For many families who are planning to conceive a child, the second trimester is usually the time the gender of the baby becomes known and is a time filled with excitement and joy. But what determines one’s gender identity? A person’s gender is “defined as the psychological sense of being female or being male and the roles society ascribes to gender” (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 170, para. 2). Although the root of one’s gender identity is based off of anatomical differences, either possessing the XY or XX pair of chromosomes, several different factors also determine one’s gender identity. For instance, “gender is a complex concept that is based partly on anatomy, partly on the psychology of the individual, and partly on culture and tradition” (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 170, para. 2).
The genetic makeup of a person plays an important role in molding their gender identity. As children enter the early stages of their life, they take into account their surroundings and how others perceive them in order to identify their gender. Individuals are able to come to a conclusion on how they think about themselves due to their physical makeup and the way they develop. Studies have shown that sex hormones such as androgens (male sex hormones) can play a vital role in determining one’s gender identity. In fact, researchers have reasonable cause to believe the brain structures of men and women differ due to genetics and exposure to various types of hormones. “Some theorists argue that prenatal sex hormones may masculinize or feminize the brain by creating predispositions that are consistent with gender-role stereotypes, such as rough-and-tumble play and aggressive behavior in males” (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 191, para. 8).
The masculine and feminine traits which one possesses can be described using the continuum of masculinity-femininity which attempts to eliminate stereotypes by stating that men and woman can possess both masculine and feminine traits at the same time. By segregating masculine traits to only men and feminine traits to only woman enables stereotypes and can add an element of confusion when determining one’s gender identity. Investigator Sandra Bem states (2005), “People who exhibit “masculine” assertiveness and instrumental skills (skills in the sciences and business, for example) along with “feminine” nurturance and cooperation fit both the masculine and feminine gender-role stereotypes” and are classified as illustrating psychological androgyny (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, p. 199, para. 1). Therefore, it is imperative to disregard the misconception that exists among what traits a male of female should possess. The combination of Bem’s and Lippa’s theories suggests that “perhaps it is fortunate that few of us are completely masculine or feminine, despite our anatomic sex” (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 199, para. 5). Psychological androgyny takes the focus away from the differences present in both males and females and attempts to prove typical cultural stereotypes, created by one’s social environment, incorrect (Rathus, Nevid & Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
After reviewing several different factors that attribute to identifying ones gender, I have come to the conclusion that three particular factors have helped me to determine my gender identity and include: biological, psychological, and social environment. “Biological views on gender typing focus on the roles of evolution, genetics, and prenatal influences in predisposing males and females to stereotypical behavior patterns” (Rathus, Nevid, Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 201, para. 5). While developing in my mother’s womb the lack of testosterone allowed me to develop physically as a female. I was able to acquire the gender role of a nurturing and trustful person who does not possess a great deal of strength. When it came to caring for children, I automatically assumed the position of the primary caregiver because I was already equipped with the basic knowledge of caring for a child. The combination of possessing female traits and possessing the physical appearance of a female allowed me to acknowledge and believe that I was a female just like my mother and older sister (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005).
I believe the psychological aspect helped me to determine my gender identity due to my childhood experiences and preferences. I was almost obsessed with Barbie dolls and princess dress up clothes. My father would always joke with me that when I was in my mother’s womb I was already wearing a “pink frilly dress”. Although I was far too young to be wearing make-up, I would always sneak into my mother’s make-up case and put up bright red lipstick and eye shadow. My childhood friends mainly consisted of girls that shared the same passion for Barbie’s as I did. Not until I hit the middle of puberty did I want to associate with boys because I felt we did not share any similarities or common points of interest. When asked what profession I wanted to pursue when I finished school, I would answer that I want to be a mom. I felt I was born to cook, clean, raise children, and take care of the home just as my mother did.
My social environment also helped me to determine my gender identity. My parents elected to find out what the gender of the baby was while I was in my mother’s womb. From the color of my nursery to the clothes on my back, it was pink, pink, and more pink. From what I can recall, my father never “rough-housed” with me but rather he would participate in my tea parties. He accepted my choice to express myself through more feminine activities and handled me with sensitivity. Just as in the social-learning theory, I determined my gender identity through observational learning, identification, and socialization (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005). The “gender schema theory adds that once children have learned the expected gender roles (i.e., the gender schema of their culture), they blend these roles with their self-concepts”, and is a prime example of what took place in my life (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, p. 195, para. 5).
Rathus, S.A., Nevid, J.S., and Fichner-Rathus, L. (2005). Human sexuality in a world of
diversity. (6th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.