Room of Her Own," feminist author Virginia Woolf decries the lack of true women litterateurs in modern society. (Lewis, 2003) This essay however, will not be a diatribe against society or members of the male gender, but a true assessment of gender identity of women as their lives evolve from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
Gender identity involves not only sexuality and sexual proclivities -- as in the establishment of the sexuality of the transgendered. Female gender identity arises from how a woman interacts in and with society. Traditionally, conformation to society's norms was considered paramount. Society says that a young woman should be: assigned female at birth, be feminine, see herself as a woman, and be attracted to men. Therefore, consider the definitions of some basic concepts. Gender refers to the sociocultural facet of being male or female. Sex refers to the biological side of things. Gender Identity is an individual's sense of being male or female. Gender role is the set of expectations that prescribe how females or males should think, feel, and behave.
Even from childhood, for males, identity is focused on separation and autonomy. Female identity is not as focused on separation as it is on attachment, or, in other words, the intimate relationships that they have. Masculinity is defined through separation, while femininity is defined through attachment; male gender identity is threatened by intimacy, while female gender identity is threatened by separation. A young girl is never encouraged to separate from her primary caregiver. This line of thinking assumes that a female "to become more invested and more competent at forming intimate relationships" (p. 321). As a result, many girls obtain their identity through attachment relationships, or relationships with intimate partners. This may lead a female to have problems with separation. (Steinberg, 1996)
Society deems what gender identities will be from childhood. Little girls are trained, explicitly and implicitly, how to be women. Some behavior patterns are adopted from the mothers, who themselves are being patterned from the perspective of societies demands on an adult woman. In watching advertisements for toys on television, girls are identified as playing with dolls. Indeed, the entire advertisement is filmed in softer shades of pinks and pastels. A girl-child will often carry around a doll of a baby. The maternal nurturing that she fosters on the doll is the same as is fostered upon her by her mother. Boys' toys tend to be more rugged. Advertisers tend to call dolls action figures. In these subtle ways, gender roles are fostered and cemented. One of the earliest ways a child starts to become socialized into the culture of any society is through the observation and imitation of the people around it. Girls have a ready source of imitation within the family group because they are able to identify with their mother. At an early stage in their social development, girls tend to imitate the form of their mother's life (cooking, cleaning, washing) without particularly understanding the why these tasks have to be done. The idea of normality is significant here, since girls tend to learn female behavior through the constant repetition. Thus, the rules of behavior become internalized. Girls identify with the mother because of the same biological sex. At a very early age, gender identification tends to be encouraged and reinforced in many subtle ways: girls are praised for being neat, helpful, and pretty. They are criticized for engaging in male behaviors that are not ladylike, e.g., shouting, and fighting. This is gender socialization, where a child's behavior is controlled through punishment and rewards.
The little girl who is encouraged to act in a feminine way will feel more and more feminine as she grows up. In re-reading this statement, one should be cognizant of the nature vs. nurture theory. Many scholars have called revisionist the notion that every child is born as the so-called "Blank Slate (Dewing et al., 2003) The truth is probably a combination of the two. Every society is also religious -- to varying extents. Gender identities, especially for children, possibly come from religio-cultural and moral dogmas.
In considering how gender roles have evolved over time, consider a statement made by none other than Queen Victoria, a statement that today would be criticized for it's "Neanderthal" leanings: "I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of 'Women's Rights,' with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feelings and propriety. Feminists ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to 'unsex' herself by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection." (Victoria, 2003)
Adolescence marks a transitory point for every child turning into an adult. This period is marked by emotional and physiological upheavals. Many aver that from biological, religious, moral and cultural standpoints, a women's primary role in the grand scheme of things is to be a mother. The changes adolescence brings are primarily in the development of this ability. But adolescence also marks the point where a woman will cement cultural notions of what it is to be a woman and carry these into adulthood. From an identity standpoint, a girl child, reaching adolescence, begins questioning herself and others about the need to be a woman. These are conflicted with egocentrism -- the belief that every other person is absorbed with her as she is with herself. The obvious differences in her identity with that of a male's prompts the evaluation of the pros and cons of her own sexuality and femaleness. This period is marked by great care as to appearance and behavior. The adolescent also suffers embarrassingly obvious physical changes and the unfamiliar pains of menstruation. The female adolescent now begins absorbing the difference in attitude that her parents show for her male sibling, in terms of late nights, clothes, freedom of choice and acceptable behavior. Common behaviors and feelings may be associated with feelings of guilt, confusion, hopefulness and fear and problems with self-esteem.
Although self-esteem has a tendency to fall for both sexes of teenagers, a number of studies have found that adolescent girls have lower self-esteem than adolescent boys (Branden, 1992) Negative feelings about body image leads to anxiety about one's body, one's self, and one's life
Girls tend to be pressured into thinking they have to be thin. One out of every 350 adolescents has an eating disorder girls with negative body image worry that they are not physically normal, they are unstable, have low problem-solving ability and a low sense of personal efficacy. Also early maturing females may face rejection from their age-peers and seek the company of a more mature set. The problem with being with older peers is when female adolescents might copy the sexual and cultural behaviors of this new group without being physically or emotionally prepared for it. Early maturing females have less time to form a solid sense of self, which could cause difficulty in making wise present decisions as well as decisions for the future.
As adolescence progresses into adulthood, gender roles and gender identities become more established on several different levels. Once again, society fosters roles on women at several different levels. A woman's biologically defined role is one where she is required to be a mother. Delivering an infant and breast-feeding is a basic biological construct of nurturing. Morally defined roles encompass modest clothing, abstaining from actions during pregnancy that would endanger the life of the child (such as abstaining from alcohol or illicit drug intake and from deliberate abortion), abstaining from sexual relations with females and being submissive to husband's leadership at home. Culturally defined, a woman's gender identity (as written down by society) also operates at several sub-levels. The first is culture based on biological differences. Female "activities" would involve, using the women's room, wearing traditional women's clothing, singing in a female choir and living in a sorority. Also culturally, there are certain arbitrary edicts such as wearing make up and using appropriate feminine accessories such as the ubiquitous purse. While these above are generally benign, certain gender stereotypes are harmful. They seek to subjugate. These are specific occupational roles that cloister women into being nurses or airline attendants. While there is nothing inherently wrong in these career choices, they tend to create perceptions that women cannot survive in any roles beyond those of basic nurturers. Jobs of secretaries and administrative assistants create the perception that women are merely errand girls incapable of taking on decision-making responsibilities in society. Another problem for women in society that is unfortunately specific to America (among developed nations) is that women are paid lower for the same job as a man. (Whitbourne, 1989)
In modern society, as equity between men and women has increased a new term is becoming a part of society as the perceived differences between men and women. This word…