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In the recent past, numerous theories have been fronted to explain women and gender. These theories vary in quite a several aspects. One important aspect relates to the emphasis placed on psychosomatic, biological, and socio-structural factors determining gender roles and development (Crawford, 2012, p. 15). Psychological theories emphasize psychosomatic processes controlling gender and women’s lifespan development. On the contrary, sociological theories emphasize the social and structural factors determining the gender role development and functions. However, according to biological theories, gender differences are a result of different biological roles played by men and women in the reproductive process (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 676; Harris, 1995, p. 460). A second facet focuses on the transmission mode. Psychological theories focus on the cognitive structure of gender activities and conduct within families. In other words, the parents play an important role in shaping and amending gender roles and behavior.
According to this dimension, biological theories focus on familial genes believed to differentiate gender roles and behaviors across generations. On the other hand, cognitive theory incorporates both psychosomatic and socio-structural factors with a single theoretical structure (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 677; Crawford, 2012, p. 243). Last but not the least, the third facet focuses on the sequential level of hypothetical studies. By this dimension, psychological theories view gender development basically as an early infancy experience rather than a lifetime experience. Nonetheless, laws governing gender roles and behaviors vary to a certain level across societal contexts and various stages in life. Besides, socio-cultural and technological changes have changed various conceptions of gender roles and conduct. Our study will focus on two important theories: cognitive-developmental theory and gender schemer theory (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 677).
Cognitive developmental theory and gender schemer theory
In line with the cognitive-developmental theory, gender identity is assumed to be the main determinant of the gender learning process during childhood. Children develop a different conception of gender from what they observe and perceive from their surroundings. Once perpetual stability has been achieved, they would cherish their identity and do anything to conform to social conceptions. The ability of children to identify their sex and that of others along with the knowledge of gender roles is all that is required for gender cognition. Gender cognition normally starts at around three to four years. In summary, this theory postulates that once a child attains gender constancy, there is no turning back (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 677).
On the contrary, gender schema theory gives details to both gender growth and distinction. The psychosocial models proposed by some authors focus majorly on gender differences and how information is processed schematically. This theory is similar to cognitive developmental theory in several ways but also differs in some aspects. Unlike cognitive developmental theory that only requires an individual to attain gender constancy for the development of gender orientation, gender schema theory regards it as a precondition for schema development. Once an individual has mastered his/her identity, it is believed that the schema develops to include knowledge of functions and interests, individual and societal characteristics, and awareness of gender-related functions. The schema is in all probability developed from an individual contact with the immediate surroundings. After the schema has been developed, individuals are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that conforms to the conventional gender roles. According to the cognitive-developmental theory, the principal force behind gender roles and behavior is the fact that infants always want to be like other children of their sexual category. For instance, young girls always want to play with dolls because dolls are meant for girls. However, due to the lack of specified gender abstraction processes, experimental efforts to connect gender schema to the behavior of individuals at early stages of life have not been successful (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 678).
Several experimental studies have queried the principal role of gender labeling. The results of these studies vary. Some studies have established the connection. Some have produced conflicting results, whereas others have been unsuccessful in establishing any connection at all. Even in the empirical tests that have established the connection, it remains unclear whether gender stereotyping and gender-linked conduct are causally linked to societal factors and cognitive capacity. Parents who respond cautiously to gender-linked behavior normally have children who are stereotypes at an early age. Therefore, gender stereotypes and preferences may be a result of the influence of parents and other family members (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 678). According to psychologists, knowledge of gender labeling (general notion about the attributes of different sexes) is not related to gender-linked behavior. They argue that children’s preferences for gender-related activities usually become known even before they can understand how the activities are linked to gender. In a nutshell, gender schema theory provides an elaborated structure for assessing the cognitive dispensation of gender knowledge. Besides, gender schema is not a monumental entity and it depends on various situations and activities. This variability is also present in other stages of life (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 679).
Even though the two theories have greatly contributed to the understanding of women’s development, they have several weaknesses. Both theories have greatly emphasized gender conceptions, but they have paid less attention to how gender-linked conceptions are gained and interpreted into behavior. Additionally, they have dwelt less on motivational factors. The only factors mentioned include family members and peers. Last but not the least, children raised by parents with negative stereotype behavior do not necessarily turn out to be the same. Nonetheless, the two theories explain that the role of women and men in society significantly depends on the value systems, socio-cultural factors, aspirations, assessment standards, and individual awareness. Individual aspirations may be the reason why the three women mentioned earlier struggled against all odds to achieve their ambitions. Women in Islamic realms tend to be conservative regarding their roles and behavior due to socio-cultural factors and value systems.
Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106, 676-713.
Crawford, M. (2012). Transformations: women, gender and psychology. New York: McGraw Hill.
Harris, J.R.(1995). Where is the child’s environment? A group socialization theory of development. Psychological Review, 102, 458- 489.