Gender Stereotyping – Conditioning

Gender identification is an evident issue within our society – A society that is ever evolving. Gender identification may be described as the complex manner in which humans identify with particular gender groups. From birth, gender is defined from the sex characteristics of the child, that is the genetically determined physical traits that determine the sexes. From birth to adulthood, the notion of what it means to be a particular gender is conditioned into each individual, through a complex process of modelling and observational learning. Before articulating dry definitions regarding gender, perhaps it would be best to revert to a general stance on the topic. The contemporary society expects particular behaviours, relationships and mannerism from each of the sexes. These expectations may include but are not limited to:

Clothing, hair, music taste, hobbies, favourite food, favourite past time, favourite colour, best friends, career choice, interests – books, sports, television, movies, music, games – intellectual prowess, sporting activities, personal beliefs, religious beliefs, bodily physique, emotional stability, communication capacities, relationships, personality and indeed sexual orientation.
Suppose for a moment that you were the opposite gender, how might it have impacted upon your current personality, ideas about life, social standing?

Males are prepared for a life of physical activity and emotional distance (especially regarding other males). It almost the assumption that any young boy, say under the age of 10, has no more aspiration to develop into a famous sporting champion. One only has to look at pervious experiments regarding the behaviour of strangers, when made to interact with an infant dressed in blue. The results depict the behaviour of the adults interacting with the child, show less physical intimacy (hugging, kissing), more physical activity (being moved throughout the air) and indeed the conversation praising the child’s future sporting feats. The interesting thing about this experiment, is that the infant may not have necessarily been a male, so refined in the art of conditioning, the general public generally assume any child wrapped in blue swaddling cloth immediately has male genitals. These expectations stereotype each sex, create a set mould for each gender.

We have been discussing the idea of conditioning regarding gender identification. Conditioning may be described as a form of learning in which responses are associated with new stimuli. Put in lay-men terms, the individual learns the desired reaction to a particular stimulus. That stimulus may be, clothing, tone of voice, anything that elicits the conditioned response in the individual. The conditioned response being, the response associated with the stimulus that has been learned through classical conditioning. Conditioning occurs through the use of reinforcement, be that negative or positive. Positive reinforcement is the gratification given to the subject immediately after performing the desired response. Similarly, negative reinforcement, means the response is followed by the removal of an unpleasant event. This relates to gender identity, in that from an early age, humans are praised for displaying the “correct” or socially acceptable traits of the subjects particular gender. In contrast, young children also see, the end to isolation when they belong to a gender group.

Observational learning is also a key factor in the development of societies norms, especially regarding the differences in gender. Observational Learning is defined as the imitation of another’s behaviour. Observational learning, in conjunction with reinforcement is a powerful tool for the shaping of children’s behaviour. For full details, please see, “Key Concepts in Psychology,” written by Julie Winstanley. What this implies regarding gender identity, is that excluding the physical, hormonal difference between the genders, the sexes and their consequential behaviour is merely a product of the environment. Observational learning is used to show, a young male, (5) how to perform masculine duties and grow up to be “big and strong.” Ironically the most common answer, “eat all you’re vegetables,” generally has no relationship whatsoever to masculinity nor femininity.

The evidence that conditioning present within gender identity is incontrovertible. Unfortunately for those who do not fit the social norm are ostracised by the general populace. Those that DO fit the mould may perhaps feel threatened by those that unintentionally question their validity through a difference in definition in what it means to be, male or female. This particularly rings true when regarding sexual orientation. This scenario was used in an Australian study with Sydney University. Read carefully:

Sam goes to a high school teacher to talk about being teased at school about being homosexual. Classmates have prevented Sam from joining their group and sport activities by ignoring Sam, insulting and even threatening Sam. Sam is scared and very upset about this constant harassment. Sam began to think about the consequences of being homosexual and how others might react. After hearing what Sam had said, the teacher was worried because Sam had been thinking about ending it all.

 Is Sam a male, or a female?

According to the results of the University paper, many considered Sam to be Samuel a young gay male. Perhaps it is due to the lack of intimacy men may feel with one and other without feeling emasculated or, “gay.” The apparent emotional distance between males is a key aspect in the reasoning why, “Sam” is a male.

The conditioning of sex identification is so refined so as to illogically provoke and distance the cohort from the few slightly different to the group. This has major negative implications, especially regarding the mental health rates of GLBT youth.

This isolation of peers may create anxiety within the youth. Anxiety may be defined as the psychological feeling of fear and apprehension that an individual experiences, which is usually associated with physical symptoms such as an increase in heart rate, perspiration and nausea. This anxiety leads to more serious mental anguish.

The statistics of suicide in homosexual youth is particularly frightening. A survey conducted in 2003 provided statistical data stating that, 30% that is approximately one in three, gay, bi, lesbian or transsexual youths (aged 16-25) will attempt suicide. This statistic is seven times higher than their straight counterparts. These sobering results imply the notion that perhaps, the conditioning of such definite sex roles in society may perhaps be detrimental to a substantial amount of the population. Suicide not only affects one family, or the person themselves, but the entire community, and by ripple effect, these acts of sever mental anguish may provoke similar bouts of mental health issues amongst the general populace.

It is no doubt that gender has had an astronomical impact on each and every individual’s existence. Strong ideologies exist regarding the behaviour of each of the sexes.

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