Gender schema theory was first introduced in 1981 by psychologist Sandra Bern. This theory suggests how children develop within their culture in respect to determining what it means to be male and female. This will affect the development of their core gender and is referred to as sex-typing. Gender-associated data is overwhelmingly transmuted through society by way of schemata, or systems of data that permit some data to be more effectively absorbed than others. This theory displays features of cognitive developmental and the social learning sex-typing. It stated that children learn approximately male and female parts from the culture in which they live. Sexual orientation Construction hypothesis claims children alter their behavior to adjust with the sexual orientation standards of their culture from the most punctual stages of social improvement (Cherry, 2017).
Bem’s believes that the process of gender schema theory begins with the child observing and learning within their culture the definitions of being female and male and translate information in terms of gender schema. Many cultures around the world view gender roles differently and we can see that what is considered a gender norm in one culture can be viewed differently in another. If children are exposed to these gender characteristics, they will begin to relate and develop them. For example, if a little boy is raised in a culture that presents males as being the sole provider for the house, where the female role is to be a care taking who stays at home to raise their children, both children will then develop the characteristics of those genders and believe in those expectations of gender roles. As the child continues to develop the gender schema will serve as a purpose of a way for them to match their preferences against prototypes. Other examples for gender schema be children begin to grow up and they start to refer to colors as “girls” color or “boys” color, which was influenced by their culture. Children will also gravitate towards gender associated toys according to their cultural standards.
Bem’s theory four types of categories that an individual can fall under. They are as follows (HRF, 2017).
Sex-typed individuals – are individuals who will process information and other traits that relate to their physical gender
Cross-sex-typed individuals – are individuals who process information and traits from the opposite of their physical gender
Androgynous individuals – can process information and traits from both genders
Undifferentiated individuals – struggle to process from either gender
Many studies have been done to test Bem’s theory. In an article by Bernd H. Shmitt, France Leclerc, and Laurett Dube-Rioux three experiments were done to test gender-schema.
In the first experiment, 39 androgynous subjects (21 males, 18 females), 37 undifferentiated subjects (18 niales, 19 females), and 56 traditionally sextyped subjects (26 males, 30 females) (Schmitt, B. H., Leclerc, F., ; Dubé-Rioux, L.1988). The subjects were exposed different advertisement statements that were presented by a male and a female. Each of the statements were either considered masculine or feminine or neutral. The second part concentrated on different drawings of four fragrance flacons of different shape. The results found that individuals related to the advertisement according to their sex type. Those who were androgynous or undifferentiated individuals did not respond different to either the mescaline or feminine, but individuals who were schematic males or females did so relate to the advertisements that represented a more masculine or feminine statement.
In Experiment two, 46 subjects (20 males, 26 females) volunteered from the first experiment. 17 gender-schematic subjects (seven males, 10 females) and 22 gender-aschematic subjects (nine males, 13 females) (Schmitt, B. H., Leclerc, F., ; Dubé-Rioux, L.1988). For this experiment, 18 American magazines were selected which were either considered masculine, feminine, or neutral. In the first part of the experiment, the subjects were asked to read the following instructions “”Imagine you are waiting in a doctor’s office and the following magazines are on a table” (Schmitt, B. H., Leclerc, F., & Dubé-Rioux, L.1988), then for 500ms the names of the 18 magazines were shown on the screen. After the subjects were asked to write down the names of the ones they could remember. The second part the names of each magazine were presented again, this time the subjects had to click “yes” if they would consider reading it. The results showed no difference between either the gender-schematic or gender-aschematic subjects as to the number of magazines they remembered. The male subjects remembered more masculine and the females more feminine magazines.
Finally, in the third experiment. It consisted of 60 college students. 30 of the subjects (15 males, 15 females) were gender-schematic and the other 30 subjects (15 males, 15 females) were gender-aschematic (Schmitt, B. H., Leclerc, F., & Dubé-Rioux, L.1988). This experiment as more complex. They were presented with slides of male and female reading magazines, 1/3 of the magazines were wither, masculine, feminine or neutral. They would also include nongender related information that would be varied throughout the slides. After viewing all the slides, there were asked 4 questions about the reader, about different characteristics, or position of the reader. The results found that in this third experiment, that subjects would better remember if the reader was either male or female if he was reading a gender associated magazine.
Bem’s theory that cultural affects the core gender identity does make sense, because it is what we are regularly exposed to as children as our brains are just starting to develop. As we grow we begin to process and refer to the data that was retained over the course of time.
Gender Scheme theory still has found that there are some weaknesses. For example, 3-4-year old’s will choose toys without basing it on gender stereotypes. This could be because their brains are still developing have had not as much influence to define their core gender. Also, it was found that children who come from families where the mother works, will generally have less stereotyped views of the male role (Gender Schema Theory, 2016).
Another area of weakness that the gender schema ignores biological differences. This could explain why the children who are exposed to the same environment will respond to gender appropriate behaviors differently. For example, how some girls will be more interested in playing with action figures, or some boys will prefer dolls (Gender Schema Theory, 2016). This could be not biological, but perhaps it can be related to siblings and interests.
Some of the strengths behind Bem’s theory is that there are many studies to prove that gender schema is relevant. Studies have shown that children under the age of 4 years old showed no signs of gender stability but have a clear understanding about what boys and girls can do, which suggests their understanding of gender roles. Another study showed that boys and girls as young as 4 years old felt better and more comfortable playing with gender appropriate toys, rather than inappropriate toys.
Even though there are a few weaknesses to question the validity of the Bem’s theory, it does make a lot of sense. I think cultural influences plays a big part of our core identify and you can see it by comparing other cultures to one another.