Development of Gender Identity Across Life

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Developing a full gender identity is an essential component of developing as a whole. It’s something we’re almost entirely unaware of for a time of our lives and even by the time one does come to understand it, it has already been biased and shaped a specific way due to a whole variety of factors, especially our individual cultures.

To begin, it’s necessary for me to provide you with the specific differences between gender, gender roles, and the socialization of gender itself. Gender “refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex”; it is not a synonym for sex to mean the genitalia provided upon birth. Gender roles are very similar, though it is more so referring to the role or actual behavior learned by an individual as the culturally accepted version of what society associates with that individual’s gender. Then there’s gender socialization: “the process by which cultural information about gender is transmitted from one generation to the next within the ecocultural context” (Best, 2015). To connect the pieces; you are assigned a gender at your birth, then by going through the process of gender socialization, are understand the concept gender and what your gender’s role is according to society. The development of gender identity usually occurs throughout middle to late childhood with heavy emphasis on the initial way we learn to understand gender as a concept and as it applies to people. However, gender identity is still especially important throughout the rest of the lifespan, including during one’s adolescent years when undergoing biological changes commonly marked with rituals and ceremonies to mark the coming of age.

Before any of that occurs, one must go through the process of learning to understand gender itself. Lawrence Kohlberg paved the way to an answer when he proposed a three step acquisition process to gender identity, beginning first with the need for the child to learn to label the “self and others accurately”, also referred to as gender identity (Frable, 1997). Secondly, he proposed the individual must learn the concept of gender stability that states that boys become men and girls become women, it doesn’t change biologically speaking. His final proposed step of the process was the understanding of gender constancy, or in other words, the child learning that being male or female is permanent and not changed by cultural gender cues. Later, theorists Slaby and Frey (1975) took this basis of information to expand it into a measurement scale of the development of gender with the inclusion of an additional, base step as well as a reorganization of the structure of the theory. Their stage one was known as a base or floor, where the child is unaware of or incorrectly assumes gender distinctions. The second, third and fourth respectively were then the gender identity step from Kohlberg, followed by gender stability and concluding with gender consistency. It is also common for theorists today to include a different task required for understanding of gender identity: motive. After one understands that identity continues over time (gender stability), they must next understand that the identity is not changed by will or wishes (motive). Through successful completion of these mental tasks, children begin to understand gender.

Once there is an understanding of gender, an initial base gender identity has been formed which may then ultimately be affected by a variety of different factors. The roles and expectations played by the parents is one of the most important ones as so many of its different dimensions may influence gender development. Parents may intentionally or inadvertently hold expectations regarding their child’s gender that reflect the parents’ memories of their own childhood. The interpretations the parents have of their child’s biological sex traits are portrayed through “the names that boys and girls are given, how they are dressed and cared for, what behaviors are considered appropriate, and what tasks and roles they are taught” and are all influenced according to culture (Best, 2015). As a result, the child grows up with a culturally derived script to assume, written by their parents, which will guide their behavior until they fully understand their own gender label or roles. This is important because these scripts ultimately shape the way the children are socialized, which in turn only further fuels the way they cement their gender identity.

Another factor that influences gender development is the differential treatment of girls and boys. The Logoli people of Kenya have sharp sex differentiations and thus also differential treatment of the females and men. In hunter-gatherer, traditional cultures such as the rural Logoli or the Sambia people of New Guinea, the men have a completely different role with traits and expectations more highly valued over those of females. These societies typically differentiate between the sexes throughout most aspects of their culture beginning at very young ages. Beginning with simple task assignment, you will see that the Logoli people recruit young girls for the domestic work overwhelmingly more than they do for the boys who are often being taught to or are assisting in hunting among other “male” activities. Even in somewhat less rural settings where education may be an option, the differentiation has the potential to determine as far as who will go for school and for how long.

It is in these cultures with sharp sex distinctions that there is usually some sort of coming initiation or coming of age ritual. For most females, it concerns marking the girl’s first period. Commonly, after females in Sri Lanka get their first period they are celebrated by friends and family with gifts as well as undergoing something of a spa-like treatment in isolation before being dressed with a Sari and jewelry, symbolizing new womanhood. Similarly positive, the Krobo people of Ghana have a festival in April called “Dipo” to initiate girls into adolescence because they believed the girls who participated in the ceremony while still a virgin will make good wives. During the festival, the girls are half-clothed to represent a transition into adulthood and are decorated with beads and cloth around their waists. After two days the ceremony ends and the girls then have a portion of their head shaved and are treated to a meal as a closing event of the ceremonies. One of the most unique occurs in Indonesia, where boys or girls of a certain age (girls must have had their first period) undergo a process known as “mepandes”, which is really just filling teeth, enacted with the intention of ridding evil forces like desire, greed, and anger. During this ceremony, it is occurring before sunrise with religious songs accompanying the event and is carried out by a priest. Other areas of Ghana also undergo a much less pleasant sort of ritual to mark when girls become women. Here, once they have their first period it is common to separate the girls away from the rest of the village for four weeks. At least at the end, there’s also a village-wide ceremony to celebrate.

Boys undergo rituals too, though not in honor of their reproductive system. Rather often times there is some sort of ritual to commemorate their entrance into manhood; the time they can be sexually active perhaps or are expected to marry or take on other responsibilities contributing to the community. One specific culture I want to focus on that has a ritual for boys at precisely the age of ten is the Sambia people of New Guinea. They are a hunter-gatherer society in the rain forest mountain valleys, separated from most of the rest of society. Their particular belief that absolutely everything is inherently male or female runs parallel to a secondary belief that “femaleness” is innate and more efficient than maleness. Here, gender formation (for men) is intended as a function of the initiations they undergo. Once the boys complete the roughly six different stages of the masculinization process, they are able to engage in heterosexual behavior and get married and possibly even have kids. It’s much harder than it sounds though, as the six stages occur from ages 6-10 and are intended to turn the boys into warriors. It is imperative to the processes of and teaching the ceremony is the notion that women can be dangerous to men. This led to the underlying purpose of the initiation ritual; boys are taught to detach themselves from their mothers and other women to prove they can live without them while also proving their masculinity. The initiation itself is somewhat erotic or sexual in what it consists of. The first stages include having a sharp stick of cane is inserted deeply into the nostrils until profuse bleeding occurs and also engage in “copulating” with older (male) warriors to “make them grow”. The cane acts as a symbol of strength and shows an ability to sustain pain. The fellatio and ingesting of semen on the other hand are believed necessary to manhood because they believe boys cannot mature to men without ingesting semen and adhering to the notion that it is a commonly accepted thing. Once completed, they have officially become men and more specifically, warriors.

There are still other factors that influence the overall development of one’s gender, though their impact is not as significant. After the initial understanding of the concept of gender to go through the process during childhood of following the culturally prescribed schema set forth by your parents and culture, one can progress in their life and continue to develop their identity. Because gender identity is a “person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex at birth”, it is an integral part of the development of one’s identity as a whole that continues throughout the lifespan (Bandura & Bussey, 1999). It is so essential that one have a full understanding of their most basic self of whom they can grow, mature, and add onto over the years to eventually grow into their true, full identity.

 

 

Works Cited

Bandura, A., & Bussey, K. (1999). Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and       Differentiation. Psychological Review,106(4), 676-713. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aac7/97414129d5c51c528e402a94d60a5786387d.pdf.

Best, D. L., & Luvender, K. L. (2015). Gender Development: Cultural Differences. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 742-749. Retrieved April 19, 2017. Definitions Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in APA Documents. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2017, from https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf

Frable, D. E. (1997). Gender, Racial, Ethnic, Sexual, and Class Identifications . Annual Review of Psychology,48(24), 1-4. Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.48.1.139?u rl_ver=Z39.88- 2003&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&jour nalCode=psych

Munroe, R. H., Shimmin, H. S., & Munroe, R. L. (1984). Gender understanding and sex role preference in four cultures. Developmental Psychology,20(4), 673-682. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.20.4.673 Real men drink semen? |The Sambia Tribe’s initiation from Boyz to Men. (2014, September 25). Retrieved April 19, 2017, from http://www.orijinculture.com/community/masculinisation-dehumanization-sambia-tribe-papua-guinea/

It’s Time to Face THAT Problem

Recently, there have been numerous reports of gender inequality in the workplace, and especially within the male-dominated fields such as the rapidly growing technology field. This is nothing new. For years now we have made idle statements claiming efforts are truly being made toward progressing both women’s opportunities in the workforce, as well as their general treatment. However previously, we have not had the privilege of acquiring any recorded proof that has been able to spread through society across all forms of social media the way that recent reports from individuals such as Susan Fowler have in recent months. Because of these unfortunately continuing scenarios coming to light, there has been a focus placed on gender differences both in and out of the workplace.

In developmental terms, by the time an individual is thriving or even just entering in the workforce, gender differences and stereotypes are near concretely defined. Unfortunately with this conclusion, it brings along some outdated packing that’s pretty discriminatory against modern day women. Today, women still face societal as well as professional inequality with men, usually focusing solely on the success of the man over the woman. Also, a much more subtle persisting attitude seems to be an underlying sexist environment, once again especially prevalent in the tech fields that feature many start-up companies. Within these environments we find subtle and potentially unconscious bias toward men, exclusion from the male-dominated environments, potential intimidation, and even harassment.

As stated, these ideals came packaged with the gender expectations we molded ourselves as a society; these are not natural truths. These false beliefs not only encourage these types of issues to continue but also discourage others from believing that it is possible for that sort of hostile environment to change, with effort of course. Hopefully with the publication of these terrible truths finally coming to light, we can acknowledge the issue head on.

“Technology’s Man Problem” written by Claire Cain Miller began by covering the controversy of the creation of the app “Titstare”, in which “you take photos of yourself staring at tits”, one of the creators explained. This caused unexpectedly intense backlash and a brave individual, referred to as Ms. Shevinsky, to stand up against the lack of women in the tech industry. Things ultimately took a turn for the worse, involving disputes between not only her and the defenders of Titstare, but also with personal coworkers who ultimately also defended the App company as not being misogynistic. This specific coworker was her business partner and immediately sparked heat between the two. As a female reading this article, I was hoping Ms. Shevinsky would stand her ground throughout the article and defend the rights of females in the workplace. To my disgust, after many more incidents occurred and prompted her business partner to publicly apologize for his actions and words, she simply forgave him and even eventually returned to work with him. In my personal opinion, she has settled for less than what we as collective females deserve and once more made it seem to be okay to allow this to happen in the first place.

As I stated, there have been numerous recent reports regarding gender differences and identities in the workplace. Another similar issue just recently occurred and gained wide recognition for exposing the reality of the “bro culture” that exists amongst male-dominated fields, once again in this case specifically referencing the famous tech company Uber.

Published in her own words, on her own blog Susan Fowler documented the year she spent with Uber and the treatment she underwent during this time. There were so many incidents that were just utterly wrong that there are too many to even report here. Susan started as one of the 25% of women working at Uber at the time as an engineer, shortly after, the incidents began. A superior sexually propositioned her and upon being reported to HR and management, was nearly completely dismissed and Ms. Fowler had to accept a simple warning as a consequence. Similar occurrences kept up, and upon talking with other women, Fowler soon discovered that each was experiencing similar uncomfortable situations, sometimes by the exact same unpunished man, and ultimately getting their concerns swept under the carpet. After all, this man was a “high performer”, so the company couldn’t bear to lose him. Fowler was fed up with the hostile environment and lack of support from HR and management that she eventually requested a transfer to a different department that she was entirely qualified for. Because of “undocumented performance problems”, she was denied the transfer (Fowler, 2017). After later receiving a positive performance review, she tried for a transfer yet again, and to my shock she described how the review had been altered to report negative feedback, resulting in another blocked transfer. Throughout the entire process, HR and management continued to deny and protect their male, high-performing employees. After her position was unlawfully threatened, Susan decided to leave Uber, and told her story to the world. She calculated for us that now, of over 150 engineers at Uber, women make up only 3% of that figure. Considering that figure, it’s almost ironic that women were originally synonymous with “computers”—that is, until the field gained prestige and was dominated by men.

This is not only a problem present in the tech-fields of America, but across multiple different cultures as well. Each faces their own individualized problem of what issues they have present as well as how they can address them. This can be confronted, as seen in a prime example by looking at the equality between genders found in countries like Norway. Norway on the contrary to the United States, is actually known for its equality. Men and women are formally seen as equals with “equal access to education, health, social services” and especially equal opportunities in the workforce (Brother, 2015). This isn’t to say that Norway’s found the solution to the problem, for when you look deeper they may have achieved successful formal equality, though still suffer a lesser version of a reality which is not truly as equal as they seem. Still, their societal ideals that may underlie the existing “real equality” have not been permitted to prevent progress and equality within their formal structures.

Both these stories explicitly represent the struggles enduring struggles women face in society and specifically the workplace. The current generation dominating the workforce has stronger, less malleable conceptions of how to successfully operate in the business world due to more concrete gender identities and stereotypes from their younger years that have thankfully progressed forward in favor of women today. Hopefully, as my own generation and those that follow who embrace the ideals of equality across all genders, races, cultures, and identities begin to take over society and the work force, these issues may begin to resolve on their own. Other countries such as Norway might not be perfect, but they’ve managed to address one of the most prevalent, basic issues of equality that our society cannot seem to get a handle on. One thing is for sure though, and that’s that we must start taking the steps toward breaking down the gender barrier to eventually successfully and completely do so in the future.

Works Cited

Fowler, Susan J. “Reflecting OnOne Very, Very Strange Year at Uber.” Blog post. Susan J. Fowler. Blog, 19 Feb. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017. <https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/2017/2/19/reflecting-on-one-very-strange-year-at-uber&gt;.

Miller, C. C. (2014, April 5). Technology’s Man Problem. The New York Times, p. 6. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/technology/technologys-man-problem.html?_r=0

Brain Development in the Early Years of Life and Its Relation to Language Acquisition

Our senses are relatively undeveloped when we are initially born, though quickly develop to catch up to the demands and stimuli of the environment. Specifically, the brain undergoes some of the greatest development among the other systems of the infant. The brain develops quickest due to the numerous different tasks it must perfect to perform effectively in order to survive and mature further in life. Some of these tasks include basic survival functions while others, such as language acquisition, are equally necessary to function in daily life. There has been much theorizing regarding this specific topic, though Lenneberg distinguished one of the most important and prevailing assumptions. He proposed to us that there is a critical learning period for language acquisition that occurs from the early years of life to around age three or four. It is during this time that learning a language is most likely to occur and is easiest for us, as our brains are undergoing simultaneous motor and cognitive development. This can be attributed to the increasing brain specialization that is occurring and the resulting pruning effect wherein experiences shape the kind of synapses present and strengthens them in order to get better at a specific ability.

As stated previously, it is during this time that simultaneous development is occurring throughout language as well as motor and cognition. This is important to note because of the relationship between the acquisition of language, our memory abilities, and the cognitive capacity required for this process. This concept is detailed thoroughly throughout Maria Konnikova’s “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades” article. In a nutshell, the article explains the importance of handwriting in relation to retaining memories. Handwriting is just the written form of language production, and retaining the memories detailed within the words helps promote further language comprehension and in turn, further language production. Retaining information and rules regarding a specific language is necessary in order to become fluent, and in order to do this, encoding as both short-term and long-term memories is necessary.

The vocabulary that is ultimately learned however, will not only depend on a biological function such as language acquisition, but also relies heavily upon the culture wherein the child is being raised. Slight differences amongst cultures account for great differentiation between the ultimate vocabulary and patterns of speech adopted. In Western cultures, children are generally found to be more talkative with a preference to embellish and give long, detailed narratives, allowing for more practice with the language. On the contrary, in Japan, talkativeness is perceived more negatively and therefore children speak less and in briefer sentences. Western and specifically American cultures also apply topic-centric learning whereby they teach with a focus on a single, clearly defined subject in order for kids to learn skills to describe these concepts more deeply. For African-Americans however, topic-associating learning is more common to de-emphasize focus on a single topic and to allow greater freedom of expression. Lastly, in regard to grammar learned, American children are taught and learn with a focus on noun vocabulary whereas
East Asian children typically learn verb vocabulary first and with a heavier emphasis. These slight cultural differences provide correlation with the later fully developed language abilities of an individual.

As it seems, both genes and the environment play a crucial role on determining one’s language comprehension and production. Most of the necessary development occurs within different times of the first year of life, with further fine-tuned development beginning in the second year of life. It is extremely important that certain areas of the infant brain such as the hippocampus, pre-frontal cortex, and the auditory and visual systems develop to full capacity in order to comprehend and produce language. During the first few weeks of life, vision is still quite underdeveloped compared to its full potential so the infant temporarily relies more heavily on their better developed auditory system to begin to learn the concept of and comprehension of language. There is a relative time-table of language development that occurs within the first year of life that details how the infant begins with simple cooing sounds, progresses to babbling and making gestures, further on toward comprehension of words and simple sentences and ultimately to the first spoken word occurring around 12 months of age. The first steps taken toward learning a language is when the infant listens to and eventually will copy the words and manner of speaking of the parents. Both at this time of life and throughout the lifespan, language comprehension exceeds language production, as demonstrated in the time-table as comprehension occurs before production of the first word.

There are measurements available to assess infant development progress, most notably the Bayley III Scale. This scale looks at ages 3 months through 3.5 years of age and assesses the progress of development of cognitive, language, and motor development. This scale formally measures the concepts detailed in the beginning of my post by focusing on and assessing the speed of habituation . Though this scale is not predictive of the future, it is a useful tool to determine children with low developmental progress in order to intervene with attempts at treatment.

Language development is a critical piece of our overall development, and specifically within the first few years. The fact that we have a genetic basis for our development that may then be altered by simple conditions of the culture and environment lead to drastic differences in one’s comprehension, production, and manner of speaking a language.