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Gender Identity - Development Of Gender Identity

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Gender identity develops through a process of differentiation: interactions of biological, social, and cognitive-learning factors that occur over time. Differentiation means that a basically similar structure develops differently, depending upon the influence of other factors. Chromosomally female and male human fetuses are undifferentiated (have a similar physical form) until after the second month of prenatal development. As development progresses, various influences increase the difference between the sexes. Changes in sexual and gender development occur (or do not occur) at specific times or sensitive periods, and thereafter may be immutable. The process begins prenatally with the sex-determining chromosomes, the development of fetal gonads, and the influence of hormones on the fetus including influence on the brain. The basic model is female, and something extra has to be added to differentiate a male.

At birth, almost all infants are socially labeled as either a girl or a boy, based on the appearance of the external genitals. Children may be treated FIGURE 1
Illustration of the sequential and interactional components of gender-identity differentiation. Money, Principles of De velopmental Psychology, New York: Continuum, 1997.
differently, depending upon the labeled sex. The child begins to develop a body image of the self as a girl or a boy. After the child acquires language, by eighteen months to two years, the child can label the self as girl or boy. This is the early expression of gender identity. Learning of some aspects of gender identity occurs at biologically sensitive periods of time; once learned, it is difficult to alter.

All societies partition some aspects of human existence into two distinct roles of male and female. The specific content of female and male gender roles varies among different societies. These characteristics may or may not be closely related to the biological functional differences between females and males: females have a vagina and may bear children; males have a penis and may impregnate. The difficulty that children face in the learning process is determining which characteristics are gender-linked and which are not.

Children develop gender-identity constancy by five to six years of age. Gender constancy is the idea that if a child is a girl, she will always be female and will grow up to be a woman; if a child is a boy, he will always be male and will grow up to be a man. These continuities are not obvious but must be learned. Before puberty, girls and boys are more like each other than either are like adult women and men. Juvenile gender identity is consolidated through social experiences of exploring sexual and gender characteristics, which may include games such as "show me" and "playing doctor" and sexual rehearsal play.

The hormones of puberty induce changes in the sexual characteristics of the body. Usually these changes are consistent with the gender identity and gender role. Sometimes they are not, as when boys develop breasts, or when the physical changes are delayed or do not meet expectations. These physical changes must be incorporated into the gender identity. Standards of feminine or masculine physical attractiveness change from childhood to adulthood, as do other aspects of gender roles. Social pressures intensify for conformity to female or male gender roles. In addition, the sex hormones fuel romantic and sexual interests. Sexual orientation, as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual, also becomes part of an adult gender identity and role, although it originates much earlier in development.

Gender identity is generally consistent from early childhood through adulthood. Although gender identity as man or woman is stable, some of the content of an individual's gender role may change over a lifetime because of changing social norms or a move to another society.

The conceptualization of the self as male or female is a basic part of human identity in all societies. In some societies, however, another gender identity is possible, culturally labeled as a third sex or third gender (Herdt 1994). The Native American berdache is accepted as an individual with two spirits, both masculine and feminine. These rare individuals (who are usually genitally male, but may be female) are believed to have supernatural powers. Berdache roles, and associated gender identities, have been documented in North and South America, Oceania, Siberia, Asia, and Africa.

The hijra of India are recognized as a special caste, born with male genitals, who live in a neither male nor female gender role (Nanda 1990). They identify themselves as hijra rather than as male or female. Some undergo genital surgery to remove the penis or testicles, but a vagina is not constructed. They engage in sexual relations only with males, but are not labeled as homosexual or as men who have sex with men.

In the Islamic culture of Omani, males who wear clothing that mixes masculine and feminine characteristics and engage in sexual relations with males are called khanith and are considered to be a third gender. They are not allowed to wear the veil or certain ritualistic clothing restricted to women.

A distinctive gender identity may be linked to sexual behavior and cross-gender social presentation in different parts of the world. This gender identity includes individuals who do not fit into the society's traditional masculine or feminine sex roles, especially when it involves same-sex relationships, and there is no cultural identity as homosexual (Murray 1999). The acault of Burma are socially recognized as males who live as females, and they do not have genital surgery. The faa fa'fini (Samoa), the fakaleiti (Tonga), and the mahu (Hawaii and Tahiti) are males with an effeminate gender identity who dress in feminized styles. In Africa there is great diversity in social roles for nonmasculine males and nonfeminine females, which includes different homosexualities, as well as mixed-gender shaman roles (Murray and Roscoe 1998). Research is only beginning to ascertain which of these roles may correspond to alternative gender identities. Historically, the eunuch males in the Dahomey court (lagredis) and Mossi court (sorones) were one type of alternative gender identity.


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about 6 years ago

I feel I live into male, and female, Am A Klineefelter Sydrome, I have xx/xy, I wonder if I can get into a group? I was born with this disorder, born live and die, am 68 years old, and there no getting over it.

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over 6 years ago

uska lund

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over 6 years ago

Very helpful and interesting :)

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over 5 years ago

SOCI 1111

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about 6 years ago

women