Posted by: christinamartin11 | February 7, 2014

Monkey See Monkey Do

This video is a short clip which shows an interview with a few children between the ages of 2-4 that are asked questions about gender roles to gain a better understanding of their perception of gender distinction. Towards the end of the video the children are shown two dolls, one male and one female and asked questions regarding gender roles. For example, the children are asked, which doll takes care of babies, and the children pick out which doll they believe takes care of the babies. This video shows how heavily gender roles are embedded in children at such a young age. I became intrigued with this topic of children and gender stereotypes throughout this semester but more particularly after seeing this video and from this past reading by Carli and Bukatko.

Carli & Bukatko’s article, Gender, Communication, and Social Influence: A Developmental Perspective really made me think about when gendered stereotypes and differences begin. Carli & Bukatko state that the differences between men and women, and more specifically the differences in communication between genders, start as early as preschool. The communicational differences that arise in preschoolers make me question where do children learn these communicable differences. Are these gendered differences so distinct with their parent’s demonstration that it is now a part of who they are as children? Or are we biologically programmed to be different from the opposite sex mentally, physically and in the way we communicate?

 There has been discussion in the past that order to drift away from negative stereotypes and the underrepresentation that women face in leadership, is to rid of the gender boxes that society puts people in. On the Women & Leadership blog posts, the statement has been made “change starts with us”. But how do we inflict that change?  It is evident within Carli & Bukatko’s article and even more distinctly within this video clip that gender differences in communication and roles starts at an early age. Therefore, shouldn’t these issues of women in leadership, gender roles and gender discrimination, be addressed and corrected at a young age as well to stop it from growing and before it is too late? But the question is how do we do it? How do we educate a 3 year old girl the concept of the Double-Bind? How do we teach a 3 year old girl to be “warm, pleasant and smile” when communicating but not to do it too much because she could disclaim her own authority?  How do we teach a young girl to not be bound by the Social Role Theory?

Or is the solution found in a gender neutral society? An environment where there is no distinction between male or female. This idea troubles me because I know when I plan on having a family, hopefully with daughters and sons and I know that I will not raise them to be gender neutral. I will put my daughter in dresses, I will buy trucks for my little boy, but I will raise them both to be independent. I will teach them to have manners when they speak, but also how to be assertive when necessary. But will that be enough?

I believe the issue and solution to this idea is that ultimately we cannot change the way we see or distinguish between gender and the social roles but we can change the way we view leadership. Leadership does not have to be separated by gender or characterized as a role with distinct masculine qualities. That is when things go wrong; when we let the gender boxes lead to discrimination. Knowing that, we need to start thinking now how will we educate our youth on this issue? Should we start teaching them these concepts in preschool? Or do us as individuals change our actions in how we communicate and act with one another because ultimately the children will learn from how we act. Monkey see monkey do.


  1. I think you would be interested in a research article that Communication Studies majors read in the course Gender Communication. Men and women were placed in a room with a child who was neither obviously male nor female. They were instructed to play with the child and given 3 toys: a football, a doll, and a gender-neutral ball. When men were placed in the room, they were most likely to hand the baby a ball. However, the women were more likely to make assumptions about gender and hand the baby a football or a doll. I thought it was interesting that women were more likely to force gendered play on a child.

    In response to your question, I really believe that gender differences are not a product of biology but rather socially constructed. The traits that we learn and the ways that we act are demonstrated to us but our parents, the people around us, etc. I agree that if we want to make changes to the way children act, we need to make changes to how we act.

  2. When I first read this post I wanted to immediately say I support the idea that completely de-gendering humans is not only close to impossible, but it is also unnatural. The only thing that needs to be done is to de-gender leadership roles. But in reality that just solves part of the problem. Leaving humans gendered based on their sex still forces certain qualities in a box. So maybe it is not about forcing your daughter to wear pants, but allowing her to make the choice to wear what she wants. If our generation is open-minded with our children and how they want to dress, act, or play, then their generation will grow up with less pressure on how they ‘ought’ to be. In my opinion, the best way to teach our children not to be held back by the Social Role Theory is to break the norms and stereotypes. Without the expectations based on gender Social Role Theory no longer remains an issue.

  3. This post was very eye opening. I do agree that gender differences start at a very young age and that it is not biological. As children grow up and start to identify with gender roles in society, it is important to teach and encourage them to be their own person, not what society is stereotyping them to be. I too plan on dressing my daughter in dresses and buying her pink toys and baby dolls, but I will not limit her to those items. If she wants to play with legos and Tonka trucks, I want her to feel comfortable and able to do so without society holding her back.

    When I was 10 years old, I asked for a baseball glove for Christmas. When I found it under the tree, I was beyond excited. I showed my grandma and she said, “I didn’t know you were a boy”. I was shocked and upset by this comment and told my mom. She ensured me that girls too can play baseball. She also said my grandma grew up in a different time where girls were less likely to do the things we do today. With this personal example, I really do think that gender differences in children are improving on a generational basis. There is still a lot that can be done. I agree with the above statements that it starts with us. We, as society, need to continue to promote an open mindset to the youth of the world.

  4. This post is fascinating to me. I also think it is illogical to completely de-gender our society. Males and females are different, biologically, physically we are different and that’s okay. I think it’s okay to put your girl in a dress and it’s okay to give your boy a truck to play with. However, I agree with Jenn, I don’t want to limit my kids to those things. I know as a kid I played with legos and played sports, and if I could convince a brother, I would get them to play barbies with me. I think it’s good when the genders overlap, but there will always be those difference. As these studies have shown, even at a young age, children know there is a difference, and I don’t think that is necessarily bad.
    I also agree with you on the leadership front. Women and men are different and that’s great, but we don’t have to claim women or men are better at leadership as a whole. Everyone has different characteristics and that’s what makes someone right or wrong for a job. Your competencies, your personality, your characteristics, not your gender.

  5. I think we are all on the same page with our ideas of how to deal with stereotypes and gender roles. Being aware that males and females are biologically different and that there are other differences between us is not a bad thing. What I believe would be bad is walking around acting like there aren’t any differences between us, which would be ignorant and only make the issues worse.
    At a young age, I was aware that I was different from my male cousin but that did not stop me from thinking I could do anything he could do. We would play football and video games, but we would also play house and he even let me paint his finger nails one time. I think because I was aware I was different but because my parents never limited me to what I could do is why I don’t see myself as different from men when it comes to leadership and the work force. And I think making kids aware they are capable of anything is the first step to breaking these stereotypes.

  6. I think it is fair to say that there are obvious differences between men and women. There is research to support that psychologically and physically, we just operate differently according to varying situations. It’s fine to say that the two sexes are different in some regards. What is not fine is when people act like women and men are from two completely different planets. What is not okay is when women are devalued in certain leadership roles just because people think their gender is not worthy enough for a traditionally masculine field. It’s okay if you want to dress your daughter in a dress and let your son play with trucks. But, freedom of choice is also important. For me personally, I know that if my son wants to play with a doll or my daughter wants to go out and play football, I will let them make that choice. I think that Social Role Theory does a great job at explaining why women are always so confined to certain jobs and fields. We expect women to be warm and nurturing and when they try and branch out into a more masculine-dominated field, they are forced to fight twice as hard to show their worth because society has put boundaries between them. Children witness these boundaries at a young age and then they fit their viewpoints to match. You are right about the monkey see, monkey do concept. Gender roles and biases are established at a young age and are difficult to change. When children see their mom in the kitchen and their dad doing fix-it projects, they establish gender biases. However, this also means that they more children see women taking on leadership roles, the more they will view this to be accepted and the more their prejudices will dissipate.

  7. I think there can be a difference between male and female, obviously there is one. I don’t think completely de-gendering everything is possible or even necessary. We need to get to a point where we teach our children that the dads can stay home with them and the moms can work. I don’t really think that it is a problem that the stereotypes exist. We have stereotypes for nearly everything. The problem arises when we cannot move past the stereotype. I would be interested in hearing the kids response if you asked them specific questions about their lives. If you ask them if their mothers worked, and what they thought about that. I think with little kids, they need stereotypes even more than adults because they lack so many experiences and skills necessary to judge situations without a set of stereotypes. As they get older, they should be able to move past them. The way the kids respond to the stereotype is more important than them having one. Do they think that women staying at home is a requirement of being a woman, or do they just think that moms tend to stay with the kids. It kind of surprised me that such young children already had stereotypes in their minds. It makes me wonder how big of a difference we can have on affecting stereotypes if they develop that young. I think a major we can combat this is by encouraging kids to do whatever they want. Regardless of stereotypes, I think little girls will still want to be doctors and little boys will still want to take care of their kids. If we encourage them to step out of their own gender roles, then they won’t expect the stereotypes of others.

  8. This is a really interesting perspective when it comes to gender separation. When does it become necessary to see the difference between men and women? It’s sometimes difficult to tell the differences when learning about neutralizing gender.

    Children at a young age are thrown into our gendered world. However, as future parents, I don’t think we have raise them to see the world in black or white, but in gray. By teaching our children and other future generations that although there may be physical differences in a person, that doesn’t make them entirely different. We’re all very similar, and when we first begin to grow into our biological sex while inside our mothers, we all start from the same parts before they differentiate through hormones and other biological influences.

    However, regardless of the sex of a child, I believe gender is still socially constructed from the environment of the child. Yes, every child is raised differently, through their background, people around them, as well as people they encounter along the way. But teaching children to be more understanding and perceptive of these differences is almost more important than trying to change others to a single idea of gender. Maybe in this gendered world, our role is to not necessarily reinforce, but show that sexes of all kinds can develop their own gender identity; we must welcome this difference.

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