Theories of Gender Development



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Theories of Gender Development

Sam Mathews


Freud’s Work:


  1. Psychoanalytic perspective has viewed gender, sex, and sexuality in an essentialist light

  2. Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective has been “popularized” and has become part of our social consciousness

  3. Structuralist—mind has an inherent structure (id, ego, superego; unconscious, preconscious, conscious)

  4. “Instincts” drive our personalities—life/sexual and death/aggressive

  5. Psychosexual stages “track” our development

    1. Oral

    2. Anal

    3. Phallic

    4. Latent

    5. Genital

  6. Phallic stage is critical in that a “psychoanalytic dimorphism” occurs

    1. Oedipal/Electra

    2. Resolution of these stages is key to healthy maturation

  7. Freud’s views of women were conflicted—saw them as inherently pathological yet also saw women as intellectual equals

    1. Pushed to admit women to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society when no women had been admitted (Dr. Margaret Hilferding, 1910)

    2. Disagreed on admitting women to the “common” workforce

      • “it is really a stillborn thought to send women into the struggle for existence exactly as men. If for instance I imagined my gentle sweet girl as a competitor, it would only end in my telling her as I did 17 months ago, that I am fond of her and that I implore her to withdraw from the strife into the calm uncompetitive activity of my home…Nature has determined women’s destiny through beauty, charm, and sweetness…Law and custom have much to give women that has been withheld from them, but the position of women will surely be what it is: in youth and adored darling, and in mature years a loved wife… Freud at 23 years pre-psychoanalytic emergence

Karen Horney:


  1. Raised in home with stern father—fought her attempts to go to medical school but was convinced; she became one of the first women admitted to the medical school at the University of Freiburg; Joined the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society;

  2. Questioned assumption that women felt their bodies inferior;

  3. One of the first to explore how culture impacted psychosexual development;

  4. Wrote paper that suggested Freud’s view was the product of a male bias

    1. the fears within males were really of being reabsorbed into the vagina;

    2. castration fear was really a fear of becoming a woman;

    3. men envied the woman’s ability to give birth and suckle the infant;

    4. social environment in which children are raised can harm them through two processes

      1. devaluation—failure to respect the child as a unique and worthwhile individual

      2. sexualization—parents taking a sexual approach to the child

    5. Women envy men's freedom to pursue their interests because of their own overemphasis on relationships this was her interpretation of penis envy

  5. Horney was ultimately disqualified as a training analyst by the New York Psychoanalytic Society…but gained fame and wealth through writing and other professional activities

Nancy Chadrow (sociologist):



  1. Focused on mother—child bond

    1. Mother—infant daughter bond closer due to maternal identification (infants don’t discriminate yet)

    2. Mother—son bond less intense; boys treated differently

    3. Daughters have a more evolved sense of identity because their relationship with their mothers does not have to be disrupted to find the feminine identity

    4. Boys must first separate from their mothers then identify with masculine model to establish a masculine identity

  2. Males’ denigration of women result of boys continued attempts to distinguish and separate themselves from their mothers.

  3. If parenting were more equally shared, this difference would not occur

  4. Chadrow uses the word "reproduction," in her work on “mothering” in order to stress the fact that mothering reproduces itself--that is, this oppressed side of the division of labor is destined to reproduce its own oppression.  The most problematic aspect of this process is that mothering has been establlished as biological (and thus essential, natural) labor.




  1. Chadrow believes that psychoanalysis cannot make universal claims that concern psychological development. They must take into account the cultural and historical conditions of the present time. She characterizes Freud's work as only sometimes describing how women develop in a patriarchal society. Instead of his work arising out of clinical observation, Chadrow illustrates Freud's work as making unsupported statements about how women and men "ought to be"(Flax, 1993).

Ellyn Kaschak:



  1. Antigone’s dilemma is that she was destined to be the caregiver of her father; hence, Kaschak’s analogy was based on the comparison of Antigone’s relationship with her father to women’s relationships with their fathers/husbands.

  2. Given the social structure propagates the subordination of women to men, the Antigone dilemma continues—women are destined to be caregivers.

  3. Men treat women as extensions (aka property) of themselves. Family violence perpetrated by the father/husband is based on the privilege derived from this position and was termed by Johnson (1995) patriarchal terrorism.

  4. Women who separate from fathers (resolve Antigone phase) become more independent..

Carol Gilligan:



  1. Worked with Lawrence Kohlberg at Harvard in the area of moral development;

  2. Kohlberg’s theory posited 3 major phases

    1. Preconventional

    2. Conventional

    3. Post-conventional

    4. Based on male participants in the first data set;

    5. Posited that there was a set of universal principles for which individuals strived; those principles transcended time and place/culture

    6. Fewer females proportionately were represented at the highest levels;




  1. Gilligan’s work was based on the critique of the initial theorizing. She posited that given the male sample in the early work, the data were skewed in a masculine direction.

  2. Gilligan’s work was based initially on a sample of female adolescents from a private school near Boston.

  3. She found that there was a progression within an “ethic of care” among females

    1. Self care from need

    2. Other care from need

    3. Self-Other care from need

    4. Interdependence

  4. Critiques of Gilligan’s work have resulted in a recognition that both men and women can use a “different voice.” That is, it may depend more on gender role than biological sex.

Cognitive Developmental Theory



  1. Kohlberg argued that the development of gender identity, labels, and constancy of gender followed cognitive developmental (ala Piaget) pathways and progressed from labeling in preschool years through gender constancy in the early primary school years.

  2. Focus is on knowledge of one’s gender being primary force guiding search and selection of gender appropriate experiences.

Gender Schema Theory

  1. Children’s cognitive development allows the development of special schemata around gender.

  2. Again, the focus is on the primacy of the children’s schema. However, the schema is impacted by culture. But, the individual’s cognitive structures are still prime in constructing gender.

Social Cognitive Theory (Bussey & Bandura, 2004—published after Brannon went to press with 2005 edition)



  1. Gender Development and functioning…

    1. the product of the interplay of cognitive, affective, biological, and sociostructural influences

    2. products of a broad network of social influences operating within familial, educational, peer, mass media, occupational, and sociocultural subsystems (pg. 691)

    3. development extends across the entire lifespan as we construct and reconstruct our gender identities

    4. reciprocal transactions with role models based on:

      1. functional value of the modeled behavior

      2. model’s perceived power

      3. model’s perceived control over desired resources (pg. 692)

    5. non-stereotypic media modeling expands children’s aspirations and the role options they consider appropriate (Ashby & Wittmaier, 1978).

    6. Development of a sense of personal agency within gender roles based on forethought, self reflective, and self reactive functions (Bandura & Bussey, 2004, pg. 692)

    7. Beliefs of personal efficacy…operate as determinants across diverse spheres of functioning, societal subsystems, and cultural orientations…over the entire lifespan (693)

    8. Mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and positive affective environment within these experiences enhance perceptions of personal agency (Bandura, 1997) so, as individuals

      1. are afforded opportunities to experience success,

      2. observe relevant models experience success,

      3. receive positive and informative feedback and

      4. experience perceive these as positive affective experiences,

      5. they will likely develop a balanced gender identity through informed choices

    9. Social Cognitive Theory overcomes many of the weaknesses of the Cognitive Developmental theories in that Bandura and Bussey posit a set of transactions that involve the individual and culture and which occur across the lifespan defining, validating, and altering the individual’s conceptions of gender.


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