"Boys and Girls: The Development of Gender Roles"


In "Boys and girls: The development of gender roles," Beale gives us
revealing overview of Freud\'s personality theory. Beale point out both strengths
and weaknesses of his answer to the questions of "Why" and "How" in gender
development, but still leaves a chance for a reader to make up her/his own mind
about whether or not to accept Freud\'s theory. It is relatively easy, however,
to find oneself torn between openheartedly going along with Freud\'s idea about
the existence of a dynamic system (or libido) in us, and reacting against the
ease and assurance with which Freud writes about castration fear in boys and
penis envy in girls.
Freud\'s view of personality as a dynamic system of psychological energy
is a very complex, yet insightful approach to the development of personality.
The nature of the id, ego, and superego, and the psychosexual stages that these
three structures focus on during a course of one\'s development, give a plethora
of reasons to believe in the existence of a critical period in gender
development. Freud\'s theory suggests that the way in which the id, ego, and
superego evolve and the way in which they proliferate in the first six years of
a child\'s life will influence the child\'s emotional attachment to her/his parent
of the same sex and, as consequence, the child\'s gender identification.
I would agree with Freud\'s statement that children undergo a certain
emotional crisis after becoming aware of their genitals. It must be somewhat
frustrating for, e.g., a three year-old to realize that reaching a pleasurable
emotional state does not necessarily have to originate from her/his mother.
Unable to cognitively create an explanation to a new, unexpected flow of
circumstances and feelings, the child is most likely to end up confused. This
confusion will inevitably provoke anxiety, and the anxiety will build up an
emotional tension.
However, I would dare to argue at this point that the reason for a child
to seek identification with one of the parents might come not from castration
fear in boys or penis envy in girls, but rather from the child\'s belief that the
person of the same sex (father for boys and mother for girls) will know how to
protect them from the tension. If we perceive male and female infants\' cognitive
development to have the same starting point, then it is find to accept that boys
and girls will react so very differently (according to Freud) to the awareness
of their own genitals. If boys have reason to fear castration, why would girls
not fear penis "implantation," instead of envy (as Freud proposes)? I am not
questioning in this paper whether girls and boys go through an emotional crisis
around age of three, but rather whether there is a reason for us to believe that
girls necessarily have to play out their confusion through envy, whereas boys
have to play out their confusion through fear. Perhaps it could be argued that
majority of children are genetically predisposed to act in that particular way
in order for nature to secure the existence of human species.
It is not Freud\'s belief about the id, ego, and superego that raises our
eyebrow, but rather his rigid sex-based generalization of gender development.
His generalization seems to underestimate the impact of genetics and broader
social cues, and to overestimate children\'s cognitive capabilities during the
preoperational stage and the impact of the child-parent relationship on
children\'s gender development. There is no doubt that Freud gave us some
priceless insight into human personality development. However, by postulation
that development of one\'s gender in the particular way he describes is
inevitable, he leaves us, on this verge of the 21st century, very little reason
not to contradict him.

Category: Social Issues