The process of acquiring gender identity can be explained with reference to certain theoretical perspectives on gender socialization. These theories are social learning theory, identification theory, symbolic interaction, and cognitive development theory. According to these theoretical models, different components in the process of gender formation are accentuated by researchers (Lindsey, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the explanation of gender socialization that can be provided with reference to these four theories.
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Definitions of Four Theoretical Perspectives
To understand the process of forming gender identity, it is necessary to refer to certain theories and their definitions. Social learning theory explains gender formation through observation and boys’ and girls’ reactions to external rewards and punishments. For example, if boys are punished for crying “like a girl,” and they are expected to act like boys, they form a vision of behavioral patterns appropriate for the male gender. Being praised for behaving “like a man” (being strong, decisive, fearless), boys accept they’re belonging to males. Identification theory describes gender formation as a process of children’s becoming aware of their gender and following other people’s behaviors (Lindsey, 2015). For instance, identifying oneself as a girl, a female child easily and independently chooses and prefers to wear female clothes.
Furthermore, symbolic interaction is a theoretical model that is focused on symbolic roles children take in their interactions and when playing depending on adults’ feedback. Thus, this theory explains why girls choose to play like “moms” with their toys when boys choose to play with cars. According to cognitive development theory, children get the meaning of gender gradually, along with their intellectual development (Lindsey, 2015). For example, boys and girls can consciously choose what behavior is typical of their gender and act accordingly.
Differences Between Theoretical Models
It is possible to identify four differences between these discussed theories. The first dissimilarity is that cognitive development and identification theories differ from social learning and symbolic interaction ones in terms of accentuating the role of children’s development of mental and awareness processes to explain gender. The second related difference is that some theories reject the critically important role of interacting and following social patterns in this process when others emphasize this role (Lindsey, 2015). The third difference is that gender formation is viewed as a stimulated process by social learning and symbolic interaction theories when other theorists point at the internal development of gender identity. The fourth difference is that some theories are more biological in their nature than others.
Similarities in Social Learning and Symbolic Interaction Theories
Social learning and symbolic interaction theories explain the development of gender identity in similar ways. These models describe the formation of the vision of self with reference to gender while observing others, interacting with them, learning from them and their behaviors. Both theories support the idea that individuals develop their understanding of gender when interacting in social environments and reflecting on other people’s behaviors (Lindsey, 2015). Consequently, children observe and learn what roles are appropriate for boys and girls and what rewards and feedback they receive when following selected patterns and begin to identify themselves as males or females accordingly.
The four theoretical perspectives describing gender formation are social learning theory, identification theory, symbolic interaction, and cognitive development theory. These theories are different in terms of adopting biological or social views on gender formation. However, it is possible to identify the pairs of similar theoretical models to explain how young individuals become aware of their gender and associated roles. Thus, social learning and symbolic interaction theories present related assumptions to discuss the process of gender identification.
Lindsey, L. L. (2015). Gender roles: A sociological perspective (6th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
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