Sex and Gender

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Sex and Gender

  • Sex and gender are an important part of our identity, who we are and how we think of ourselves
  • Sex is the biological aspects of an individual
  • Gender is the psychlogical aspects of maleness and femaleness
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Biological aspects and Gender idenitity

Biological Difference                       Female                           Male              

Chromosome pairing                       **                                 XY

Gonads (the reproductive organs)     Ovaries                           Testes

Hormones                                      More Oestrogen and         More Androgen (including

                                                     Progesterone                   testosterone)

Genitalia (external sex organs)         ******** and vagina            Penis and scrotum

A person with Androgen-insensitivity syndrome is genetically male but is unable to react to androgens either pre or post birth. Their genitalia have an outwardly female appearance. Such children are nearly always assigned and reared as females.

Gender identity is a psychological term that determines a child's gender by their attitudes and behaviour. This determines whether they are masculine or feminine.

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Freud - Psychodynamic Theory

  • He believed we have thoughts and feelings that we are not aware of because they are unconscious. His approach is the psychological approach and is known as the Psychodynamic Approach.
  • The id, containing our basic instincts and drives, is present at birth. It is concerned only with immediate satisfaction of these desires. The id works on the pleasure principle ( "I want" )
  • The ego starts developing at around 3 years old, as we begin to understand that we cannot always have what we want. We begin to find realistic and safe ways of satisfying our desires. The ego works on the reality principle. ( "think about it" )
  • The superego develops at around 6 years old and is the moral part of our personality. It is concernd with right and wrong in our behaviour. The superego has two pasts: the conscience and the ego-ideal. The superego works on the morality principle. ( "it is wrong to ... " )
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Freud - Role of the Ego

When making decisions, we feel anxiety from the conflict - we are not aware because this occurs in our subconscious.

The ego tries to protect itself by finding a way to cope; Freud suggested a number of defence mechanisms that protect us:

  • Displacement - Transferring our negative feelings towards something that will not harm us (e.g. shouting at someone when you're in a bad mood)
  • Sublimation - Channelling negative energies into an acceptable activity (e.g. sport as an outlet for aggression)
  • Identification - Adopting and internalising the ideas and behaviours of another person
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Freud - Gender development

  • The psychodynamic explanation of gender development focuses on identification with the same sex parent during the phallic stage of development


  • First stage - First year of life - the oral stage
  • Stage Two - 1 to 3 years old - the anal stage
  • Stage Three - 3 to 5 years old - the phallic stage --> Gender identity develops here
  • Stage Four - 5 years old to puberty - the latency period
  • Stage Five - adolescence and adulthood - the genital stage

The child at stage three unconsciously sexually desires the opposite sex parent and is jealous of the same sex parent. In order to deal with these feelings and the anxiety that they produce, the child begins to behave like the same sex parent. This is known no identification. Freud believes this process occured differently in boys and girls.

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Freud - Gender development in Boys

  • Boys unconsciously attracted to mother
  • Jealous of father - wants to take his place
  • Anxious that father will find out he has feelings for his mother and will want to castrate him
  • Known as the Oedipus complex
  • Torn between desires he has for his mother and the fear he has of his father
  • In order to deal with anxiety and resolve conflict he gives up feelings for his mother and identifies with his father
  • To resolve the Oedipus complex, the boy begins to behave like his father
  • Adopts a masculine gender role by doing things his father does
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Freud - Gender development in Girls

  • Girl unconsciously attracted to father
  • Jealous and resentful of mother
  • Worried that mother will find out she has feelings for her father
  • Freud says she thinks she has already been castrated so she is not as fearful as the boy
  • She feels conflict between the feelings she has for her father and the fear of losing her mother's love
  • Known as the Electra Complex
  • To resolve this she identifies with her mother and behaves in a similar way to her

The feelings and the way they are resolved will take place in the child's unconscious. Freud called this the phallic stage of psychoseual development and it is completed by the age of about six years old.

He carried out a case study to investigate the gender development of a boy (Little Hans) - this supports the oedipus complex.

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Freud (1909): Little Hans

Aim: To treat little Hans' phobia (however, Freud had minimal therapeutic input). A secondary aim was to explore what factors led to its remission.

Method: Little Hans was a 5 year old boy whose parents followed Freud's ideas. The boy had been very frightened when he saw a horse fall on the street. He thought it was dead. Subsequently, he developed an extreme fear (phobia) of horses; he feared they would bite him and that they would fall down. Over several months the boy's father wrote to Freud, describing incidents and conversations that seemed to be related to his phobia. Hans told his father that he imagined he was given a much larger penis and agreed to his father's suggestion that he wanted to be like his father.

Results: Freud claimed that Hans was experiencing the Oedipus complex. He unconsciously sexually desired his mother and saw his father as a rival and feared castration. He displaced the fear of his father onto horses. The white horse with black around the mouth represented his father who had a dark beard. His fear of being bitten by a horse represented his fear of castration and his fear of horses falling down was his unconscious desire to see his father dead.

Conclusion: This supports Freud's ideas about the Oedipus Complex.

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Freud Evaluation

Freud's ideas have made a huge impact on psychology, psychiatry and many other areas of life, such as literature and films. This is partly because it offers explanations on so many topics.

  • He relied on his patients' memories, which may not have been accurate (this is known as retrospective data)
  • He used a few case studies of his female patients, who all came from a similar background, so his sample was not representative of people in general: their behaviour cannot be generalised to other people
  • He did not study children directly, yet much of his theory is based on childhood experiences
  • Because he uses concepts such as 'libido' and 'identification', which are not directly observable and measurable, it is extremely difficult to test his theory scientifically. If these conflicts are in the unconsciousas Freud described, then they are not accessible for studying and testing, as we cannot see them.
  • Freud's explanation ignores the effect of biological factors (such as genes and hormones) and social influences (as proposed by social learning theory) on gender development.
  • Hans is analysed by the father who is emotionally involved
  • Father is biased as he already admires the work of Freud and may have believed that the boy was in the Oedipal (phallic stage)
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Freud Ethical Issues

  • Treatment not very child friendly (and included leading questions)
  • Freud's theory is proposed by some why children are not believed when reporting sexual abuse
  • Hans interviewed at 19 - didn't have any recollection of the invesitgation so no long lasting effects

Some more evaluation points:

  • Too much emphasis on sex - Freud was over concerned with sexual (physical) factors and made little reference to the influence of the society on development
  • A lot of children grow up in single parent families and develop gender identity without any problems
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Rekers and Moray (1990)

Aim: To investigate whether there is a relationship between gender disturbance and family background

Method: Researchers rated 46 boys with gender disturbance for gender behaviour and gender identity. Their family background was also investigated.

Results: Of the group, 75% of the most severely gender disturbed boys had neither their biological father nor a father substitute living with them.

Conclusion: Boys who do not have a father figure present during their childhood are more likely to develop a problem with their gender identity.

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Social Learning Theory

This theory suggests that gender is learnt from watching and copying the behaviour of others

The processes involved are:

  • Modelling - A role model provides an example for the child
  • Imitation - Copy the behaviour of a model
  • Vicarious Reinforcement - Learning from models being either rewarded or punished

Modelling means that an adult, or another child, acts as a role model and provides an example to follow. Models are anyone who is observed:

  • Who are similar to you - friends, same sex parent
  • Powerful/caring - parents, teachers, older siblings
  • Loving and caring towards a child - parents, teachers
  • Imitation means that the child copies the behaviour shown by a model.
  • Reinforced: If gaining pleasure will reinforce behaviour (also known as vicarious reinforcement)
  • A child will copy a model they see who is being rewarded for their behaviour
  • If the model is being punished, they are less likely to imitate them
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Perry and Bussey (1979)

Aim: To show that children imitate behaviour carried out by the same-sex role models

Method: Children were shown films of role models carrying out activities that were unfamiliar. In one condition, all of the male role models played with one actvity while all the female role models played with the other activity. In the second condition, some of the male role models and some of the female role models played with one activity while the other male and female role models played with the other activity.

Results: In the first condition, the children imitated what they had seen the same-sex role models doing. The boys chose the activity the male role models had played with while the girls chose the activity the female role models had played with. In the second condition, there was no difference in the activities the boys and girls chose.

Conclusion: When children are in an unfamiliar situation, they will observe the behaviour of same-sex role models. This gives them information about whether the activity is appropriate for their sex. If it is, then the child will imitate that behaviour.

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Williams (1986)

Aim: To investigate the effects of television on the gender development of children.

Method: In 1975, Williams studied the effects of television on children living in Canada. At the beginning of the study, one of the towns was being provided with television for the first time while other towns already had television. He measured the attitudes of children living in these towns at the beginning of the study and again two years later.

Results: The children who now had television were more sex setereotyped in their attitudes and behaviour than they had been two years previously.

Conclusion: Gender is learnt by imitating attitudes and behaviour seen on television.

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Manstead and McCulloch (1981)

Aim: To investigate the role of the media and gender stereotypes

Method: Antony Manstead and Caroline McCulloch used the content-analysis technique. They had analysed all advertisements transmitted by a TV channel over seven evenings, except for repeats and those portraying only children or fantasy characters. The total sample was 170. They noted the central figures in terms of various characteristics, such as role, whether product users or authorities on the product and reasons for using the product.

Results: The results showed that 70% of the figures seen to give authoritive information about products were male, but 65% of product users were female; women appeared much more frequently in dependent roles and men in autonomous roles; 64% of figures seen at work were males whereas 73% of figures seen at home were females; females were more likely to use a product for reasons of social approval or self enhancement.

Conclusion: Males were more likely to be portrayed as authoritive, workers, independent and active and females as dependent, home-based, consumers and passive. The advertisements portrayed different roles for males and females that reflected current stereotypes. Social learning theory proposes that advertisements such as these provide models of appropriate gender behaviour.

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Manstead and McCulloch (1981) - continued


  • This theory is well supported by research
  • There are a large number of studies that have found children learn their gender through the observation and imitation of role models
  • It does not explain why children brought up in one parent families, without a strong sam-sex tole model, do not have any difficulty developing their gender
  • It does not explain why two children of the same sex brought up in the same home with the same rol models can behave differently
  • This approach also believes that gender is learnt, it therefore ignores biological differences between males and females
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Gender Schema Theory

  • Gender schema: A mental building block of knowledge that contains information about each gender, that's what helps make the decision whether someone is male or female
  • Gender stereotypes: Believing that all males are similar and all females are similar.
  • Gender schemas are...
    • Made up off knowledge we have about each gender
    • They contain information about behaviours, clothes, activities, personality traits and roles
    • Schemas of some people are made up of gender stereotypes

Martin and Halverson (1981):

  • Believe that gender schemas develop with age - 2+ children know if they are a boy or girl, they can identify other people as being male or female
  • Once children are aware of two different sexes they learn about gender from what they see and what they experience from the world around them
  • Early on, their thoughts are rigid and stereotyped
  • As they get older they gain more knowledge about the world and their gender schemas become more flexible
  • This is also the basis of Kohlberg's theory
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Martin (1989)

Aim: To show that children's understanding of gender becomes less stereotyped and therefore more flexible as they get older

Method: Children heard stories about the toys that male and female characters enjoyed playing with. Some of the characters were described as liking gender stereotyped activities, while other characters were described as liking non gender stereotyped activities. The children were then asked to predict what other toys each character would or would not like to play with.

Results: The younger children used only the sex of the character to decide what other toys he or she would or would not like. For example, they would say that a boy character would like to play with trucks even if they had been told that the boy liked playing with dolls. The older children, however, considered both the sex of the character and the other toys that the character enjoyed playing with. For example, they would say that a girl who like playing with trucks would be less likely to want to play with a doll.

Conclusion: Older children have a more flexible view of gender than younger children do.

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Gender Schema Theory

Stage One - Gender Labelling - Up to 3 years old

By about the age of 18 months a child knows whether it is a boy or girl. By the age of 2 and a half, they can identify other children according to their gender. However, the child doesn't know at the age that we stay the same sex throughout our life, and that we stay the same sex even if we change our appearance (e.g. if a girl was to put trousers on, it doesn't mean that se becomes a boy)

Stage Two - Gender Stability - 3 to 5 years old

Gender stability occurs when the child realises that their sex is stable and remains unchanged throughout life. For example, a four year old boy knows that he become a man when he grows up. However, a child in this stage would be very confused by a man in a dress.

Stage Three - Gender Constancy - 6 years old onwards

When a child has the understanding that gender remains constant in other people as well as themselves, despite changes in appearance, they have reached this stage. The child is now able to converse (have the understanding that something remains the same even though its

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Gender Schema Theory - Continued

Stage Three - Gender Constancy - 6 years old onwards - continued

appearance changes). Kohlberg suggested that at this stage the child pays more attention to people of the same sex and adopts their behaviours, attitudes, and values and, as a result, adopts their gender role.

Individual differences in gender development:

  • There is a suggestion that there are individual differences in gender development
  • Not all children develop gender schemas in the same way, this can depend on how stereotyped their ideas are.
  • Highly gender schematised - where gender is an important way of thinking about the world so information is organised according to what is gender appropriate and what is gender inappropriate.
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Levy and Carter (1989)

Aim: To show that there are individual differences in the way children think about gender

Method: Children were shown pictures of two toys and asked to choose the one they would like to play with. Sometimes, the toys in the pictures were both stereotypically masculine, somtimes they were both stereotypically feminine. Sometimes there was one masculine and one feminine toy. These pictures were shown to high and low gender schemitised children.

Results: The highly gender schematised children chose quickly between the pictures when they were shown one masculine and one feminine toy. If, however, they were shown 2 masculine toys or 2 feminine toys, they took longer to choose because they either wanted both of the toys or neither of them. The less gender schematised children chose on the basis of personal preference. It therefore took them the same amount of time to choose between the toys on each set of pictures.

Conclusion: Highly gender schematised children choose toys on the basis of whether or not they are appropriate for their sex. Less gender schematised children choose on the basis of personal preference.

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Evaluation of Gender Schema Theory

  • Many psychologists see this theory as being the most detailed and thorough explanation of gender theory. It is well supported by evidence and has 'intuitive appeal' (i.e. it fits with our experiences).
  • It does not explain the following:
    • Why some children are more highly gender schematised than others
    • Why gender begins to develop at the age of two
    • Why children choose same sex friends and gender appropriate toys before they are able to correctly identify themselves as male or female.
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