Discuss Kohlberg’s theory of gender development. (8 marks + 16 marks)Watch
In Kohlberg’s theory, he proposes that children are active agents are masters of their own gender-role socialisation.
The theory includes stages at which the gender development takes place: Gender Identity (2-3 y/o), Gender Stability (3-7 y/o) and Gender Consistency (7-12 y/o).
The stages of development of gender concepts are parallel to the cognitive development and maturing of the brain as proposed by Slaby and Frey.
The first stage of the theory, Gender Identity, is where the child is able to label themselves as girl/boy and is able to label others as girl/boy. However, they may believe that their gender could change when they e.g. grow up.
Once the child has established gender identity, they would become aware that gender is fixed (Gender Stability) and accepts that girls would grow in to women and boys in to males. However, they may believe that they would change sex by changing appearance to the opposite sex. E.g. a child may think a boy with long hair has changed to a girl. It follows that they would pay more attention to same sex individuals who they model as this observation makes it possible for children to internalise gender-stereotypical behaviours as proposed by Geis. The child would imitate and perform sex-appropriate activities as they believe it is what children of the same sex do.
This is referred to as self-socialisation as it is independent of external reinforcements from others such as parents.
This shows that gender identity is crucial for gender role identification.
As the child matures cognitively, Gender Consistency would take place. This is where the child recognises that superficial changes and activities do not alter the gender. Example the gender would remain constant when a girl plays football or a boy has his hair long. Relating to this theory, Piaget described that during the concrete operational stage (7-11 y/o) children are able to understand the concept of conserve and are no longer mislead by appearances. An example of this is a child would not be fooled in to thinking that the volume of water has changed in a differently shaped glass as they would have been previously, not understanding the concept of conservation. They can tell whether something has truly changed of just appears different.
This has implications for the development of understanding gender concepts as the child’s brain becomes more sophisticated and are able to understand that a change in appearance of a person does not change the sex of them, thus acquiring Gender Consistency.
Evidence to support this theory is by Weinraub et al which involved an observational study of 2-3 y/o children. It showed that children who had mastered gender identity had more preference for sex-stereotyped toys than others who didn’t acquire gender identity. Once the child has identified themselves as girl/boy, they would behave like they would expect an individual of the same sex to behave.
This supports the theory as it shows once all the stages of the gender consistency theory is acquired, there is a preference for gender type activities.
Cross culture research by Munroe et al provides an opportunity to determine whether human development and behaviour is universal or unique to the culture. Findings were that the sequence of development of the gender concepts were similar in other cultures (Kenya, Nepal, Belize and Samoa) Biological development, especially brain maturity, is also similar in other cultures.
This shows that cognitive maturity is more important than social experience to develop gender concepts.
The cognitive developmental theory is only one approach in explaining gender development. There is a biological approach with the key factor in gender role being genes and hormones. The cognitive developmental theory does not mention the influence of genes and hormones and suggests that changing the way people think alters gender behaviour. However there is research which suggests while thinking may change, behaviour does not. A study by Durkin found that couples theoretically agree to share domestic duties, but it practice it doesn’t happen. It may be that the division of labour of gender roles is biologically based rather than psychologically based which is not mentioned in Kohlberg’s gender consistency theory.
Slaby and Frey found that boys tended to exhibit gender consistency faster than girls and Houston points out that it is easier to get girls to take on masculine-type activities while it is less easier to get boys to take on feminine-type activities as they are more likely to resist e.g. dressing up as a girl. Gender difference could occur because boys are more likely to be punished for gender inappropriate behaviour than girls, so therefore would learn gender appropriate behaviours rapidly as proposed by Langlois and Downs.
This challenges Kohlberg’s theory as evidence shows there are gender differences between boys and girls which are not taken in to account in Kohlberg’s theory.