Children learn about gender-specific behaviors from adults in the family, local community, nursery and school as well as from their peers and the media. Many parents, for example, hold deep-seated and strongly maintained perceptions of gender-appropriate behaviors which, in turn, have an important impact upon the developing attitudes and experiences of their children through the socialization process. Gender Identity is not simply a matter of biology. Human beings are born sexual. They develop a strong sense of being male and female; the human behavior of being a man or a woman is called gender identity.
The characteristics of being a man or a woman involve biological, psychological, and sociological factors. People from all cultures have acted in relationships in different ways that are influenced by their cultural traditions and laws about sex. Human sexuality and how males and females act within the relationship can be considered as physically influenced by biology, for example hormones, brain centers, networks of nerves, and sex organs all shape the character of the male and female. The experience of a friendship play an important role in children’s’ life as it helps in the development of their identity.
There are many environmental influences that can help understand a person’s identity, it usually starts at a young age and then is changed as we get older. Family and friends perception of masculinity and femininity may affect the child at a young age and eventually have an effect on the child’s opinions and views in the future. For example the male figure in the family usually the father will speak differently to his mixed gender children for example a father with his son will be more aggressive and assertive then he is with his daughters because he sees his son as tough and in control and his daughter gentle and passive.
Friendships are important in helping children develop emotionally and socially. They provide a training ground for trying out different ways of relating to others. Through interacting with friends, children learn the give and take of social behavior in general. They learn how to set up rules, how to weigh alternatives and make decisions when faced with dilemmas. Research shows that children with friends have a greater sense of well being, better self-esteem and fewer social problems as adults than individuals without friends.
On the other hand, children with friendship problems are more likely than other children to feel lonely, to be victimized by peers, to have problems adjusting to school, and to engage in deviant behaviors. Barrie Thorne (1993) the American sociologist in one school observed that girls were referred as ‘girl stain’ by boys. This involved boys treating girls and objects associated with girls as polluting, while the reverse did not occur. Her analysis of children’s games points out the relationship between children’s cultural worlds and the broader context of power relations in which they exist.
The significance of gender in children’s cultural world has been pointed out by Thorne through her conceptualization of ‘borderwork. ‘ Borderwork is a term used to characterize the ways in which children tend to form single sex friendship groups that serve to create and strengthen gender boundaries. As Allison James (1993) notes: In this sense, gender has a double significance for children. Its differentiating potential both reinforces and is reinforced by particular forms of play and patterns of friendships which, in turn, generates cultural models of and for particular gendered identities.
James sees that the pattern of intensive one- to- one relationship, involving considerable emotions and commitments are the characteristics of girls’ friendships. A god example of this sort of friendship is of two 13 year old girls Minna and Elizabeth who come from middle class homes in Chittagong, Bangladesh. They describe their friendship as the most special friendship in Bangladesh. One common image of girls’ friendship, in particular, is that they are characterized by a capacity of sharing, caring and mutual support. This is been demonstrated perfectly by a sixteen year old Christine who lives in Cape Town, South Africa.
She said, “I think friends are important, to be there for you, to comfort you in times of need. And sometimes they have to there, like to fill that space that need that you are a person who’s special and you are wanted. ” These words of Christine suggest that her friends have responsibility and special role to support her and to give her positive feedback of her actions. This is of more importance during the adolescent period when young people are being questioned and questioning about their developing selves in more intensive ways when personal identities are being shaped.
On the other hand Christine Skelton (2001) notes that the relationships of boys friendship among six to seven years old boys tend to form large, loosely connected groups and there was a general absence of tight friendship groupings. A good example of this the group of ten boys observed by Skelton represents a perspective on the patterns of friendship that can exist within a group, a pattern in which children themselves organize and construct friendship in a hierarchical fashion. This is often based on their own notion of status and power.
She also observed that it was very difficult to get access or involved in the friendship in the group of boys aged eleven to fourteen. This according to her suggests that their relationship with each other is structured around the contradiction of masculine identities. Most often the determination of strength depends on the individual, not the sex. Many times people are so completely stunned by a male emotional display that they don’t know how to react. Many men feel they are programmed to be strong, to mask or at least downplay what they are feeling, so they react emotionally only when they are alone, if in fact they do at all.
Because of the pressure to stay strong, sometimes the emotion gets released through physical exertion or in destructive ways. Children learn gender identity and gender roles in much the same way that they learn other things. Parents and others, through the giving of rewards and sanctions, encourage children to adopt what they consider to be the appropriate gender role; indeed, the assumption that parents clearly differentiate between boys and girls. There are, however, contradictory findings from studies on how much parents differentiate between male and female children.
When dealing with group differences, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists of gender have studies social relations of children, and have primarily relied on a model of group differences that is founded on the prevalence of gender separation in the children’s friendships and daily encounters. Every observational study of children’s interactions in pre-schools, elementary schools and junior high schools in the United States has found a high degree of gender separation in seating choices and in the group’s children form.
The nature of children’s friendship change with the age. Allison James has pointed out that any individual child might be at different stages of friendship with different people. She argues that: ‘it is through its discrete performance that children learn about and experience friendship, which means that the social contexts in which children find themselves, not simply their age, play the greater part in shaping children’s understanding of the concept. ‘
The structure and values of the wider society and culture id reflected and produced in children’s play. The play replicates and creates power relations and social hierarchies through inclusion and exclusion. This aspect of children’s play may involve games that act out sexuality and gender games. Children use language as one of the ways, like storytelling to establish the sense of identity. Competence in using narrative conventions can be through story telling children can display their engagement in the social network of their social group.
Language is a powerful tool for constructing and negotiating personal and social identities, including gender, race and class. Children adapt the skill of language in different styles in a very young age to as it is expected in different areas of their lives. Language is also seen as a tool for making friendship and other relationships for the performance of gender and identities and a means of reflection on personal experience. And with this we can conclude that gender has a huge impact in developing a sense of identity in children.
Children do not learn how to act male or female by being passive. They actively participate in activities that assist in developing their gender. As well, children receive messages from around them that reinforce notions of what it is to be male or female. Children are socialized into their respective genders from the clothes they wear, to toys, magazines and from parents dressing infant girls in pink, and boys in blue (Thorne, 1993).
The result is by now familiar of generalized contrasts, is: boys’ groups are larger, and girls’ groups smaller; buddies vs best friends; boys play more often in public, girls in more private places; boys engage in more rough-and-tumble play, physical conflict than do girls; boys play more organized team sports, girls engage in turn-taking play; with same-gender groups, boys continually maintain and display hierarchies while girls organize themselves into shifting alliances. Experience is one of the ways in which individual children develop a sense of identity, defining who they are in relation to others.