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As an aspect of role theory, gender role theory "treats these differing distributions of women and men into roles as the primary origin of sex-differentiated social behavior, their impact on behavior is mediated by psychological and social processes." in works such as Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, contends that being female is not "natural" and that it appears natural only through repeated performances of gender; these performances in turn, reproduce and define the traditional categories of sex and/or gender.It compared a strictly traditional view of gender roles (from an industrial-age American perspective) with a more liberal view.In the 1940s, Albert Ellis studied eighty-four cases of mixed births and concluded that 'while the power of the human sex drive may possibly be largely dependent on physiological factors...the direction of this drive does not seem to be directly dependent on constitutional element'."In the 1950s, John Money, along with colleagues took up the study of intersex individuals, who, Money realized 'would provide invaluable material for the comparative study for bodily form and physiology, rearing, and psychosexual orientation'." Among the many terms he coined was gender role which he defined in a seminal 1955 paper as "all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman." In recent years, the majority of Money's theories regarding the importance of socialization in the determination of gender have come under intense criticism, especially in connection with the false reporting of success in the "John/Joan" case, later revealed to be David Reimer.

In Hofstede’s view, masculinity and femininity differ in the social roles that are associated with the biological fact of the existence of the two sexes: masculinity and femininity refer to the dominant sex role pattern in the vast majority of both traditional and modern societies, males being more assertive and females more nurturing.Most children learn to categorize themselves by gender by the age of three.From birth, in the course of gender socialization, children learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and environment.Additionally, fulfilling one's prescribed gender roles has been correlated with increased self-esteem, and vice versa.Some theories – which are collectively termed social construction theories – claim that gender behavior is mostly due to social conventions, although opposing theories disagree, such as theories in evolutionary psychology.

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