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Many psychological theories explaining personal behavior emphasize the role of upbringing, cognition, and comprehension of gender roles since early childhood throughout individual’s life. Sigmund Freud, in the theory of psychoanalysis, divides the human life into several relative stages at which children and adults driven by instinct and sexual desire are formed as either capable and productive people or fail to develop the necessary social qualities. Sandra Bem asserts that, besides purely sexual desire, an important role in human development plays cognition and self-identification of genders. Consequently, she finds the latter theory insufficient and develops the theory of sex-type schemes, where cognition and behavior are shaped by stereotypes that help filter information depending on gender type. Thus, though the theories have different grounds, speculative and empirical basis, they emphasize the significance of gender interaction and its influence on the human
Sexual affection and development by Freud: the concept and criticism
Freud believed that libido, or sexual desire, had the most significant impact on humans. In justifying the theory, he developed several stages of human life: birth and connected sexual experience they obtained in childhood with achievements, social success and failure of adults. Thus, the psychologist associates the positive experience of adults with the successful overcoming of such stages as breast-feeding, toilet use, early libido inhibition or sublimation, and intersexual relationships in the puberty period. Though the theory is still extremely popular among its proponents and operates with the basic sexual perceptions throughout human life, there is a criticism that reveals its purely speculative grounds.
For instance, the first breast-feeding stage which, according to Freud, lasts from birth to the age of two years, is extremely important for the child as a future successful adult (Felluga, 2011). During this stage, the personality learns about the mother’s love and affection, which is the “first love object”, according to Felluga, because the father’s role is somehow remote and vague, and all sexual feelings of the baby are connected with the mother. Therefore, the child’s sexual affections are directed to the mother’s breast; and when the father intrudes into the mother-baby relationships, the first signs of the Oedipus complex appear in the baby, which develops through other three stages (ibid.).
The opponents assert that there is no empirical justification that the early complexes might influence an adult. They also maintain that Freud excessively concentrated on boys, while omitting girls in his study and that the pure genital explanation could not be sufficient to justify such a complex creature as the human being is.
At first, in writing about sexual affections, Freud doesn’t explain how the libido works in children who were deprived of the parental care and love. Moreover, among the orphans there were many happy, successful, accomplished, and famous people, such as Ben Hooper, Leo Tolstoy, Aristotle, and others orphaned in early childhood. The psychoanalysis theory, that grounds on the family relationships, does not explain whether the Oedipus and Electra complexes appear in those persons who grew up outside conventional families.
The second, and even more important, fact is that the theory almost omits mentioning girls. When talking about their first sexual experiences in the breast-feeding stage, Freud explains that “girls too … have Oedipus complex in their affection to mother as to the first subject of love” (1986, p. 412). However, it does not fully correlate with the notion about the Electra complex, according to which girls instinctively wish to occupy their mother’s places in the family relations. Later, Freud confesses that “psychology is unable to fully explain femininity” (Felluga, 2011), acknowledging that his theory needs amendments and further development. Besides, there are other questions that the theory does not answer: Are the age limits in the stages justified? Does the libido impact all humans’ lives equally? And is it possible to feel a “castration fear” at an age when children are not even aware of the adult gender relationships?
Cognitive developmental theory by Sandra Bem
Role of cognition in upbringing
The theory proves that children not only learn the world passively, but also act as pioneers who come to learn and use the knowledge. Their behavior, as of active subjects of social interaction, is shaped under parental, peer, and other people’s communication. Gender upbringing of children results in strict dichotomy of males and females. While studying the phenomenon, Bem found that gender roles among people could not be explained only by their cognitive development, but by some implicit incentives as well.
Thus, as children learn more about the world, they find out the difference between the two genders and tend to replicate the behavior of those of their gender type. Boys and girls in these cases “self-categorize as males and females”, which urges them not only to be identified with their gender type, but to behave appropriately and choose different types of communication modes, preferring the company of peers of the same gender (Bem, 1983, p. 601).
For instance, we can see how children instinctively play different games with their own gender type: boys fight and struggle, while girls improve their skills in art. For example, when a little boy with a toy gun was put into a group of girls of the same age playing with dolls, he started “shooting” them and some of them started crying, instead of playing his military game. Moreover, when he was offered to participate in the game of building sand castles with the girls, he became bored and soon attacked the castles. On the other hand, when he was offered to play the same game with boys of his age, he erected a sand construction without any obvious impatience.
Evolution into the sex-type scheme theory
Though the theory of cognitive development is more attractive than that of passive social learning and is capable of explaining many behavioral aspects, it did not answer why gender identification is almost always primary for people, and not such factors as race, nationality, social status, religion, etc. The following study revealed that people readily identified themselves with the same sex-type on the subliminal level, besides their conscious understanding that they belonged to a certain gender and corrected their behavior appropriately. Moreover, the sex-type scheme theory answers why people of opposite genders tend to seem sexually attractive to each other.
According to the theory, active learning of children allows them “comparing features of the same gender type” and “matching such attributes as life preferences, attitudes, behaviors”, adjusting them to the “feminine or masculine type” (Bem, 1981, p. 355). As Bem asserts, children incline to their own gender also because “there is a system of punishment for those who fail to meet their own sex-type requirements” (p. 361). Besides, sex-type people are inclined to “communicate in terms of social attractiveness spontaneously” with the “allegedly attractive members of the opposite gender” (p. 361).
While Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis admits importance of gender roles in human behavior, it does not give answers to the questions whether the Oedipus and Electra complexes appear in those who were developed outside conventional families. The theory is also strictly limited in terms of age groups and concentrated solely on boys, while significantly omitting the girls’ behavior.
The theory of cognitive learning proves that children not only learn the world passively, but also act as pioneers who come to learn and use their knowledge. According to the theory, which developed into the sex-type scheme theory, active learning of children allows them to compare features of the same gender type and match such attributes as life preferences, attitudes, and behaviors, while adjusting them to the feminine or masculine type.