson, 1972), and when children are older, parents may talk about life events and discuss emotions more with daughters than with sons (Fivush, Brotman, Buckner, & Goodman, 2000; Reese, Haden, & Fivush, 1996), Furthermore, parents may discussion different kinds of emotions with boys and girls; for example, they discuss anger more with sons and sadness more with daughters (Brody, 1999; Fivush, 1991; Fivush, Brotman, Buckner, & Goodman, 2000). Mothers verbally stimulate and verbally respond more to girls than to boys (Leaper, Lever, Strasser, & Schwartz, 1995), and similarly, fathers use more verbal strategies when interacting with daughters than with sons (Farver & Wimbarti. 1995). However, in research on parents' early verbal interactions with girls and boys, there is as always a chicken-and-egg question because young girls may be more verbally advanced than young boys of the same age (Leaper, 2002). The question is: Do parents talk to their sons and daughters differently because of parents' gender stereotypes and expectations or because their sons and daughters have different verbal abilities and styles that evoke different kinds of parental talk?
Mothers may react more contingently to emotional displays in their baby boys and encourage them, more than baby girls, to control their emotional expressions (Tronick & Cohn, 1989; Weinberg, Tronick, Cohn, & Olson, 1999). Parents also encourage and discourage different kinds of emotions in boys and girls, tolerating anger more in boys and fear more in girls (Birnbaum & Croll, 1984). Finally, parents often teach boys more than girls to suppress emotional expression, as expressed by the common parental admonition, "Big boys don't cry" (Block, 1978).
It is worth noting that even though parents do not necessarily treat sons and daughters differently, boys simply spend more time with men than girls do and similarly, girls spend more time with women than boys do. This alone causes boys and girls to have different learning experiences with adults (Crouter, Manke, & McHale, 1995; Hoffman & Teyber, 1985). Furthermore, it is likely that socialization ends up being psychologically different for boys and girls, in part because boys and girls respond differently to identical parental practices (Pomerantz, Ng, & Wang. 2004). For example, a parental dirty look directed at a misbehaving girl may be enough to stop her in her tracks, but the same look may not phase her brother at all. Research continues on how parents treat boys and girls differently, and it is possible that studies have yet to identify important differences in the rearing of sons and daughters. For now, however, the evidence is strongest that parents treat girls and boys most differently in their direct encouragement of sex-typed play.
Does biology or socialization lead to sex differences in children's toy preferences?
A study by University of California, Santa Cruz, psychologist Campbell Leaper (2000) observed parent-child pairs as they played with either stereotypically masculine toys (cars and car tracks) or feminine toys (plate sets), The children were all of preschool age. All possible parent-child gender combinations were observed: mothers with sons, mothers with daughters, fathers with sons, and father with daughters. In general, parents treated their daughters and sons with equal warmth and directiveness. However, fathers tended to be more assertive than mothers, and mothers tended to be warmer than fathers, regardless of the sex of the child. In return, children were more assertive with their mothers than they were with their fathers. Thus, this study found sex differences in mothers' and fathers' overall behaviors, and it found differences In how children related to mothers versus fathers, but it did not find much evidence that parents treat their sons and daughters differently.
Leaper found that the most potent influence on parents behavior was the assigned play activity itself; parents were warmer and more directive during plate play than during car play, regardless of the sex of the child. One implication is that once children show a preference for "boys activities" or "girls activities," they may, as a result of their activities, be treated differently by adults. Of course, there is a chicken-and-egg problem here: Do parents encourage and thereby create sex-typed play in their children in the first place, or do boys and girls naturally prefer sex-typed play? Whatever the cause-and-effect sequence, sex-typed play may lead to a consequential cascade of events, which includes differential parental treatment (Eisenberg, Wolchik, Hernandez, & Pasternak, 1985). Sex-typed play activities may have other important consequences as well. Boys' toys and play may stimulate the development of visual-spatial abilities, problem-solving skills, and creativity more than girls' toys and play (Liss, 1983; Miller, 1987). Thus boys' and girls' play is not simply kids' stuff.
Some studies show that parents physically punish boys more than girls (Lytton & Romney, 1991; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974). Again, however, there is a chicken-and-egg question: Does differential parental punishment of boys and girls produce differences in boys' and girls' behavior, or do boys' and girls' behaviors evoke different treatment from parents? In the case of punishment, there is evidence that boys are more mischievous and rambunctious than girls are; they get into things more and test limits more than girls do, and as a result, parents may on average need to control boys (e.g., discipline and sometimes physically punish them) more than girls (Bellinger & Berko-Gleason, 1982; Brooks & Lewis, 1974; Minton, Kagan, & Levine. 1971; Snow, Jacklin, & Maccoby, 1981).
One way to study whether parents' differing treatment of boys and girls is solely in response to the child's gender is to present adults with young children mislabeled as the other sex. Most studies in this tradition have used infants as stimuli, and they study parents' reactions to the mislabeled infants. For example, a researcher might dress a baby girl in boy's clothes, label her with a boy's name, and present her to an adult, who is asked to interact with the baby and rate the traits of the child. Psychologists Marilyn Stern and Katherine Karraker (1989) reviewed 23 such Baby X studies, and they concluded that "knowledge of an infant's gender is not a consistent determinant of adults' reactions" (p. 501). Gender labeling showed a more substantial impact on children's perceptions of infants, however. Children tended to rate male-labeled infants to be "bigger," "stronger," "noisier," "faster," "meaner," and "harder" than female-labeled infants. (We will return later to this issue, that young children's gender stereotypes may be stronger and more rigid than those of older children and adults.)
For whatever reason, most children behave in more-or-less gender-appropriate ways. How do parents respond when their children do not behave consistently with their gender? In one study, parents were considerably less than enthusiastic when asked to get their boys to play with baby dolls or their girls to play with trucks. After opening a box containing trucks for his daughter to play with, one perturbed father declared, "Oh, they must have boys in this study!" He then promptly closed the box and returned to doll play with his daughter (Caldera, Huston, & O'Brien, 1989). in another study, preschool children were instructed—unbeknown to their parents—to play with either same-sex or opposite-sex toys, and then their parents were brought in to watch (Langlois & Downs, 1980). Parents were pleased to observe their daughters play with girls' toys (a toy stove and pots and pans), and they were tolerant when their daughters played with boy's toys (a toy gas station, trucks). Mothers generally accepted their sons' play, regardless of whether it was masculine or feminine. However, fathers criticized sons who played with so-called girls' toys. One father even physically moved his son away from the cooking toys he was happily playing with.
One study found that many preschool boys reported that their fathers believed that playing with girls' toys is bad, and furthermore, the boys who reported that their fathers frowned on girl-type play in fact showed more masculine play (Raag & Rackliff, 1998). A number of other studies have documented that fathers are more concerned than mothers about the gender appropriateness of their children's play (Bradley & Gobbart, 1989; Jacklin, DiPietro, & Maccoby, 1984; Margolin & Patterson, 1975). Furthermore, research suggests that both mothers and fathers are more disturbed by sons who play with girls' toys than by daughters who play with boys' toys (Tauber, 1979). In short, parents engage in gender policing when their children engage in cross-sex activities. Fathers tend to police more than mothers, and everyone polices boys more than girls.
Finally, when discussing parents' influences on their sons and daughters, it's important to note that childhood is not simply about play. Many parents assign their children chores and work to do. Research shows that parents more often assign their daughters to do household chores and to care for other children (e.g., do the laundry, watch baby brother), whereas they more often assign boys to outside maintenance and heavy lifting (mow the lawn, take out the trash, clean the garage) (Antill, Goodnow, Russell, & Cotton, 1996; Blair, 1992; McHale, Bartko, Crouter, & Perry-Jenkins, 1990). This pattern is mirrored in nonindustrial societies, where girls more often take care of children and perform domestic tasks (grind the corn) and boys more often perform outside work (herd the sheep) (Edwards, 2002). Such task assignments send clear gender messages to children and set the stage for sex differences in family, education, and work roles later in life. They also foster the development of different cognitive abilities and social skills in girls and boys.
Teachers as well as parents influence children's behavior. Outside of the home, children spend most of their time at school. Some critics of the educational system have charged that classrooms are often unfriendly to boys and seek to feminize them (Fagot, Rodgers, & Leinbach. 2000; Huston, 1983; Wilkinson & Marrett, 1985). The argument is that boys are not allowed to be their rough-and-tumble selves in many classroom settings and that mostly female lower-grade teachers require boys to tone down and behave in a compliant, orderly, self-controlled, and verbally interactive ways (i.e., more like girls). Others argue that classrooms are biased in favor of boys; teachers pay more attention to boys, call on boys more, and encourage greater participation and achievement in boys than in girls (Hendrik & Stange, 1991; Sadker & Sadker, 1986; see Chapter 7). Setting aside the gender politics, researchers must answer an interesting empirical question: Do teachers in fact treat boys and girls differently? If so, why?
The existing research is unlikely to satisfy partisans on either side of the biased-against-boys versus biased-against-girls debate. Teachers may interact more with girls than with boys in preschool and early elementary school settings (Carpenter & Huston-Stein, 1980; Serbia. O'Leary, Kent, & Tonick, 1973). Why? One answer is that girls often work more steadily than boys do, sit at their tables and desks more than boys do, and stay on task more than boys do. It makes sense that teachers would interact more with students who are student-like, and such students are more likely to be girls.
In preschool and kindergarten classrooms, boys show more rough-and-tumble play; they crawl around on the floor more and engage in transportation play with trucks and cars (Fabes, Martin, & Hanish, 2003). Unless teachers crawl, roll on the floor, and wrestle along with the boys, they are not going to participate in these sorts of activities (Fagot & Patterson, 1969). As a result, boys are often left more to their own devices, whereas girls are more clustered around teachers and supervised by adults. Again there is a chicken-and-egg question: Do teachers' actions encourage sex-typed behaviors in boys and girls, or do children's sex-typed behaviors encourage teachers to treat boys and girls differently?
Teachers may treat very young boys and girls differently, even when the children behave similarly. One study of 13- and 14-month-old children in a nursery school-type setting found no sex differences in their assertiveness with other children or in their attempts to communicate with preschool teachers (Fagot, Hagan, Leinbach, & Kronsberg, 1985). However, teachers responded differently to girls' and boys' actions. Specifically, teachers responded more positively (by talking back) to girls' attempts to communicate, whereas they responded more quickly and decisively to boys' attempts to push, kick, or grab toys from other children, usually by picking the boy up and moving him to another activity. A year later, in different classrooms and with different teachers, the same children showed substantial sex differences in their behaviors. Boys were more physically assertive with other children, and girls were more verbally engaged with teachers. Although the new teachers did not react differently to boys and girls, perhaps the previous year's teachers had already set the boys and girls on different paths. As Alexander Pope wrote,"... as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined."
Despite the power that teachers and parents have over children's environments, there may be limits to how much they can influence children's sex-typed behaviors. Some experiments have asked teachers to intervene and encourage boys and girls to play together or to engage in nonsexist toy choices and activities. In general, such studies have produced only weak, short-term effects (Bigler, 1999; Lockheed & Harris, 1984). Furthermore, children quickly revert to their usual sex-typed behaviors as soon as the experiments are over. Similarly, studies that asked mothers to use non-gender-stereotyped playthings with their children did not seem to produce much change in children's behavior or attitudes (Roddy, Klein, Stericker, & Kurdek, 1981; Sedney, 1987). Many studies found only weak relations between parents' encouragement or discouragement of sex-typed play and their children's degree of sex-typed play when away from their parents (Eisenberg, Wolchik, Hernandez, & Pasternak, 1985; Katz & Boswell, 1986). Children seem to have a mind of their own when it comes to choosing sex-typed toys and play activities.
Children's play activities, especially boys' activities, may be molded more by peers than by adults, and this might explain why interventions by parents and teachers do not have much effect. In one study, University of Oregon psychologist Beverly Fagot (1985) observed how teachers and peers influenced the sex-typed behaviors of 3- and 4-year-old children. She found that boys actively encouraged masculine behaviors in other boys and discouraged feminine behaviors such as playing with girls or with girls' toys. In contrast, girls did not consistently influence other girls to behave in masculine or feminine ways. Most interesting of all was the finding that boys responded to pressures from other boys; however, they largely ignored girls and teachers.
In an earlier study, Fagot (1977) observed similar phenomena. Preschool girls were relatively tolerant of other girls who engaged in masculine activities. However, preschool boys policed other boys' activities. Boys who played with girls or who played girls' games were taunted with labels such as sissy and baby boy. Fagot's studies suggest that peer pressures—particularly pressures from other boys—are especially powerful in making boys tow the line when it comes to gender. (See Langlois & Downs  and Zucker, Wilson-Smith, Kurita. & Stern  for further evidence of boys' disapproval of cross-sex behavior in other boys). Studies of older children also indicate that peer influences may be stronger than parent and teacher influences in predicting children's degree of sex-typed behavior (Katz & Ksansnak, 1994).
One factor that may intensify peer influences is childhood sex segregation. Starting as early as the third year of life, boys and girls increasingly interact with just members of their own sex (Maccoby, 1998). Although sex segregation starts at about the time that children are first able to label gender, the evidence for a cause-effect relationship between gender labeling and sex segregation is mixed (Fagot, 1985; Fagot, Leinbach, & Hagan, 1986; Serbin, Moller, Gulko, Powlishta, & Colburne, 1994; Smetana & LeTourneau, 1984). The ability to label gender, however, may intensify sex segregation, for then boys and girls form a kind of us-versus-them mentality about the two sexes.
Why do children show sex segregation? One hypothesis is that it results from boys' and girls' differing play styles (LaFreniere, Strayer, & Gauthier, 1984), Boys' play is more rough-and-tumble, group-oriented, and competitive than girls' play. A boy finds other boys more fun to play with because they like to engage in the same rough-and-tumble, active, arousing play he does. In contrast, a girl finds boys not-so-fun to play with because they are impulsive, domineering, and unresponsive to her verbal requests and negotiations. Although play incompatibility contributes to childhood sex segregation, it is unlikely to be a complete explanation, for even boys who do not particularly like rough-and-tumble usually play mostly with other boys, and girls who like active rough-and-tumble play usually play mostly with girls (Maccoby, 1998). Research suggests that sex segregation amplifies already existing tendencies in boys and girls; for example, boys' play is most active, forceful, and rough-and-tumble when boys play with other boys (Fabes, Martin, & Hanish, 2003).
Learning Gender After Early Childhood
Although many studies have focused on early childhood, gender learning continues throughout life (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Research on older children suggests that parents restrict school-aged girls more than school-aged boys (Huston, 1983; Newson & Newson, 1986). Perhaps this is because parents view girls to be more vulnerable than boys to violence and sexual assault. Across cultures, boys and girls are often assigned different kinds of chores and tasks when growing up (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Boys' tasks often require more independence and physical activity (herding sheep, mowing the lawn, delivering newspapers), whereas girls' tasks involve repetitive domestic activities (cleaning, preparing food, caring for younger siblings). Whatever their motivations, parents may end up giving their daughters a kind of dependence training and their sons a kind of independence training (Ruble, Greulich, Pomerantz, & Gochberg, 1993). Parents sometimes offer more help to daughters than to sons when they work on school problems and intellectual tasks (Fagot, 1978; Gold, Crombie, Brender, & Mate, 1984). Although this seems to favor girls on the surface, it may inadvertently train girls to be more passive and dependent than boys. At least one study has found that parents praise boys more than girls when assisting them with school-type problems (Allesandri & Lewis, 1993).
Although today's parents encourage both daughters and sons to achieve academically and to pursue good jobs, parents may still hold different expectations for their daughters and sons. In a carefully conducted longitudinal study of the academic performance and occupational choices of some 2,000 Michigan school children, University of Michigan psychologist Jacqueline Eccles and her colleagues (1993) found that, on average, parents believed girls to be better at English and boys to be better at math. Furthermore, these gender stereotypes were related to parents' expectations for their own sons and daughters. That is, parents who believed girls to have less math ability than boys tended to have lower expectations for their own daughters' math performance. Finally, parents' expectations for their children were linked to their children's self-rated ability and academic performance, even after statistically controlling for the children's actual ability levels. The implication is that parents' gender stereotypes influence their expectations for their sons and daughters, which in turn influence their children's self-concepts and ultimately their academic performance and career choices.
A study by Harriet Tenenbaum and Campbell Leaper (2003) also suggested that parents' gender-stereotyped beliefs about science may influence boys' and girls' interest in science. Parents of 11- and 13-year-old students reported that their daughters were less interested in science than their sons, even though sons and daughters in fact expressed similar levels of interest and ability in science. Parents' beliefs were significantly correlated with their children's interest in science, suggesting that parents' gender-stereotypic beliefs may have influenced their sons' and daughters' interest in science. Finally Tenenbaum and Leaper observed parents and children as they worked together on actual science projects, and they found that fathers used more complex and demanding language with their sons than with their daughters during these tasks.
According to social learning theory, children do not learn to behave as boys and girls simply by responding to rewards and punishments. Children also model (i.e., observe and imitate) others. What is the evidence that children in fact model gender-related behaviors? The most obvious models for children are their same-sex parents. Surprisingly, research has not consistently shown that young boys prefer to imitate their fathers over their mothers or that young girls prefer to imitate their mothers over their fathers, nor do children strongly prefer to spend more time with their same-sex parent (Barkley, Ullman, Otto, & Brecht, 1977; Maccoby, 1998; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Smith & Daglish, 1977). Children's personalities tend to resemble the personality of their most dominant or attractive parent, not necessarily that of their same-sex parent (Hetherington, 1967). This finding is consistent with other research indicating that children are most likely to imitate people who they perceive to be powerful, warm, and of high status (Bandura, 1977). Indeed, one study showed that boys will model opposite-sex models if the model possesses high social power (Bussey & Bandura, 1984).
Is there a relationship between parents' sex-typed attitudes and behaviors and those of their children? Some studies show that the children of working mothers show less sex-typing and more flexible attitudes about gender than the children of stay-at-home mothers (Levy, 1989; Marantz & Mansfield, 1977; Urberg, 1982; Weinraub et al., 1984); this would seem to support the imitation hypothesis. However, when demographic variables such as socioeconomic status are statistically controlled for, there may in fact be little relationship between mother's employment status and children's sex-typed behaviors or gender knowledge (Serbin, Powlishta, & Gulko, 1993). As shown later, lower social class tends to be associated with higher sex-typing.
Other studies have investigated the possible effects of fathers' absence on boys' masculinity. Psychologists Michael Stevenson and Kathryn Black (1988) conducted a meta-analysis of 67 studies that investigated this topic. Overall, they concluded that the results were weak and inconsistent. There was some tendency for preschool boys in father-absent homes to show less sex-typed toy preferences. Paradoxically, however, older boys from father-absent homes tended to be more masculine and particularly, more aggressive. Stevenson and Black speculated that the effects of father absence depended on contextual factors such as the reasons for the fathers' absence (e.g., death, divorce, desertion, military service), socioeconomic status, and presence of other male figures at home.
The effects of father presence and absence may also depend on the characteristics of the present or absent father. For example, one intriguing recent study found that, in general, father absence led to more conduct problems in young children. However, when fathers themselves showed antisocial behaviors, children were better off (i.e., they showed fewer conduct problems) when their fathers were absent (Jaffee, Moffitt, Caspi, & Taylor, 2003). Given that conduct problems tend to be more common in boys than girls (Moffit, Caspi, Rutter, & Silva, 2001), it seems likely that the antisocial traits of absent and present fathers might particularly influence boys' levels of conduct problems. In sum, although a number of studies indicate that children do not imitate their same-sex parents' gender-related behaviors in any simple way, parents undoubtedly influence their children's sex-typed behaviors in complex ways.
Of course, parents are not the only role models for boys and girls. Siblings are also important. Research suggests that same-sex siblings interacting together engage in more sex-typed behaviors than do only children (Stoneman, Brody, & MacKinnon, 1986). Indeed, same-sex siblings may influence children's gender attitudes more than their parents do (Abramovitch, Corter, & Pepler, 1980; Barry, 1980; Katz & Ksausnak. 1994). A large-scale British study found that preschool boys with older brothers and preschool girls with older sisters behaved in more sex-typed ways than singleton boys and girls, who in turn behaved in more sex-typed ways than children with opposite-sex older siblings (Rust et al., 2000).
Finally, boys and girls may model the behavior of same-sex peers and same-sex adults outside their immediate family. Girls and boys may not be strongly influenced by any single same-sex model, but when they gain a sense that most males or most females engage in a particular kind of behavior, they are likely to follow the crowd and imitate that behavior (Bussey & Bandura, 1984; Bussey & Perry, 1982). Boys and girls are astute observers of their social world. They size up consistencies in the behavior of other males and females, and they generally behave like the majority of their own sex. It is through such imitation that boys and girls absorb the gender lessons provided by their communities and cultures.
Learning Gender From the Mass Media
In modern societies children learn a lot about gender from the mass media and in particular, from TV. Starting in the 1970s, studies examined the gender-stereotyped content of TV shows, commercials, and cartoons. In general, they found that the two sexes are portrayed very differently. TV shows often have more male than female characters, sometimes three to four times as many (Signorelli, 1993). Men on TV are portrayed in diverse occupations, and they are often portrayed as heroes and problem solvers. In contrast, female characters occupy a more limited range of roles: housewife, secretary, nurse, and witch. Female characters are often sexualized, even when they are portrayed in serious roles such as police officers, nurses, doctors, and lawyers. More than men, women in TV are portrayed as a few types: either as young, sexy, and attractive or as older, asexual, and comical.
Although the content of TV shows and advertisements has grown less stereotyped over the past 20 years, gender bias still remains. One study summarized 25 years of research on gender stereotyping in TV commercials, including studies from America, Australia, Denmark, France, I long Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Portugal (Furnham & Mak, 1999), Despite variations across cultures, authority figures in commercials were more often male than female, and product users were more often female than male. Men were more likely to be portrayed in professional roles or as interviewers, whereas women were more likely to be shown in dependent and domestic roles. Women tended to populate commercials for home products (e.g., cleaning products, home furnishings, food and food preparation products), whereas men populated commercials for out-of-home products (e.g., cars, sports equipment, outdoor tools). Perhaps not surprisingly, TV commercials from traditional cultures (e.g., Hong Kong, Indonesia) showed more gender stereotyping than those from less traditional cultures (the United States, Denmark). A content analysis of 1,337 prime time commercials from three major U.S. TV networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) found that gender stereotypes had not changed much in TV ads from the 1980s to the late 1990s (Ganahl, Prinsen, & Netzley, 2003).
TV cartoons have been subjected to close research scrutiny, in part because they are targeted specifically at young children. University of Dayton communications researchers Teresa Thompson and Eugenia Zerbinos (1995) analyzed 175 episodes of 41 different children's cartoon shows, and they found gender stereotypes to be commonplace. Male cartoon characters were portrayed as much more ingenious, courageous, and aggressive than female characters. Male characters excelled in leadership; they often rescued other characters, particularly damsels in distress. In contrast, female characters were portrayed to be more sensitive, emotional, warm, mature, and romantic than male characters. Female characters were often less technically competent than male characters. Since 1980, female characters have been presented as more independent, assertive, intelligent, and competent than they were before 1980. Nonetheless, many gender stereotypes remain.
Do the mass media create and reinforce gender stereotypes?
Does this stereotyping register with the children who watch the cartoons? The answer seems to be, yes. In one study, Thompson and Zerbinos (1997) interviewed 89 children who ranged in age from 4 to 9 years. These children reported that male cartoon characters are more active and violent, whereas female cartoon characters are more domestic, interested in romance, and concerned with appearance. Furthermore, children who perceived more gender stereotypic behavior in cartoon characters tended also to estimate more gender stereotyped job possibilities for adults of their own sex. Although the cause-effect relationship is not clear here, one possibility is that the occupational stereotypes that children learn from TV cartoons influence the occupational options they envision for themselves.
Consistent with this view, a number of studies have found that heavy TV viewing in children is associated with stronger gender stereotypes (Eisenstock, 1984; McGhee & Frueh, 1980; Zuckerman, Singer, & Singer, 1980). Longitudinal studies have suggested that extended TV viewing fosters gender stereotypes, particularly in children who did not hold strong stereotypes to start with (Morgan, 1982). In a study that comes closest to demonstrating a cause-effect relationship between TV viewing and gender stereotypes, researchers studied a Canadian town that had not received TV transmissions because of its location in the Rocky Mountains; this town was nicknamed "Notel" by the researchers. When cable TV was introduced to Notel in the 1970s, children who lived there were studied and compared with children in two comparable Canadian towns that already received TV transmissions (Kimball, 1986). Researchers found that before TV transmissions started, the children of Notel had weaker gender stereotypes than the children from the comparison cities. However, after a couple of years of exposure to TV, the gender stereotypes displayed by Notel children grew significantly stronger, particularly among boys.