How is gender determined? Discuss with relevance to children’s play

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Introduction

There is a difference between the terms sex and gender. Sex refers to biological differences such as chromosomes, hormones and internal and external sex organs, whereas gender is the way in which males and females behave in society, displaying what are considered as masculine or feminine traits. These traits are often stereotypes about what constitutes being a male or female in society (Unger, 1979).

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There are a number of ways in which children develop gender and an understanding at a young age that they are a boy or a girl. The development may occur through social learning theory, (SLT, Bandura, 1977) or through cognitive schema theory (Martin and Halverson, 1981). Children tend to grow up understanding they are a boy or girl and this knowledge becomes a part of their self-concept. The following essay will consider the ways in which gender develops in childhood and how stereotypical perspectives of gender are perpetuated.

The Biological Approach to Gender

A powerful argument for the biological influence on gender can be made when evaluating the study of David Reimer (Money, 1975). Money worked with children born with genitalia that was not clearly defined as either male or female, and, in his role as a doctor, he believed that gender could be reassigned. It was argued by Money that children are born gender neutral and their gender identity develops as a consequence of behavioural interventions and SLT as proposed by Bandura (1977). David Reimer was one of a pair of male monozygotic twins whose penis was burnt off during an operation for circumcision. The penis could not be repaired and at 7 months it was decided by doctors and his parents that a functional vagina could be constructed and David should be raised as a girl, Brenda. Money reported originally that the gender reassignment had been a success and Brenda as a child was feminine, liked wearing dresses and playing with dolls. Although Brenda also had tomboyish characteristics it was suggested that this was due to the games played with her twin brother. However, despite Money’s claims that nature could be overcome by nurture and gender was not biologically determined it was later reported that Brenda had been desperately unhappy as a female child and at 14 years she became male again (Diamond and Sigmundson, 1997). It was argued by Money that the study was reliable because David’s twin brother acted as a control as the twins shared the same genes and environment which meant their behaviours could be classified as being either nature or nurture. The findings of the study were biased and based on the subjective interpretations made by Money, perhaps to prove the veracity of his theory regarding gender reassignment. The study was a unique case study and ethically could not be replicated to investigate whether other children,

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