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Development of Gender Identity

The purpose of this module is to introduce various approaches to the gender identity development. Four main approaches to the identity development, such as biological, psychological, sociocultural, and integral will be examined. The accent will be put on a psychological approach and its models of identity development, namely a model of stage development (Erikson, Levinson, Kohlberg), a model of life events (Schlossberg and Bridges), and a relational model (Gilligan, Edelstein, Tennant). Kohlberg’s, Marcia’s and Erikson’s theories of a stage or phase development and their feminist critique (Gilligan, Josselson) will be a focus of the analysis. Theories of Kohlberg gender identity development and moral reasoning development and their Gilligan feminist critique and Erikson and Marcia theories of gender development stages and statuses and their critique by Josselson will be studied in details. It is also supposed to reveal national (American and Ukrainian) features of gender identity development

Target Audience:
Advanced undergraduate and masters’ level students in psychology as well as masters’ level students in sociology, social work, anthropology, political science, and other social sciences. The adult students who are getting their second education or are involved in retraining in social sciences or humanities would also benefit from this module on gender identity development.

Learning Objectives:


  1. Students will become familiar with the typology of the main approaches to the identity development.
  2. Students will learn psychological models of identity development.
  3. Students will become familiar with Kohlberg’s theory of gender identity development and moral reasoning development.
  4. Students will analyze Gilligan’s feminist critique of Kohlberg’s theory.
  5. Students will develop a basic understanding of Marcia’s and Erikson’s identity development theories and their shortfalls from the feminist point of view.
  6. Students will analyze Josselson’s critique of Marcia’s and Erikson’s theories.
  7. Students will become familiar with some contemporary literature on gender identity development.
  8. Students will become familiar with an influence of national context (of the United States and Ukraine first of all) on gender identity development.


  1. Students will feel the difference between a theory (in our case a theory of the development of identity) and its feminist critique and will become more sensitive to those aspects of the theories that demand feminist approach and analysis.
  2. Students will gain a better comprehension of their own type of gender identity development.
  3. Students will feel and realize the meaning of the identity formation task and might be able to use this knowledge for their personal development.


  1. Students will be able to use the theories of gender identity development in their professional and psychotherapist’s practice.
  2. Students will obtain a possibility to use the achieved knowledge about peculiarities of gender identity formation in their personal lives.
  3. Students will be able to combine justice and care perspectives while deciding moral problems.

Key Concepts and Questions:

Key Concepts:

Identity is a well-learned and accepted image of self, a feeling of being adequate and stable despite of the changes of self and situation (Erikson, 1968).

Gender identity is a base structure of social identity, an individual’s sense of being male or female and of belonging to that particular group in the society.

Identity formation is the developmental task that links the newly autonomous individual to society.

Gender labelling is a labelling self as male or female.

Gender stability is an understanding that gender stays the same across time.

Gender consistency is an understanding that gender stays the same across situations, such as, for example, changes in appearance.

Gender constancy is a form of cognitive conservation in which gender is understood to be a permanent, unchanging feature of individuals.

Moral reasoning is a thought processes applied to moral or ethical problems.

Stages of moral development according to C.Gilligan (according Rider, 2005):

  1. Selfishness. The focus of this stage is on taking care of oneself and one’s individual survival.
  2. Responsibility to Others. The focus of this stage is on “doing right by others” and doing whatever possible to avoid hurting others. Acceptance by others is a primary concern.
  3. Responsibility to Self and Others. The focus of this stage is on not hurting anyone, including oneself.

Justice perspective is a moral orientation that focuses on applying rules and legal guidelines in resolving moral dilemmas.

Care perspective is a moral orientation that focuses on respect for different perspectives and reconciliation of people’s needs in resolving moral dilemmas.

Crisis is a term used in Erikson’s theory to describe the specific problem facing individuals as they negotiate each stage of development.

Identity crisis describes the role confusion felt by most young people during adolescence.

Negative identity is a scathing hostility towards the identity offered through one’s family and community (Erikson, 1968). A definition of oneself primarily in terms of opposition to others or what you are not.

Identity Foreclosures are such women who adopt life projects that have been passed to them through their families (Josselson, 1987).

Identity Achievements are women who have undergone the process of testing options and who eventually formulate an identity (Josselson, 1987).

Moratoriums – they are actively in a crisis or exploratory phase. They are struggling to make commitments but have not yet found the right ones for them (Josselson, 1987).

Identity Diffusions are experiencing neither crisis nor commitment. They are drifting, avoiding the identity-formation task (Josselson, 1987).

Key Questions:

The following questions shall be answered collaboratively by members of the class through engagement with the module.

  1. What is the difference between the concepts of “sexual identity development” and “gender identity development”?
  2. How gender identity development can be understood in those typologies of identity development that have been studied?
  3. Why Kohlberg’s theory of gender identity development is being referred to cognitive theories? What positive and negative aspects does it have?
  4. What is the essence of the feminist critique of Kohlberg’s theory?
  5. Describe the conflicts typical for each stage of moral development according to Gilligan.
  6. What is the difference between justice perspective and care perspective introduced by Gilligan? Is it insuperable?
  7. Compare Marcia theory of four identity statuses with the theory of Erikson. What are their main ideas, similarities and differences?
  8. What notions and conclusions of Erikson’s and Marcia’s theories were the targets of feminist critique?
  9. What role do crises play in the development of gender identity?
  10. What peculiarities of gender identity formation and its types can be revealed in the contemporary Ukrainian society?

Learning activities:
SESSION 1: Typologies and models of gender identity development.

Reading Assignments:

  1. Erikson E. Identity: Youth and Crisis. Moscow, 1996, p.100-152. (in Russian).
  2. Kon I.S. Introduction to Sexology. Moscow, 1988, p. 192-219. (in Russian).
  3. Abbott Tina. Social and Personality Development. Routledge, 2001. P. 88-94.
  4. An Update on Adult Development Theory: New Ways of Thinking About the Life Course. M.Clark and R.Caffarella (eds.). New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. No 84, Winter 1999. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.
  5. Gilligan Carol. In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1982, š.151-174.
  6. Zhurzhenko T. Free Market Ideology and New Women’s Identities in Post-socialist Ukraine. The European Journal of Women’s Studies, 2001, Vol. 8(1), p. 29-49.

Classroom activities:
1st hour:
Lecture/discussion on typology of gender identity development (biological, psychological, sociocultural, and integral) and different psychological models of identity development.

2nd hour: Small group work, answering the following questions:

What are the main points of each identity development typology (biological, psychological, sociocultural, and integral)?

How gender identity development can be presented according to each of these typologies?

What are the differences between psychological models (of stages, of life events and a relational model) of identity development?

How gender identity development is understood in Kohlberg’s theory of cognitive development?

Explain the meaning of concepts used in Kohlberg’s theory, namely gender labelling, gender stability, gender consistency, and gender constancy.

Characterize stages of moral reasoning development (according to Kohlberg):

stage 1 – avoidance of punishment and obedience orientation,

stage 2 – rewards, benefits, and self-interest orientation,

stage 3 – “good boy” or “good girl” orientation,

stage 4 – law, authority, and maintenance of social order orientation,

stage 5 – balanced between individual rights and community values orientation,

stage 6 – universal human rights and ethical principles orientation.

What statements in the learned theories are the most vulnerable from the point of view of gender approach?

SESSION 2: Reinterpretation of Kohlebreg’s theory from feminist perspective.

Reading Assignments:

  1. Kon I.S. Psychology of sex differences. Journal “Voprosi psikhologii”, 1981, N2, p. 47-57 (in Russian).
  2. Belenky M., Clinchy B., Goldberger N., Tarule J. Women’s Way of Knowing. The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1986, p. 35-51.
  3. Gilligan Carol. In a Different Voice. Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1982, p.19-23, 70-82, 100-105.
  4. Rider E. Our Voices. Psychology of Women. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005, p.231-239.

The students should interview one female and one male according to a tentative plan given blow and answer these questions themselves:

1. What does the word “moral” mean to you?

2. Have your ideas about moral been changed in a course of your life? If so, then when? and how?

3. What did lead to these changes?

4. Does a right decision of moral problems exist or an opinion and a decision of any individual are equally right? Provide an answer with your arguments.

Students should write a short essay (4-5 pages) with the analysis of achieved answers in terms of similarities and differences between men and women.

Classroom activities:
1 st hour:
Small group work. Separate groups of males and females are given to decide one of the typical moral dilemmas used by Kohlberg in order to assess a level of moral reasoning. It is suggested to discuss the Heinz dilemma whether or not to steal a drug, which he cannot afford to buy in order to save the life of his wife. After the discussion each group gives its answer and arguments. Then the students discuss the peculiarities of moral dilemma solving by males and females.

2 nd hour: Lecture/discussion of reading and writing assignments.

Students are supposed to answer a question about the stages of moral reasoning which are characteristic to male and female interviewees.

Discussion of feminist response to Kohlberg’s theory. Introducing Carol Gilligan three stages theory of women’s moral development: selfishness, responsibility to others, responsibility to self and others and traditional conflicts of each stage. At the stage of selfishness transitional conflict leading into the next stage occurs when a woman sees the conflict between her own needs and her responsibility for doing the “right things”. At the stage of responsibility to others conflict occurs when a woman questions whether self-sacrifice is right. Concern begins to shift from being good to seeking truth. And the concern of responsibility to self and others stage is looking after the welfare of all persons, balancing the needs of oneself and the need of others.

Then the following questions should be answered:

  1. Give examples of abortion decision and its arguments presented by women from each of three stages of moral development (according to Gilligan).
  2. Describe the conflicts experienced at these stages.
  3. What stage of moral development can you ascribe to your female interviewee? to yourself?
  4. Compare decisions of moral dilemmas given by Ukrainian students with those given by American college students (described in Gilligan’s book). Do differences between them exist? If so, what kinds of them?

SESSION 3: Marcia’s and Erikson’s identity development theories and their feminist critique.

Reading Assignments:

  1. Erikson E. Identity: Youth and Crisis. Moscow, 1996, p.100-152. (in Russian).
  2. Erikson E. Childhood and Society. Sankt-Petersburg, 1996, p. 346-386, p. 399-456 (in Russian).
  3. Abbott Tina. Social and Personality Development. Routledge, 2001, p. 121-130.
  4. Marcia J.E. Development and Validation of Ego-Identity Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966, 3, p. 551-558.
  5. Marcia J.E. Identity Six Years After: A Follow-Up Study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1976, 5, p. 145-160.
  6. Josselson R. Finding Herself. Pathways to Identity Development in Women. San Francisco-London: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987, p. 1-9, 28-33, 59-69, 95-105, 133-139, 164-167.

Writing assignments:
Students should conduct two short interviews with other people outside class. One interview should be with a person in the U.S., and one interview should be with a person in Ukraine.  The interview with the person in the home country should be conducted in person, and the other should be conducted by email (the instructor will help arrange this).  The purpose of these interviews is to learn how others understand their identities, especially with respect to gender.  Students may develop their own questions to ask; however the instructions for writing the personal narrative may be helpful as a guide. 

Using the data collected in these interviews and your own written narrative, write a short 1-2 page report on your findings, with respect to the following questions:

  1. Generally speaking, what are the differences and commonalities to be found between the U.S. and Ukrainian contexts?
  2. How is gender identity shaped by State context

Classroom activities:
1st hour:
Lecture/class discussion on readings and writing assignment.

2nd hour: Small group work, reflecting on what we’ve learned, what more we want to learn. In addition to the key questions revisited, groups should reflect on the following questions:

  1. How has our knowledge of gender identity influenced our understandings of our everyday lives?
  2. What can we do to employ this new knowledge in our everyday practices?
  3. What can we do to employ this new knowledge in our professional practices?

Students will be asked to fill out a Delphi evaluation after the first and second sessions. This consists of four general questions:

  1. What did the instructor do well in class to facilitate my learning?
  2. What might the instructor do better to facilitate my learning?
  3. What did I do well to facilitate my learning?
  4. What might I do better to facilitate my learning?

Evaluation of student learning will be informal while engaged in the course module. Formal evaluation will be included in larger course assignments and examinations, as deemed appropriate by course instructor.

Last Updated: May 16, 2006
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