Gender oversees, both, masculine and feminine attributes. These characteristics comprise of sex, the physical manifestation of male or female, gender roles, the conformity to behavioural traits of masculinity and femininity and gender identity, the personal sense of one’s own gender . Those who do not conform to this gender binary are referred to as “non-binary” due to adhering to neither of the fixed attributes of masculinity of femininity. For millennia, social communities have largely operated on the concept of a gender binary . The behaviours pertaining to masculinity and femininity are likely to have repercussions on the development of males and females, this essay aims to critically discuss how.
Despite there being a clear difference between the two, the terms sex and gender are often used interchangeably. Gender refers to the socially and culturally agreed upon norms of that distinguish men from women. The distinction between the two became more widely accepted during the rise of feminism. However, the distinction between the two is whole heartedly accepted by the social sciences. It is widely agreed upon that sex refers to biological sex and gender refers to a social construct wherein thoughts, feelings and behaviours are assigned to either masculinity and femininity. Up to the age of three, children do not identify with a gender.
Since conception, the sex of a child and its gender are congruent and fixed. Sex organs determine if a child is male or female and facilitates its experience with gender roles and gender identity thereafter. This is dependant on the child’s social world whose interactions had with the world further reinforce gender experiences and stereotypes. Children who deviate from a gender binary are likely to face chastisement and rejection.Social learning theory (SLT) proposes that learning is an acquired process through the imitation of role models, thus learning vicariously . The process of vicarious reinforcement occurs when one witnesses another being rewarded for demonstrating favourable actions. Contextually, this is most likely to occur when a child witnesses another child being rewarded for demonstrating gender-appropriate behaviour. Substantiating the action makes it more likely the behaviour will be repeated and means the witness is more likely to adopt in hopes for the same validation. Young girls may adopt sharing, emotive, empathic, passive behaviours whilst young boys are more likely to exhibit boisterous, rough and assertive behaviours.
SLT is effective in explaining how behaviours of masculinity and femininity are acquired and why such behaviours are likely to be long-lasting. The theory may appeal to social Psychologists as it provides an almost comprehensive explanation as to how the basis of these thoughts and behaviours are formed. It seems to bridge nature and nurture in that the sex of the child and its gender are likely to be congruent with the mutual interactions a child has with its surroundings and in turn, how its surroundings interact back with it.Social cognitive theory (SCT) states that human differentiation on the basis of gender in inevitable and a natural ordinance of life. SCT stresses the importance of self-regulation as a means of governing behaviour. It places more emphasis on gender conception as constructed from a complex combination of experiences and how these coincide with gender-linked conduct. Social control and social sanctions govern individual behaviours as people make conscious choices in the behaviours they choose to exude. In that, gendered behaviour is a choice. Leading to gender roles, females are likely to act in feminine ways i.e. nurturing, caregiving and docile. Contrary to males who are likely to perform masculine behaviours such as being “go getters”, free spirited and courageous.
SCT may better explain the impact of masculinity and femininity in development as it stresses the important of self-regulation. In that, behaviours are not only acquired but at will of those who are performing them. This provides a better comprehensive view of the development of males and females as it better demonstrates true vicarious learning. The explanation may appeal to a wider academic audience due to the stance that people contribute to their self-development through their own agency that brings about social changes that define males and female’s interaction with their surroundings.Masculinity and femininity form the crux of identity. Form birth onwards, it has been ingrained to socially prescribe behaviours and attributes to individuals based on sex.
The male gender role incorporates domineering and assertive streaks within observable behaviour . This extends to be the providers and protectors of the women, children and others around them. A male must typically retain mastery and control. To be male is to be void of femininity, it is to restrict emotions, view and have sex as an entitlement, pursue achievements and status through whatever means necessary, to rely only on one’s self and to aggressive. Certain “rules” are prescribed to males that dictate what it means to be a male/man. The concept of masculinity facilitates norms on how to act and attitudes to hold.Masculinity stipulates that males self-worth revolves around brute strength, boldness, financial independence, suave and authoritive over females and other males. To be male is to be stoic and tough. The social constructions of ideal masculinity are larger than life and hardly attainable. The gender role, itself, is contradictory and detrimental. There exists an enormous amount of pressure to perform and can cause great emotional distress due to potential ridicule and rejection from wider society. In an almost paradoxical way, the standards set are unrealistic to attain and many males often fall short.
The theory of masculinity seems apt in explaining the crisis males face in that the expression of basic human traits: love, empathy, trust and respect are stifled. These are not to be extended to anyone, much less the towards the male himself. He is taught to be stoic and proceed through various transitions of life in this manner. The theory appeals to a wide audience ranging from novices to experts as it requires no special knowledge, just basic observation to see that it is indeed prevalent in societies and has had disastrous effects in the functioning of males and females alike (male suicide, misogyny etc). If not, informs people of all backgrounds that such gendered behaviour and enforcing such systems of socialisation has imminent repercussions.
Undoubtedly, this can stunt the development of males as shame and avoidance of emotions and extreme self-reliance are common connotations of what it means to be a man. Whilst the need for a caregiver during infancy is implicit, so, too, is attachment to a primary caregiver. Infant babies rely on caregivers for sustenance and entrust that well-being to caregivers due to their own vulnerability. As the male grows older, secure attachment, once the cause of flourishment, now has the potential to become a tool for ostracisation. Being overly attached to male peers may be seen as odd and grounds for homosexuality or emotional vulnerability, contradictory to the stance of proper masculinity.