Social Constructs Related to Gender Essay
Chodorow takes on a psychoanalytic perspective in which the sex typing is constructed from early infancy by unconscious processes through social-relational experiences (Chodorow pg44). According to her theory, an infant is in a state of “dependence” in which identification is given to the primary caregiver, often the mother. Evidence has cited that mothers identify more with daughters than their sons, causing the mother to emphasize the boy’s masculinity through separation and autonomy, allowing daughters to differentiate less.
At age three, where the conception of the child’s gender is fully established, the father becomes more important in the child’s primary object world (Chodorow 46). Chodorow argues that it is at this point where boys begin to define their masculinity as that which is not feminine, causing issues in later development to arise (sic). Girls, on the other hand, do not go through the same sort of rejection. Instead they rely on affective relations with the father mediated by their primary attachment creating a “bisexual triangle” (Chodorow 47).
Chodorow suggests that boys, being forced into autonomy at an early age, are fixated on the “agentic” qualities of personality, while girls maintain a communal personality. Agency focuses heavily on the individual, emphasizing self-protection, separations, and command, whereas communion highlights connectedness, contact, and cooperation. TBC According to Block, cognitive and ego functions form the foundation of sex role identification, mediating biological and cultural processes throughout the lifespan.
Based on Loevinger’s ego development model, Block suggests that there are four main ego levels: nonconformity, conformity, conscientious, and autonomy. During the noncomformist stage in early development, the child’s main interests are self-assertion, self-protection from societal rules, and enhancement of the self, while gender identity is formless (Block 514).
It is at the conformity stage where a divergence occurs; children employ a cognitive conceptualization of gender identity, setting sex role stereotypes derived from social cues and identification with the same-sex parent.
Like Bakan’s description of communion, girls are taught to control their aggression and evaluate themselves on an interpersonal level, whereas boys inherit an agentic world-view, emphasizing controlling affect and self-expansion. In order to move forward into the conscientious stage of development, one must start to develop a sense of balance between agency and communion in order to effectively see one’s values as differing from another’s. In effect, agency and communion must work in harmony in order to achieve androgyny.
Using the social learning theory as the foundation of her theory, Sandra Bem believes that sex typing is effectively learned by observing and categorizing the cultural definitions of maleness and femaleness (Bem 231). Information is being constantly collected by the child’s cognitive processes, integrating them to form a gender schema that provides information about the specific qualities of sex-typed associations. These associations are assimilated into the child’s self-concept, defining themselves on the basis of which attributes are consistent with their own gender (Bem 233).
This schema also forms the foundation upon which the child begins to value and assess themselves; are his/her behaviors consistent with the schema defined by the cultural values that constitute it? When their actions do not match the prototypical schema of what is “maleness” or “femaleness,” self-esteem may be heavily affected. Because of this, Bem asserts that the individual regulates their own behavior in order to meet the societal definitions of what it means to be a male or a female. Both Block and Chodorow assert the values of agency and communion during cognition.
Chodorow cites Cohen’s “analytic” and “relational” cognitive style, which corresponds to stimulus-centered and global-centered orientations respectively. Girls, learning communion at an early age, exhibit more of a relational style and are more likely to mix the two, while boys strictly maintain an analytic approach, one that involves problem solving and rule-based constructs. On the other hand, Block emphasizes agency and communion in relation to ego maturity. One who develops a careful balance between agency and communion will also move from the conformity stage upwards to conscientiousness and perhaps autonomy.
Bem’s approach focuses more heavily on cognitive mechanisms in place since birth, such as schema development. Cognitive schemas are what dictate our perceptions of gender role and sex-typing. While Bem emphasize the role of social constructs as the main force behind sex-typing, Chodorow and Block include the parental factor. Chodorow claims that during the preoedipal stage both boys and girls form a relational identification with the mother, where they face issues of individuation and separation.
Mothers allow girls to differentiate less, and push their sons away to prepare them for a more autonomous, masculine role. At age three, positional identification of the father is manifested in boys who attempt to replace their relational identification with a masculine one. Chodorow claims that boys attempt to replace their original identification with the mother, never establishing a fully relational one with the father, causing problems with masculinity throughout life. Block asserts that sex-typing may actually be channeled directly from the attitudes of the father.
Fathers encourage sex-typing to a far greater degree than mothers, and assert the values of developing and maintaining personal relationships on their daughters, while exerting control and authority over their sons causing possible issues. Androgyny is addressed in different perspectives (sic). Bem does not mention androgyny as being the ultimate goal, however suggests that the role of gender dichotomy and sex-related associations be limited to reduce the likelihood of the child developing a schematic approach to gender.
This starkly contrasts with Chodorow’s view where behavior is not simply taught through cultural expectations, but is supported by family values and a child’s object-relationships. In an effort to combine agency and communion, Chodorow suggests that men must become more actively involved in child care in order to extend personal relations with their sons, and women, while still maintaining the caregiving role naturally imbued in them, must foster a sense of control to provide girls with a differentiated sense of self.
Rather than focus on interpersonal relationships, Block takes the stance that androgyny, through a balance of agency and communion, is reflected by personal maturity. By incorporating both feminine and masculine aspects into their self-construct, one can begin to answer deeper questions self-ideal, morality and the meaning of existence, thus propelling their way through the ego stages towards autonomy. In her gender-schema theory, Bem disregards the ego completely, setting herself apart from Block and Chodorow.
Drawing on Loevinger’s model of ego development, Block emphasizes the role of agency and communion in moving through each level. For men, achieving high ego functioning, such as that found in conscientious and autonomous stages, involves agentic aspects such as self-assertion and self-extension while being maintained by the communion aspects of joint welfare and mutuality. For women, integration of their communion-type personalities must be met with self-expression and self-exploration.
Chodorow’s psychoanalytic approach in the attempt to define how sex-typing occurs in different cultures, a synthesis of all three authors is needed in order to construct an effective method of the process. More specifically, Block and Chodorow should have addressed more heavily the effects cognitive schemas place on the development of sex-typing. Both authors do not address the conflicts that exist between parental and peer approval