The older we get the more we are defined by our gender. Children start to develop a sense of gender and the characteristics that accompany their sex as young as the age of two. Over time, they begin to recognize stereotypes that women and men possess. They are led to believe that only girls are only allowed to do feminine things such as cook or draw. Boys are only allowed to take part in activities that are deemed as masculine like participating in sports or playing with trucks.
Many factors are at fault and lead many to believe and follow certain stereotypes. Teaching children stereotypes confuses them and can reaffirm the sexist ideas we are trying to diminish. There are mainly three things that impact a child’s views on gender: society, parental and peer influences, and popular culture. These influential factors make it difficult for children to develop their own ideas on gender. Though some do argue, stereotypes help children differentiate between genders and help them recognize what behavior is appropriate for each sex.
Overall the standards we place on children could be potentially detrimental for their futures because they also begin to develop sexist ideas and continue the cycle of conformity. The desire to be accepted is the driving force that leads many to conformity. A child has to figure out what box they fit into society, but it is anything but easy; “Learning to behave in accordance with one’s gender identity is a lifelong process” says author Aaron Devor. If anyone understands the struggle of finding their identity, it would be Aaron H.
Devor, who was born Holly Devor. In “Becoming Members of Society: Learning The Social Meanings of Gender” written by Devor, is focused on gender roles created by our society. Basically, Devor states that gender roles are societal norms that dictate what types of behaviors are generally considered appropriate for a person based on their sex. Society morphs our ideas and beliefs and as human beings because we have a natural desire to be accepted by others, we conform to unfair standards.
In order to determine whether or not stereotypes have an impact on a child’s development, we must look at the roots at which their ideas on gender develop. At the age of two, toddlers will begin to use stereotypes during play; girls are to play with “feminine” toys and boys “masculine” toys. This raises the question; where do children learn stereotypes? Stereotypes are mainly influenced by parents or guardians, who they themselves have ideas on what gender is, all taught by societal standards we seem to uphold.
They choose what is appropriate for girls and boys to wear, play with, watch, participate in, and act. All these things begin to influence a child’s interests and choices. Professor Susan D. Witt states in her article, “Parental Influence on Children’s Socialization to Gender Roles” published in 1997, that “A child’s burgeoning sense of self, or self concept, is a result of the multitude of ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that he or she is exposed to”. The environment in which a child is in will have drastic impact on their views.
But children are also influenced by their peers. Though gender roles become reinforced once a child begins school. Another influence a child has is popular culture. It is said that pop culture is a reflection of our society’s values, which creates rituals, beliefs, misconceptions, and popular icons expressing those values. The article, “Why Does Gender Matter? Counteracting Stereotypes With Young Children” written by Olaiya E. Aina and Petronella A. Cameron in 2011, explains the effects of popular culture, “Gender stereotypes are pervasive in the media and popular culture.
Consumer products inundate children with gender-typed messages on bed sheets, towels, bandages, clothes, school supplies, toys, and furniture”. Products are marketed specifically for each gender and a child has to pick from a designated area based on their sex. Media advertisements and movies can show children unsettling and unfair portrayals of men and women, just another way negative views are taught. If many understood the consequences these influences have on a child’s future, they would try to diminish certain stereotypes.
Consequences that ultimately affects their career aspirations and academics. Choosing a career is a way of revealing a part of the identity a child would like to have. Aina and Cameron report in their article that many children begin to develop career aspirations during pre-school years. When a child creates a concept of a future self that reveals a part of an identity they wish to have as they grow older. Being told that they can not follow a certain career path because of their sex can destroy the self esteem of many, eventually becoming harmful to their well being.
Aina and Cameron recall a study that focused on career aspirations in four and five-year-old children, where researchers coded participants’ responses by categorizing occupations as female, male, or neutral, based on national statistics for that occupation. Researchers found that; “males aspired to more gender- typed fields than girls, who chose evenly among traditionally male, female, and neutral occupations”. Many do not comprehend the underlying pressures a parent places on their child. They may not realize that they set expectations for their children based on their gender and it is important to recognize.
Aina and Cameron also reports a study conducted with the parents of three to five-year-olds where it was found that children had perceptions of their parent’s approval that did not coordinate well with the parents’ beliefs. Most parents had non-stereotypes attitudes on questionnaire about cross gender play; “When asked, 64% of parents said they would buy their son a doll, 84% would not get upset seeing their son wearing a dress in the dramatic play area, and 92% did not think ballet lessons for a boy would be a mistake”.
The children in fact revealed that they believed that their parents would not be accepting of cross-gender play, particularly for boys. This study demonstrates how unfortunately children perceive their parent’s actions, attitudes, and words. Parents need to instill values where children will feel as though they will be accepted unconditionally. Looking for parental approval is one the main reasons, children are hesitant to be themselves. They are afraid that they will not be accepted in society and by their peers which eventually leads children to conformity.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that stereotypes facilitate unjust assumptions and misconceptions, many stand by them. Many truly believe that certain stereotypes are necessary to navigate through our society. Stereotypes help children differentiate between genders and help kids know which behavior is appropriate for each sex. Also they can give structure and guidance to children. They help children find their place and groups in which they can relate to. We as humans are naturally drawn to those who are similar to ourselves and because of this we are grouped based on our gender.
Although being clumped by our sex creates unfair standards on what each one should live up to. The benefits of following gender stereotypes include that they can provide a sense a secrurity for children and they aid decision making. But it seems that the negative aspects outweigh the psotives; “These costs include limiting opportunities for both boys and girls, ignoring talent, and perpetuating unfairness in our society” (Witt). We as humans are naturally drawn to those who are similar to ourselves and because of this we are grouped based on our gender.
Being clumped by our sex creates unfair standards on what each one should live up to. In a society that is filled with gender stereotypes, children constantly adopt gender roles that are prejudiced. As a child grows they become more exposed to factors that ultimately impacts their ideas and behavior in regards to gender roles. Their outlook on gender is typically taught at home and reinforced through peer interactions and popular culture which align with the values of our society.
We can also conclude that gender stereotyping hinders a child’s overall development and has an overall effect on their academic achievemensts and later career aspirations and choices. Though a child is influenced by all these factors, they still have their own views; “Young children create and internalize their own meanings of gender, based on the social cues of the adults, environments, and media around them. Adults in turn have a responsibility to ensure that those cues and messages create a healthy understanding of what it means to be male and female” (Aina & Cameron).
Parents or guardians of child must create an environment in which they feel safe to be their own person. Parents also feel a pressure to conform to society and traditional views that they too become fearful that their child will not be accepted in society. As members of society it is up to us to change the negative viewpoints that is placed on gender and try to get rid of stereotypes. We must try to develop new views in society to diminish and create a new normal, where a boy wearing a dress will not be ridiculed for his choices and where a girl can play with cars and not be reprimanded for being too masculine.
People have seen the positive outcomes of being accepting of one another; “Families with one or more androgynous parent (i. e. , a mom who repairs the family car or a dad who bakes cookies for the PTA meeting) have been found to be highest on scores of parental warmth and support. These androgynous parents are found to be highly encouraging regarding achievement and developing a sense of self worth in sons and daughters” (Witt). Only good can from encouraging acceptance and as members of society it is our obligation to ignite change.