Magnificat, April 2022
All throughout our lives, it seems as if we are constantly being fed gender stereotypes. ‘Women belong in the kitchen. Men should do hard labor. Little girls should play with baby dolls. Little boys should like cars and fighting.’ These stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in US society that women are strongly encouraged to go into healthcare, early education, and domestic (HEED) fields, while men are encouraged to go into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This gender stereotyping goes further than the workforce, though. Men are shunned from expressing emotions and showing vulnerability, while women are pushed away from showing strength or confidence (Rudman & Phelan, 2010). This kind of emphasis on certain gender stereotypes stems from traditional gender norms in which women are submissive, vulnerable types, while men are strong, unemotional boulders. One meta-analysis conducted by Koenig (2018) actually found that the gender roles enforced on children are dynamic to the behaviors shown in early childhood, meaning that young children will have gender roles enforced on them according to their play styles and physical appearances. This highlights how deeply gender stereotypes are enforced within society.
Young children are especially susceptible to being shaped by enforced gender stereotypes. Looking from a view of developmental psychology, it is a main form of socialization in their very early developmental stages. Even before birth, gender stereotypes like the colors for their rooms, clothes, and decor are already decided. Children as young as two years old are able to notice these previously-mentioned traditional gender norms and use them to shape their understanding of identity and are even able to identify their own gender from their shaped understandings (Wang, Fong, & Meltzoff, 2021). They often shape these views of gender off of their primary caregivers and closest relationships, even understanding their gender group before they can vocalize or label what their gender is. Young children then use this group to mirror their behaviors and perceptions and correct others that do not align with their shaped understandings (Hughes & Seta, 2003). In a society where traditional, and possibly harmful, gender stereotypes are enforced as early as toddler years, it begs the question of why they are so easily accepted and enforced.
The inherent acceptance of these stereotypes can be illustrated in the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, written by John Gray in 1992. This book outlined the ‘differences’ between men and women in order to better communicate between the two genders. It suggested that men should be cold, domineering, providers, while women are takers, vulnerable and volatile in their emotions (Gray, 1992). This is an outdated perception of gender in society, and social psychology surrounding gender has grown past these ideas. In Doing Gender, by Candace West and Don Zimmerman (1987), they suggest an alternative as to why these behaviors exist. The main idea pushed in this book is ‘obliged heterosexuality’, a claim that gender perceptions and structures are laid out the way that they are under the pretense that femininity is lesser, and seen as homosexual behavior when males engage with it (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Though this book is older than Gray’s, it provides a more empirical background to why people behave the way they do and suggests that rather than being a gender, people perform a behavior to get by in life.
These gender stereotypes that have been so normalized in US society have become a social schema to many. In social psychology, a social schema is defined as a structure that helps individuals to organize information about the world around them (Clemans & Graber, 2013). They can be considered shortcuts that the brain takes in order to understand and process the world faster. Hughes and Seta (2003) found that memory is better when these gender stereotypes are performed, as they are usually seen as a social schema. Social schemas are heavily enforced, so much so that going against one will place someone in an out-group from the rest of their social settings, meaning that they will be more easily identified as ‘other’ or ‘different’. Wang, Fong, and Meltzoff (2021) found that young children categorize people in these in-groups and out-groups, especially in relation to their gender, when structuring their lives and developing their understanding of the world. They even prefer their own gender in-groups, learning from them and understanding themselves more relationally through the actions of the group.
In attempts to break through gender norms that classify in-groups and out-groups, one US study found that a sample of 75 thirty-year old women tended to feel more comfortable in their assigned gender norms when primed with images of women in traditionally feminine jobs. However, when shown pictures of women in non-traditionally feminine roles, such as doctors and CEOs, the women in the study felt decreased feelings of leadership within themselves, relative to the control groups (Rudman & Phelan, 2021). This may seem like a strange reaction, but it suggests that these gender norms and stereotypes are so tightly weaved into society that being faced with people breaking them makes individuals uncomfortable, and less likely to break the norms themselves. Rather, seeing a break of a norm will cause these women to retreat back into the safety of the current gender norms enforced on them.
It is not only adult women that feel more likely to confine themselves to their assigned gender norms within their career aspirations. One study examined the ways that being shown non-traditional gender roles (such as women in the workplace) affected the beliefs and future career aspirations of young girls between the ages of eight and ten. The researchers determined that they could only temporarily shift the views of young girls, but it was difficult to have them internalize these counter-norms (Olsson & Martiny, 2018). Just like the Rudman and Phelan (2021) study on adult women, children do not wish to break the social norms and leave their assigned in-groups to explore the alternative options available to them.
Straying away from career aspirations, the way that young children regard other people in life is also swayed by these social norms. Thanks in part to the efforts that women have made in feminism to fight for gender equality, children do not expect ‘compensatory behavior’ from a woman that does not align herself with traditionally feminine behavior. Compensatory behavior, as defined by Hughes and Seta (2003), is a corrective action to realign with the gender in-group after performing an action outside of it. Children, however, expect men to perform this compensatory behavior after acting outside of the traditionally masculine behavior. This study suggests that young girls are not exclusively confined to their gender roles, but men are, and children have internalized this fact and hold others to that standard, even by the age of ten years old.
The lessened expectations of women to perform their gender roles might be due in part to the history of feminism. Women have made remarkable efforts in fighting the patriarchy and paving a path of rights and freedoms. Womens’ right to vote was established in 1920, thanks to the works of first-wave feminism. Second-wave feminism brought women’s rights in the workplace, and third-wave feminism is still fighting for positions of equal power within workplaces (Rampton, 2008). Efforts in fighting traditional gender norms for men have been slower, and less documented, though there has been some acknowledgement in recent years of the way that traditional gender and social norms are harming men’s mental health. Even from the aforementioned articles, we have seen some progress in looking at the way that gender stereotyping affects the future aspirations of children. However, there is still a missing category in the fight for gender equality: young children and their mental health.
There is a mental toll to enduring the enforcement of traditional gender norms. For those that do not conform to traditional gender norms, the toll negatively impacts their lives and mental health (Thorne & Luria, 2003). However, there is little research available on these impacts in children. We know that young children internalize concepts far quicker than adults, so there is some unknown consequence to enforcing gender roles on a young child that must be examined. However, there is little research done on the mental effects of enforcing these gender roles. One of the drawbacks noted in the Olsson and Martiny (2018) study was the inability to examine internalized gender norms in early childhood and conduct testing at that point in life. This highlights the need for research to be conducted on young children from the ages of three to eleven to examine this specific area of social and developmental psychology. This thesis will review relevant literature to the main themes of this topic, and based on the literature review, propose an applied research study on young children to examine their perceptions of self-worth based on primed gender stereotypes, especially examining the mental health of those that do not conform to traditional gender norms versus those that do.
The current research that has been conducted allows us to look at the ways in which we reinforce gender stereotypes at both the individual and structural levels. From these, we can also see how the perceptions individuals have of themselves or others is affected by gender stereotypes. This research is important in creating a foundation of knowledge to better look at the way that gender stereotypes affect the mental health and self-perceptions that individuals hold. With regard to the self-perceptions and mental health of young children who have traditional gender stereotypes enforced on them, this research (Hughes & Seta, 2003; Blakemore, 2003; Arrighi, 2001) is immensely helpful in determining a plan to enact a research study.
Reinforcement of Gender at the Individual Level
We see gender reinforcement most prominently at the individual level in society. It may seem sometimes that all interactions have some underlying gender expectations. West and Zimmerman (1987) have posed the notion that people internalize and enforce gender stereotypes in a dynamic way over the course of life. Gender is not a ‘thing’, but rather, a daily task that shifts and progresses as we do, that we must work to achieve socially. Because of this, everyone is upholding the reinforcement of gender against those in their lives (West & Zimmerman, 1987).
On a relational basis, gender is most often seen reinforced by peers and family. Thorne and Luria (2003) explore the ways in which elementary age children (ages 8-11 approximately) reinforce gender with their peers. This study, though short term—only taking place during a few school days, monitored the interactions that children had between genders, as well as the way that gender was reinforced by their teachers. It was found that behaviorally, key differences emerge very early in development. Young girls interact in smaller groups, focusing on emotions and intimacy, while young boys interact in large groups, developing a hierarchy and sharing power roles (Thorne & Luria, 2003). Teachers also seemed to not enforce rules as strictly for boys because of their group dynamics. Thorne and Luria (2003) suggested that adults tended to find groups of boys less likely to assign blame within their group and more likely to argue punishments as compared to girls, who believed in rules more strongly and would hold their friends accountable. This justification on the part of the teachers reinforces the gender stereotype that boys are rowdy and unable to be managed, while girls are expected to maintain standards.
In a similar vein, Hughes and Seta (2003) argue that gender stereotype reinforcement on an individual level allows for our social environments to seem stable and predictable. Our memory of events is better when stereotypes are followed, and these stereotypes are highly resistant to change. When the stereotype that boys cannot follow the rule is enforced by a teacher, the child will learn it and have a difficult time unlearning it over the course of their life. The street is not one way, however. Hughes and Seta (2003) also suggest that once a child learns gender stereotypes, they will enforce it on adults as well. In fact, they observed that children will expect compensatory behavior from an adult that does not behave in line with their gender stereotypes and will reinforce the stereotypes that they learned. However, this observation was most noted in men, and women were not expected to perform compensatory behaviors (Hughes & Seta, 2003). Jackson, Bussey, and Myers (2021) also noted that young girls feel a pressure for gender nonconformity, which suggests that there is little reinforcement of feminine gender roles at the individual level. This may be due to the common linkage between gender and social status, and the belief that women are lesser than men.
Arrighi (2001) also examined this concept through interviewing elementary through high school-age boys and suggested that the reinforcement of gender at an individual level is closely linked to status. Arrighi states, “by chastising boys for engaging in female-identified behaviors, both girls and boys become cognizant of the second class status of females in society” (2001, p. 157). At the individual level, we reinforce these beliefs through both our actions and reactions to others. We have far stricter expectations for men because their nonconformance to gender signifies a drop in social status.
At the individual level, gender reinforcement is seen from family, peers, and teachers in a two-way exchange. Once gender stereotypes are learned, they are enforced on everyone in a person’s social circle. While we do enforce gender stereotypes to both men and women, we see enforcement on women less often because of the lower social status of femininity. When a woman behaves masculinely, they are behaving above their social status, and when a man behaves femininely, they are behaving below their social status, resulting in harsher repercussions.
Reinforcement of Gender at the Structural Level
At the structural level, gender is enforced on a more subliminal frame. These structures can be more tangible, like workplaces and education, or more intangible, like general concepts that society follows. Career fields, a basic structure, tend to be the most common instance in which gender is reinforced. Rudman and Phelan (2010) examined the ways in which women perceived their self worth and career aspirations after viewing primed images of women in traditionally feminine jobs versus non-traditionally feminine jobs. The researchers discussed the ways in which gender reinforcement was affecting career aspirations and feelings of leadership in the self. Women, who have been systematically removed from positions of power and pushed out of the workforce, feel less inclined to work in a position of leadership, even if they see other women doing it (Rudman & Phelan, 2010). This phenomenon might occur because of how heavily gender stereotypes are ingrained in our lives. When a woman sees another woman behaving in a gender non-conforming manner, they react negatively and secure themselves deeper in their own gender stereotypes and beliefs.
This idea is not just present in adults. In a similar study, Olsson and Martiny (2018), found that young girls have similar feelings when presented with images of women in the workplace and asked what kinds of jobs they want to have in the future. Some girls were able to reach a temporary shift in their gender perceptions, but a notable limitation of this study was that there were no identifiable long-term effects on young girls’ gender perceptions. Despite these limitations, we are able to identify the effect that structural gender stereotyping has on eight to ten-year old girls.
While Thorne and Luria (2003) looked closely at the individual level of gender reinforcement, there was an acknowledgement that there was some structural enforcement as well. In schools, the structure of education is based on the concept that women are better at childcare, so they often get hired as early education providers (Thorne & Luria, 2003). Thorne and Luria (2003) also present the concept of the ‘institution of heterosexuality’ as a driving factor in the reinforcement of gendered behaviors. The institution of heterosexuality combines the designation of a status to the genders with the belief that straying from gender stereotypes implies homosexuality, which is lesser than both genders (Thorne & Luria, 2003, West & Zimmerman, 1987) Just as careers and education are structures that enforce gender reinforcement, society is driven by the concept of institutional heterosexuality. While not a tangible structure, heterosexuality is the pushed and enforced driver for our gender interactions (West & Zimmerman, 1987).
Perceptions of Self and Others
How do these reinforcements of gender at the individual and structural level affect our self-perceptions and perceptions of others? Rudman and Phelan (2010) found from the responses that women had to seeing women in non-traditionally feminine jobs, that non-traditional primers lead to decreased feelings of self-perceived leadership. This translates over time to a general decrease in self-perception. While seeing women in traditionally feminine jobs led to increased implicit gender stereotypes, there was really no preferred option for decreasing gender stereotypes and increasing leadership self-perception (Rudman & Phelan, 2010).
There is a very fine line that women struggle with in terms of self-perception. Because of the designation of female as lesser than male, women feel discouraged from embracing femininity, and some young girls even feel more push to behave in a gender non-conforming manner (Jackson, Bussey, & Myers, 2021).
Struggles with self perception are not limited to girls. Boys, in their highly restrictive gender stereotypes, also struggle with their feelings of self-perception with regard to gender. As an added disadvantage, boys tend to view the disclosure of their emotions to others as weakness (Thorne & Luria, 2003), which discourages them from talking about what they are feeling and managing their emotions in a healthy manner. This leads to a more internalized struggle with identity and feelings of self-perception, an issue that has yet to be addressed in the present research. Blakemore (2003) agrees with the concept that boys’ self-perceptions are heavily affected by the idea that feminine behavior is rated more negatively.
With regard to perceptions of others, Koenig (2018) found that our gender perceptions and expectations of others are dynamic and shift over the span of our lives. Koenig (2018) examined the perceptions of toddlers, adolescents, adults, and older individuals. It was found that toddlers are perceived in a gendered manner and are expected to behave according to their gendered groups, while old people have the most leniency in their gender perceptions, possibly due to their experience with gender over the course of their life. Clemans and Graber (2013) also found that children tend to perceive their peers differently if they do not adhere to gender stereotypes.
From these articles, it is safe to say that the reinforcement of traditional gender stereotypes leads to a more negative self-perception and perception of others (Koenig, 2018; Jackson, Bussy & Myers, 2021; Rudman & Phelan, 2010). We struggle to feel positively about ourselves when we are struggling to adhere to the gender stereotypes that are enforced on us. When we also consider the structural creation of a hierarchy in gender, women are disadvantaged to always feel inadequate for their gender, while men are disadvantaged in not being allowed any freedom in their expression or behaviors. It is a lose-lose on all fronts.
The reinforcement of gender stereotypes happens at all ages, and once a stereotype is learned, it is incredibly difficult to alter that belief. This leads to a gap in our research, however. There is yet no research looking at the long term effects of shifting gender reinforcement on children.
Applied Research Proposal
As mentioned in the introduction and literature review, there is a gap in the research surrounding the self-perception of children with regard to gender enforcement. There have been short-term studies conducted that examine the self-perception of young children after being primed with stereotypical and counter stereotypical gender roles (Olsson & Martiny, 2018), but one of the notable limitations of the study was that there was no way to measure the long-term changes to the participants’ feelings of self-worth based on their primed groups. In order to truly measure how priming children with certain gender stereotypes or counter stereotypes affects their feelings of self, a longitudinal study is needed, which has yet to be conducted.
We can attribute the need for a longitudinal study in this field to developmental psychology. It has been found that childhood experiences strongly influence the development of the child into adolescence and adulthood (Codd, 2022). However, longitudinal studies are very involved, requiring great amounts of research, work with participants, materials, time, and money, in order to be effective. Because of these factors, there have been very few longitudinal studies focusing on gender, especially with children. This research proposal aims to conduct a longitudinal study.
The proposed applied research study is modeled on a longitudinal test conducted by McCurdy (2022). McCurdy examined 733 families with children, beginning when they were 4.5 years old, and testing them at 1st grade, 3rd grade, and 5th grade for levels of anxiety based on their family dynamics and age. The children were interviewed to rate their anxiety scores, and the results were gathered to test for differences between the years (McCurdy, 2022). A latent change score model was used to assess the anxiety levels of children in each grade level, and a multigroup analysis was conducted to analyze any differences between boys and girls during testing.
The main aim of this proposed research study is to follow 140 families with three year old children, conducting regular testing yearly until the children reach eleven years of age. The decision to work with children in this age range is due to the previous readings and the development of social skills throughout this time frame (Wang, Fong, & Meltzoff, 2021; Hughes & Seta, 2003). The children will be gathered from daycares all over the country, by reaching out to the parents with an incentive to encourage participation. The parents that agree to participate will receive a stipend of $1,500 a year, to go toward childcare and education. Participants will be assigned to one of two groups; the first group will follow stereotypic conditions, and the second group will follow counterstereotypic conditions. For the rest of this paper, I will refer to these groups as group A for the stereotypic conditions, and group B for the counterstereotypic conditions. To assign families to groups, they will be asked to fill out a census-like survey to identify key traits of the household, such as family dynamics and feelings about gender stereotypes. They will also be given the informed consent and risks and benefits of the study at this point, which will allow them to opt out if they choose to. From the results of these surveys sent out nationwide, we will gather 70 families that best fit group A and group B, for a total of 140 families participating in the study.
Group A will consist of the traditional families that are participating: those that can be considered nuclear families, or families with a working father and stay-at-home mother. This group will be composed of the families that identified that they aligned more with traditional gender norms, including in how they raised their children. They will continue to raise their children with these mindsets, without the influence of the researcher.
Group B will consist of non-nuclear families: working mothers, stay-at-home fathers, two mothers households, two father households, or any other circumstances in which the child might be exposed to something other than a working father and stay-at-home mother. This group, as with group A, will be composed of families that self-identified as aligning with the counterstereotypic gender norms. This group will also not receive any sort of intervention or influence from the researcher.
Since both groups will be identified through their already-held beliefs, this research proposal will be a quasi-experimental design. This is because there are too many ethical implications to consider by forcing individuals to adhere to either a stereotypic or a counterstereotypic gendered atmosphere. To avoid this ethical implication, we will simply stick to the already-held beliefs of individuals.
There is little ability to control gendered environments outside of home, therefore this study will focus exclusively on how children feel about gender and self-perception when at home. While it is impossible to remove them from school or shape their schooling and social life around whichever group they have been assigned to, only engaging with them while they are at home might focus their attention on their feelings while in a home environment. This is not to say that their experiences in school will not affect their outcomes during testing, but it might alleviate some of the effects.
To test their self-perception, feelings of self-worth, and beliefs about gender, I will interview the parents at the end of every year they are participating in the study. I will conduct interviews with the families, asking likert-scale questions to rate their children. The questions are inspired by three tests, all of which ask participants to self-rate their feelings to certain prompts regarding self-worth, gender, sexuality, and self-perception (Crocker et al., 2003; Hentschel, Heilman, & Peus, 2019; Gebhard et al., 2018). Since these tests used self-reporting to gather results, and the children involved in this study will be beginning at the age of three, they are not yet at the mental capacity to self-report complicated feelings. Therefore, we will ask the parents to report on behalf of their children until the age of seven. By the age of seven, the children will receive a simplified version of the self-reporting test, and will have a tester available to explain things if they need additional support during the interview. They will use a smiley-face version of the likert scale (Fig 1) to assist with their understanding of how to respond. Their parents will continue to report on behalf of the children as well, and the results will be collated for each participant.
Similar to McCurdy (2022), results will be analyzed yearly against the previous data, as well as between-groups. Group A and group B will be analyzed against one another yearly, but the most important data groups will be the preliminary testing at the beginning of the first year, and the final test when all children are eleven years of age. These two groups of data will showcase the difference in self-perception before and after being placed in either group.
The importance of this longitudinal study lies in filling in the gaps mentioned in the literature review for a more in-depth understanding of how gender stereotypes affect children in US society. Young children are easily influenced and learn gender norms as early as two years old (Wang, Fong, & Meltzoff, 2021). By intercepting children at the age of three and influencing their perceptions of gender norms in society throughout their formative years, we can gather a better understanding of the true long-term effects that gender stereotyping has on children, and introduce the potential for life-long studies about gender perception in individuals.
One of the biggest strengths of this applied research study is the in-depth analysis that can be garnered from these families. We can analyze various facets of home life and gender enforcement, looking at how any number of variables can shape a child’s self-perception. Another strength of this study is the potential for children in group B to learn a counterstereotypic view of gender and apply it positively to their own lives.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of the main limitations is that children in group A will only be able to learn stereotypic gender norms and will not get the opportunity to explore counterstereotypic gender norms. As mentioned in the introduction, this may pose a threat to the well-being of children’s mental health, and can lead to a more negative self-perception and feeling of leadership in adulthood (Koenig, 2018). However, the benefits of learning about how gender stereotyping can affect the mental health of children all across the US is great, so the risk is outweighed.
The results and information gained from this applied research study will be disseminated to other developmental and social psychologists. Notably, this information should be shared to individuals who work with young children. It is anticipated that children in group B will develop a better self-perception than those that are in group A, which would support the principle of educating children on counterstereotypic gender norms in society. This information can also be shared to upper-level educators, such as middle and high school teachers. While children in these age ranges are not developing an understanding of gender anymore, they are still enforcing the ideas and norms that they have been taught. By educating them on the importance of understanding a counterstereotypic gender norm, they might learn that enforcing what they have previously been taught and enforced could be detrimental to others, and slowly start to shift their perspectives on gender norms in the United States.
The aim of this thesis was to discuss the current problem of enforcing gender norms on children in the United States. While social psychology and developmental psychology seem to fall under the radar for many individuals, they are a crucial aspect to understanding why individuals behave the way they do. This includes the ways that gender norms and enforcement in society affect our behavior, perceptions, and attitudes toward both ourselves and others.
The focus on gender has long been focused on women and feminism in America. The feminist movements, starting in the 1800s with early feminist movements, and continuing even today, have made extensive leaps in the rights of women in America (Rampton, 2008). However, these historical movements focus on mostly adult women. There has been a very recent acknowledgement of the importance of masculinity and the mental health of men in society, as well as a new focus on educating children on gender in a more counterstereotypic manner, but there have not been enough strides in the particular focus on young children and their mental health surrounding these gendered enforcements. This thesis aimed to focus on this aspect and research it further.
One of the main themes derived from the literature is the enforcement of gender at both the individual and structural level. At the individual level, it was found that gender is most commonly enforced by peers and family members (Thorne & Luria, 2003). Children, especially elementary-aged children, tend to more heavily enforce gender norms that they have been taught, and do not hesitate to point out when other children, or even adults, are not adhering to the norms (Hughes & Seta, 2003). This could be in part due to the fact that they witness this enforcement on a smaller scale from family members and guardians, as well as their early exposure to gender norms that causes it to feel almost inherent (Wang, Fong, & Meltzoff, 2020).
At the structural level, we concluded that gender tends to be most heavily reinforced in careers, schools, and overarching societal standards (Rudman & Phelan, 2010; Olsson & Martiny, 2018; Thorne & Luria, 2003). These structures of society that everyone must face at some point in their life designate how a specific gender should act, what actions are acceptable, and what actions will result in the loss of social status. On a more abstract level, West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that the structure of heterosexuality was the basis for stereotypic gendered behavior and that gender is a daily performance or task that individuals are encouraged to achieve if they wish to maintain their status in society. This kind of structural enforcement of gender pushes the notion that ‘female’ is lesser than ‘male’ (West & Zimmerman, 1987; Jackson, Bussey, & Myers, 2021).
These kinds of beliefs and enforcements of gender at the structural level led to the final main theme from the literature review: the perceptions of selves and others. It was determined that the continual enforcement of gender stereotypes led to the dismissal of femininity in both men and women (Jackson, Bussey, & Myers, 2021; Thorne & Luria, 2003; Blakemore, 2013). It also forced the enforcement of gender into a cycle: individuals reinforced the structural level, and the structural enforcement of gender encouraged the enforcement at the individual level. This cycle is daunting, and leads to individuals not wishing to break these norms, as it is so heavily followed and natural to what they have been taught (Rudman & Phelan, 2010).
There were notable gaps in the literature, however. One of the most prevalent gaps was the lack of longitudinal research in this area. While there had been some studies conducted to see if being exposed to counterstereotypic images of women in the workplace would affect the self perception of women and children (Rudman & Phelan, 2010; Olsson & Martiny, 2018), there were no long-term studies found that examined how prolonged exposure to these kinds of prompts would affect the mental health or self-perceptions of individuals.
My applied research proposal aimed to fill this gap. I proposed conducting a longitudinal quasi-experimental study that would follow children from the ages of three to eleven in two distinct groups: those that are being taught stereotypic gender norms, and those that are being taught counterstereotypic gender norms. The main strength of this study lies in how it fills the gap: such a long-term study would provide masses of information and variables to examine against one another in looking at the results of the data gathered. This is also a unique factor to this study— longitudinal studies are rare, due to the amount of resources they consume and the unpredictability of the sample size.
This study is not free of limitations, however. One of the biggest limitations of this study, and possibly an ethical consideration, is that one group will be limited to only the stereotypic gender norms. Though this will be based on pre-existing beliefs that their parents hold, this might limit the children in what they are able to learn about gender. Another limitation of the study is that it is limited to US children, though there might be societal differences in the way gender is taught and enforced in other countries. A final limitation is the cost of the study. Though this is a hypothetical proposal, it is still a costly and resource-consuming one. This limits the chance to enact this study.
This applied research proposal opens the door for future developmental and social psychologists to extend information to schools on how to better educate children about gender. If significant results are found, this information can be shared with the public to hopefully reinforce more counterstereotypic beliefs about gender and shift the US perspective on men and women. There are further research opportunities as well, looking at the differences in gender education in boys and girls, or examining the way that cisgender children perceive themselves when taught gender norms versus the way that gender non-conforming or transgender children perceive themselves when taught gender norms. This field is vast and mostly unexplored, all it requires is a dedicated researcher to start exploring.
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