It has been prevalently believed, by professional and laypersons alike, that boys and girls in our society are socialized differently and in ways that encourage behavior consistent with our cultural definitions of appropriate sex role behaviors. Sex differences in the socialization differences of parents (mostly mothers) have been described and discussed by many researchers over the years. Maccoby and Jacklin (1974) offered the summary evaluation that the two sexes has revealed to our surprise little differentiation in parent behavior according to the sex of the children (Maccoby and Jacklin, 1966).
Despite these negative conclusions, however, the authors did find evidence that parents tend to “shape” their male and female children in sex-appropriate ways, by dressing them differently, by encouraging sex typed interests, by providing sex-appropriate toys, and by assigning sex-differentiated toys ( Hartley, 1964).
Parental sex-typing behaviors, however, even narrowly defined when viewed in the context of self and sex role development, may be important. For example, Whiting and Edwards (1975) described one process by which sex assigned chores may contribute to later behavioral differences noted between boys and girls. Citing data obtained from field studies in six cultures, noted that girls, more frequently than boys, are assigned domestic and childcare chores (looking after young children, cooking, cleaning, food preparation, grinding) and that girls are assigned responsibilities at an earlier age than boys. Boys, in contrast, are assigned chores that take them from the immediate vicinity of the house, and are given responsibility for feeding, posturing, and herding animals. For boys and girls, these sex differences in assigned work are associated with different frequencies of interactions with various categories of people. Girls interact more often with both adults and infants, whereas boys interact significantly more often with peers. Whiting and Edwards suggest that to some extent the observed behavioral differences between boys and girls in the sample might be a function of sex distinctions in assigned chores. Younger girls in all cultures were found to be significantly more nurturing (offering help and giving support) and significantly more responsible than boys.
Viewed from another, quite different perspective, these parental shaping behaviors urge the child toward sex-appropriate interests, activities, tasks, and the like may be seen as labeling behaviors. According to the cognitive developmental theory of sex typing as explicated by Kohlberg (1966) and endorsed by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974), sex typing is initiated by the very early labeling of the child with respect to gender. The gender labeling becomes an organizing becomes rubric around which the child actively, selectively, and with increasing complexity constructs a personal sex role definition. Through experience with parents, siblings, and peers, with the outside world, with the media, and with books, the child learns through a variety of techniques including enviornmental manipulation, tutoring and reinforcement; those responses, interests, activities, clothes, play materials, and tasks that are deemed consistent with sex categorization (Whicker and Kronenfeld , 1986).
Sex differentiated parental socialization practices, many of which are reinforced by other socializing agents, contribute to the divergent strategies developed by boys and boys to cope with discrepant experiences. The data from several sources agree that socialization behaviors manifest more frequently by parents of females who tend to foster proximity, discourage independent problem solving, restrict exploration, minimize contingency experiences, and discourage active play and experimentation in the physical world. Because females are provided fewer opportunities for independent exploration and experimentation, because their toys encourage imitative play, because their play activities are more structured, and because proximity to mothers facilitates imitative behaviors, females are more likely to rely on existing structures in processing new inputs.
In contrast, the socialization experiences of males appear to be less constraining of activity and more encouraging of exploration. Because boys are given greater freedom to venture into the outside world, they are more often in a position to encounter situations that must be dealt with independently. These early experiences of males, which demand reexamination of premises, restructuring of understandings, and the construction of new schemata, many serve to prepare males for the less predictable, less structured world that will inhabit in their adult lives (Block, 1984).
Another active area of research on female achievement grows out of cognitive and social psychology and is known as the attribution theory.