Social Context on Gender (Parents & Media)

A* essay on parents & the media's influence on gender development, hope it'll help!

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  • Created on: 04-01-12 20:18
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Discus the influence of social contexts on gender (for example the influences of parents and the media)
(24 marks)
Gender refers to the culturally constructed differences between masculinity and femininity. The social
learning theory, also known as the behaviourist approach, proposes that we learn gender appropriate
behaviours through socialization and upbringing. In this essay I shall be discussing Bandura's social learning
theory and the influences of parents and the media on gender development.
Walters and Bandura created the Social learning theory in order to explain how our social environment is the
main factor which steers our gender development. The two important ways that we learn gender role
behaviours is through operant conditioning and modelling. Children may be punished for gender
inappropriate behaviours in order to shape their attitudes, for example, a boy being teased for playing with
dolls. This behaviour would be negatively reinforced as a society may believe it doesn't run accordingly to
their gender role. Positive reinforcement would be given in forms of rewards such as praise to encourage
children to exhibit gender appropriate behaviors, for example, a girl being praised for baking and wearing
dresses. Modelling, also known as social learning is where a child engages in gender role behaviour through
observation of same-sex models, internalizing and imitating their behaviours and attitudes. However a child
must be able to differentiate between gender role models in order to learn what is right or wrong to do in
terms of gender appropriate behaviours.
The key to social learning theory is that our understanding of gender comes from our social environment.
Often it is our parents who are our main role models from a young age as they are with us from birth. Based
on their understanding of their gender will then influence the behaviours and attitudes of their children as
boys and girls are treated differently. A study carried out by Smith and Lloyd was done to see the extent
people treated children differently. A group of female participants were asked to play with an unfamiliar
baby. There were a range of toys for both genders available to them and results showed that women treated
the babies differently according to their gender. Motor activity was more encouraged in the boys, whilst
girls were talked to more calmly and gently. This then supports the theory that people reinforce boys &
girls differently.
However, the study had methodological issues, such as it was a lab study, meaning could've seemed artificial
therefore lacked ecological validity. The results may not be reliable as the women may have shown
behaviour they thought the researchers wanted to see, known as demand characteristics. Only women
were used so there was a sample bias, not representative of men. The study may be considered unethical
concerning the babies, they may have felt distress due to the unfamiliarity of the participants. Parental
consent is always needed in studies using children in order to prevent breaching the ethical guidelines.
Gender stereotyping is also reinforced through the means of media, such as magazines to the radio; however
nothing has a more influential role than the television. A study which showed the extent to which the
television reinforces gender stereotypes was carried out by Williams. He studied 3 towns in Canada which
had different exposures to television. One town had no television, Notel, the second town had one channel,
Unitel, and the third had access to all US channels, Multitel. Through questionnaires which asked children
about gender stereotypes e.g. what behaviours are typical to boys and girls? The results showed that Notel
& Unitel were considerably less sex typed than Multitel. The children in Notel were re-assessed two years
later when television was introduced & the findings showed that their views were significantly more
sex-typed. It was concluded that TV influences our behaviour and attitudes in terms of sex typing.

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A key criticism to this study is that it was carried out in Canada on Canadian children, therefore there is a
sample bias, meaning finding cannot be extrapolated to other cultures. The results may be unreliable as
they used questionnaires in which the children could've lied, or written answers they thought the
researchers were expecting, this is known as demand characteristics. There was a positive correlation
between television and sex typing, however it showed the relationship between the variables, but not a
cause.…read more


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