Gender is an Often Culturally-Prescribed Role
Over the years, there were debates about notions of “sex” and “gender”. The recent point of view is that gender roles are not universal for every individual, people regard them as fundamental and build their lives according to rules and standards prescribed by society. The historical background of the gender development theories shows that major theories discussed gender roles from social, cultural, biological, anthropological and psychological points of view. The biological theory was a leading one and influenced many researches that discussed the development of gender roles. However, results of the previous findings had come to a conclusion that gender roles are the results of social and cultural influences, rather than being a biological sex. The findings of the studies prepared the ground for modern distinguishing of concepts of gender and sex.
In the past, the majority of psychological theories suggested that development of gender occurs in early childhood (the idea provided by Freud). Psychoanalyses influenced greatly on the study of gender roles, however, there was lack of empirical research that led to various reformulations of the notion “gender” and how it should be analyzed. According to Kohlberg’s theory (1966), gender identity begins in early childhood, thus children “develop the stereotypic conceptions of gender from what they see and hear around them” (Bussey & Bandura 1999, p. 4) and they develop their habits and behavior according to these stereotypes. Thus, their understanding of gender was based on biological differences between men and women and defined their behavior and habits. In addition, gender identity was considered to be stable and unchangeable for the whole period of life. However, the findings did not support this theory.
There were no evidences that men and women are biologically different, but there have always been cultural and social factors that shaped the gender roles that men and women had to follow and perform in the society. The study by Gilligan reports that “anthropological research published in that decade uncovered a set of oppositions between maleness and femaleness primarily derived from studies of non-class-based societies” (Stack 1986, p. 321). Over decades women tended to be more involved with private concerns and relationships and the welfare of their own families. As opposed to them, men have always been more universalistic and concerned with the welfare as a whole (Stack, 1986).
The distribution of gender roles based on biological differences contributed to confusions in terminology. The study by Unger and Crawford (1993) provided that there was:
“A great confusion among social scientists about the appropriate use of the terms sex and gender and the researchers who had been conducting studies in this area for many years can easily document examples of such confusion” (p. 122).
Gender was generally a linguistic term, but “in the mid-1970s feminist scholars began to use the term to refer to the social organization of the relationships between the sexes” (Unger & Crawford 1993, p. 123). Feminist researchers also provided the idea that sex-related differences are the products of social expectations (Unger & Crawford 1993, p. 123). Further findings showed that “gender is problematic and sex-related effects are consistent” (Unger & Crawford, 1993, p. 124). Later it was proved that gender identity develops in the social context and can be seen differently in different periods of life of the individual. Thus, biological approach lost its leading position and scientists began focusing on social factors that influence the development of gender roles.
The study by Bussey & Bandura (1999) provided the analysis of the gender role development from the perspective of social cognitive theory. In the past, gender was addressed from the perspective of three major theories based on different dimensions: psychological, biological and sociocultural. Psychological theories focused on the role of “intrapsychic processes governing gender development” (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 3) that discussed gender from the point of view of psychological studies. It was considered that gender identity is the result of psychological development and thus a psychological issue. Sociocultural theory emphasized the role of social and cultural factors that influenced gender roles distribution, and biological theories were based on biological roles of men and women in reproduction. (Bussey & Bandura, 1999), it put emphasis on biological differences of men and women. Social cognitive theory provided by Bandura was based on psychological and sociostructural determinants (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Thus, it suggested that “gender conceptions and role behavior are the products of a broad network of social influences” (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 7). The individual defines his/her gender identity in the process of cultural development. The concept that gender is stable and remains unchangeable during the whole period of life was argued. This theory was a major contribution to the understanding of gender as a culturally-prescribed role and not a biological sex and became a basis for further research.
Consequently, a number of studies that were produced in the past decade explore the historical development of the gender. The historical background of the issue provides the evidences that gender is the result of social development and reflects culturally prescribed roles rather than being a biological sex.
Bussey, K. & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106 (4), 676-713.
Stack, C. B. (1986). The culture of gender: Women and Men of color. Signs, 11 (2), 321-324.
Unger, R. K. & Crawford, M. (1993). Commentary-sex and gender: The troubled relationship between terms and concepts. Psychological science, 4 (2), 122-124.
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