Theories of Gender – II. Social/Environmental Theories



I.                    Social learning theory

A.     Three kinds of learning and how they apply to gender

1.      Classical conditioning: learning emotional reaction to gender-related things and behaviors

2.      Operant conditioning: rewarding and punishing people to be male or female

3.      Modeling and observational learning: Imitating gender-related behaviors in others

B.     The distinction between “acquisition” and “performance” of behaviors

C.     Do social learning theories present too passive a portrait of how people learn gender?


II.                 Cognitive theories of gender

A.     Departs from classic social learning theories in several ways: more focus on thought processes and self concepts; children actively engage in “self socialization” as well as respond passively to their parents and social environments; children’s thought processes help determine what is “rewarding” and “punishing”

B.     The sequence proposed by cognitive-developmental theory: children learn to classify themselves and others as “male” or “female”; children then identify with their gender “in-group”; gender identification of self and others creates a motivational process whereby girls find girl-like things good and rewarding; similarly, boys find boy-like things good and rewarding

C.     Kagan’s view of how children cognitively decide how “masculine” or “feminine” they are: a self-perception process whereby children compare their own behavior to the behaviors of other males and females in their culture

D.     Bem’s gender schema theory: can be viewed as an extension of cognitive-developmental theory to adulthood: gender-related behavior is a function of the strength of individuals’ gender schemas – i.e., it depends on the degree to which individuals categorize and conceptualize the social world in terms of gender, and on the degree to which individuals process information (e.g., notice things and remember things) based on gender


III.               Social psychological theories of gender

A.     Social psychology studies social influences on individuals’; contemporary social psychology often takes a cognitive and constructionist view of social reality – e.g., the way we perceive our social world depends on our prior beliefs (e.g., schemas), and social “reality” is often influenced by social beliefs, stereotypes, expectations, social structure, and social interaction (e.g., via self-fulfilling prophecies)

B.     A brief detour to stereotypes: What are stereotypes, how are the formed, what influence do they have on our behavior, and what are common gender stereotypes?

C.     Alice Eagly’s social role theory

1.      Traditionally many societies have assigned different roles to men and women (i.e., sex roles or gender roles);  three important differences in the roles of men and women are: 1) women engage in more domestic tasks and men in more work outside of the home, 2) women and men often have different occupational roles, and 3) women often have lower status than men do

2.      The differing social roles of women and men are presumed: 1) to generate common gender stereotypes, and 2) to generate differences in the behavior of women and men; according to social role theory, a common misconception, however, is that innate differences lead to sex differences in behavior, rather than social roles

3.      Although social role theory has not been applied to individual differences in masculinity and femininity, it could be extended to explain variations within each sex

D.     Steele’s notion of stereotype threat

1.      Stereotype threat occurs when negative stereotypes about a particular group (e.g., women, African Americans) leads to anxiety about performance in a certain domain and intrusive thought processes concerning the stereotype

2.      Some experimental examples

E.      Research on self-fulfilling prophecies and behavioral confirmation

1.      A self-fulfilling prophecy is a social expectation that comes true because of people’s expectations, not because it is initially true (e.g., if you think of yourself as a “loser” and as a “social nerd,” you may behave at parties in ways that make your expectations come true—e.g., you behavior in edgy, anxious, and inappropriate ways)

2.      Behavioral confirmation refers to the process whereby people induce in others behaviors that are consistent with their expectations about those other people – e.g., if your first impression of a new woman at a party is that she’s cold and snobby, you may act coldly toward her, thus triggering the cold and snobby behavior you expected her to show

F.      Self-presentation theory: Gender-related behaviors as a kind of “act” or “performance”

1.      Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and Gender Advertisements

a.       Goffman’s theater metaphor: life as a stage; front stage and backstage regions

b.      A fine-grained analysis of commercial photographs that portray men and women:  “Commercial photographs, of course, involve carefully performed poses…. But…actual gender expressions are artful poses too.”  Some of Goffman’s examples: relative sizes of men and women in photos; the “feminine touch” that caresses objects; self-touching as a female characteristics; men playing the “executive” role, and women playing the observer or “being helped” role; family pictures and family “positions”; rituals of subordination; the female “bashful knee bend”; head tilts; childlike poses for females; “arm locks” and hand-holding positions; the intensity of emotional expressions and “finger-to-finger” poses; head and gaze aversions; women posed in lying positions; women versus men in euphoric states; who is in front, who is behind, and who is “on top” in photos; female nuzzling of people and objects in advertisements

1.      Deaux and Major’s (1987) model: gender depends on “stuff” in our own heads (gender schemas and self-concepts), “stuff” in others’ heads (gender stereotypes), and interaction patterns and the social setting (e.g., power relations in organizations, how others treat us)