Gender Socialization of Adolescents in the Home: Research and Discussion
Peters, John F., Adolescence
There has been considerable gender research on inequality in employment, sports participation, television programs, and literature content over the past two decades. However, there is limited research on adolescent gender socialization within the family. Until the early seventies, the family was generally viewed as supporting institutional functions in which females were socialized to be dependent, fragile, unaggressive, sensitive, nurturant, and hesitant to take risks. Males were seen as being socialized in the home to be strong, confident, independent, and daring. Bakans (1966) said that fathers emphasized instrumental behaviors while mothers emphasized expressive behaviors in child socialization. A review of adolescent and family research in the 1980s shows that adolescent socialization in the home was studied in terms of their well-being and development, as well as their identity and parental response to avoid adolescent deviance (Gecas & Seff, 1990). Socialization in gender-role behavior is conspicuously absent.
This research on gender socialization of adolescents in the home environment focuses upon six common family activities: allowances, parental gift giving, use of the family car, curfew, and chores done in and outside the home.
Adolescent behavior originates from multiple sources: home, peers, school, media, and employment. Gender differences generally peak in the adolescent years. Males want to be macho and many are engaged in competitive sports. Females are cosmetics and fashion conscious. Each has a "possession stake": males for athletic equipment and females for jewelry (Peters, 1988). Females shop for their own clothing (Peters, 1989), and males purchase more costly stereos. At least in the early and middle teen years, most heterosexual coupling behavior affirms stereotyped images of male and female. Adolescent behavior is also somewhat unique because of a "generation stake" which Acock and Bengtson (1980) differentiate from the older generation with regard to politics and punishment for criminal acts.
Ultimately adolescent gender behavior is derived from their interaction and reaction to various agents of socialization. Adolescents' constructed social reality emerges and changes through experiences, and may be quite different from that of their parents. Adolescents act out from their sense of reality, and this pertains to gender as well. We do not live in a gender-blind society.
. . . in contemporary society gender is a central organizing principle in men's and women's images of themselves and . . . their construction of their social world is indisputable. (Spence, 1981, p. 146)
What adults have internalized in terms of gender role expectations through primary socialization is retained in their "subjective reality," even when later learning overlaps and contradicts it (Laws & Schwartz, 1977, p. 9). We might call this "gender stake." The threads of sex roles run through the fabric of our society and are nourished and sustained by our human institutions (Lambert, 1971, p. 2).
They develop ideas of what is right or proper for them as boys or girls to do, to believe, to aspire to, and ways to relate to others. They are learning about the social order, which in time will appear to them to be a natural social order in the sense that they will come to take it for granted as the framework within which they think and act (Lambert, 1971, p. 1).
Gender values and norms are indelibly woven into our adult world and are perpetuated in the young in overt and covert ways. The concern of this research is parental socialization of adolescents in the home. Several social, psychological, and cultural considerations are relevant. At adolescence there is a degree of socialization along same-sex lines between parent and child (Gecas & Seff, 1990, p. 984). Mother-daughter relationships are more intense than father-daughter relationships (Steinberg, 1987). Gecas and Seff (1990) state that there is a "tendency in our culture to be more protective of females and more permissive of males." Steinberg comments that "girls in our society may be over-socialized toward dependence, and boys toward independence." Huston (1983) shows that females are kept under surveillance to a later age and therefore possibly "miss opportunities to develop a sense of their own competence, and many incorporate their care-givers' fears of venturing out into the wide world." Parents want to teach their children sex-appropriate chores and family roles (Thrall, 1978, p. 264). Even "liberated" parents do not wish to risk having their children become misfits in society as it is currently constituted (Katz, 1979, p. 24). In essence, gender-equal parents feel some social necessity for traditional gender norms in socializing their children.
It has also been shown that adolescent males obtain employment outside the home at an earlier age than do females, which contributes to the male's independence (Peters, 1987). Despite the fact that males are said to gain independence earlier, in modern culture they remain almost totally dependent upon women for food preparation and housekeeping. In other words, male independence is selective. In most cases household behavior is altered only when males are critically provoked to change.
For more than a decade feminist research has made notable contributions regarding the effect of a mother's employment upon family structure and behavior. However, the results of this research are not consistent. The Smith and Self (1980) research of first-year university students shows that maternal sex-role attitudes, especially those of college-educated mothers, serve as an important factor in the development of the sex-role attitudes of their daughters. Hoffman and Nye (1984) found several family characteristics in homes where the mother was employed: children did more housework, were supervised less, had more independence, and daughters were less feminine. Girls' self-concepts were generally affected positively in the house with a working mother. Fox and Hesse-Biber (1984) found that daughters of gainfully employed mothers view their mothers as having a greater degree of competence than do daughters with nonemployed mothers. However, the ten-year comparative research of Lueptow (1980) indicates that there was little sex-role change in the 1964 to 1975 period, and that the effect of a mother's presence in the work force on child socialization has been exaggerated. This finding mitigates the Hoffman (1974) research wherein "maternal employment is associated with less traditional sex-role concepts."
Child and adolescent research regarding home-chore behavior also provides disparate conclusions. In general, the literature shows that the children of full-time working mothers do more work around the house (Cogle & Tasker, 1982). Benin and Edwards (1990) researched the effect of three types of mothers upon children's household tasks: part-, full-time employed, and non-wage earners. Homes in which both parents were employed full time were the most traditional in designation of teenager chores; the girls did more and the boys did fewer household chores compared to homes where the mother was not gainfully employed. The White and Brinkerhoff (1981) research shows that teenagers are involved in household chores, but the amount and types of chores are readily distinguished along gender lines.
In the Cogle and Tasker (1982) research of children aged 6-17, housework varied by sex: twice as many girls did the dishwashing; girls were four times more likely to participate in care of clothing; …
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Publication information: Article title: Gender Socialization of Adolescents in the Home: Research and Discussion. Contributors: Peters, John F. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 29. Issue: 116 Publication date: Winter 1994. Page number: 913+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
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