HUMAN NATURE: A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE

The feminist perspective is grounded in the belief that traditional theories of human nature and human development, created by Western males in their own image, are not universally applicable. Rather, feminists believe it is essential to recognize that women and men are socialized differently and that gender role expectations begin to influence human development from the moment a child is bom. These expectations are strongly embedded in the fabric of society and have such a profound impact that they become deeply ingrained in the adult personality.

Gender role socialization has been defined as a multifaceted process, occurring across the life span, of reinforcing specific beliefs and behaviors that a society considers appropriate based on biological sex (Remer, Rostosky, & Wright, 2001). This process has limiting effects on both women and men. For example, the myths and the stories children are told abound with sex role stereotypes that send subtle but powerful messages that men are strong, clever, and resourceful while women are passive, dependent, and helpless. Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx; David slew the mighty Goliath with only a slingshot; Arthur pulled the sword, Excalibur, from the rock to demonstrate that he was king; and Jack climbed the beanstalk to wealth and fortune. By contrast, Rapunzel was trapped in a tower with no exits, fated to await her male rescuer; Cinderella's lot in life depended on the prince to place the glass slipper on her foot; Sleeping Beauty could awaken only when kissed back to life by a man; and Little Red Riding Hood had to be saved by the brave woodsman (Polster, 1992). There are lifelong consequences for growing girls who learn that femininity is incompatible with strength, assertiveness, and competence, and for boys who learn that masculinity is incompatible with expressions of fear, dependency, emotionality, or weakness (Lerner, 1988). The following are some of these consequences:

• Men are encouraged to be intelligent, achieving, and assertive and to go after what they want. Women, by contrast, may have a kind of wisdom called "women's intuition" but are discouraged from being intellectually challenging, competitive, or aggressive. Women are expected to thread their way through a middle ground where they are encouraged to be smart enough to catch a man but never to outsmart him (Lerner, 1988). Although women in today's society are less likely than they were decades ago to be discouraged from pursuing a career, they often are still expected to put family first and subordinate their careers to the male "breadwinner."

• Men are encouraged to be independent; expression of dependency needs in men may be regarded as weak or "effeminate." By contrast, women's dependency on others is less likely to be viewed in a negative light. The attractiveness of "girlish" qualities in women is reflected in the common practice of affectionately referring to women as "chicks," "girls," "dolls," or "babes" (Lerner, 1988).

• Men are expected to be rational, logical, and stoic. Women, although they are expected to be emotional, may be labeled "hysterical" when they overtly express strong emotions. For men, anger may be the only emotion that can be expressed acceptably, and then primarily as a means of control, while it is more acceptable for women to cry or to ask for help.

• Stereotyped ideals of women's sexuality value naivete and innocence, whereas "experience" enhances a man's sexual attractiveness. Western culture sends mixed messages to young women: They are expected to be sexually attractive, with their bodies on display, yet they are discouraged from making sexual choices and developing a healthy sexual identity (Elliott, 1999). Tolman (1991) described a "missing discourse of desire" in Western society, in which discussion and exploration of adolescent female sexuality are absent or discouraged.

Feminist scholars have challenged the assumptions on which gender role socialization and sex role stereotyping are based. Notable among those who have reformulated the understanding of human development are Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan, Jean Baker Miller, other women affiliated with the Stone Center in Massachusetts, Sandra Bern, and Ellyn Kaschak. Their contributions are discussed in the following sections.

 
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