The gender binary is described as the artificial division of earthly things into masculine (for men) and feminine (for women) categories (American Psychiatric Association, 2016). In most societies, gender roles are divided into two categories. When a baby is born, it has a binary gender identity, which means it will be known as a girl or a boy in the future, regardless of the gender assigned at birth.
Sex was once thought to be a binary term dependent on a person’s reproductive functions (genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes, or reproductive structures).
Also, a person’s physical appearance, femininity or masculinity were used to place a person into their respective gender (American Psychiatric Association, 2016). Masculinity and femininity possess certain physical features which can be used to label a people women or men. This heavily relies on the degree to which such physical attributes are present. For instance, strong and muscular people were identified as men. Lack of these features led the society to brand people as females.
Gender Schema Theory
This theory was developed by Dr. Sandra Bern in 1981 to expound on how socialization led to gender development in a given culture. She based her ideas on social learning theory that implies that gender roles are transmitted through observation, punishment and reward (West, 2015). For instance, boys would often get rewarded for taking interests which the culture and society deemed appropriate. Praise came as a result of emulating their fathers, partaking sports, and playing with toys. On the contrary, they would get punishment for applying makeup or playing with dolls. Bern explained that children acquire this information and make use of it to know themselves and other people in comparison.
Gender schema is developed as a result of both genders cognitively processing new information delivered by their environment (West, 2015). It has for instance been used to explain stereotyping. A reason for persistence of these stereotypes in our society has been attributed to gender schema. An example of the theory in action is how a young one watches her mother cook for a long time. Over time, this association translates and becomes a portion of her schema that she begins to link with her gender. She will eventually view cooking as a feminine behavior. As for boys, they grow up in an environment where their father works in his garage and does handy jobs. Over time they associate this to with male behaviors.
Her favorite quote is “Do not be limited by the gender schema” (West, 2015). She adds that ever since she created the gender schema theory, she understood gender better. She however did not let the society view of gender and more so to women limit her.
Gender identity and how to find it
Gender identity is defined as deep and internal hold of self as female, male, a combination of the two, or none (Evans, 2014). It is generally our internal experience and then branding our gender (American Psychiatric Association, 2016). For example, a child whose gender was given as male in his birth certificates and identifies himself as boy is known as cisgender. On the other hand people with gender identities that do not match the assigned sex at birth are called transgender. Transgender people have their gender indicated as male in birth certificates but they identify themselves as girls.
People need to find identity through gender expression. This is the way we portray gender to the society through such things as mannerism, hairstyles and clothing. However, gender identity is already chosen for us because at age four children are identified with a specific gender (American Psychiatric Association, 2016). It is therefore difficult to express our genders if it does not fall between binary (either boy or girl).
American Psychiatric Association. (2016). Answers to your questions about transgender people, gender identity, and gender expression.
Evans, D. (2014). Transgender, Genderqueer, and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals: Existing In a Binary World.” (2014).
West, A. (2015). A Brief Review of Cognitive Theories in Gender Development. Behavioral sciences undergraduate journal, 2(1), 59-66