The lives of young people have changed dramatically in different ways over the years. Evidence suggests that the transition from youth to adulthood is very different now to how it was during previous generations. For example, throughout the middle ages, research suggests that both children and adolescents were seen as ‘miniature’ adults and because of this they experienced strong discipline in that era (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
In the 18th century, a French philosopher by the name of Jean-Jacques Rosseau stated that he believed that being a child or an adolescent was no where near the same as being an adult. He believed that reasoning develops through adolescence and that from the age of twelve to fifteen, adolescents emotionally mature (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
A very famous and influential philosopher called G. Stanley Hall, dedicated his studies to understanding and exploring adolescence. In 1904, Hall published a book which plays a huge role in the understanding and exploring of adolescence then and still today. In his book, Hall stated that development from adolescence to adulthood was mainly due to biological factors and his model “The Storm and Stress view” highlights the emotions that adolescents experience throughout their development. A huge part of the development of adolescence includes the topic of Gender.
This essay will provide an argument on the impact of gender on young people in contemporary society in order to make sense of the ways in which gender may be seen in shaping the lives of adolescents. This essay will cover issues such as Gender difference, Gender stereotyping, Social influences, Employment, expected Gender roles, Masculinities, Femininities and more.
Gender refers to the characteristics of both males and females. Developmental approaches believe that young people’s gender identities are based on certain characteristics which come from biological development as well as also following universal patters (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). Essentialist approaches see gender as being both a biological and psychological development (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). Social constructionist approaches believe that gender identity is something that is produced in both diverse and dynamic social contexts (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). Other perspectives on gender include the idea of gender as being plural and diverse, of which, young masculinities and femininities are shaped in changing social contexts (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007).
A Gender role includes a set of expectations which prescribe the way that males and females should act and feel (Santrock. J.W, 2014). An example of this in contemporary society includes the idea that males should be more assertive while females should be more sensitive (Santrock. J.W, 2014). From these perspectives on gender roles, views of masculinities and femininities have changed over time across the world in different societies (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). An example of how these views have changed includes men taking responsibility of the care of young children which was previously seen as “un-masculine” (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007).
In the past, males were portrayed as having the responsibility to be independent, aggressive and powerful while females were supposed to be dependant, nurturant and uninterested in power. The masculine characteristics were considered to be healthy and good by society while the feminine characteristics were considered to be “undesirable” (Santrock. J.W, 2014). During the 1970’s males and females began to explore outside these masculine and feminine stereotypes by expressing themselves and their ideas and interests more as well as other personal traits (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). In today’s contemporary society, gender roles have been re-examined and have changed.
Gender stereotyping is when individuals judge other people based on their gender and expected gender roles. Sexism and sexual discrimination usually arise from stereotyping. Examples of this include males being good at mechanical work while females are only good for ‘caring’ or men being seen as ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ while women are portrayed as ‘weak’ (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Recent research suggests that gender stereotyping still exists today and can have a number of impacts on adolescents.
To start, there are a number of differences associated with gender. Examples of this include physical, emotional and cognitive differences. Physical differences between males and females include differences such as body fat. Females are known to have twice the amount of body fat after puberty that males. This is mainly around their breasts and hips while males body fat usually occurs around the abdominal area (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Another physical difference includes height and strength. On average, males grow about 10% more than women and have more strength due to their levels of testosterone (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
Emotional gender differences include the likes of males being perceived as more aggressive while girls show more emotion. As males show less emotion, studies show that this can result in many behaviour problems throughout adolescence (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
For cognitive gender differences, these are pretty much non-existent. However, in some cognitive areas there is evidence of these gender differences. An example of this includes the results of studies which have shown that females show better self-control than males (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Many questions of uncertainty still exist around these differences and are continuously being studied and evaluated.
Puberty has a great influence on gendered behaviours in adolescence. As adolescent bodies change and hormones increase, females and males begin to incorporate gender and sexuality into their behaviours and attitudes. Researchers have found that sexual behaviour is related to hormonal changes mostly in boys (Santrock. J.W, 2014). An example of this includes a recent study where levels of androgen had risen in boys in relation to an increase in sexual activity (Santrock. J.W, 2014). On the other hand, girls’ sexual activity was influenced more by the type of friends they had rather than the level of their hormones (Santrock. J.W, 2014). The same study also evaluated whether the increase in hormone levels in both male and female adolescents was also related to gender behaviours but no proof of this was found (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
There are many different types on influences on Gender behaviours and attitudes. Examples of these influences include parents, peers and the media. Parents influence adolescents gender development in different ways. According to Papini and Sebby (1998), parents give boys more independence than girls and concern more about girls sexual vulnerability more than boys (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Parents can also have different expectations of academic and career achievements for their child. Studies have shown that many parents believe that maths is more important to their sons career rather than their daughters (Santrock. J.W, 2014). As well as this, parents can often interact differently overall with their children.
Mothers are known to be more involved, nurturing and caring whilst fathers are known to be more involved with a child involving leisure activities (Santrock. J.W, 2014). It is evident that many parents show different ways in how they interact with their children and this persists through adolescence. Adolescents are exposed to a number of masculinity and femininity models which contribute to their development (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Examples of this in regards to parenting include how they may be rewarded. For instance, parents may use rewards in a way of teaching their daughters to be feminine and their sons to be masculine (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Examples of this include phrases like “That dress is so pretty on you” or “You were very aggressive in that soccer match son, well done!” (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
The approval or disapproval of peers can also have a great influence on gender attitudes and behaviours (Santrock. J.W, 2014). According to Santrock. J.W, (2014): “Peers can socialize gender behaviour partly by accepting or rejecting others on the basis of their gender”. An example of this statement includes study conducted in 2010 around a number of adolescents between the ages of 15-17 which concluded that gender segregation characterized some aspects of adolescents’ social lives as 72% of adolescents who took part said that they were more likely to hang out with other adolescents of the same sex (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
The media has one of the overall biggest influences on gender attitudes and behaviour. For example, teenage girls are portrayed on many television shows as being pretty, addicted to shopping, “girly” and interested in dating. Attractive girls on television are sometimes seen as ‘ditsy’ for example the idea of a ‘dumb blonde’. While smart girls on the other hand are often seen as being unattractive and ‘nerdy’. As adolescents observe this they believe the idea that this is how girls should act and be. Many females are often portrayed on television as sexual objects as a result of their physical features. As adolescent and young girls observe these ‘beautiful women’ they believe that this is what they should look like in order to be beautiful.
As a result this can lead to poor body image resulting in eating disorders and mental health problems. A recent study revealed that the more time that both male and female adolescents spent watching television or on social media, the more negative their body image was (Santrock. J.W, 2014). Males on the other hand are portrayed on television and across other media surfaces as being strong, muscly and powerful. This can result in males believing that in order to be considered attractive they must be fit, strong and muscly which again can result in eating disorders, a lack of self-confidence, social isolation and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
A schema is a number of different structures and associations that influence an individuals perceptions. According to Miller et al. (2013): The ‘Gender schema theory’ states that gender types emerge throughout childhood and adolescence and over time develop ideas of what is and is not gender appropriate across cultures (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
There are some differences in gender across cultures. In some cultures, the role of the female is to stay at home while the male works and provides for the family. Adolescents growing up in these cultures observe this in their day to day life. Some deviations from these expected gender mechanisms in certain cultures can result in many disapprovals (Santrock. J.W, 2014). A recent study explained that in the U.S Latino and Latina adolescents are socialized differently growing up. Latinas have more restrictions in their every day lives regarding driving, job opportunities, interacting with the opposite sex and after school activities (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
Education was another restriction that many females in different cultures had. Access to education for girls has improved around the world, however in some cultures it is still limited. An analysis by Unicef (2003) concluded that around the world, by the age of eighteen years old, most girls receive 4.4 years less education than boys which limits future potential (Santrock. J.W, 2014).
While our society is constantly changing and restructuring gender roles, consideration is brought upon the limitations that come with this in relation to young adolescent male and females. In recent years, the lack of manufacture jobs in many areas has been replaced by an expanding economy in the service sector which has increased the participation of adolescents working (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). This shift in society for young adolescents includes a more casual form of work as it includes part time hours, flexibility and a wage that is just nearly above minimum wage (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). Due to this restructuring of the economy pathways have opened for adolescent males in their development into adulthood.
However, the economy has been described as being a “soft economy”. This economy is focused on services such as catering and has been described as being the “feminisation” of labour (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). Due to this, adolescent males who decide that the path they want to take is to work within these services are then considered as men doing ‘womens’ work and not ‘real’ work (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). This can have a great impact on adolescents in their development to adulthood. With a society that is constantly changing, young adolescent males are unsure as to who they are in contemporary society with increasing post-industrial jobs (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007).
Adolescents today are not under any straightforward prescription of what it takes to be a man (Nielsen. L, 1996). Many male researchers believe that adolescent boys should become more emotional, nurturing and empathic throughout their development (Nielsen. L, 1996). An example of such a researcher is the cofounder of ‘Men against Pornography’ who believes that if a boy has the idea of manhood as including pornography, possessiveness and dominance he should choose to instead be a “Person of conscience” instead of this perception of a “man” (Nielsen. L, 1996).
Adolescent girls are now seen as neoliberal subjects for post-industrial times and femininity is now considered independent in today’s society as females are no longer dependant on the ‘male breadwinner’ (Nayak. A and Kehily. M.J, 2007). In the past, girls have had more restrictions than boys. Since these times, there has been a growth in both full time and further education in adolescence and both males and females are considered equal.
As already mentioned, males that choose to work in certain services in the economy can be perceived as doing “women’s work” or “feminine work”. This stereotyping can have many affects and comes in all sort of forms. Such stereotyping on adolescents and young people still continue in relation to the way we behave or the way we dress. For example, if a male dresses or behaves in a “feminine way” or has more females friends than male friends he can be perceived as being gay which can lead to many forms of bullying which can result in the targeted male having many mental health issues.
This is the same for females who might act or dress or behave in a “masculine” way. However it is seen in today’s contemporary society as being more acceptable for females to dress and act more masculine than for males to dress or act more feminine.
To conclude, gender can have many impacts on adolescents. For example, as mentioned throughout this essay gender stereotyping can have many impacts among adolescents in today’s contemporary society with regards their expected gender roles. As for gender differences mentioned at the beginning of the essay, the debate between psychologists still continues as to if biological or environmental factors play a part in these differences and how much they exist (Nielsen. L, 1996). Evidence clearly suggests however that the notions of female and male gender behaviours and attitudes are constantly changing as well as the society in which adolescents are growing.
- The Transition to Adulthood: Characteristics of Young Adults Aged 18 to 24 in America
- Developmental Changes in Adolescents’ Social Networks
- Adolescence and the social determinants of puberty: Psychosocial stress, estradiol-to-testosterone ratio, and pubertal development
- Adolescent Friendships: Supporting Personality Development Through Relationship Processes
- Parent–Adolescent Relationships in India: Effects of Schooling, Gender, and Age of Adolescents