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Achieving gender equality: Where should we start?

Gender segregation in current society continues to exist in many domains of everyday life (e.g. family, education, occupation). Despite the situation being boldly improved during the last decades, the ideas that men and women are significantly different in their predispositions are still available and validate across various cultures. Many articles have been written about diverse male’s and female’s characteristics however, only few empirical studies show us the reasons and origins of gender gap and how we can reduce it.

Theories and research claim that gender asymmetric position could be a consequence of different language and communication styles/schemas which are used for girls’ and boys’ parenting in order to be in accordance with gender social norms. These schemas influence how people think how men and women should and should not behave regarding specific areas of functioning (Mesman, & Groeneveld, 2018) and along Whorfian hypothesis language reflects our thought processes which shape the way how we think about women and men. In other words, our thoughts influence gender socialization. Although each of us is being socialized during our whole life, the first three childhood years are considered the most important because infants and toddlers create cognitive scripts, which help them adequately operate in our social world (Kwon, Bingham, Lewsader, Jeon, & Elicker, 2013; Mesman, & Groeneveld, 2018). Blakemore, Berenbaum and Liben (2009) concretely mentioned that infancy kids start distinguishing between males and females, the toddlers start using gender labels, and pre-school children are capable to stereotype by gender.

Thus, if we want to offset gender disparities first, we should start being aware of our gender stereotypes which can contaminate children parenting. Second, we should start changing these parenting practices step by step toward children’s raise without the constraints of gender stereotypes (Bem, 1998). This though is furthermore supported by the study of Axinn, Young-DeMarco and Ro (2011) which suggested that internalisation of gender stereotyped norms in early childhood can lead to their re-use in raising their own children in adulthood. Nevertheless, it is not easy to innovate this approach. Children are mainly in interactions with their parents during the first three years of their life and they receive verbal and nonverbal (implicit and explicit) messages about differential gender rules and expectations which could form their later asymmetric form of behaviour (Endendijk et al., 2014).

Based on the researches, it can be supposed that gender differential and nonequality start in born moment (in many cases prior to birth), when parents start communicating with children although, the consequences appear later, during their development (Boe, & Woods, 2017). As Kwon, Bingham and Lewsader (2013) have pointed out, previous researches particularly indicate that gender parent-child interaction is probably influenced by three main factors, (1) language used by parents and children, (2) communication context, (3) and parents' behaviour in these contexts. These factors are discussed below.

The parent's verbal language can be seen from two points of view, that are amount and type of language which parents use with children. The amount of language input and interactions between infants and their caregivers in the first months of life have been analysed by Johnson, Caskey, Rand, Tucker and Vohr (2014). Their data illustrate that infants are more frequently exposed mother’s than father’s verbal speeches and in addition, mothers preferentially responded to infant girls who subsequently produce more vocalization responses than infant boys. In this way, mothers and fathers may offer different verbal expression role models which might maintain the stereotype that women are more talk oriented than men (Leaper, 2005). This effect was affirmed only during the childhood nevertheless, the findings of Mehl’s et al. (2007) did not support this conclusion in adulthood. On the other hand, the differences between girls and boys were confirmed in vocabulary and language skills dimension, which girls acquired earlier than boys. Also, their vocabulary was larger, they displayed greater grammatical complexity, spelled better, and read sooner than boys (Bornstein, Hahn, & Haynes, 2004). Moreover, Hart and Risley’s (1995) study showed that the frequency of parent-children talk from birth until 3 years is directly related with intelligence and academic success. So, early language delays can have impact on following children development. The type of language is the second factor which represents the cause how differently parents react to their children along gender. Clearfield and Nelson (2006) have reported that mothers tend to give more instructions, are focused on problem-solving, and are more directive with sons. Controversially, they asked more questions and made more statements about feelings or needs with daughters. On the other hand, fathers were more assertive during communication, directive and controlling than mothers (Blandon, & Volling, 2008).

Although in major aforesaid studies, the differences in gender approach were significant, their effect sizes were often small and therefore the mutual interactions should be always interpreting in concrete communication context because the findings indicate that parent and child language could be a function of social context and parent gender (Kwon, Bingham, & Lewsader, 2013). For instance, Lindsey et al. (2010) distinguished in their study two types of communication context, caregiving (e.g. cooking set) and active (e.g., a large ball). The findings indicate that mothers and fathers displayed more power-assertive and controlling verbal communication in the caregiving setting and more cooperative verbal initiation in the active play setting. Differences between genders were not registered. Despite these outcomes, it is important to note that Burnham and Harris’ (1992) study examined that male infants are considered to be more active whereas female infants are considered to be more docile. Besides, boys and girls are often encouraged to play with gender stereotypically appropriate toys which are predominantly connected with gender activities (Blakemore, & Centers, 2005) likewise, the cooking set and the large ball from Lindsey et al. (2010) study. These encouragements further preoccupied children toy preferences (Boe, & Woods, 2017). Important is that all these gender-related contributes can lead children to play in gender specific environment in which they are exposed to gender specific languages, interactions, and consequences what can contribute to development of specific abilities, which can be indicate as natural gender bias in adulthood (Eccles, 1990).

The third mentioned factor is parental behaviour which is narrowly connected with using language in various contexts as well. O'neal and Magai (2005) findings illustrate that emotional socialization differs in girls and boys because parents react in a gender different manner depending on children's different emotions. For instance, when infant and toddlers display negative emotion mothers respond more likely to sons than daughters. It probably occurs because mothers internalized idea, that boys and men should control their emotions whereas, for girls is expressing emotions globally more acceptable (Brody, 2000; Plant, Hyde, Keltner, & Devine, 2000). Other study documented (Fivush, 1989) that mothers-daughters and mothers-sons reaction and conversation about emotions also differ during toddlerhood. Whereas mothers more focused on positive emotions during talks with daughters and tend not to attribute negative emotions. With sons, positive and negative emotions are discussed equally. Furthermore, they almost never discuss anger with girls, but they do with sons. In addition, boys globally experience less disapproval of the expression of anger than girls. Maybe it occurs because boys' anger and aggression are seen as nature masculine traits (Plant et al., 2000). Another aspect from this area indicate that mother-daughter conversations emphasize the emotional state itself whereas mother-son conversations often discuss emotional causes and consequences. The further distinction was evident (O'neal, & Magai, 2005) between father's reaction on fear, anger and sadness when they more often punished boys for expressing fear and sadness whereas they rewarded girls. These parental socialization responses positively correlated with psychological distress, emotional health and development of psychopathology in young adult (Garside, & Klimes-Dougan, 2002). Children probably learn how to regulate their emotions in early childhood, and they use these patterns in later period of their life however, due to different gender approach during the childhood, boys may express less emotions than girls in maturation and adulthood. It is also possible that from this case, male have higher rating of suicide behaviour (Addis, 2008) than female who talk more about emotional issue with others (Block, 1983). The other implication for girls is in occupational area. Despite higher level of emotional expression is learned and accepted during the first years, it stops being appropriate in adulthood and women are negatively evaluated for their emotional behaviour (Timmers, 2008). Similar findings are presented by Brescoll and Uhlmann (2008). Their result suggested that men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness. Contrary, when women expressed anger it was accorded with lower status, lower wages, and they were considered less competent than angry men and unemotional women. Moreover, women’s emotional reactions were attributed to internal characteristics whereas men’s emotional expressions were attributed to external conditions.

In summary, girls and boys probably experience dissimilar parent language and environment during their early childhood. These distinctions are likely to promote the development of special gender skills, abilities and behaviours, which simultaneously reflect society expectations about different, inborn male and female characteristics and at the same time, they help to confirm these norms repetitively. The different capabilities after it can influence the type of activities and jobs that women and men seek out and qualify for (Eccles, 1990).


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