Here are some example answers to the two Paper 3 questions on Gender in the 2019 AQA exams.
The Oedipus complex is an unconscious process that occurs in boys during the phallic stage of development at around 4 to 5 years of age. According to Freud, the boy develops incestuous feelings for his mother and a powerful hatred for his father. However, he knows that his father is more powerful than him and suffers castration anxiety as he fears his father may find out about his feelings and cut his penis off. To resolve this conflict, he identifies with his father, internalising the male role and adopting male-related behaviours and attitudes.
One problem is that there is very little evidence to support the Oedipus complex. Freud presented the case study of Little Hans to support the theory as he interpreted the boy’s fear of horses biting him as representing castration anxiety. However, this is just Freud’s interpretation as the Oedipus complex is unconscious and it is impossible to falsify. This makes it an unscientific explanation for gender development.
There is also contradictory evidence as Freud’s theory implies that boys with strict and punitive fathers would go on to develop a stronger sense of gender identity because they would suffer more castration anxiety and identify more strongly with their father. However, Blakemore and Hill (2008) found boys with more liberal fathers tended to be more secure in their masculine identity, opposing the Oedipus complex as an explanation for gender development.
In addition, Freud’s theory relies on the boy growing up with two parents of different genders. However, many boys grow up in single-parent families or have parents of the same gender and research has shown that they go on to develop normal gender identity. This challenges Freud’s explanation of gender development.
Kohlberg’s theory is a cognitive explanation for gender development that is based on the idea that a child’s understanding of gender becomes more sophisticated as they grow older. It is believed to run parallel to intellectual development as children mature biologically. Kohlberg identified three stages and gave approximate ages.
Stage 1 is the gender identity stage, where around age 2 children are able to identify their own gender and then begin to identify the gender of other people. However, they are not yet aware that gender is permanent, and a little boy may say he is going to be a mummy when he grows up. Stage 2 is the gender stability stage which begins at about age 4. Here the child understands that their own gender is fixed over time, but they are unable to apply this to other people and other situations. They are also confused by changes in appearance so if a man has long hair, they will think he is a woman. At about age 6 they reach the stage of gender constancy where they understand that gender remains constant across time and context. Although they may think a man wearing a dress is a bit strange, they will understand he is still a man. Once gender constancy is reached the child will seek out same sex role model to identify with and imitate. They will also actively search for information that confirms their understanding of gender.
A strength of the theory is that it is supported by evidence. For example, Slay and Frey found that when children were presented with split screen images of males and females performing the same tasks, younger children spent roughly the same time looking at the males and the females, whereas those in the gender constancy stage spent more time looking at the model the same gender as them. This supports Kohlberg’s assumption that children will seek out same gender role models once they reach the gender constancy stage. Further support comes from cross-cultural studies, conducted in countries such as Kenya, Samoa and Nepal, that show the sequence of stages to be universal.
However, Kohlberg’s theory was challenged by research by Bussey and Bandura that showed children as young as 4 said they felt good about playing with gender-appropriate toys and bad about playing with gender-inappropriate toys. This disputes Kohlberg’s claim that children only begin to demonstrate gender-appropriate behaviour once they reach the gender constancy stage and is more in line with gender-schema theory. A reason for the difference in findings could be that Kohlberg developed his theory based on interviews with young children and may not have acknowledged that very young children may lack the vocabulary needed to express their understanding about gender.
Another problem with Kohlberg’s cognitive theory is that it is able to describe the development of understanding about gender but is not able to explain it. It is also unable to explain why boys tend to show stronger sex-typing than girls. These differences are likely to be social in origin as boys may be told off or ridiculed more for playing with ‘girl’s toys’ or taking part in activities that are perceived to be for girls.
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