The influence of social factors on childrens awareness of gender roles

Parents, peers and the media are all social factors that affect children’s awareness of gender roles. The influence of parents and peers can be explained in terms of social learning theory. Parents and peers are role models for children, they observe the behaviour of the model and then imitate it later on, and this behaviour is learnt. Same-sex models are usually sought out by children therefore females copy females, males copy males, and therefore they learn gender stereotyped behaviour for their gender.

This becomes internalized into their idea of their gender role. Parents are the first social role model for children. This means that a male would usually copy their dad’s behaviours, since they seek out same-sex models. Operant conditioning is used by parents to reinforce their gender role, by gender appropriate behaviour getting rewarded with attention or praise, this action will then be repeated to get further rewards. Peers are also social role models for children.

Peers, often in school, self-assess each other’s behaviour on its gender appropriateness. This is usually followed with verbal comments praising gender appropriate behaviour and rejecting inappropriate behaviour. For instance, a girl may wear a dress, and get praised and complimented it is pretty, but if she wears trousers, she is ignored. She is therefore reinforced to wear a dress for acceptance and attention. Media is also said to effect gender role awareness.

This is because media presents models of men and women in a stereotypical manner. Men are dominant, violent and ambitious and women are passive, romantic and dependent on men as portrayed by the media. Child can observe and thus learn this behaviour. Also, media portrays situations were gender inappropriate actions are met with negative consequences, for instance if a man wore a dress, the audience may laugh. Children learn this consequence and lose confidence in acting in said way, as they fear the consequence of doing it.

A study that supports these influences on gender role awareness was a study that observed the reactions of parents and peers to children playing with gender appropriate and inappropriate toys. They found fathers were openly disapproving of their children, particularly boys, playing with inappropriate toys. Peers also reacted in this way through disapproval and also violence. This supports the idea that peers and parents encourage gender appropriate behaviour by reacting negatively to children that display inappropriate behaviour, making them less likely to repeat inappropriate gender behaviour.

However, this study is era dependent. It was conducted in the 1900’s, and the views on gender and raising children may have changed since then. Therefore children may not be raised or punished this way in society today. This makes this research not generalizable to the present day. Another study that supports these influences on gender role awareness is a study that looked at a town with and without TV, codenamed Multitel and Unitel Respectively.

It was found, via questionnaire and other methods, that children’s stereo typed views within Multitel were strong, whereas in Notel they were weak. After TV was introduced to Notel, it was found that Notel adopted similar attitudes to Multitel in terms of gender stereotyped views. This supports medias influence on social roles, as attitudes towards gender roles were changed when Notel was introduced to TV, they became similar to that of Multitels, which makes the results more credible.

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