The Case for Nurture
Social learning theories propose that children learn to behave as boys and girls as a result of rewards, punishments, and imitation. Sex-typed play is one of the earliest differences to emerge in girls' and boys' behavior. Research shows that parents encourage sex-typed play in children, that fathers encourage sex-typed play more strongly than mothers, and that parents encourage sex-typed play more in boys than in girls. In addition, parents may restrict girls more than boys, encourage more independence in boys than in girls, physically stimulate boys more than girls, verbally stimulate girls more than boys, encourage different emotions in boys and girls, and assign different tasks to boys and girls. All of these can lead boys and girls to behave differently.
Teacher, peer, and media influences are importance in molding gender-related behaviors. Teachers sometimes treat boys and girls differently, although the reasons for this are not always clear. Peer influences may be especially important in molding children's sex-typed behaviors. In early and middle childhood, boys and girls interact mostly with members of their own sex, and this sex segregation intensifies differences between boys and girls. Boys in particular seem to police one another, encouraging masculine behaviors and ridiculing feminine behaviors. The mass media are saturated with gender stereotypic images, and children learn common gender stereotypes and sex-typed behaviors by watching television.
Children progress through definite stages of gender understanding. By age 2 1/2 years, most children accurately label themselves as boys or girls, and by age 3 1/2, most children understand that gender is stable over time. Between ages 3 and 4, children internalize standards of sex-typed conduct and acquire an inner gender gyroscope that guides their behavior as boys and girls. By age 6 or 7, most children achieve gender constancy, that is, a mature understanding that gender is stable and not influenced by superficial changes in body appearance or dress. Gender knowledge has social origins and social consequences. Accurate gender labeling increases children's attention to same-sex models, helps gender stereotypes to develop, and permits children to learn about gender from their social environment. As children move into middle childhood, their gender stereotypes become not only stronger and more extensive but also more flexible. Social factors such as parents' gender beliefs, peer influences, sibling influences, and media influences affect gender knowledge and stereotypes.
Once in place, gender stereotypes influence people's behavior in many ways. People try to act consistently with gender stereotypes, particularly in settings that make gender salient. People often influence others—in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways—to act consistently with gender stereotypes. Finally, negative stereotypes about the abilities of men and women may undermine individuals' performance in affected domains.
Broad social factors lead women and men to behave differently. Social role theory proposes that the behavior of women and men is more a function of gender roles than of innate traits. Traditional gender roles prescribe three commonly observed patterns of 'margin-top:5.0pt;margin-right:0cm;margin-bottom:5.0pt; margin-left:59.0pt;text-align:justify;text-indent:-18.0pt;line-height:15.6pt; text-autospace:none'>1. Women are more often homemakers; and men, more often workers,
2. Women and men tend to have different occupations.
3. Women tend to have lower-status positions than men do.
As a result, traditional roles foster different behaviors in women and men (e.g., more expressive behaviors in women and more instrumental behaviors in men), and these behaviors lead us to form gender stereotypes and to mistakenly attribute gender differences to innate traits rather than to the invisible hand of social roles.
Status differences between women and men also produce different behaviors in women and men (e.g., different nonverbal behaviors, different behaviors in groups). However, these different behaviors are a function of status, not of innate differences between the sexes.
Taken together, the research summarized here shows that social and environmental factors have a powerful influence on many of the phenomena described by the term gender.