Socialization and Social Roles

Socialization theory, the notion that boys and girls become different because boys are reinforced by parents, teachers, and the media for being "masculine," and girls for being "feminine," is probably the most widely held theory of sex dif ferences in personality The theory can be summarized as follows: Boys are given baseball bats and trucks. Girls are given dolls. Boys are praised for engaging in rough-and-tumble play. Girls are praised for being cute and obedient.

Learning Theory Gender
Both socialization and social learning theories hold that gender roles have their roots in early sex-differentiated learning experiences—in short, boys are encouraged in one direction, girls are encouraged in another direction.

Boys are punished for crying. Girls are comforted when they cry . Over time, according to socialization theory , children learn the classes of behaviors deemed appropriate for their sex.

In Bandura's (1977) social learning theory, a variant of socialization theory , boys and girls also learn by observing the behaviors of others, called models, of their own sex. Boys watch their fathers, male teachers, and male peers. Girls watch their mothers, female teachers, and female peer models. Boys see their fathers work. Girls see their mothers cook. Over time, even in the absence of direct reinforcement, these models provide a guide to behaviors that are masculine or feminine.

Some empirical evidence exists to support socialization and social learning theories of sex dif ferences. Studies of socialization practices have found that both mothers and fathers encourage dependency more in girls than in boys (Block, 1983). Furthermore, parents encourage girls to stay close to home, whereas boys are permitted or even encouraged to roam. Other studies suggest that fathers engage in more physical play with their sons than with their daughters (Fagot & Leinbach, 1987). Finally, it is clear that parents provide "gendered toys" to their children. Boys generally receive a greater variety of toys, more cars and trucks, more sports equipment, and more tools than girls do (Rheingold & Cook, 1975). Girls receive more dolls, pink clothing and furnishings, strollers, swings, and household appliances. There is considerable empirical evidence that is consistent with socialization and social learning theory.

Cross-cultural evidence for dif ferent treatment of boys and girls exists as well. In many cultures, fathers do not interact with their daughters as much as with their sons (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Girls in most cultures tend to be assigned more domestic chores than boys. Boys are permitted in most cultures to stray farther from home than are girls (Hoyenga & Hoyenga, 1993). Finally , boys in most cultures are socialized to be more competitive than are girls (Low , 1989). In a lar ge study of socialization practices across cultures, Low (1989) found that, in 82 percent of the cultures, the girls were trained to be more nurturant than the boys, and there were no cultures that showed the opposite pattern. Interestingly, in the majority of the cultures, the girls were socialized to be more sexually restrained than the boys—that is, the parents tried to teach their daughters to delay having sexual intercourse, whereas the boys were encouraged to have sexual intercourse (Low, 1989). In summary, the cross-cultural evidence tells us that patterns of socialization found in the United States are not unique.

One potential dif ficulty, however , pertains to the direction of ef fects— whether parents are socializing children in sex-linked ways or whether children are channeling their parents' behavior to correspond to their existing sex-linked preferences (e.g., Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Perhaps the interests of the children drive the parents' behavior, rather than the other way around. Parents may start out by giving a variety of toys to their children; however, if boys show no interest in dolls and girls show no interest in trucks, then over time parents may stop purchasing masculine toys for their daughters and feminine toys for their sons. The simple theory that the causal arrow runs one way—from parents to children—is at least open to question.

Another problem for traditional theories of socialization is that they provide no account of the origins of dif ferential parental socialization practices. Why do parents want their boys and girls to grow up dif ferently? Are these sex-linked socialization practices limited to America and other Western cultures, or are they seen universally? Ideally, a comprehensive theory of the origins of sex dif ferences should be able to account for the origins of sex-linked socialization practices. In sum, parents undoubtedly treat boys and girls dif ferently, supporting the theory of sex-linked socialization of personality, but the origins of these practices currently remain a mystery .

A theory closely related to traditional socialization theories is social role theory (Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Wood, 1999). According to social role theory , sex differences originate because men and women are distributed dif ferently into dif ferent occupational and family roles. Men, for example, are expected to assume the breadwinning role. Women are expected to assume the homemaker role. Over time, children presumably learn the behaviors that are linked to these roles. Girls learn to be nurturing and emotionally supportive because these qualities are linked with the maternal role. Boys learn to be tough and aggressive because these are qualities expected of the breadwinner role.

Like more traditional socialization theories, there is some evidence supporting social role theory (Eagly , 1987, 1995). Men and women in America have assumed different occupation and family roles, with women found more often in domestic and child-caring roles, men more often in occupational roles. Another line of evidence supporting social role theory used an event-sampling procedure to explore how men' s and women's behavior varied as a function of the social role to which they were assigned—a supervisor role, a co-worker role, or the role of someone being supervised by someone else. Social role assignment had a lar ge impact on the dominant behaviors that were expressed. The men and women assigned to the supervisor role displayed significantly more dominance, whereas those assigned the supervisee rol displayed significantly more submissiveness (Moskowitz, Suh, & Desaulniers, 1994) These findings are especially important in that the design of the study was within subject. That is, when the roles were reversed, the people who formerly displayed dominance displayed submissiveness when they were put in a supervisee role, whereas the people who formerly were submissive became more dominant when they were assigned to the supervisor role.

Like socialization theory, however, social role theory fails to provide an account of the origins of sex-linked roles. Who assigns the dif ferent roles? Why should men and women passively accept the roles they are assigned? Why don' t children follow the role of sitting quietly on airplanes or eating their spinach? Why do women assume domestic roles more than men? Are these roles found in all cultures?

Social role theory , however, is becoming increasingly testable, as family and occupational roles change. Women are assuming breadwinning roles more often than in the past, and men are assuming greater responsibility for domestic duties. With these changes, if social role theory is correct, sex dif ferences should diminish as well. In other words, researchers 20 years from now should find smaller sex di ferences in assertiveness and tender -mindedness than they do today . If, on the other hand, sex differences persist, despite increased equality in role assignment, this will constitute empirical evidence against social role theory .

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