How Do We Become a "She" and a "He"?
Gender is the social and psychological aspects of being male and female. It develops in many different ways - biologically, socially and cognitively. Below are the different perspectives on gender development.
The Biological Perspective on Gender Development
The 23rd pair (or the last pair) of our chromosomes determines our sex. (Note: The difference between sex and gender is that the former is biological, while the latter is social and psychological.) XX is the sexual chromosomal pair of females, while XY is for males. The Y chromosome is much smaller than the X chromosome, and is responsible for the higher percentage of androgen hormones in males than in females. High level of androgens in males' bodies is consequently responsible for the development of the male sexual organ, starting 7 weeks of prenatal development. Because females do not possess a Y chromosome, but a doubled X chromosome, they have lower level of androgens than males, but they have higher percentage of estrogens in the body. The low level of androgens in females' bodies is not enough to trigger the development of the male genitalia, leaving the female genitalia as is. Thus, if hormonal imbalance occurs, or when chromosomal problems (like having an XXY set of chromosomes) take place, a male can exhibit female genitalia, or even both genitalias, and vice versa. Hermaphrodites - those that have two kinds of sexual organs (although one of them is oftentimes non-functioning) - usually undergo surgery for a genital-genetic match.
The biological perspective on gender development stresses that hormones have a powerful effect in influencing gender development. Aside from influencing the development of sexual organs, Hines (1982) found that male hormones injected in female animal embryos produce masculine physical traits and aggressive behavior. Additionally, the biological perspective on gender development support the evolutionary psychology approach in emphasizing that struggle for survival and reproductive success are powerful forces that shape gender, as humans underwent evolution. According to this approach:
- Men prefer short-term mating practice to produce children;
- Women prefer long-term mates who are willing to support a family
- Men adopt violent and risk-taking behavior as they compete access to women
- Women seek successful men who can provide the resources needed for raising a family; and
- Men strive to acquire more resources to impress women.
Although the combination of hormonal and evolutionary explanations on gender development is compelling, the biological perspective on gender development has met matching criticisms. Hormonal explanations are based from animal research and are arguably less applicable to humans. It is said that hormones do not directly produce feminine or masculine behavior, but that physical traits or looks, impressed upon by hormonal levels, affect social treatment, and consequently gender identity and behavior. Thus, a social factor is at play, and is observed by cross-cultural variations in gender behavior. Additionally, it is said that humans have the capacity to change their behavior with their own free will. Actors and actresses are good examples of how humans can willfully change behavior and act like the opposite sex.
The Social Perspective on Gender Development
Gender Roles are social expectations on how females and males should think, act and feel. The traditional masculine role is powerful, aggressive and independent; while the traditional feminine role is sensitive, relational and less assertive. According to Alice Eagley, the society forces women to adopt roles that are less powerful, less dominant and more cooperative than men. This is in part due to the "pink-and-blue" treatment and the "doll-car" categorization. It was even found out that peers are stricter than most parents in rewarding gender-appropriate behavior and punishing gender-inappropriate behavior, especially during middle and late childhood.
Although women are provided flexible gender roles in the United States, Carol Gilligan blames it for the prevailing lack of confidence among women. According to her, it is during adolescence that girls begin to realize the double-faced gender identity the Western society imposes on women. She said that the society acknowledges and values women as caring and altruistic, yet these traits do not work well and is not financially awarded in the society because the culture is male-dominated. Because of this, women are torn between male values (e.g. selfishness) and female values (e.g. selflessness), leading to ambivalence and self-doubt, and consequently, lack of confidence. According to some researchers, this lack of confidence may be translated to the prevailing depression and eating disorders among women.
The Cognitive Perspective on Gender Development
The cognitive perspective on gender development explains how we develop gender identity and the cognitive differences between the sexes. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the US, boys and girls differ in the following skills:
- Verbal Skills, (1983). Girls perform better than boys, but this is not anymore observed today.
- Mathematical Skills, (1997). Boys are better than girls, but only until Grade 4.
- Reading Skills, (1997-2000). Girls are better than boys, and the gap is widening.
Gender schema is the way in which we organize information about gender. After the biological, social and a portion of the cognitive perspective on gender development are discussed, you have presumably enriched your schema about gender. Perhaps you previously thought that you were not taught to be feminine or to be masculine by your parents; that you haven't thought about your crushes' reproductive status; and that boys are always better in math than girls. Gender schema is your concept of gender, a concept that is altered, changed and modified as you grow older. Presumably, what you think about your gender and gender in its entirety affect the way you behave, become and treat other people.