Genderrole Development

Gender-role development is one of the most important areas of human development. In fact, the sex of a newborn sets the agenda for a whole array of developmental experiences that will influence the person throughout his or her life.

The often controversial study of the development of gender is a topic that is inherently interesting to parents, students, researchers, and scholars for several reasons. First and foremost, one's sex is one of the most salient characteristics that is presented to other people. Second, who one is as a male or a female becomes a significant part of one's overall identity; it is one of the first descriptors people use about themselves. Labeling oneself as a ''boy'' or ''girl'' can begin as early as age eighteen months. Third, gender is an important mediator of human experiences and the way in which individuals interact with each other and the physical environment. Individuals' choices of friends, toys, classes taken in middle school, and vocation all are influenced by sex. Finally, the study of sex, gender development, and sex differences becomes the focal point of an age-old controversy that has influenced the field of developmental psychology: the nature-nurture controversy. Are gender roles and sex differences biologically determined? What are the effects of society and culture on gender and sex? How do biology (nature) and environment (nurture) interact and mutually influence each other in this significant dimension of human development?

When discussing gender-role development, the definitions of the terms ''sex'' and ''gender'' need to be understood. Referring to the nature-nurture controversy, scholars have found it important to distinguish those aspects of males and females that can be attributed to biology and those that can be attributed to social influences. The term ''sex'' denotes the actual physical makeup of individuals that define them as male or female. Sex is determined by genetic makeup, internal reproductive organs, the organization of the brain (such as in the control of hormone production), and external genitalia. By contrast, the behavior of individuals as males or females, the types of roles they assume, and their personality characteristics, may be as much a function of social expectations and interactions as their biological makeup. For example, in American culture, females are expected to be nurturing, and males aggressive. These behaviors and characteristics are dependent upon the social context. In order to differentiate social roles and behaviors from biological features, scholars refer to these as ''gender'' and ''gender roles.'' Obviously, sex and gender are intertwined. Social expectations usually are enacted once body parts reveal the biological makeup of the individual.

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