Gender and Group Process: A Developmental Perspective, Eleanor E Maccoby, (2002)
How do gender differences in human behavior originate? Gender differences have been studied by physiologists for generations. Typically research has been focused on the individual. Recent study has been focused on children group interactions, socialization within the groups, activity, and gender make up of the group structure. The author of this article explores organization of gender related behaviors and the role of social relationships in development.
The article defines gender identify as the “core element in the developing sense of self” (Maccoby, 2002, p. 200), and the “acquisition of these sex-distinctive characteristics as sex typing” (Maccoby, 2002, p. 200). Research often focuses on why and how the process of sex typing occurs. In earlier research the emphasis on the family and social pressures to shape the child towards personality, interests and “sex-appropriate” behaviors to help strengthen gender identity.
The article discusses that research on the individual have not been successful due to social context, and the connections of these differences to presumed antecedent factors. “Only weak and inconsistent connections have been found between within- family socialization practices and children’s sex-typed behavior (Ruble & Martin, 1998).
Current research looks at interaction process, socialization functions of childhood in social groupings, and how gender is implicated in the formation. In this article the group is taken as the unit of analysis. Children elicit certain behaviors that are not normally in the repertoire of the child when alone while in social groups. The author looks at children choosing same sex playmates, when not monitored by adults, as early as the age of 3. Children’s friendships well into adolescence are also predominantly same sex relationships. Girls tend to split into smaller groupings of 2 or 3 and work towards a joint goal, where as boys tend to be in larger groups that play more organized group games. Playtime with boys tends to be rougher and more competitive. Playtime for girls tends to be reciprocal. Friendships within girls are intimate, where girls share more information about their lives. Friendship with in boys is less intimate and based more upon shared activities. The article further discuses that gender is socially constructed though the nature of the subculture each sex chooses to construct. The more time each sex spent with their own sex, the greater the increase of such behaviors such as activity level and “rough play” with boys increased, and more time with girls lead to decreasing activity level and aggression. New work points values, interests, and sex-typed behaviors being shaped by same sex peers.
Many parents have attempted to make their households gender neutral and have often been “stumped” by their child’s behaviors of still choosing “gender typical” sex-type toys and play. This may answer some of parents questions as to why their “male son who has no toy guns at home, is using his doll as a gun during make believe play”. If I had a child, I would attempt to make my children's toys more gender neutral, so that my child explores many different types of toys and play. It is interesting for me to know, that my child will most likely be drawn to more “sex-appropriate” behaviors while in a group during social interactions with others. As a child, I was often described as a “tom boy” who would prefer to play active games with boys. Was this reinforced socially by the amount of time I spent playing high level activity games with boys? As adults how does this affect us? When I look around the world, I still see predominantly boys hanging out with boys and girls hanging out with girls. Take our ABA classroom for instance; even with the few males who are in the class, most have at least one male sitting beside them in close proximity. Are we all just big kids?