Parenting: Sex Typing

This entry is part [part not set] of 3 in the series Parenting - Buck McCallum

Parenting: Sex Typing

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Scriptures which address sex-typing

I Cor. 11:14, 15

Gen 1:26, 27

Gen 2:18-25

It’s interesting here that the male is described as “clinging” to his wife.  This is hardly a male-appropriate term.  But the term (dabaq) really does mean “longing,” or “needing,” or “craving.”  It is a term of dependance, where the individual realizes his need for her.  I consider this passage to be very interesting in light of some of the research on male sex-typing in our culture.

On the other hand, this same passage talks about the woman being a “helper.”  We could give examples of when this word is used, for example as an assistant in battle or to a task.  The complete phrase is, “a helper who will be equal to him,” or “a helper would will be appropriate for him.”

I don’t know frankly what-all is involved in being a helper.  Maybe we can define that later.

Infancy: Prior to socialization

Human neonatal behavior indicates some sex differences in activity level and in reactiveiy to a variety of stimuli.  For example, sex differences occur in infants’ responses to facial stimuli during the first year of life (Lewis, 1969).  Girls vocialized and smiled more and showed greater differential expression to the facial stimuli, although boys looked longer.  At age two to three months, girls are more sensitive to skin exposure than boys (Wolff, 1965).  Newborn females seem to react more to the removal of a covering blanket, and show lower htresholds to air-jet stimulation of the abdomen (Bell & Costellow, 1964).  Newborn boys raise their heads higher than newborn girls do (Bell & Darling, 1965), and ther are also sex differences in infant play behavior (Goldberg & Lewis, 1969).[1]

Keep in mind though, that socialization can often override the biological factors, which do seem to be in evidence.  For example, a study was done following 19 hermaphrodites who were designated and reared as the sex opposite their chromosomal sex.  Without exception, the sex role and orientation adopted by these individuals was in accordance with their designated sex and rearing (Hampson, 1965).

The biological component

In the nature/nuture debate things tend to get real nasty over the issue of sex-typing.  This is where things will often focus because there are such extreme differences as well as so many excellent exceptions to every generalization.

Not accounting for extreme differences

For one thing, the most extreme behavioral departures from sex-typed societal norms to not have any known biological basis.  For example, “gender deviant” boys, who have extreme patters of feminine preferences and behavior, have shown no chromosomal or physical abnormality on physical examination (Green, 1976; Rekers, Crandall, Rosen & Bentler, 1979).  The same is also true for girls.

So, we can put aside some of the fears that we will be confronted with a child that just demands to be a homosexual.

Secondly, the effect of biological factors on psychological states and behavior is not one-way.  Social and sexual stimuli can affect hormone levels and other physiological states (Hoyenga and Hoyenga, 1979; Rogers, 1976; Rose, Gordon and Bernstein, 1972).[2]

Only a question of extreme

When it comes to the biological question, there is no debate about whether or not there is a biological factor in sex-typed behavior.  It is only a question of how indirect that factor is.

Example: If androgen influences more aggressive behavior, then this is very direct.

Example: If androgen influences more muscle tissue, with the result that others push someone towards sports and physical achievements, then the cause has been more indirect.

But in both cases the biological factor is present.

The different hormones

The major effect of an xx or xy chormosome combination is to produce differntiation of the primitive gonadal tissue into ovearies or testes.  In males, testes are formed aroudn the sixth week of gestation; female ovaries are fomred around the third month.  During the remainder of gestation, sexual diferentiation is accomplised by hormonal secretions from the infant’s own gonads, particularly secretions of androgen.  Male infants secrete considerabley more androgen than do female infants (though androgens are present for both).  For human infants, males have higher levels of testosterone in their bloodstream at birth than do females, but ther are no differences in the concentrations of estrogens or pregesterone (Macoby, Doering, Jacklin, & Kramer, 1979).  Differentiation of external sexual organs other than the gonads is accomplished primarily as a result of high or low exposure to androgen.  If a female is exposed to high doses of androgen, they will develop penis and scrotum.  Likewise if a chromosomal male is not sufficiently supplied with androgen, they will form female genitals.  It seems that female genitals will form in the absence of sufficient doses of androgen.

When animals have been subject to hormonal tampering during gestation, specifically the injection of androgen and testosterone, there have been some interesting results.  Both rats and monkeys have exhibited more aggressive play and male patterns of sexuality, including mounting and initiation.  Female monkeys tended to initiate play with their peers more than other females but not as much as normal males. (Goy, 1975; Pheonix, 1974)

There was one experiment with androgen-exposed girls which resulted from a naturally-occurring syndrome called AGS.  The girls in this case were measurably more aggressive and assertive.  They did like certain tomboy activities and boys as friends more.  But they did not differ in sexual fantasies or preference.

There have been little to no evidence for adverse or differing affects of estrogen or progesterone.

So it appears that androgen and testosterone do effect aggression.

Models for sex-typed behavior


Obviously the strongest influence in sex-typed behavior would tend to be the parents.  Initially both sexes tend to identify with their mothers, since she is the primary influence and there is no firm or permanent sense of sexual difference.  However, once this difference is established, the different sexes would most naturally look to the parent of the same sex as a model for their sexual identity.

However, this is not necessarily the case.

Read from “boy A and boy B” in Family in Transition, p.195.

The girl has her same-sex parental model for identification with her more hours per day than the boy had his same-sex model with him.  Even when home, the father does not usually participate in as many intimate activities with the child as does the mother, e.g., preparation for bed and toileting . . . Despite the shortage of male models for direct imitation, a somewhat stereo-typed and conventional masculine role is spelled out for the boy, often by his mother, women teachers, and peers in the absence of his father and male models . . . Consequently, males tend to identify with a culturally defined masculine role, whereas females tend to identify with their mothers (Lynn, 1969, p. 24-26).

The point is that the boy is thrown on his peers and the general picture of the culture to gleen his information about who he should be.  One side-effect of this could be a very simplistic, overly rigid stereotype of masculinity, since it is not attached to the real-life example of a single person.  The male child may not learn how to incorporate inappropriate sex-typed behavior, as a well-adjusted older male might be able to.  This could account for the fact that “boys consistently hold more stereotyped views [of sexual differences] than girls (Emmerich, 1979).”

While not having a realistic male model at home, the young male is also subject to very harsh censure for feminine behavior, often by females (mothers, teachers, etc.).  These demands are placed on a boy at an age when he does not really understand them, but he quickly learns the price of deviating from them.  As a result, the young male child is likely to feel:

an anxiety which frequently expresses itself in over-straining to be masculine, in virtual panic at being caught doing anything traditionally defined as feminine, and in hostility toward anything even hinting at “femininity,” including females themselves (Hartley, 1959, p. 458).

This anxiety may account for the later problem of association with women and femininity.  Many men don’t feel comfortable with closeness to a woman.  A woman may be someone you take care of, or are polite to.  Another woman may have more “manly” characteristics–the type of girl you might go drinking with and have some fun with.  But the type of woman you would eventually marry is the one who you simply take care of, while avoiding the qualities that make her “feminine.”

Most certainly the censure and shallow male patterns a child experiences early in life can account for the later failure in areas which are more tolerated in women, such as intimacy, honesty, affection, etc.  In later life, men will demonstrate an unwillingness to exercise these abilities, even though they know it is harming them and even though they know they are capable.

In the media

One point about media influence we should recognize is that the influence is far more subtle than we may realize, and it may happen before we realize.

Example: Right at the age when kids are figuring out their sexual differences they are watching things like cartoons, reading stories, etc.  In studies of cartoons, by far more often males were seen exhibiting activity, autonomy, aggressiveness and discord with others (McArthur & Eisen, 1976b; Sternglanz & Serbin, 1974).  The only thing women did more of was being passive and deffering.


More often than not, girls are present for long periods of time with their primary sex-model, their mother.  This provides a personal and concrete model for sex-appropriate behavior.

Furthermore, studies have shown that the stereotype for girls is not as clear as it is for boys.  Certainly there are no outstanding models they should follow, which leaves them to fall back to passivity or receptiveness to male models.  On the other hand, what a girl should do cannot be put into any clear pattern these days.

This has been interpreted as both healthy and good for a young girl.  At other times people say that it is just a sign that passivity and submission is being perpetuated by our society.  I tend to think that the cultural picture for sex-appropriate behavior for girls is actually getting healthier–because it is not firmly stereotyped.

The problem with girls’ sex-typed behavior tends to surface much later that with boys and it tends to focus, not on their sex-typed self-perception, orientation, preferences, etc., but on their social interactions with males.  Once again, this is probably due to the type of involvement they receive from their fathers.  Often the involvement is either absent or abusive.  Either case wouldn’t be too good.

In the case of dis-engaged fathers, or families where the father was absent altogether, it was shown that girls between the ages of 13 and 17 were flirtatious and sexually precocious on the one hand, or very withdrawn and avoiding on the other (Hetherinton, 1972).

Sex typing and adjustment

Male values: relating to feelings of confidence and adjustment in post-adolescence

“It was found that adolescent boys who had a highly masculine interests (on the Strong Vocational Interest Test) when compared to those with hightly feminine interests, had more postive self-concepts and more self -confidence on the TAT (Mussen, 1961).  The children with more masculine interests were also reated by peers as more masculine.[3]

These same adolescents were evaluated in their 30’s.  Mussen states, “Comparison of the ratings assigned to the two groups showed that in adulthood, as during adolescence, those who had relatively feminine interst patterns manifested more of hte “emotional -expressive” role characterisics–e.g., they were rated as more dependent but more social in orientation.  In contrast, those with higly masculine adolescent interest patterns possessed,in ther late teens and in their late thiries, more active, “instrumental” characteristics: greater self-sufficiency, less social orientation and, in adulthood, less introspectiveness.  There was little congruence between the adolescent and adult statuses of the two groups with respect to several other characterisicts, however.  During adolescence, highly masculine subjects possessed more self-confidence and greater feelings of adequacey than the other group, but as adults, they were relatively lacking in qualities of leadership, dominance, self-confidence, and self-acceptance (Mussen, 1962, p. 440).

So, strongly sex-appropriate identification in adoloescence seems to be helpful for one’s confidence and overall adjustment during that period.  But it is not necessarily helpful in the long run.  In fact, Mussen says, “In general there seems to have been a shift in the self-concepts of the two groups in adulthood, the originally highly masculine boys apparently feeling less positive about themselves after adolescence, and, corelatively, the less masculine groups changing in a favorable direction.” (p. 440)

Stability of sex-typed behaviors

Some sex-typed behavior is more stable for one sex and not for the other.  For example, childhood dependency and passivity were related to adult dependency  and passivity for women, but not for men.  Conversely, “the developmental consistencey for aggression was noticably greater for males” (Kagan and Moss, 1962, p. 95).”

This is probably due to the fact that these sex-typed behaviors are reinforce consistently throughout childhood into adulthood.  They probably have quite a bit to do with biological factors such as childbearing.

Nevertheless, knowing that most sex-typed behavior is not permanent, we should not be alarmed at behavior in younger children that we would consider “sex inappropriate.”

The fear of female success

One of the side-effects of the female tendency towards passivity and dependancy, and away from aggression, is that females tend to have a fear of success in a field.  For example, one study had females complete a story which began, “After first term finals, Ann finds herself at the top of her medical school class . . .”  Over 65 percent of the stories told by women about Ann contained negative responses (e.g., anxiety, guilt, loss of femininity, social rejection).  Sometimes they were extreme in their negative outlook, ascribing Ann’s success to a computer fluke, saying that she wouldn’t be able to keep it up, etc.

Men, on the other hand, when asked to complete the same story about a character named “John,” had less than 10% negative stories.  Men also had a high degree of negative stories about the Ann figure.  So it appears that the negative stereogtype of successful women is shared by men and women alike.

Is it healthy to cultivate aggression in girls?  Would we be doing them a diservice by setting them up for later social rejection?

[1] Taken from Walter Mischel, Introduction to Personality (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 4th ed.), p. 448.

[2] This research taken from Aletha Huston, “Sex Typing”

[3] Mischel, p. 455.

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