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Discussion of Gender Identity of Children

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According to an excerpt from Learning to Be Gendered by Eckert and Ginet, “Being a girl or boy is not a stable state but an ongoing accomplishment, something that is actively done both by the individual and by those  in various communities to which it belongs.” They continue to argue that the gendering of infants is unnecessary, and will affect a child’s view of itself for its entire life. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles of a man or woman, versus sex, which is the biological difference between males and females, usually based on sex organs. Although not knowing the sex of an individual leads people to interact and listen to them based on their intellect, knowledge, and behavior instead of societal stereotypes, children still need a basis to work from in order to identify who they really are or want to be. Young individuals should be labeled by their biological sex, but be able to explore gender for themselves as they grow up. Avoiding labels puts so much pressure on a young child. Chances are that the child will be happy associating with their biological sex, however if the child shows early signs that they don’t identify with the gender that they were given at birth, then it is absolutely okay to support the child in understanding their thoughts and helping them transition to the gender they associate with.

The accomplishment of gender identity requires that children understand that everyone, including themselves, is either a male or a female. (Kohlberg, 1996) According to self-socialization views, a milestone in gender development is children’s understanding that there are two gender categories and that they themselves belong to one of them, termed basic gender identity or self-labeling. (Martin, Ruble, and Szkrybalo, 2004) On the other hand, from a developmental perspective, it is important to examine children’s understanding of gender as a social category because it is typically the first collective social identity that children learn, and is associated with a range of stereotypes used by children and adults to make inferences about others. (Ruble et al, 2004)

The Social Cognitive Theory asserts that children develop sex-typed behaviors as the result of learning from social agents who model and reinforce those behaviors. (Bussey and Bandura, 1999) This theory does not consider basic gender identity to be an important contributor to the development of sex-typed behaviors, based off the evidence that sex-typed behaviors emerge before two years of age. When children are introduced into more public situations they will learn that most, if not all, children identify as male or female, he or she, anyway. This will lead to social isolation and even bullying as this genderless child will expect to be referred to as “it” or “they”. Parents, nonetheless, are still putting their child into a gender specific category into which they may or may not like and could eventually work their way out of. This results in the child potentially experiencing the same problems it could face as a “labeled” male or female suffering a gender identity disorder. It is the parent’s duty to protect their child, and this is just setting them up for failure.

When a youth counselor was asked about whether she thought infants should be labeled, she was baffled at why a parent would intentionally confuse their child. She asserts “I’ve had plenty of students that had doubts about their gender and wanted to change their gender, that’s because of nature, not nurture. In this case, when this child is having a major crisis because of their gender identity, it will have everything to do with nurture (parent).” (Larsen 2017)

Nature vs. nurture refers to the debate within psychology that is concerned with whether particular aspects of behavior are a product of inherited (genetic) or acquired (learned) characteristics. This comes to the assertion that biology can be a major factor in the way children act. There have been experiments conducted to discover factors influencing adults’ perceptions of male and female infants. In one experiment using college students, researchers concluded that, “It appears that there is a complex of cues from which adults make judgements of infant’s gender and influences about their characteristics: Boys may appear stronger, more playful, and more of a problem, and girls seem to look more sensitive.” These college students correctly judged the sex of the eight babies based on masculinity and sensitivity without previous knowledge of their gender. (Burnham and Harris, 1992) Another concept in where biology could play a big role is the male majority in high-risk occupations. This is due to greater male preferences to take physical risks, which poses the question: Could this be a psychological adaptation? According to an article in Psychology Today, “there is no “gene for” becoming a fire fighter or race car driver, but there are likely genetic differences between the sexes that predispose males to take more risks, and thus men may be more likely to prefer occupations in which these preferences can be expressed.”

For example, greater male propensity toward physical aggression and risk taking would be termed a “sex difference”, the longer length of hair of females would be termed a “gender difference”. Eckert and Ginet seem to think that vocal production has something to do with gender labeling, resulting in how a child is spoken to; however, they state “At the ages of four to five years, in spite of their identical vocal apparatus, girls and boys begin to differentiate the fundamental frequency of their speaking voice. Boys tend to round and extend their lips, lengthening the vocal tract, whereas girls are tending to spread their lips, shortening the vocal tract. Girls are raising their pitches, boys lowering theirs.” This is not done simply because of a label, this is a biological process in which adult men and women have different sizes of vocal folds; resulting in the difference in larynx size, or voice box. The difference in vocal folds size between men and women means that they have differently pitched voices, males often speak at 65 to 260 Hertz, while females speak in the 100 to 525 Hz range. Biology, anatomy, hormones, and genetics, will always play a role in the differences between males and females, without any reference to a specific gender identity.

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