CHAPTER 3 – INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD
- Gender-typing: includes how children acquire their knowledge about gender andhow they
develop their gender-related personality characteristics, preferences, skills, behaviors, and self-
Background on gender development
- Prenatal period: the time before birth, during which important biological components of gender
develop (ex. Sex organs).
- Infancy: the period of life between birth and 18 months.
Prenatal sex development:
- Conception: egg with 23 chromosomes combines with sperm with 23 chromosomes → form a
single cell with 23 chromosome pairs; 22 pairs are autosomal, 1 pair is the sex chromosomes.
- Sex chromosomes: chromosomes that determine whether the embryo will be genetically female
- Autosomal chromosomes: chromosomes determine all the additional physiological and
- The egg from the mother always supplies the X sex chromosome. The father’s sperm, which
fertilizes the egg, contains either an X or a Y chromosome.
o If X chromosome from father fertilizes egg →XX chromosome pair →genetic female.
o If Y chromosome from father fertilizes egg →XY chromosome pair →genetic male.
Typical prenatal development:
- Female and male embryos differ in their chromosomes. However, until about 6 weeks after
conception, female and male embryos are virtually identical in all other characteristics.
- Each human fetus has two sets of primitive internal reproductive systems.
o Mullerian ducts (internal femalesystem): develop—in females—into auterus, egg ducts,
and part of the vagina.
o Wolffian ducts (internal male system): develop into the male internal
reproductivesystem, which includes structures such as the prostate gland and the
- The sex glands (or gonads) of males and females also look identical during the first weeks after
o If the embryo has an XY chromosome pair, a tiny segment of the Y chromosome is
responsible for sending a ―message‖ that guides the gonads to develop into male testes,
beginning about 6 weeks after conception.
o In contrast, if the embryo has an XX chromosome pair, the gonads begin to develop into
female ovaries, beginning about 8 to10 weeks after conception.
- In about the third month after conception, the fetus’s hormones encourage further sex
differentiation, including the development of the external genitals.
o In males, the testes secrete two substances. One of these, the Müllerian inhibiting
hormone (MIH), shrinks the (female) Müllerian ducts. The testes also secrete androgen,
one of the male sex hormones. High levels of androgen encourage the growth and
development of the Wolffian ducts and the growth of the external genitals. The genital
tubercle becomes the penis in males.
o Later in females’ prenatal development, the ovaries begin to make estrogen, one of the
female sex hormones. However, researchers currently believe that estrogen does not play
an important role in the development of female organs. The genital tubercle develops
into the clitoris in females.
- Summary: Typical sexual development follows a complex sequence before birth. The first event
is conception, when genetic sex is determined. Female and male embryos are anatomically
identical for the first weeks after conception. Four additional processes then lead to the differentiation of females and males: (1) development of internal reproductive system, (2)
development of gonads, (3) production of hormones, and (4) development of external genitals.
Atypical prenatal development
- Intersexed infant: biological sex is not clearly female or male.
- Intersexed individual: has genitals that are not clearly female or clearly male. An intersexed
person also does not have the chromosomes or an internal reproductive system, gonads,
hormones, and external genitals that are either consistently female or consistently male.
- Fausto-Sterling (2000) estimated that intersexed individuals represent about 2% of the general
- Two examples of atypical prenatal development:
o Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH): genetic females (XX) receive as much
androgen as males do during prenatal development. The excess androgen causes their
genitals to look somewhat masculine at birth. Medical treatment has been surgery—
even though surgery is not medically necessary—so that the genitals can appear more
o Androgen insensitivity syndrome: a condition in which genetic males (XY)
produce normal amounts of androgen, but a genetic condition makes their bodies not
respond to androgen. As a result, the genital tubercle does not grow into a penis; the
external genitals look female. These children are usually labeled girls because they
lack a penis. However, they have a shallow cavity instead of a complete vagina, and
they have no uterus. This syndrome is usually discovered when they do not begin to
menstruate at the normal time of puberty
Responses to Infant Girls and Boys
- Many women choose, during their pregnancy, to learn the gender of their baby several months
before childbirth. Some women choose not to know the baby’s gender.
- Several decades ago, researchers in the United States and Canada found that most men and
women preferred a boy for their firstborn child. More recent research shows no clear-cut pattern
of parents’ stated preferences about the gender of their offspring.
- Study: Gonzalez and Koestner (2005): examined 386 birth announcements in Canadian
newspapers. Two researchers rated each birth announcement—without knowing the gender of the
newborn—for the amount of happiness and the amount of pride it revealed. RESULTS: parents
were more likely to express pride following the birth of a boy and more likely to express
happiness following the birth of a girl.
- In some other cultures, however, parents have strong preferences for boys.
o India and Korea: Favoritism toward boys is so strong that many women seek prenatal sex
determinations. If the fetus is female, the mother often requests an abortion.
o China: Selective abortion and female infanticide are common. Social consequences of the
excess male population: about 120 infant boys are born for every 100 infant girls.
o Turkey: selective abortion is not practiced but there is bias against female babies. ―A boy
is the flame of the hearth, a girl its ashes‖
People’s Stereotypes About Infant Girls and Boys:
- Parent stereotypes: Study by Karraker and colleagues (1995) investigated 40 mother-father pairs,
two days after their infant daughter or son had been born. The researchers made certain that the
daughters were objectively similar to the sons in terms of size and health. All the parents were
asked to rate their newborn infant on a number of scales. RESULTS: parents of girls rated their
daughters as being relatively weak, whereas parents of boys rated their sons as being relatively
strong. The parents also thought that the girls were more fine-featured, delicate, and feminine, in
comparison to the sons.
- Parents treat daughters and sons differently by choosing ―gender appropriate‖ room decorations
and toys. - Strangers also show this same tendency to make distinctions based on gender. In general,
strangers judge infants differently when they are perceived to be female rather than male.
However, many adults who live in a relatively liberal community may not judge infants in terms
of gender stereotypes.
- Social constructionism: we tend to construct or invent our own versions of reality based on our
prior experiences and beliefs.
o Example: if we are told that an infant is female, we tend to see delicate, feminine
behavior. If we are told that the same infant is male, we tend to see sturdy, masculine
behavior. That is, we create our own versions of reality, based on our prior beliefs about
Theories of Gender Development (gender typing)
- One early explanation of gender development was Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.
- Two contemporary perspectives: social learning approach and the cognitive developmental
approach. Children acquire their information about gender by both of these important methods:
1. Social learning approach: children learn gender-related behaviors from other people.
2. Cognitive developmental approach: children actively synthesize and create their own
thoughts about gender.
- The Social Learning Approach: argues that the traditional principles of learning explain an
important part of gender development. Proposes two major mechanisms for explaining how girls
learn to act ―feminine‖ and how boys learn to act ―masculine‖:
1. Children are rewarded for ―gender-appropriate‖ behavior, and they are punished for ―gender-
Rewards and punishments: Example: Jimmy, age 2, races his toy truck, producing an
impressive rumbling-motor sound. His parents smile, thereby rewarding Jimmy’s
―masculine‖ behavior. If Jimmy had donned his sister’s pink tutu and waltzed around the
dining room, his parents might actively try to discourage him. Now imagine how Sarah,
also age 2, could win smiles for the pink tutu act. However, in some families, she might
earn frowns for the rumbling-truck performance.
Parents respond more positively when children play ―gender consistent‖ play patterns.
Children directly learn many gender-related behaviors, based on positive and negative
responses from other people.
2. Children watch and imitate the behavior of people from their own gender category.
Modeling or observational learning: Children also learn by watching others and
Children are especially likely to imitate a person of their own gender or a person who has
been praised for a behavior
Example: a little girl would be particularly likely to imitate her mother if someone had
praised her mother for her actions.
Also, children frequently imitate characters from books, films, and television, as well as
- Summary: Direct learning, by means of rewards and punishments, is an important way that very
young children learn ―gender-appropriate‖ behavior. As children grow older, the second
component (modeling) becomes active. Children can now observe the behavior of others,
internalize that information, and imitate that behavior later.
- The Cognitive Developmental Approach: argues that children are active thinkers who seek
information from their environment; children also try to make sense of this information and
organize it in a coherent fashion.
- Whereas the social learning approach emphasizes behaviors, the cognitive developmental
approach emphasizes thoughts.
- Schema: a general concept that we use to organize our thoughts and attitudes about a topic. - At a relatively early age, children develop powerful gender schemas; they organize information
into two conceptual categories, female and male. Gender schemas encourage children to think
and act in gender stereotyped ways that are consistent with their gender schemas.
- A child’s gender schema may include relatively important information (such as the fact that the
kindergarten teacher consistently instructs children to form a boys’ line and a girls’ line) and
trivial information (such as the observation that children’s drawings of females show more
prominent eyelashes than their drawings of males).
- One of the first major steps in gender development is gender identity, or a girl labeling herself as
a girl and a boy labeling himself as a boy. Most children provide the ―correct‖ label by the time
they are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years old. Soon after children label themselves, they learn how to classify
other males and females and to prefer people, activities, and things consistent with their own
- This ―two-category system‖ is rigid; no flexibility for an intersexed child or a child whose family
tries to avoid gender labels.
General Comments about Theories of Gender Development
- The two theories of gender development suggest:
1. Children’s behaviors are important, as proposed by the social learning approach.
a. Children are rewarded and punished for gender-related behavior.
b. Children model their behavior after same-gender individuals.
2. Children’s thoughts are important, as proposed by the cognitive developmental theory.
a. Children develop powerful gender schemas.
b. Children use gender schemas to evaluate themselves, other people, and other things.
- To some extent, children behave before they think. In other words, the two components of social
learning theory may begin to operate before children have clear gender schemas or other thoughts
about gender. As children’s cognitive development grows more sophisticated, however, their
ideas about gender schemas enhance their ability to learn gender-typed behavior, through direct
learning and modeling.
Factors that shape gender typing
- Gender-Typed Activities: ex. Chores: girls- domestic chores, such as washing the dishes or taking
care of younger children. Boys- outdoor work, such as mowing the lawn or taking out the
- Research in Asia shows that girls typically perform more time-consuming chores than boys do,
whereas boys are allowed more time for schoolwork
- Nonindustrialized cultures: boys have roughly twice as much free time as girls do.
- Parents often encourage their children to develop gender-typed interests by providing different
kinds of toys for daughters than for sons. However, parents frequently have gender-neutral
responses to children’s play patterns. Ex: if parents notice that 3-year-old Tanya likes playing
with the Fisher-Price gas station, they won’t interfere by handing her a doll.
- Girls are allowed greater flexibility than boys, as far as the toys they play with. Parents are much
more worried about boys being sissies than about girls being tomboys. One likely explanation is
that adults tend to interpret feminine behavior in a boy as a sign of gay tendencies, but they are
less likely to view masculine behavior in a girl as a sign of lesbian tendencies. Male children are
more likely than female children to receive strong messages about ―gender-appropriate‖ behavior.
Similarly, male adults are more likely than female adults to give these messages.
Conversations about emotions:
- Another kind of gender-typed activity focuses on conversations.
- Example: mothers talk more to infant daughters than to infant sons. With older children, parents
are especially likely to talk to daughters about other people and about emotions.
- Study: Fivush (1989) examined mothers’ conversations with children between the ages of 2 1/2
and 3 years. RESULTS: During half hour a session, 21% of mothers discussed anger with their sons, but none of mothers discussed anger with daughters. Instead, they talked with their
daughters about fear and sadness.
- Mothers are especially likely to discuss sadness in detail with their daughters, in order to discover
exactly why their daughters had been sad on a particular occasion. Also, mothers speak in a more
emotional fashion when interacting with their daughters than with their sons. Fathers, as well as
mothers, are much more likely to discuss sadness with their daughters than with their sons.
Parents also tend to pressure boys to avoid expressing sadness or fear.
- 3- and 4-year-old girls are more likely than boys to spontaneously talk about sad experiences.
Attitudes about aggression:
- Parents are more likely to discourage aggression in their daughters, but other studies show few
- One possibility is that parents treat preschool girls and boys similarly. However, once the children
begin elementary school, parents may discourage aggression somewhat more in their daughters
than in their sons
- Some boys learn to be aggressive by imitating their aggressive fathers (Second component of
social learning theory). Fathers may also use physical intimidation to assert power. By observing