Women and Sex Roles: A Social Psychological Perspective

By Irene H. Frieze; Jacquelynne E. Parsons et al. | Go to book overview

9

Women's Adult Development

Esther Sales

*"What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question has been familiar to all of us since we were first asked, as preschoolers, to confront the issue of our adulthood. At that point grown-ups were so clearly a different form of being that the question's absurdity encouraged both fantasy and disbelief. Our play became the secure context for trying out the rituals of work and family roles in order to explore the mysterious world of adults.

The pressure to devise some acceptable life plan mounted during adolescence, when we no longer could doubt our approaching adulthood. Our maturing body was an undeniable sign of this reality; we struggled to redefine ourselves as independent people with clear future goals. This struggle, viewed by Erik Erikson (1964) as the central psychological theme of adolescence, involved efforts to establish an identity that would end the role confusions of one's teenage years. But even if we are successful in gaining a sense of ourselves during this period, we commonly enter adulthood with vague, tenuous goals for our future. During early adulthood, work, marriage, and parental roles are seriously explored, as we learn to perform the types of behavior expected for these roles. We often find, to our naive surprise, that our childhood games and experiences have given us little real understanding of these central roles. Although we are eager to master the intricacies of these long anticipated adult roles, they often prove to be more complex than we

____________________
*
Background materials for this chapter were assembled with the assistance of Rosalyn Katz.

-157-

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