Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

America, a country that preaches equality for all and may be considered the land of opportunity, has had a bad history of oppressing groups that differs from the norm: white, heterosexual, and male. While legislation has been passed to rectify past oppression of racial, gender and sexual orientation groups, America remains a patriarchal society whose institutions are structurally designed to favor white, cisgender, heterosexual males.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay The film Higher Learning, brings to light this issue of institutional racism, while perpetuating in majority of the male characters what the ideal man represents and how that is related to racial issues and sexual orientation in the film. Issues of homosexuality is not only brought up in opposition of masculinity, but also femininity. Thus, American society has an attitude or belief that endorses hyper masculinity in males, but this is not viewed as a positive attribution in African Americans, nor is homosexuality considered a normative behavior. The socialization of gender, specifically men, has caused the development of societal expectations of what traits are deemed desirable in a man. Masculinity in the film is defined by aggressive behavior, strength, power, athleticism and sexual attraction to the opposite sex. Men, depending on their race, who exhibit these traits are viewed by society as being a part of the norm.

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Many cultures perceive gender and sexual orientation as major defining characteristics of an individual. Psychologists also find gender and sexual orientation to be important and interesting aspects of human psychology, and they have developed theories to explain how these aspects shape our lives.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Yet, gender and sexual orientation are characteristics not just of the individual but also of the culture; others perceive and act toward us depending on whether they believe we are male or female and gay or straight. Each of us has stereotypes and beliefs about how males differ from females and how gays and lesbians differ from straight individuals. How accurate are these stereotypes? How different are we, really? Are these differences important? How did we develop these differences and similarities? These are a few of the questions that researchers seek to answer, and we will review them throughout this research-paper

Clarification Of Terms

Although we often refer to males and females as being of “opposite” sexes, the topic of gender is much more complex. Social scientists have traditionally used the term sex to refer to an individual’s state of being male or female based on chromosomal (XX or XY), hormonal (levels of estrogens and androgens), and gonadal (testes or ovaries) characteristics. In contrast, the term gender is often used to refer to the social, cultural, and psychological experience of being male or female, and gender identity refers to the psychological sense of one’s maleness or female-ness. Yet, not all contemporary researchers make use of this categorical distinction. The term gender became more prominent following the feminist movement of the 1970s. It was favored because it emphasized a social and cultural distinction that was bound less by biology than by sex (Unger, 1979). As research indicates that the biological and psychological aspects of being male or female are difficult to tease apart, the distinction between sex and gender becomes increasingly hazy. In addition, chromosomal, hormonal, and gonadal sexes are not always congruent (as is the case in intersex individuals). Some individuals are identified as transgender, which is a third gender category composed of people who, for a variety of reasons, have a gender identity that does not match their biological sex.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

If we examine the topic of gender in different cultures, we see even more variations than researchers in the United States typically acknowledge. Some cultures recognize more than just two genders. For example, in the Balkans, some women may take on a traditional male role to serve the needs of their family. In some Native American cultures there is a third gender referred to as Berdache, which is a man or woman who takes on the social role of the other sex. In the case of the Berdache, members of a third gender may be seen as endowed with spiritual powers and higher status in the community. Yet, in the United States, we tend to get uncomfortable or anxious when gender and sex do not appear to be consistent with our cultural definitions of male and female.

An individual’s sexual orientation introduces another dimension to the topic of gender, further expanding the range of experiences of being male or female. It is tempting to use a straight/gay dichotomy, to think of sexual orientation as having two distinct forms. However, it is rare for individuals to engage in exclusively homosexual behavior; more commonly, individuals engage in a combination of homosexual and heterosexual behaviors. Cross-cultural research reveals a diverse range of socially sanctioned homosexual behaviors. Although there is a tendency in some cultures to assume that heterosexuality is the accepted and appropriate norm for sexual orientation, there is a wide spectrum of sexual orientations in human psychology. Sexual orientation (sexual preference is considered inappropriate) refers to a person’s erotic and emotional orientation toward members of his or her own gender or members of the other gender (Hyde & DeLamater, 2006).Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Individuals who identify as gay or lesbian have a sexual orientation toward members of their own gender, and bisexual individuals have a sexual orientation toward members of both genders. Recently, individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender have begun to embrace the term queer to refer to the broad range of sexual orientations that humans experience. Although this term was once considered offensive and used in a derogatory manner, it is becoming more widely accepted as a label of pride. Some use the abbreviation LGBTQ to refer to the spectrum of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, and queer individuals. LGBTQ will be used throughout this research-paper to refer to this spectrum.

Researchers have yet to agree on an operational definition of sexual orientation, in part because it is characterized by several components (Savin-Williams, 2006). These components include sexual or romantic attraction, sexual behavior, and sexual identity. Sexual or romantic attraction refers to the desire to have a sexual relationship with one or both sexes. It is not always consistent with an individual’s sexual behavior or sexual identity. Sexual identity refers to personally chosen labels that are culturally bound to the perceptions and meanings we have about our sexuality. Thus, a man may be sexually attracted to males, engage in sexual behavior with males and females, but identify as straight. How should we define the sexual orientation of such a man? Depending on how we measure sexual orientation, estimates of incidence vary and it is difficult to assess group differences between straight and LGBTQ individuals.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

Alfred Kinsey, in his groundbreaking sexuality research during the mid-20th century, devised a one-dimensional scale to assess sexual orientation. Kinsey conceptualized sexual orientation as a seven-point continuum ranging from exclusively heterosexual (0) to exclusively homosexual (6), with equally heterosexual and homosexual experiences as a midpoint (3). Kinsey emphasized a focus on behavior, thus his scale does not take into account the components of attraction or identity. The scale is still used by many researchers today.

Psychological Theories Of Gender And Sexual Orientation

A number of psychological theories have been used to explain gender differences and sexual orientation differences as well as the development of gender and sexual orientation. Here we will review the major theories on these issues.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud is considered the founder of psychoanalytic theory. His theories about personality and psycho sexual development, although largely rejected by modern psychologists, have made an impact on the field of psychology and the thinking about gender and sexual orientation development. One of his major contributions was to emphasize the role of early experiences in shaping human development. He theorized that there are five stages of psycho sexual development, each based on the pleasure derived from different erogenous zones on our body. The first stage is the oral stage, in which infants derive sexual pleasure from using the mouth, particularly from sucking and nursing. The second stage is the Anal stage, in which toddlers, who are learning to control their bowels, derive sexual pleasure from defecating. Up to this point, all children are developing similarly.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay In the third stage, the phallic stage, Freud theorized that boys and girls begin to develop differently. Here in early childhood the focus is on the penis, which boys prize and girls envy. Boys in this stage develop an intense sexual and romantic love for their mother and a hatred for their father, whom they see as the primary obstacle to a sexual relationship with the mother. Yet, the boy also recognizes that the father is powerful enough to take away his beloved penis (this fear is called castration anxiety), so he encounters what Freud termed the Oedipus complex. To resolve the Oedipus complex, the boy must realize he should reconcile with his father by renouncing his love for the mother and identifying with his father. How do girls go through the phallic stage? According to Freud, they must recognize that they have already been castrated—they have no penis. This recognition develops into jealousy of masculine superiority—that is, females develop penis envy. Then, a girl will see her mother as responsible for the castration and develop an intense sexual and romantic love for her father, in what Freud termed the Electra complex. The resolution of this complex lies in identifying with the mother. After the phallic stage is the latent stage, in which there is a period of psycho sexual latency. That is, sexual urges are suppressed during middle childhood. In adolescence the genital stage develops, though only for those who have successfully traversed each of the previous four stages. In the genital stage, we reach psycho sexual maturity by having “appropriate” heterosexual desires on which we act only within the context of socially sanctioned relationships.

The major criticism of Freud’s theory is that it is androcentric—that is, it considers the male as the normal, healthy ideal and the female as nothing more than a castrated male.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Freud proposed that women are never fully mature and that they are inferior to men. A theory that attempts to explain gender differences by setting up one gender for failure or inadequacy or by viewing that gender as necessarily deficient is biased and therefore unsound. Freud also maintained that humans are naturally heterosexual, and that a homosexual orientation only develops out of a failure to appropriately identify with the same sex parent or out of a fixation in one of the earlier psycho sexual stages. That is, he believed homosexuality was abnormal and unhealthy. In this way, his theory is heterosexist. Freud’s strong focus on the penis (to the exclusion of the female genitals) is also androcentric. Do girls and women really want to have penises? Probably not.

Karen Horney, also a psychoanalytic theorist, restructured Freud’s theory and proposed that penis envy is actually a manifestation of female jealousy of male power. That is, the penis is a symbol of male domination and power in a patriarchal society. Horney also argued that males can have womb envy, in which they are jealous of women’s reproductive potential and the power to create and sustain another human life.

Nancy Chodorow is a modern psychoanalytic theorist and feminist. She theorized that gender differences in parenting behaviors, such as empathizing and nurturing a child, develop in childhood. Chodorow argued that children view mothers as self-sacrificing, existing solely to take care of others. In turn, they begin to see all women as fulfilling this maternal role and to devalue women. Daughters, who identify with their mother, define themselves in terms of their relationships to others and grow up feeling a need to fill the maternal role. In contrast, sons, who reject the female role as different, grow to be independent and desire a woman who fills the maternal role. She maintains that if men become more involved in parenting, boys will grow up to define themselves in terms of relationships and to value women more. Others have criticized Chodorow’s theory for being heterosexist—that is, they find fault with her theory because it does not describe the experiences or development of LGBTQ individuals.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay This is an important criticism in that it illustrates the limited scope of Chodorow’s theory and reminds us that not all individuals grow up to develop a romantic attraction to an individual of the other gender.

In sum, psychoanalytic theorists have had a lot to say about gender and sexual orientation, but the theories have been strongly criticized on the grounds that they are both androcentric and heterosexist. However, these theories must be understood in their historical and social context: Freud developed his theory of psychosexual development in the early 20th century, when attitudes about gender and sexual orientation were much more conservative than they are today. These theories have also played an important role in the development of stronger, more comprehensive psychological theories on gender and sexual orientation.

Learning Theories

Albert Bandura built upon B. F. Skinner’s learning theory by adding a social component. He argued that behavior was not just the response to reinforcement and punishment, but that processes such as imitation, modeling, and observational learning also were important. Traditional learning theory would maintain that gender differences develop because boys and girls are rewarded for gender-appropriate behavior and punished for gender-inappropriate behavior. Social learning theory adds to this by arguing that children imitate others’ behaviors if they see that they are reinforced. For example, a girl learns to play with dolls because she observes that other girls are rewarded for playing with dolls, but a boy does not play with the dolls because he sees that other boys are not rewarded (and may even be punished) for such behavior.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

Bandura then further expanded social learning theory by adding a cognitive component. Cognitive social learning theory includes the mechanisms of reinforcement, punishment, imitation, modeling, and observational learning, as well as attention, self-regulation, and self-efficacy (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). In this theory, attention refers to the process by which children attend to same-gender models, imitating them more than opposite-gender models. For example, a girl pays more attention to her mother’s behaviors (such as cooking) than her father’s behaviors (such as changing the oil in a car), and she then imitates those behaviors. Children regulate or guide their own behavior by monitoring and behaving in ways that are consistent with their internalized gender norms. For example, in a mixed-gender group, boys monitor their own behavior and do things they perceive to be masculine, such as playing rough and competing with other boys. Also, cognitive social learning theory argues that we set goals for ourselves based on our self-efficacy, which is the belief that we have the ability to accomplish a given task. For example, an adolescent girl attempts tasks that she perceives as being consistent with her gender role, such as wearing makeup or choosing nursing classes over engineering ones.

Each of the learning mechanisms discussed with regard to gender also applies to sexual orientation.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Learning theories assume that all humans are innately bisexual and capable of homosexual as well as heterosexual behavior. Rather than focusing on individual psychological characteristics or biological factors, learning theories argue that cultural and social forces encourage individuals to express or become straight or LGBTQ. In this way, learning theories are not heterosexist in the way that psychoanalytic theory is. Yet, some argue that if sexual orientation is learned, we should be able to teach people to conform to social norms and be straight. This perspective, of course, has important ethical implications.

In sum, learning theories emphasize the importance of environmental influences on gender and sexual orientation. Although learning theories do not appear to completely explain gender and sexual orientation, research supports many of the proposed mechanisms. It is likely that a combination of internal and external factors contribute to gender and sexual orientation.

Evolutionary Psychology and Sociobiology

First proposed by E. O. Wilson in 1975, sociobiology is a theoretical perspective that applies Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection to the social behavior of animals and people. Darwin theorized that evolution is a product of the process of natural selection, in which animals that produce viable offspring pass on their genes to the next generation. Assuming that social behavior is influenced by genetics, sociobiology maintains that traits that are advantageous (insofar as they improve an individual’s reproductive success) will be passed on through our genetic material. Yet, this does not mean that all social behaviors are healthy or even adaptive.

Evolutionary psychology, proposed by David Buss, is similar to sociobiology. Buss’s theory of mate selection argues that women seek mates with resources to increase the likelihood that their children will have a high quality of life, and that men seek mates who are physically attractive to increase the likelihood that their sperm fertilize eggs in a healthy and reproductively viable woman (Buss & Schmitt, 1993).Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Some have argued that theories of evolutionary psychology are offensive to women because they tend to be androcentric and reinforce gender stereotypes and gender inequities. Feminist socio-biologists such as Sarah Blaffer Hrdy have presented alternative theories in evolutionary psychology that are not sexist. For example, she argues that for a woman to be reproductively successful, she needs to be resourceful and able to balance childrearing with many other demands (Hrdy, 1999).

Cognitive Developmental Theory

Based on the work of Jean Piaget and Bärbel Inhelder, Lawrence Kohlberg devised cognitive developmental theory to explain the changes in children’s thought processes related to gender. Children’s thinking about gender develops throughout childhood as their cognitive abilities change. Around 18 to 24 months, for example, children develop the knowledge that they are either male or female (known as gender identity) as well as the ability to identify the gender of others. However, they do not yet understand that gender is a permanent and unchanging trait, known as gender constancy. For example, a male toddler may think he will be a mother someday. Children do not develop gender constancy until 4 to 6 years of age, at which point they begin to perceive behaviors as being appropriate or inappropriate according to gender. This thinking forms the basis of gender roles. Although research indicates that this process exists, it is unlikely that the mechanisms proposed by Kohlberg are as strong as he originally argued.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

Gender Schema Theory

Another cognitive approach to gender includes Sandra Bem’s (1981) gender schema theory. Schemas are cognitive structures or knowledge frameworks that help to process and organize new information. Gender schemas are schemas that process and organize information on the basis of gender-linked associations, leading to the development of gender roles and gender-typed behaviors. They develop from our observations of differences between males and females, such that we filter new information by ignoring schema-inconsistent information and remembering schema-consistent information. For example, we observe that women are typically responsible for caring for children; when we see a man caring for children we tend to filter out or ignore that observation and attend to observations that confirm or fit into our existing schemas. Based on how well individuals fit their own gender schema, self-concept as a male or female develops. In this way, individuals can differ in their schemas (depending on what they have observed), self-concept, and behavior. Generally, we find that the evidence supports gender schema theory.

Feminist Psychology

Feminism refers to a theoretical perspective that favors political, economic, and social equality of women and men, and therefore favors the legal and social changes necessary to achieve that equality (Hyde, 2007).Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Feminist psychological theories integrate the ideals of feminism into psychological research and practice. They tend to emphasize several major ideas, some of which are consistent with other theories in psychology. Feminist theories emphasize cultural factors in the development of gender and sexual orientation, much like learning theories. The role of cultural norms and socializing forces are of central importance in human behavior. Gender and sexual orientation are seen as status variables in our culture. That is, there is inequality between males and females as well as between straight and LGBTQ individuals. A focus on this power or status difference is an important feature of feminist theories, such that stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are recognized as pervasive in our culture. The dominance and power of men and straight individuals is seen in political, academic, economic, and interpersonal domains, and is often the focus of psychological research.

Feminist theories also encourage the use of nonsexist, gender-fair, and feminist research methods. Nonsexist and gender-fair methods tend to avoid using measures that may put a specific gender group at a disadvantage.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay Feminist research methods generally aim to empower research participants and respect their autonomy, and may include specific research attention to the concerns of women. Similarly, such methods may include observing people in their natural environments without any manipulation or deception. Nonsexist and gender-fair methods are increasingly common among research that is not explicitly feminist, reflecting the influence of feminist theory.

Alpha Bias and Beta Bias

Each of the theoretical perspectives discussed is imperfect, characterized by strengths as well as weaknesses. In evaluating these theories, it is important to consider two types of bias—alpha bias and beta bias. Alpha bias refers to the perspective that males and females are different and the associated tendency to exaggerate gender differences; beta-bias refers to the opposite perspective (that males and females are similar) and the associated tendency to minimize or ignore gender differences (Hare-Mustin & Marecek, 1988). Some perspectives, such as psychoanalytic or sociobiological theories, tend to be prone to alpha bias by emphasizing gender differences; beta bias is less common in the research literature but is still a relevant concern. Both alpha and beta biases are problematic because they prevent a balanced interpretation of the data. Similarly, policy decisions—such as those related to affirmative action programs—can be misinformed if research is influenced by one of these biases.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

Methods In The Study Of Gender And Sexual Orientation

Meta-Analysis

Researchers are often interested in measuring psychological differences between two groups, such as between males and females or straight and LGBTQ individuals. Because of methodology differences, biases, research error, and chance, studies will sometimes contradict one another. Thus, it can be difficult to make conclusions from the many studies that have been conducted. One solution to this problem is conducting a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is sometimes referred to as a quantitative review because it integrates the statistical findings from many studies to provide a more comprehensive conclusion from the research.

The process of conducting a meta-analysis is fairly simple, but it can be time-consuming. Once the researcher has decided on a research question (for example, do boys and girls differ in shyness?), he or she searches the research databases to find all of the studies that have asked the same question. Next, the statistics of the studies are examined and effect sizes are computed. Effect sizes are statistical terms that refer to the magnitude of the effect. Often, the effect size d is computed.Gender And Sexual Orientation Essay

 

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