Anthropology, Department of


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Published in MALE-FEMALE DIFFERENCES: A BIO-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE, Edited by Roberta L. Hall (New York, et al.: Praeger, 1985), pp. 5-25. Copyright (c) 1985 Praeger Publishers.


The literature on the socialization of human sex differences is likely to remind many students of the parable about the blind men who were grouped around an elephant, each trying to describe to the others what the elephant was like. Several traditions of research in the social sciences have been involved in the study of why the sexes are different. One that emphasizes deliberate sex role training of children owes most of its insights to learning theory and developmental psychology. It regards sex role socialization as the result of interplay between the environmental experience and the child's active learning and imitation. Researchers see the child as one who learns what is being taught and who forms certain evaluations of what is correct or expedient on the basis of experience (Mussen 1973; Maccoby and Jacklin 1974). Unlike the prepared learning tradition, which will be discussed below, systematic consideration is not given to the possibility that girls and boys, because of biological sex, will respond differently to the tasks of socialization.

The prepared learning tradition takes as a beginning assumption that girls and boys are born with inherent predispositions to behave in distinctive ways. This tradition accepts the role of learning as necessary for development but assumes that with respect to certain classes of stimuli girls and boys will respond differently. A person who takes this view of sex role socialization will be equally interested in "what children are taught" and "what children choose to learn."

This chapter introduces the reader to findings from these two contrasting approaches and considers the value as well as the limits of each. The discussion will take up a few studies that are good examples of each tradition, but will not attempt a comprehensive review. General features will be presented along with an examination of the differing insights that come from the two approaches. Finally, necessary further information and research will be discussed.

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