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Gender is one of the vital aspects of human society (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Gender development relies on the formation of understanding of gender differences that reflect cultural differences in the roles and behaviors of the two sexes. The attitudes of a grown-up person to gender issues heavily depend on the experience gained in childhood. Therefore, a family should be considered an important factor influencing the person’s gender identity. There are certain concerns that nontraditional households, such as lesbian families, can have a serious impact on the gender identity of children raised in them (Lyness, 2011). Some scientists and public members claim that such an impact can cause inevitable consequences related to psychological adjustments and heterosexual romantic involvement. Boss and Sandfort (2010) published an article named “Children’s Gender Identity in Lesbian and Heterosexual Two-Parent Families” in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, “Sex Roles,” published by Springer. The article relies on the study conducted by the authors and helps to explore the specifics of gender identity of children raised in lesbian families.
The Purpose of the Study
The authors of the article conducted the discussed study to identify whether children growing up in same-sex parents households differ from those growing up in traditional families in the main aspects of gender identity. Besides, the authors aimed to check whether negative associations between atypical gender identity and sexual questioning and global self-worth and social competence differ for children coming from lesbian and heterosexual families
The Procedure of the Study
The authors recruited 63 lesbian families and 68 heterosexual families in the Netherlands. The data were obtained from the children growing up in the recruited households, all having age between 8 and 12 years old. The process of collecting the data involved oral communication with the children. During a one-hour session, the researcher read the content of the questionnaire to the participant and wrote down the received answers. The children were asked to rate different statements related to particular aspects of the studied issues by using a four-point scale, reflecting the level of the statements’ veracity.
Methods of Measuring the Results
Boss and Sandfort used the “multidimensional gender identity questionnaire” to assess such aspects of gender identity as “gender typicality, gender contentedness, felt pressure to conform, and intergroup bias” (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 118). The questionnaire was created by Egan and Perry (2001). The participants’ “expectations of future heterosexual romantic involvement” were measured with the help of the Sexual Questioning scale (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 118). The scale was also created by Egan and Perry (2001). To measure such dimensions of psychosocial adjustment as global self-worth and social competence, the authors used “subscales of the Dutch version of the Harter Perceived Competence Scale for Children” (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 118).
The Findings of the Study
The results of the study demonstrate the absence of serious differences between children from the studied types of households in terms of their “gender typicality, gender contentedness, and felt pressure from peers” (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 119). However, other aspects of gender identity, including intergroup bias and parental pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, appeared to be different in children from lesbian and heterosexual families. The results demonstrated that children growing up in heterosexual families are more inclined to regard their gender as superior to their peers from same-sex parents households. Besides, they face more pressure to behave in accordance with gender behavioral patterns stereotypes from their parents than peers from same-sex parents households. The assessment of “anticipated future heterosexual romantic involvement” revealed that children from same-sex parents households showed significantly less confidence in their intention to have experience of relationships with the opposite sex (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 119). The findings support the claim that there is no difference between the children coming from the discussed types of families regarding psychosocial adjustment.
As for global self-worth and social competence, children growing up in different types of households demonstrated almost the same results. However, as sexual questioning is “negatively associated with global self-worth”, it is logical to suggest that children in same-sex parents households experience lower global self-worth (Boss & Sandfort, 2010, p. 123). The findings of the study contradict this claim, as the researchers found that children growing up in both of the discussed types of households demonstrate the same level of global self-worth. Such inconsistency in the results demonstrates the need for further research and can be based on the fact that sexual questioning is less threatening for children from lesbian families as their parents are more tolerable in issues of gender identity.
The Significance of the Findings
The findings of the study help to explore certain specifics of gender development. In particular, the study demonstrates how the effects of growing up in a family with same-sex parents differ from the effects of growing up in a family with opposite-sex parents. As the study demonstrated that children from heterosexual families face more pressure to conform to gender stereotypes and are more certain that they will experience heterosexual relationships in the future if compared to children from lesbian families, such findings can show us that parents have the power to shape the process of development of gender identity. The study demonstrates that the willingness to show behavior patterns typical for certain gender is largely stimulated by parents’ stereotypes and directions. Besides, the study reveals that children raised in lesbian families do not demonstrate the significant difference in psychosocial adjustment. Therefore, the findings help us to understand that growing up in a nontraditional family does not put any threat to the children’s psychological health and social skills.
I think, the findings of the study play a crucial role in understanding the specifics of the process of gender development, as they demonstrate that family background should be regarded as one of the main factor influencing the process of gender development. Social interaction also appears to have a significant impact on the development of gender identity, as peers affect person’s perception of gender not less than the parents. The fact that the study was conducted in the Netherlands reveals that comfortable environment plays a crucial role in providing appropriate conditions for gender development of children coming from non-traditional households. Absences of social pressure and prejudices towards lesbian families in Dutch society can be regarded as the key to good psychosocial adjustment indexes demonstrated by children coming from such families. This fact should teach us that social acceptance of certain gender behavioral patterns and specifics plays a crucial role in ensuring the psychological health of children that experience gender development within the nontraditional family. Lack of fear to plan same-sex relationships in the future demonstrated by Dutch children helps us to understand that the child is more likely to develop nontraditional gender identity if his/her environment is not full of gender stereotypes and prejudices.
Blakemore, J. E., Berenbaum, S. A., & Liben, L. S. (2009). Gender development. New York: Psychology Press Taylor & Francis Group.
Boss, H., & Sandfort, T. (2010). Children’s gender identity in lesbian and heterosexual two-parent families. Sex Roles, 62, 114 – 126.
Egan, S., & Perry, D. (2001). Gender identity: A multidimensional analysis with implications for psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 37(4), 451-463.
Lyness, A. M. (2011). Lesbian families’ challenges and means of resilience: Implications for feminist family therapy. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.