What are some examples of gender stereotypes? Describe the development of gender stereotyping from early childhood into adolescence.
Gender stereotyping can occur in many forms and at many stages of development. Studies show that gender stereotyped behavior can be increased by parental behavior in very early childhood. As one example, children’s scores on sex role discrimination at age 4 were elevated in children whose parents had shown sex-typed toy preference at 18 months (Fagot & Leinbach, 1989). Similarly, another study identified the emergence of gender labeling at about 18 months (Zosuls et al., 2009). Another study showed that the use of gender in functional categories (e.g. “Good morning, boys and girls”) by teachers in elementary school led to subsequent increase in gender stereotyping among the students (Bigler, 1995). Interestingly, from a developmental point of view, this increase in gender stereotyping was largest among students who had not yet developed multiple classification skill. Susan Witt studied the relative influence of parents and peers and found that parents had the more profound influence on gender stereotypes. In addition, she argues, “Sex role stereotypes are well established in early childhood” (Witt, 1997, para. 11). Other research shows gender stereotypes to be quite persistent, “The experimental intervention with elementary school children led to a reduction of occupational stereotyping. Children’s own occupational aspirations were not, however, significantly affected” (Bigler & Liben, 1990).
Gender stereotypes can be created and reinforced in many ways. They can be accidentally reinforced by the unspoken assumptions of caregivers and peers. Gender discriminated color choices (e.g. pink & blue), toy choices (Barbies & GI Joes) and even behavioral expectations (playing catch & playing house) are all examples of unconscious gender role differentiation. More deliberately, boys are frequently expected to play sports, be tough and exhibit characteristics our culture associates with masculinity. Likewise, girls are directed towards dolls and more feminine behaviors and pursuits. Statements like “You hit like a girl” and “Boys don’t cry” make crystal clear the societal expectations for both genders. As socialization and maturation progresses, peer pressure to conform can easily come to include gender stereotyped behaviors. The enforced conformity of adolescence certainly adds to the stereotyping, but as we’ve seen above, gender stereotypes are well in place from very early on.
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