Gender and Sexual Identity
Understanding gender and sexual identities and the functions and effects of gender roles is important because it allows one to understand themselves and how to relate to others. The creation of gender identity is a complex process involving biological, cultural, and psychological elements (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). A person’s gender identity is the deepest feelings one has about their gender and is expressed by the way they behave feminine, masculine, neither or both (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). For most individuals gender identity is not much of a concern (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Gender roles on the other hand are of much concern to people (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Gender roles tell one how to act as either a man or woman in their culture. In fact, many people question whether they are sufficiently feminine or masculine (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Not only does culture relate to gender identity and gender roles it also relates to sexual identity development. For instance, the world around a person helps shape their sexuality and the ways it is expressed (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Sexual identity is realized in adulthood when one identifies with a sexual identity such as; heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). This paper will analyze sexual and gender identity relating to how they evolve throughout ones’ lifespan and influences that contribute to their development. Analysis of; how gender identity contributes to sexual expression, functions and effects of gender/role stereotypes and their effects on relationships will be discussed. Additionally, the author will also contribute final thoughts on what male gender roles should be changed to reflect female roles.
Gender and Sexual Identity Evolving through Lifespan
When one is born, assignment of gender is given based on anatomical appearance (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). This assignment tells others how to respond affecting the individual’s social and cultural development (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). As development occurs through early childhood the individual is able to identify themselves as boy or girl based on what is internalized from what others have told them coupled by factors that are not yet understood (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). The feeling of either femaleness or maleness is the individual’s gender identity and is developed between the ages of 2 or 3 (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). During this stage some children may believe that they can change genders by changing their clothes or hair length (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). By the age of 6 or 7 children begin to understand that gender is permanent and it is not something that can be altered or changed by clothes (Yarber & Sayad,2012).
Gender identity evolves with how we feel and express our gender and gender roles (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). These expressions are linked to culture and are expressed through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). Although gender identity is established by seven years of age gender identity expression is communicated and it evolves over time through changes in society and culture (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Different pressures from birth through childhood to conform to ones gender are expressed through learning gender roles (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). In infancy throughout childhood a girl may be given dresses to wear, have long hair, and may be prescribed to wear colors such as pink (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Conversely boys may be prescribed to wear pants and blue colors. Parents begin assignment of gender roles based on a child’s gender which shapes the formation of their gender identity (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Parents deploy the use of manipulation from infancy onward by treating girls gently, telling her she’s pretty (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). They tell boys they are strong and tell them that boys do not cry (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Channeling is used by directing children’s attention to objects that are gender specific such as dolls for girls and cars for boys (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Parents during childhood also use verbal appellation to describe the same behavior with different words for boys and girls (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Activity exposure is another way parents expose their children to gender roles (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). For instance boys are discouraged from imitating their mothers while girls are encouraged to be there mother’s helper (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Throughout childhood and adolescence teachers and peers are socializing agents that also provide standards for gender-role behavior (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).
Sexual identity/orientation evolves throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood. In childhood and early adolescence there is most often sex play or sexual experimentation with members of the opposite sex and same sex (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). When these exploratory experiences begin there is uncertainty in terms of sexual orientation (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). When late adolescence begins and in young adulthood both male and females are confronted with the importance of developing and establishing intimacy (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). The need to be able to develop intimacy places pressure on young adults to conform to a sexual identity and in order to establish intimacy in a relationship one needs to solidify with a sexual orientation (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). By late adolescence or young adulthood most individuals develop a heterosexual identity (Yarber & Sayad,2012). For those who are attracted to the same sex it can take longer to accept their sexual identity because of societal taboos (Yarber & Sayad,2012). In middle adulthood individuals may question intimacy and commitment due to divorce (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). During this stage some people may reevaluate their sexual identity because one’s philosophy continues to evolve (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).
Influences Contributing to Gender and Sexual Identity Development
Parental influence contributes towards gender and sexual identity development. Gender identity is influenced by gender roles which parents instill in the children from birth through childhood (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Sexual identities are influenced by parents through the child observing their parents behaviors and family dynamics and characteristics (Yarber & Sayad, 2012)…
Peers influence gender identity through providing information about gender role and norms through play activities (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Peers provide standards for gender roles by granting or withholding approval with others by deciding what games to play, what television shows to watch, what types of foods to eat, and what music to listen to. Peers influence sexual identity by passing information about sex to each other (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Furthermore, peer influence places sexual pressure on boys to be sexually active even if they are uninterested or unprepared (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).
Media influences gender identity through the information they provide on gender roles and perceived norms (Yarber & Sayad, 2012; Wood). Females on television are attractive, thin, well groomed and most often under 40 (Wood). In contrast, males are most often aggressive, solve problems and rescue others from danger (Wood). The media influences sexual identity by bombarding adolescents and children with sexual images (Wood). The exposure increases teen’s willingness to experiment with sex (Wood).
Religiosity influences gender identity development through information they provide on gender roles and norms (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). The information religion provides shapes adolescent sexual behaviors (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). This in return influences the choices adolescents and young adults will make regarding their sexual orientation (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).
Gender Identity and Sexual Expression
As mentioned earlier gender roles influence the adaptation of one’s gender identity (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). The relationship of gender roles and gender identity is also linked with sexual expression (Yarber & Sayad,2012). One will sexually express themselves through gender roles that are learned as well as through social and cultural roles which offer sexual scripts that provide rule, acts, and expectations associated with a particular role (Yarber & Sayad,2012). The sexual scripts in American culture strongly influence sexual expression in both men and women. Sexual scripts and gender roles may be different for those that are bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Sexual scripts organize one’s sexual expression (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). There is a cultural component to sexual scripts which emphasizes heterosexuality, places sexual intercourse first, and discourages masturbation (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).Within cultural scripts there are specific male and female scripts that are encouraged by society to be practiced (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Male sexual scripts include; men should not have or express certain feelings, performance is only what counts, the man is in charge and already know what the woman wants, a man is always ready for sex and wants it, all physical contact leads to sex, all erotic contact leads to sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse leads to orgasm (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Female sexual scripts include: sex is both good and bad, sex is for men and love is for women, men should know what women want, women should not talk about sex, women should look like models, a man’s desires should be over hers and his orgasm over hers, and only through penile penetration can a woman have an orgasm (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). Interpersonal scripts deal with shared conventions and signals expressed by a couple signaling sexual behaviors. Intrapersonal scripts deal with the physiological states that lead to or identify sexual arousal (Yarber & Sayad, 2012).
Gender Role Stereotypes
There are four different types of gender role stereotypes. The first category of gender role stereotype is personality traits (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). Male gender roles include specific personality traits. For instance in America there are specific personality traits related to the traditional male role. Male gender role traits include; aggressiveness, independence, emotional toughness, feelings of superiority, and decisiveness (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). For females gender role stereotypes include: passivity, compliance, physical attractiveness, and being a wife and mother (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). The second category of gender stereotypes is domestic behaviors (Planned-Parenthood,2015). Males are regarded as being best at doing household repairs while females are regarded as being best at caring for children (Yarber & Sayad, 2012). The next category of gender role stereotypes involves occupations (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). Most doctors and construction workers are males and until recently most secretaries and nurses were female (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). The last category of gender role stereotype is physical appearance (Planned-Parenthood, 2015). Men are expected to be strong, broad shouldered and tall and women are expected to be graceful and small (Planned-Parenthood, 2015).
Supporting and Refuting Gender Role Stereotypes
Evidence that supports the reason why these gender role stereotypes are fulfilled is presented in the article, What is Stereotype Threat? (2015). In the article gender role stereotypes are thought to be perpetuated not because one agrees with the gender role rather because one perceives the threat as a risk to conformity which inadvertently leads the individual to self-handicapping strategies that in return preserves the stereotype that was being avoided (“What is stereotype threat?”). Another reason why gender stereotypes are fulfilled is because of the discomfort they cause the individual. For instance gender role stereotypes can also cause an individual enough discomfort to go against the gender role that they cause the individual to alter or redefine their professional career paths (“What is stereotype threat?”). Evidence that refutes gender stereotypes is that they do not apply to all ethnicities and socioeconomic classes (“What is stereotype threat?”). The majority of research on gender roles has been based on research on White and middle class which are mostly college students (“What is stereotype threat?”). The roles in other words, are not true to all socioeconomic classes or ethnicities. In addition there is evidence which supports that traditional gender roles are no longer valid because there are new ones which have evolved. Traditional gender role stereotypes are evolving from traditional hierarchical roles to ones that are egalitarian and androgynous (“What is stereotype threat?”). Additionally, scholars have challenged masculine and feminine gender roles and have found that they are unhealthy and fail to reflect the real world (“What is stereotype threat?”).
Functions of Gender Role Stereotypes
The overall functions of these stereotypes is to make multiple associations between gender and other non-sex linked qualities such as strength (male) and affection (female), the next function of gender stereotypes is to is to create a basis for social norm, status, taboos and privileges (Yarber & Sayad,2012). The problem with gender role functions is that they categorize people and undervalue the uniqueness of individuals (Yarber & Sayad,2012).
Gender Roles: Affecting Relationships and Sexual Interactions
Gender roles affect relationships because they aid in creating sexual scripts for both males and females (Yarber & Sayad,2012). These roles are then telling both male and females how to behave in their relationships and what sexual script each should adhere to (Yarber & Sayad,2012). The sexual script in return tells each gender how to participate in sexual acts (Yarber & Sayad,2012).
Gender role attitudes and behaviors of the male sex I would like to see become more like my own include men looking like models and being constantly attractive. I think if this same standard was mentioned or even enforced culturally and by media standards there just may be consensus between both males and females that such standards are not ideal and is ridiculous. Another gender role stereotype that would be nice to see in the male sex is for men to become nurturers. It would be nice to see more males make sacrifices for the partner’s careers or the children’s needs even if it may inconvenience them form what they may want . The on taking of this role may help make roles androgynous. The final role behavior I would like to see more like my own is for males to be caregivers of children. Men becoming caregivers of children may allot women more opportunities within the workplace because they have the peace of mind knowing their counterpart is taking care of their child.
Planned-Parenthood. (2015). Sexual orientation and gender are fundamental parts of who we are. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sexual-orientation-gender
What is stereotype threat? (2015). Retrieved from http://www.reducingstereotypethreat.org/definition.html
Wood, J. T. (n.d.). The influence of media on views of gender. Retrieved from http://www.udel.edu/comm245/readings/GenderedMedia.pdf
Yarber, W., Sayad, B., & Strong, B. (2012). Human sexuality: Diversity in contemporary America. (8th ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill.