Gender Role Development

Updated on January 16, 2016

Gender roles are the behaviors, attitudes, and activities expected or common for males and females; these behaviors are typically considered masculine or feminine and are culturally determined (Sex Roles/Gender Roles, n.d.). Gender roles are largely dependent on culture as gender roles differ greatly between cultures. For instance, African Americans’ traditional gender roles place the woman as the head of the household, the Hispanic traditional gender role has women as respected healers and dispensers of wisdom, and Chinese Americans have a gender role where both spouses are equal bread winners, but the wife is not her husband’s equal in decision making (Hales, 2013, p. 134). The religion that a person chooses can also affect their gender development; much in the same way culture does, religion often has very definite gender roles that dictate the way males and females should behave. For instance, Christianity often puts women in a role that is submissive to the males in their lives. The culture and religion a person lives with determines their traditional gender role, but the gender role development can be affected by parents, peers, religion, teachers, and the media.

A child’s first exposure to what it means to be feminine or masculine comes from their parents (Witt, 1997). Male and female children are treated different from each other from the time that they are born; male and female children are both dressed in different colors, given different toys, and different behaviors are expected from them (Thorne, 1993). Children internalize the parental messages regarding gender roles that their parents teach them from a young age; these roles that their parents demonstrate to them shapes the child’s perception and belief of his or her own gender role (Witt, 1997). The next time a child’s gender role is affected is when he or she enters school for the first time; school brings the child into contact with peers and teachers.

Schooling is one of the most important socialization processes that children go through outside of their family (Bhuiyan, 2007). School brings children into direct contact with both their peers and their teachers; these people who enter the child’s life help the child to truly understand and comprehend their gender role in relation to society (Bhuiyan, 2007). School can either cement a child’s gender role or it can cause a child to alter his or her belief of their assumed gender role. Peers allow children to observe the gender roles of both boys and girls their own age and compare their gender roles to their own. Teachers demonstrate the power relation of male and female as well as an adult stance on gender role, which comes from an adult that is not the child’s parent (Bhuiyan, 2007). Children and teenagers often base their gender role off of what they witness in the media.

The media can impact a person’s gender role development because it exposes people to a wide range of different gender roles. A person can turn on their television or their computer and learn about gender roles from different cultures through the news, social media, and documentaries. This media can slowly alter a person’s perception on what they believe their gender role is or should be, however the media can also confirm a person’s gender role. The media often cements the belief that men should act masculine and women should act feminine, but there is also media that promotes the opposite (Blumenfeld, 2013).There are even reality TV shows where men and women change their gender. The media offers information that can help a person to further develop their gender role or strengthen the person’s belief in their current gender role (Blumenfeld, 2013).The person themselves is the one who dictates how the media affects their gender role development because the person is the one who choses what they watch and read on the television, online, and in print.


Bhuiyan, S. (2007, August 16). Shaping A Child's Gender Identity: The Role Of School. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from

Blumenfeld, W. (2013, October 8). Examining Media's Socialization of Gender Roles. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from

Hales, D. (2013). Invitation to Health: Live It Now (16th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Sex Roles/Gender Roles. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2015, from

Thorne, B. (1993). Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. Contemporary Sociology, 281-281.

Witt, S. (1997). The Influence of Peers on Children's Socialization to Gender Roles. Early Child Development and Care, 1-7. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • How do you describe gender roles in development?

    The best way is to look at how children develop and the look at the differences between both genders. Then you just need to address how those differences can influence development.


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