An Introduction to the Analysis of Gender Identity

Gender Identity is a learned quality. It does not have anything to do with nature (genetics) as much as nurturing. Males and females are separated by gender at birth. A person’s sex determines how their gender will develop. Some circumstances may cause gender identity disorder. What makes a woman a woman and a man a man? Is it nature? A persons genetics, or is it nurture? The way a person is raised. The way a female and a male are raised from birth decides what gender the person will become.

Gender identity is a learned behavior, which is reinforced through out one’s entire lifetime. Gender identity is the sense of knowing which sex one belongs. That is the sense of one’s masculinity or femininity. Aside from sex differences, other biological contrasts between males and females are already evident in childhood. Girls mature faster than boys, are physically healthier, and are more advanced in developing oral, written, and language skills (Townshed 2000).

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Boys are generally more advanced at envisioning and manipulating objects in space.

They are more aggressive and more physically active, preferring noisy, rough forms of play that require larger groups and more space than the play of girls the same age (Townshed 2000). In spite of conscious attempts to reduce sex role stereotyping in recent decades, boys and girls are still treated differently by adults from the time they are born. The way adults play with infants has been found to differ based on gender: girls are treated more gently and approached more verbally than boys (Taylor, Lillis & Lemone 1997).

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As children grow older, many parents, teachers, and other authority figures still tend to encourage independence, competition, and exploration more in boys and expressiveness, nurturing, and obedience in girls. A major step in the formation of gender identity occurs at about the age of three when children first become aware of anatomical differences between the sexes, usually through observation of siblings or peers (Wong 1999).

The awareness of physical difference is followed by awareness of the cultural differences between males and females and identification with the parent of the same sex, whose behavior the child begins to imitate. The most famous 20th-century theory about the acquisition of gender identity at this stage of life is the Oedipus complex formulated by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Like its female counterpart, which Freud termed the Electra complex, the Oedipus complex revolves around a child’s wish to possess the parent of the opposite sex, while simultaneously wishing to eliminate the parent of the same sex, who is perceived as a rival. The Oedipus complex has been widely criticized, especially by feminist critics who reject its assumption that “anatomy is destiny.” One respected feminist theory is that of Nancy Chodorow, for whom the central factor in gender identity acquisition is the mother’s role as primary caregiver, which leads to a greater sense of a relatedness in girls, who identify with the mother and go on to reproduce the same patterns of mothering in their own adult lives (Brazelton 1990). While boys, needing to identify with the parent of the opposite sex, acquire a defining sense of separateness and independence early in life.

This “reproduction of mothering,” being both biologically and sociologically determined, is at least theoretically open to the possibility of change if patterns of parenting can be altered. The formation of gender identity has been approached in different terms by Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987), who formulated the concept of gender consistency, the awareness that gender remains fixed throughout a person’s lifetime. Kohlberg noted that while children are aware of their own gender and the gender of others by the age of three, they do not really begin assuming appropriate gender-based behavior until the age of about seven, when they first understand that gender is permanent: that they cannot change gender the way they can change their clothes or their behavior. Kohlberg believed that children do not start systematically imitating the behavior of members of their own sex until that point. After gender identity is formed, then gender stability develops. Gender stability is the realization that girls grow up to women and men grow up to be men. It is during this period of gender stability development that many children show stereotypical behaviors appropriate to their gender identity.

While most children follow a predictable pattern in the acquisition of gender identity, some develop a gender identity inconsistent with their biological sex, a condition variously known as gender confusion, gender identity disorder, or transsexualism, which affects about 1 in 20,000 males and 1 in 50,000 females (Brazelton 1990). Researchers have found that both early socialization and hormonal factors may play a role in the development of gender identity disorder. Children with gender identity disorder usually feel from their earliest years that they are trapped in the wrong body and begin to show signs of gender confusion between the ages of two and four. They prefer playmates of the opposite sex at an age when most children prefer to spend time in the company of same-sex peers. They also show a preference for the clothing and typical activities of the opposite sex: transsexual boys like to play house and play with dolls. Girls with gender identity disorder are bored by ordinary female pastimes and prefer the rougher types of play typically associated with boys, such as contact sports. Both male and female transsexuals believe and repeatedly insist that they actually are, or will grow up to be, members of the opposite sex.

Girls cut their hair short, favor boys’ clothing, and have negative feelings about maturing physically as they near adolescence. In childhood, girls with gender identity disorder experience less overall social rejection than boys, as it is more socially acceptable for a girl to be a tomboy than for a boy to be perceived as a “sissy.” About five times more boys than girls are referred to therapists for this condition. Teenagers with gender identity disorder suffer social isolation and are vulnerable to depression and suicide. They have difficulty developing peer relationships with members of their own sex as well as romantic relationships with the opposite sex. They may also become alienated from their parents. Most children eventually outgrow gender identity disorder.

About 75% of boys with gender identity disorder develop a homosexual or bisexual orientation by late adolescence or adulthood, but without continued feelings of transsexuality (Taylor, Lillis & LeMone 1997). Most of the remaining 25% become heterosexuals (Taylor, Lillis & Lemone 1997). Those individuals in whom gender identity disorder persists into adulthood retain the desire to live as members of the opposite sex, sometimes manifesting this desire by cross-dressing, either privately or in public. In some cases, adult transsexuals (both male and female) have their primary and secondary sexual characteristics altered through a sex change operation, consisting of surgery followed by hormone treatments. Observation of a family father, mother, and 5-year-old male identical twins. Observing the children at play activities in a non-home environment. Mike searches for several minutes to find a football, Matt runs directly for a tea set. Matt enjoys playing alone with the tea set; Mike becomes quickly bored with the ball. Mike looks for something else to do and when he can’t find anything better he dives on to Matt’s tea party. This makes Matt very upset and he cries out for his mother.

The twin males were premature and required constant attention from their parents. Each child was in constant need of the parents attention, two parents – two children. Naturally each parent would share in the responsibility of the needs of the twins. Mike (his father’s namesake) was always attended to by his father and Matt always the mother. The parents claim that this was unintentional it was just how things worked out when they did things with the children. Never did they believe that this would have an affect of their children. Mike is an outgoing, sloppy, and loud much like his adult father. Matt is neat, caring, and inquisitive child more like his mother. Mike is a well-adjusted 5-year-old male child. Matt on the hand shows more feminine qualities and shows some signs of gender identity disorder. He may grow out of this phase in his childhood and turn out to be typical male, if his parents take some of his behaviors and divert them towards other things. Appearance and genetic makeup are the only thing the twins have in common. From the small observational control group, the caregiver provides the nurturing and care to develop a gender. When too much emphasis is placed on male or female qualities the child develops the gender that he knows. There are many different factors in how gender develops in children, but twins provide an excellent example of how to children that are essentially the same person can become a completely different individual.

Until the human DNA can be studied more in depth there will never be a concrete answer to the origins of gender. Research and observation provides evidence that gender is a social development process. What makes a man a man and a woman a woman? Research shows that until further biological and sociological testing can be done there will never be an absolute answer. Nature is the biological way of determining gender a person is their sex and that is the way it will be. Nurture is the way a person is raised to determine gender.

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An Introduction to the Analysis of Gender Identity. (2022, Sep 18). Retrieved from

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