Gender socialization within the family:
a study on adolescents and their parents in Great Britain
Department of Sociology
Catholic University of Milan
Paper for BHPS 2003
Draft. Comments and suggestions very welcome. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The aim of this paper is to show that it is possible to study different dimensions of gender
socialization, which vary in their impact on youth people and which are essential to build up a
A key feature of this paper is that we show that it is possible to use social survey data to construct
factor scores from categorical component variables to measure different dimensions of gender
socialization within the family such as result of mother and father gender attitude and socio-cultural
The second part of the paper develops my theoretical approach, and shows how the concept of
gender socialization is ultimately based on a theory of relational ties that needs to be highlight
within family relationships. This theoretical elaboration leads on to show how it is possible to look
for gender socialization within family relationships.
1.1 Society and gender roles: different expectations for males and females
The way we are, behave and think is the final product of socialisation. Since the moment we are
born, we are being moulded into the being the society wants us to be. Through socialisation we also
learn what is appropriate and improper for both genders. This paper will focus on how in particular
family and parents attitudes mediate traditional gender roles in our society and the effect on their
attitude towards gender roles on youth people.
No human trait is so emphasized as gender. We are deluged, even as infants, with "Oh, you're a big
boy" or "you are such a pretty little girl" for example.
As Freud observed, the first thing we instantly determine, when meeting someone new, is gender.
Indeed, it will probably trouble us if we can't tell which gender the person is. Maybe this "need to
know" has something to do with "knowing how to act" with this person.
According to psychologists such as Sandra Bem (1993), one cognitive process that seems nearly
inevitable in humans is to divide people into groups. We can partition these groups on the basis of
race, age, religion, and so forth. However, the major way in which we usually split humanity is on
the basis of gender. This process of categorizing others in terms of gender is both habitual and
automatic. It's nearly impossible to suppress the tendency to split the world in half, using gender as
the great divider.
When we divide the world into two groups, male and female, we tend to see all males as being
similar, all females as being similar, and the two categories of "male" and "female" as being very
different from each other. In real life, the characteristics of women and men tend to overlap.
Unfortunately, however, gender polarization often creates an artificial gap between women and
As mentioned above, the different ways of males and females interacting fit nicely with differences
in men and women's value systems. Women value being sensitive and maintaining good
relationships, i.e. attachment over achievement; men value gaining status by following "the rules,"
i.e. achievement over attachment. Since our society values competition and individuals being
successful on their own, women's orientation towards caring for others and/or cooperatively
building the community is considered (by the male dominated society) to be of lesser importance.
These value differences are reflected in the gender roles established by our culture.
Gender stereotypes are related to cognitive processes because we have different expectations for
female and male behaviour. A classic study focused on adults' interpretations of infants' behaviour.
Condry and Condry (1976) prepared videotapes of an infant responding to a variety of stimuli. For
example, the infant stared and then cried in response to a jack-in-the-box that suddenly popped
open. College students had been led to believe that the infant was either a baby girl or a baby boy.
When students watched the videotape with the jack-in-the-box, those who thought the infant was a
boy tended to judge that "he" was showing anger. When they thought that the infant was a girl, they
decided that "she" was showing fear. Remember that everyone saw the same videotape of the same
infant. However, the ambiguous negative reaction was given a more masculine label (anger, rather
than fear) when the infant was perceived to be a boy.
Women are encouraged to be good mothers they need, therefore, to first attract a man to depend on;
they are expected (by our culture) to be giving, emotional, unstable, weak, and talkative about their
problems; they are valued for their looks or charm or smallness but not their strength or brains; they
are considered unfeminine ("bad") if they are ambitious, demanding, and tough or rough; they are
expected to follow "their man" and give their lives to "their children," and so on (Pogrebin, 1980).
We tend to believe the male experience to be normative. A gender difference is therefore typically
explained in terms of why the female differs from that norm. For example, research often shows a
gender difference in self-confidence. However, these studies almost always ask about why females
are low in self-confidence, relative to the male norm. They rarely speculate about whether females
are actually on target as far as self-confidence, and whether males may actually be too high in self-
confidence (Tavris, 1992).
Here we will deal with the opposite male dominance and feeling superior to women. (Note: besides
gender, humans use several other bases for feeling superior: looks, wealth, education, status, job,
race-ethnic group, nationality, religion, morals, size, talent, etc.) Of course, not all men have power
and arrogantly dominate women; indeed, according to Farrell (1993), many men are dominated by
"the system" and considered disposable. Also, women are given certain advantages and "protected"
in many ways that men do not enjoy. Farrell contends that believing (falsely) that men have all the
power and advantages leads to women feeling oppressed and angry. As a result of women's
unhappiness and criticism, men feel unappreciated. Altogether, the misunderstandings between the
sexes are keeping the sexes apart. This is an important thesis. Clearly, each sex has and utilizes
power in certain ways and we are getting more equal, but, clearly, the sexes aren't equals yet.
Within the two career families of today, the women-are-inferior attitude is muted and concealed, but
the archaic sex role expectations are still subtly there. The old rules still serve to "put down women
and keep them in their place." Sixty years ago, Margaret Mead told us, based on what is done in
other cultures, that it wasn't innate for men to be decision-makers and breadwinners or for women
to be subservient and raise children. Nevertheless, our culture continues to pressure to conform to
these gender roles and do what women are "supposed to do"; the cultural, family, and friends'
expectations become internalised as our own self-expectations; guilt may result if we don't follow
the prescribed roles. Gender roles limit what both males and females can do.
In effect, these sex roles enslave us force us to be what others want us to be1. The most recent
suggestion is to completely disassociate gender from all personality traits.
Just define what each personal trait, such as submissiveness, involves in terms of actions and
feelings and let each human being decide how submissive or cooperative he/she is and wants to be.
The future can be different. A recent survey found that three out of four mothers, even of young
children, like or love their work outside the home.
1.2. Gender roles and gender stereotypes
Often we tend to use indifferently those two terms even if there is a great difference between them,
particularly in relation to the concept of gender.
In fact stereotypes are representative of a society’s collective knowledge of customs, myths, ideas,
religions, and sciences (Macrae, Stangor, & Hewstone, 1996). It is within this knowledge that an
individual develops a stereotype or a belief about a certain group. Social psychologists feel that the
stereotype is one part of an individual’s social knowledge. As a result of their knowledge, or lack of
knowledge, the stereotype has an effect on their social behaviour.
1 See Cook (1985), Bem (1976, 1993), Kaplan and Bem (1976), or Lorber (1994) for a discussion of gender roles and
Stereotypic behaviour can be linked to the way that the stereotype is learned, transmitted, and
changed and this is part of the socialization process as well. The culture of an individual influences
stereotypes through information that is received from indirect sources such as parents, peers,
teachers, political and religious leaders, and the mass media (Macrae, Stangor, & Hewstone, 1996).
In order to understand stereotyping, an individual must first be made knowledgeable about the
definition of a stereotype. A stereotype is defined as an unvarying form or pattern, specifically a
fixed or conventional notion or conception of a person, group, idea, etc, held by a number of people
and allows for no individuality or critical judgment (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1998).
However, social psychologists have a somewhat different approach to defining a stereotype. Social
psychologists define a stereotype as being a cognitive structure containing the perceiver’s
knowledge, beliefs, and expectancies about some human social group.
These two definitions could highlight the different aspects of stereotyping.
Stereotyping occurs all the time in society. People stereotype others for many different reasons.
Individuals get stereotyped because of their gender. If you are a male, you are to be strong and the
breadwinner of the family. Women are to take care of the children and to clean the house. People of
different ages get stereotyped. Older adults do not think younger adults could possibly understand
what is like to have responsibility. Therefore, younger adults are irresponsible. Younger adults do
not think older adults listen or respect them because of their age. Different characteristics that we
stereotype are: races, cultures, clothing styles, economic statuses, hair styles,
mannerisms/behaviours, languages, jobs, weights, etc. Stereotyping is how we perceive each other,
especially individuals outside our group. What we believe to be “normal” is associated with who we
are hanging out with. Which are usually our friends and social networks.
Obviously males and females are somewhat different creatures. The truth of the matter, however, is
that they are not really as different as most perceive them to be (Burn, 1996). By nature, men and
women have some biological differences, but it is life experience that reinforces or contradicts those
differences (Basow, 1980). The truth lies in differential socialization, which claims that males and
females are taught different appropriate behaviours for their gender (Burn, 1996). This begins at
such an early age that children fully understand how to act according to their gender by age five or
six (Basow, 1980).
2. Gender socialisation process
Socialisation is the process, through which the child becomes an individual respecting his or hers
environment's laws, norms and customs (Vuorinen & Tuunala, 1997, p. 45).
Gender socialisation is a more focused form of socialisation, it is how children of different sexes are
socialised into their gender roles (Giddens, 1993, p. 165) and taught what it means to be male or
female (Morris, 1988, p. 366).
The classical example of gender socialisation is the experiment done with a baby that was
introduced as a male to half of the study subjects and as a female to the other half. The results are
interesting and quite disturbing at the same time. When the participants thought they were playing
with a baby boy, "he" was offered toys, such as a hammer or rattle, while if the participants thought
they were playing with a baby girl, "she" was offered a doll. The participants also touched the baby
differently. It was found that baby boys are often bounced, thus stimulating the whole body,
whereas girls are touched more gentler and less vigorously (Gleitman, Friedlund & Reisberg, 2000,
In another study it was found out that words such as "sturdy", "handsome" and "tough" are used to
describe boy infants and "dainty", "sweet" and "charming" for girl infants, although there was no
differences in the sizes of the infants (Giddens, 1993, p. 166).
These findings show that other people contribute a lot as we see ourselves only on the basis of
gender. In the first case presented, the message that the participants were sending was that if the
baby is a boy, he must play with hammers and such only because of his gender, while on the other
hand girls have to play with dolls because they are girls. In the second case we can see that boys are
socialised to be tough, while girls are supposed to be sweet and charming. These simple stereotypes
will continue to be enhanced in the future by other agencies of socialisation, which will be
The traditional gender roles help to sustain gender stereotypes, such as that males are supposed to
be adventurous, assertive aggressive, independent and task-oriented, whereas females are seen as
more sensitive, gentle, dependent, emotional and people-oriented.
In the same way, males are expected to major in sciences or economics in college, while women
should study arts, languages and humanities.
Finally, in the work force these stereotypes persist, more men become doctors, construction
workers, mechanics, pilots, bankers and engineers and more women become secretaries, teachers,
nurses, flight attendants, bank tellers and housewives. This can be seen from the statistics, how
some labour force areas still are male and female oriented. (Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 1999, p. 150-
Traditionally, men are supposed to earn a living to support their families. They are to be aggressive
and in charge. Women belong at home cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. They are to be
submissive and weak. Gender stereotypes such as these pervade society today (Hetherington &
Parke, 1999). Though they are quite obvious among adults, gender stereotypes do not seem like an
issue that adolescents would have to face. This is most definitely not the case. Younger people, in
fact, hold stricter to stereotypes than do adults (Hetherington & Parke, 1999). This paper will
discuss the formation of gender stereotypes in adolescence,.
Social norms and roles are important in understanding not only the language of a certain group, but
the individual members of those groups as well (Macrae, Stonger, & Hewstone, 1996). It is the
norms and roles developed in an individual’s culture that contribute to particular beliefs about
groups that have been stereotyped. Conformity, the act of following the norms, is also an influence
of social behaviour. If everyone around an individual is stereotyping a certain group, chances are
that individual will conform to the group and do the same. As mentioned earlier, the stereotype
often determines the extent of the social behaviour toward a group. Shared group beliefs, the same
belief(s) held by each member of the group, do influence normative behaviours (Macrae, Stonger,
& Hewstone, 1996).
Language, the mass media, and social norms are only a few factors that influence stereotypes which
intern influence social behaviour. An individual may also consider environmental factors, such as
living conditions, as another influence to social behaviour.
Language provides a basic mechanism by which individuals are categorized into groups, and by
which stereotypes are shared with others. (A shared stereotype is simply the same stereotype that is
held by more than one person). Language also consists of processes, which involve naming,
labelling, and categorizing. The role of language, in reference to stereotypes, leads to a direct focus
on the content of the category labels and the stereotypes (Macrae, Stangor, & Hewstone). Some
examples of category labelling are “blacks”, “homosexuals”, “women”, “nerds”, etc. It is these
labels and the context that they are used in that determine the reaction an individual may have to a
person fitting the category. Their social behaviour may be negative or positive depending on how
they interpret the given label2.
Furthermore people recall gender-consistent information more accurately than gender-inconsistent
information. Selective recall is especially likely when people are faced with too many simultaneous
tasks (Macrae, Hewstone, & Griffiths, 1993).
2 For example, Arnie Cann (1993) found that students recalled sentences like "Jane is a good nurse" better than "Jane is
a bad nurse." When someone is employed in a gender-consistent occupation, we recall this person's competence. In
contrast, students recalled sentences like "John is a bad nurse" better than "John is a good nurse." When someone is
employed in a gender-inconsistent occupation, we recall this person's incompetence. Notice that when we combine
selective recall with the other cognitive factors--gender polarization, differential expectations, and the normative male--
we strengthen and perpetuate our existing stereotypes.
2.1 Gender socialization: differences between boys and girls
Gender socialisation begins at the moment we are born, from the simple question "is it a boy or a
girl?" (Gleitman, Friedlund & Reisberg, 2000, p. 499). We learn our gender roles by agencies of
socialisation, which are the "teachers" of the society. The main agencies in our society are the
family, peer groups, schools and media. In respect with gender socialisation, each of the agencies
could reinforce the gender stereotypes.
Gender differences result from socialization process, especially during our childhood and
adolescence. For instance, before we are 3 years old, there are fascinating differences between how
boys and girls interact (DeAngelis, 1989). Boys attempt to dominate, to control, to find out "Am I
better than you?" They do this by little contests or by being aggressive, if necessary. They establish
their status and then continue to try to use power to improve their position in the "pecking order”
(De Angelis, 1989).
In contrast, girls and women try to establish and improve their relationships, as if they were always
asking "Do you like me?" Because boys and girls want to do different things, boys and girls start
avoiding each other at 3 or 4.
By age 6, girls so dislike the rough competitive play and domination by boys that they choose girls
over boys as playmates 10 to 1. Little boys don't like "girl's games" either. Indeed, if asked, boys
will express horror at the idea of suddenly becoming girls; girls aren't horrified of becoming a boy,
they quickly recognize the advantages of being a boy. Boys constantly want to win at active,
competitive activities and seem less interested in "winning friends." Several studies have also found
that older boys will comply with a male peer's suggestion but will stubbornly not comply with the
same suggestion from a female peer. This is especially true if other males are watching.
Radical feminists have contended that our society teaches males to hate females.
The Psychoanalysts believe little boys 3 to 6 undergo great turmoil as they must give up their
identification with a close, nurturing mother and switch it to a father. In this process, boys may be
unwittingly taught to dislike, even disdain female (mother's) characteristics in order to give them
up; thus, the "hatred" of women's ways (and little girls) may be generated in little boys.
Also, in this early process, boys may learn to suppress their urges to show affection (to mother
especially) but also that loosing intimacy (with mother) can cause great pain; perhaps this is the
origin of some grown men's fear of intimacy (Hudson & Jacot, 1992). Girls, since they never have
to give up their identification with mother, tend to develop a fear of possible separation which
results in greater needs for intimate affiliation. On the other hand, girls do have to shift their sexual
orientation from a mother-like person to a father-like person, and boys do not. This may help
explain boys' greater focus on the female body as a sexual object (more than male bodies being a
sexual stimulus for women), boys' greater homophobia, males' greater emphasis on sex and less on
closeness, and other differences between male and female sexuality. So, according to Judith Viorst
(1986) in Necessary Losses, we all suffered a serious loss (boys giving up Mom as an identification
and girls giving up Mom as a sexual object) that has a permanent impact on our personalities.
At this point, psychologists don't know for sure how little boys are taught to disdain girls or why
boys feel superior, are more aggressive, and are especially uncooperative with females. We only
have hunches, but gaining more knowledge is critical. Males commit 90% of all violent crimes; this
violence needs to be stopped (Miedzian, 1991; Stoltenberg, 1990). Neither do we know why the
self-esteem of girls drops markedly at ages 12 or 13 or why girls are more cooperative and involved
in relationships (Gilligan, Lyons & Hanmer, 1990). Before puberty, girls do better than boys in
school, have better social skills, and have a lot of confidence. After puberty, girls do less well in
school, lose confidence, worry about their bodies and diets, get hurt in relationships, and become
more depressed. Actually, interesting recent research indicates that the drop in math and science
grades only occurs in girls from traditional families in which gender roles are emphasized and the
mothers are assigned the child-rearing role.
Since research gives us only a few hints about the causes of these many changes in girls at puberty,
we can only speculate (see Brown & Gilligan, 1993; Orenstein, 1994; Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus,
1994), but it seems unlikely that genes and hormones cause females to be smarter before puberty
and dumber afterwards.
2.2 Theoretical approaches to gender roles socialization
Reinforcement theory simply means rewarding the desired actions and punishing the undesired
ones, this works the same way as operant conditioning. Therefore the traits that the socialisers want
to be emphasised in the future are being reinforced. This theory however does not take into account
that not everything has to be learned by ourselves anymore, we have other people showing us what
Cognitive development theory also depends on observational learning, but it states that children do
not imitate everything blindly; they use intellectual operations to choose the useful information and
leave out the meaningless (Gleitman, Friedlund & Reisberg, 2000, p. 490-492).
Social learning theory on the other hand emphasises observational learning. Children observe other
persons and imitate them, and therefore learn something new. Gender roles are belief systems that
guide the way we process information, including information about gender.
One theory which is considered important to the learning of gender identity is Albert Bandura's
Social Learning Theory. According to this theory, gender typing is explained as being neither
biologically determined or inevitable, but a result of day to day interactions between the developing
child and his or her immediate social environment (Unger & Crawford, 1992). Through social
learning, children learn behaviours which are considered appropriate for their sex through
observations of others, such as a same sex parent; as well as, through messages communicated by
the media. Research on social learning theory, and the learning of sex roles, supports the view that
children learn by imitation, as children learn what behaviours and roles are expected of them by
observing others' behaviour being reinforced or punished. Seeing someone reinforced for a
behaviour, such as a girl playing with a doll being reinforced for being nurturant, may be expressed
as being what is appropriate, reinforcing behaviour for a female. Therefore, a girl may associate
reinforcement with that behaviour, which may make that behaviour appear positive for a female.
After all this is said about the way we are brought up, there is still the question about biological
differences. Often gender roles are defended by biological differences of sexes, and it is true that
differences exist. It is true that males are from birth more physically active and irritable than
females. This difference is also seen in other primates. Also in every culture males commit more
violent acts than females. This evidence would verify that boys are predisposed toward physical
aggression, which is even enhanced by the male sex hormones. But however socialisation would
seem to magnify this predisposition as boys are given toy swords and guns, while the aggression in
girls is discouraged and they are given cooking sets and dolls as toys (Gleitman, Friedlund &
Reisberg, 2000, p. 502-503). In contrast what should be done is that males should be reared in a
way that would not emphasise aggression. That way, the biological predisposition could be fought
with socialisation, and perhaps less violent crimes would be committed.
From a sociological point of view, the more important aspect and, in some ways, ' fundamental' of
the sociological reflection is the ability to use at an empirical level, the concepts elaborates in
theoretical debate, realizing "a hermeneutic" connection between interpretative framework and
social life, showing of the heuristic potentiality and giving visibility to the indissoluble tie between
micro and macro social levels. Gender socialization can be read like a “relational process” (Donati,
It is unavoidable that in the transformation a simplification is put into effect, a reduction of the
complexity of the terms in game, because you need to lead back the factors that explain a social
phenomenon to one more rigid pattern of reality: in order not to fall in the trap of the interpretation
merely casual it is necessary to always place, to the centre of attention, the relation between
different factors that it concurs to see the phenomena from more points of view, in a
multidimensional perspective .
The relational model is assumed like point of observation to verify the hypotheses in order to
characterize those that are the gender socializing outcomes in the contemporary society.
That appears clear if it is believed that every choice is linked to multidimensional situations, that is
relational contexts, in which the phenomena are networks of phenomena and every node represents
interlaces of challenges, ties and resources.
To speak about challenges and resources in gender socialization, means therefore to simplify the
reality, to circumscribe a point of view from which to observe a phenomenon, but always holding
account that is a relational phenomenon, in which more dimensions are intersected. Therefore,
identifying the challenges, a groupt of factors is identified, that, in relation to the resources are
shaped as selected opportunities, and circumscribing the resources, a network of elements that
appear strategic in relation to the challenges is defined.
Consequently gender socialization process is divided in two orders of factors, that they make head
one to the challenges and the other to the resources, in the hypothesis that behind every
phenomenon are however the intentions of the actors who arrange in a more or less balanced way,
with reference to the context of options that delimits the action, objects to reach and strategies of
The relational model considers every phenomenon as the outcome of a process in which the
challenges that the context places to the actors and the resources who are put in field, with greater
or smaller facility, in order to answer to the challenges, are put implicitly or explicitly in
comparison. The risk therefore is given from the relation of adequacy/inadequacy between
challenges and resources.
Gender socialization takes shaped as risky and is imagined like an interlace in which challenges and
resources must be arranged; the challenges are those shown from a context in which gender
indifferentiation is shuffled with the persistence of some stereotypes and in which a stable identity
seems to be at least a difficult task and the resources are those predisposed in the relationship with
the family and the school and also the own gender culture learned in different situations.
Let’s consider in particular the family.
3. The family as a gendered relationships: influences on gender socialization process
It is said before that parents are the primary influence on gender role development in early years of
life (Santrock; Miller & Lane in Berryman-Fink, Ballard-Reisch, & Newman; Kaplan in Witt,
1997). Parents encourage children to participate in sex-typed activities, such as playing with dolls
for girls and playing with trucks for boys (Eccles, Jacobs, & Harold in Witt, 1997). In addition to
that, parents might send subtle messages to children on what they think is acceptable for each
gender (Arliss in Witt, 1997). Parents even speak and play differently with their male and female
children. Parents also use punishment, by expressing disapproval, if children intent to break the
norms of gender roles, such as when a boy plays with a dolls house (Gleitman, Friedlund &
Reisberg, 2000, p. 500) and boys are usually discouraged from showing emotions (Morris, 1988, p.
366). Even if the parents would not intentionally send any messages, children will soon enough
notice the differences between sexes by observing adults, therefore noticing how they are
"supposed" to act. Men are supposed to be tough and aggressive, while women are expected to be
submissive and more emotionally expressive than men. It can also observed that women and men
have different kind of jobs, men going out to work, while women often work as unpaid housewives,
so children's future goals are being restricted from very early on (Gleitman, Friedlund & Reisberg,
2000, p. 500). In the domestic chores, parents sometimes expect children of different gender
perform different kind of tasks; boys are assigned to do maintenance chores, such as moving the
lawn and girls are assigned to do the cooking or doing the laundry (Basow in Witt, 1997). This
segregation of tasks by gender lead children think that some tasks are more male and some more
female (Witt, 1997).
A child’s parents are some of the first socialization agents he or she will come into contact with.
Parents teach stereotypes through different ways and behaviour: “the way they dress their children,
they way they decorate their children's rooms, the toys they give their children to play with, their
own attitudes and behaviours” (Hetherington and Parke, 1999).
Our parents start teaching us our roles shortly after birth, e.g. boys are cuddled, kissed, and stroked
less than girls while girls are less often tossed and handled roughly. In playing with their infants,
mothers mirror the young child's expressed emotions. But mothers play down the boy's emotions (in
order to keep the boys less excited) while they reflect the baby girl's expressions accurately. Could
this possibly be an early cause of adolescent boys denying emotional experiences and not telling
others how they feel? We don't know. In addition, remember that boys between 4 and 7 must shift
their identities from Mom to Dad. In that process, boys are chided for being a sissy ("like a girl")
and we start shoving them on to bicycles and into sports activities; they are praised for being tough;
boys start to think they are superior or should be. From then on, schools, churches, governments,
entertainment, and employers reinforce the idea that males are superior.
What determines who will be the boss in a marriage? Mostly the education of the wife. Peplau,
Rubin and Hill (1977) found that among dating couples 95% of the women and 87% of the men say
that each sex should have exactly equal power in decision-making. But, less than half of the couples
felt their relationship was, in fact, egalitarian. Among the remaining couples, two-thirds of the
women and three-quarters of the men felt the man was more in control. Three factors are related to
power: (1) the couple's ideas about gender roles, e.g. traditionalists think the man should make the
final decisions, (2) the degree to which each one is "in love" or dependent on the other (the less
involved partner has more power), and (3) the female's education (if she drops out of college, she is
more likely to be dominated; if she gets a graduate degree, she will probably have equal power). So,
for an egalitarian relationship, the couple needs to be roughly equal in ability, in love, in neediness,
and in education.
Who organizes and runs the family? Regardless of who is "the ultimate boss," there is an
opportunity for someone to gain some satisfaction or status and power by becoming the family
organizer or director. Often that is the wife, either as an assigned role (by the boss) or as a desired
acquired role. Stern (1988) writes about The Indispensable Woman, who wants to be needed. So,
she takes on a job for extra money, does the grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry,
keeps track of everyone's clothes and tries to monitor how everyone looks each morning, wants to
look fantastic herself, finds the baby sitters, keeps everybody's schedule and makes sure they are on
time, plans family activities and "lessons" for the children, helps her husband socialize, is sure the
family would fall apart if she didn't run things for everyone, and feels overburdened and
Bepko and Krestan (1990) have a similar notion, namely, that women are strongly driven to be
"good" and please others; consequently, they take on too much and often feel insecure or unsure
that they are good enough. Solution: stop kowtowing and self-sacrificing.3
Feminists have kept up the attack on the unfairness. Susan Faludi (1991) describes many subtle but
calculated scare tactics and attacks on feminism, including the frequent description of the single
woman as neurotic, emotional, and miserable (e.g. Fatal Attraction), the erroneous but frightening
contention that no males will be available for the single female over 30, the spreading of false
rumours that women careerists were taking over law, medicine, dental, and other professions, and
on and on for 460 pages. One of the most scathing attacks on men is MacKinnon's (1987) Feminism
3 There are hundreds of books about sexism and how to deal with it. Some of the better early references about women's
rights are Freidan (1963), Bengis's (1973) attack on men, Boston Women's (1972) well known catalog, Friedman's
(1983) refutation of the idea that you're no body until somebody loves you, Friese, Parsons, Johnson, Ruble & Zellman's
(1978) textbook, and Paulsen & Kuhn's (1976) handbook.
Unmodified, in which she underscores that 44% of women are raped or about raped because "men
consider women inferior."
There can be no doubt that many men still discount or put down women in many ways. Change is
slow; it must also be sure. Brownmiller's (1984) book on Femininity is a gold mine of information.
Levine's (1992) My Enemy, My Love provides some interesting theories about why males and
females frequently get angry with each other. An excellent analysis of gender stereotyping,
including the misjudgement of women and mythical gender differences, has been done by Tavris
(1992), a social psychologist and good writer.
3.1 Adolescence and gender differences in the family
The adolescence is a typical definition of the modern age, in the course of which it is recognized
that the transition from infancy to the adult age is characterized by one "specific phase of passage",
with the task to prepare the child for the entry in the adult life.
The traditional paradigm, that considered the adolescent phase like a critical and crucial moment,
has been exceeded from more specific and arranged studies on the argument, recognizing, in this
way, importance and autonomy to this important period of life. An important element of change in
the theoretical production is that the adolescent growth does not happen only for contrasts, as we
were used to think until little decades ago, when the adolescence was seen only like one critical
phase of passage to exceed more fastly possible in order to arrive to the adult life; it happens instead
by interactions and further adaptations, sometimes conflictual ones also, within a process of
relatedness with the peers and the adults.
In particular, in the family studies approach, called "symbolic-relational" (Scabini, Cigoli 2000),
the adolescence is not anymore characterized as the moment of the separation from the family and
the crash with the parents, but like a period of transformation of the pre-existing ties in a different
shape that implies a rethinking of the role of sons and of the parents figures. The transition is seen
then as regarding the entire family group, because it is a process in which parents and sons are
renegotiating their relations on the base of the reciprocal expectations.
In other words, parents supply them the cultural gender models in which to identify or from which
to distance. The redefinition of the concept of identity is "function of two inseparable psico-social
dynamics: the dense assimilation of himself within categories or significant social groups for person
- and at the same time, the meaningful differentiation of himself from groups or persons through
dynamics of social comparison. It is implied that the assimilation dynamic and the differentiation of
himself is unfolded on the base of cultural, behavioural and identity the models available in the
several contexts of adolescents life " (Burr, 2000, 46).
The tie with the family covers great importance since, as De Pieri and Tonolo (1990) emphasize,
within familiar relations structure gender identity assumes the main classifications (included
stereotipization) on the male one and the female one. Galimard (1992) emphasizes that the
adolescent finds itself in the crucial phase of the identifications with the adult persons, is of just the
sex that, for difference, with those of the other sex, and is just through such relation that it tries the
distance of its differentiation.
3.2 The young generations: changes of socialization in the family
Adolescence is shaped like a process, in which, above all, the relations in which the adolescent is
dipped become resources for the construction of a more stable and various identity from that one of
infancy. In it are concentrated the challenges to face, but also the resources to put in game in order
to realize a passage towards the construction of personal and social identity and towards a new way
to interact with the adult world, in the first place with the parents.
By now it is wide shared that the family assumes a fundamental importance during the process of
socialization because it is the first context the child comes to contact and because it contributes in a