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Important Socialization Studies About Men and Women

Last time we introduced some basic socialization theories from psychologists Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget. This time we would like to explore some more advanced socialization theories about moral development for men and women. These should supplement those basic theories for your better understanding.

We pointed out last time that Jean Piaget categories cognitive maturing into different stages (Source: Socialization Stages For Cognition Maturing). We, however, know this is not only for the United States, as it may surprise you that a substantial portion of Americans cannot write or read. Lawrence Kohlberg, a famous sociologist who built on Jean Piaget's discoveries, researched socialization topics about individual's moral rationalizing capabilities. He also comprehensively studied about how individual comes to reason on what is wrong or what is right.

From Lawrence Kohlberg's theory, as young children we trend to focus more on what feels good to us and less on our guilt feelings. What feels good is often associated with what is right, and is thus known as the initial stage (called pre-conventional stage) of socialization. When they enter into the next stage (called conventional stage), which often occurs in the teen years, individuals will likely become less selfish and trend to adjust based on society's needs. In the final stage (called post-conventional stage) of socialization, individuals will look beyond their society's ethics or norms to help make their own decisions. A good example is about debating the law. While average people will not question on the law, some individuals may question just because something not violating the law does not necessarily mean that it is right. There were, however, some well-known errors and flaws in Lawrence Kohlberg's theory. One of the obvious errors was a gender bias that favored men over women. It was because all of his subjects were relating to male and he basically generalized female morality according to male individuals. Lawrence Kohlberg, as a man, was not able to develop a balanced moral development model suitable for both men and women at his time.

Fortunately, another female sociologist Carol Gilligan fixed this flaw by comparing the moral development stages of men and women. What was the conclusion of her socialization study about gender comparison? From her comparison study, Carol Gilligan found out that men were usually more by the rules than women. For example, if men hear that someone broke into a hospital to steal medicine, men will immediately view it as wrong. Women, however, may look deeper into the case and think about why an individual would have to steal medicine in the hospital. Some women would even be more sympathetic to individuals who steal for forgivable or meaningful purposes like Robin Hood. Those women would try to offer reasons for her forgiveness by suggesting herself that the stealer could save his sickly life because he might not have enough money to pay for medicine.

From the above interesting example, you could see that Carol Gilligan, as a woman, had made a very useful and important comparison study for moral development of both men and women. Her socialization study really could supplement Lawrence Kohlberg's theory which had a clear gender bias that favored too much on men over women.

After introducing socialization theories about moral development for men and women, in our next posts we will continue to talk about socialization and its importance for human development.


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