Children learn at a very early age what it means to be a boy or a girl in our society. Through myriad activities, opportunities, encouragements, discouragements, overt behaviors, covert suggestions, and various forms of guidance, children experience the process of gender role socialization. It is difficult for a child to grow to adulthood without experiencing some form of gender bias or stereotyping, whether it be the expectation that boys are better than girls at math or the idea that only females can nurture children. As children grow and develop, the gender stereotypes they are exposed to at home are reinforced by other elements in their environment and are thus perpetuated throughout childhood and on into adolescence (Martin, Wood, & Little, 1990).
A child's burgeoning sense of self, or self-concept, is a result of the multitude of ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs to which he or she is exposed. The information that surrounds the child and which is internalized comes to the child within the family arena through parent-child interactions, role modeling, reinforcement for desired behaviors, and parental approval or disapproval (Santrock, 1994). As children move into the larger world of friends and school, many of their ideas and beliefs are reinforced by those around them. A further reinforcement of acceptable and appropriate behavior is shown to children through the media, in particular, television. Through all these socialization agents, children learn gender stereotyped behavior. As children develop, these stereotypes become firmly entrenched beliefs and thus, are a part of the child's self-concept. Figure 1 illustrates some of the factors involved in parental influence on a child's self concept.
A child's earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from parents (Lauer & Lauer, 1994; Santrock, 1994; Kaplan, 1991). From the time their children are babies, parents treat sons and daughters differently, dressing infants in gender-specific colors, giving gender-differentiated toys, and expecting different behavior from boys and girls (Thorne, 1993). One study indicates that parents have differential expectations of sons and daughters as early as 24 hours after birth (Rubin, Provenzano, & Luria, 1974).…