Gender identities in emerging adulthood: a social constructivist perspective
Dinale, Thabiso Nicoline
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Emerging adulthood is a complex developmental stage, with one of its main developmental tasks being the exploration of an identity. This aspect was therefore the focus of the research study, and at its centre were emerging adults’ perceptions of gender identity. The research study focused on university students as emerging adults in the South African context. Literature regarding gender identity informed the study. The theoretical framework of the research study was the social constructivist perspective. This theoretical framework indicated that factors such as the family, peers, social structures, culture and socio-political history, religion and the media have a direct influence on emerging adults’ conceptualisation of gender identity. Moreover, the understanding of gender identity was located in terms such as gender roles, gender stereotypes and gender-appropriate behaviour. A qualitative framework was selected to explore the participants’ perceptions of gender identity. The data collection process took the form of two focus groups and five individual interviews. The participants were identified by means of convenience and snowball sampling. The data was analysed by using thematic analysis. The research findings confirmed and, in some instances, contradicted previous research studies on gender identity. The research study indicated that the conceptualisation of gender identity has evolved with time. In addition, there was evidence that gender identity was informed by internal and external processes. It was noted that gender identity is a complex construct and is best understood as occurring on a continuum that includes femininity, androgyny and masculinity. It was also noted that gender identity is influenced by processes such as social categorisation, gender stereotypes and larger societal systems. There was evidence that gender identity can be conceptualised on the basis of personal story construction. Some limitations of the research study were identified, and these may assist in directing future studies in this specific area.