Human beings are born sexual. They develop a strong sense of being male and female, the human behaviour of being a man or a woman is called gender identity. The characteristics of being a man or a woman involve biological, psychological, and sociological factors. People from all cultures have acted in relationships in different ways that are influenced by their cultural traditions and laws about sex. Human sexuality and how males and females act within the relationship can be considered as physically influenced by biology, for example hormones, brain centres, networks of nerves, and sex organs all shape the character of the male and female.
However there are various arguments to this. Among the influences of gender identity, are body development and socialisation. Gender identity is related to physical appearances, feelings of attraction, wanting to dress and act in ways considered to be male and female. Cultures have acceptable roles for behaviours based on sex, called gender roles. These roles are partly determined by a person’s position within the family and economy. In Western culture the family represents a unit based on love, care and preparing the young for adult life.
Physical work outside the home in the past has been considered as part of the male role, work- related gender roles have changed. The female role was to give birth and maintain the home. A lot of social debate is about the relationship between the biological and the social. At one end of the debate there are those who see activities such as sexual behaviour entirely based on biology, they are called biological determinists who argue that there is biological bases for child rearing and different sexual orientations and also refer to pre- programmed behaviour.
At the other end of the scale are those who see sexual and other kinds of behaviour as entirely social constructed, they see that people learn their behaviour through their culture. Biological differences are believed to be responsible for differences in the behaviour of men and women and the role that they play in society. According to males and females physical characteristics, like organs that produce sex cells and different hormones, women are capable of bearing children and letting them breast-feed whereas men can not.
Also there are differences between the physique of men and women, men are usually stronger and more muscular. In 1968 Stoller said that it does not necessarily mean you have to be feminine if you are a girl or masculine if you are a boy. Girls should not always be presumed, as caring and expressive and boys do not have to be aggressive and competitive. Anne Oakly (1972) takes Stollers argument a step further. She states that feminine roles, such as housewives and mothers who look after their children do not initially take part in these tasks from a result of human biology.
With men she believes that just by being male does not mean that they have to be the breadwinner in the family. Stoller and Oakly refer to female and males roles in society as a result of their culture, based on actions and norms learnt in their society. Many sociologists support this position, but not all. Some believe it is ‘natural’ for men and women to act differently, this is supported by many scientists, some psychologists and sociologists. Some scientists believe male and female s behave differently and perform different social roles through their differences between hormones and brain activity.
They state that hormones are linked to the activity of the brain, which can influence the nervous system, which can in turn influence behaviour, personality and emotions. This has been tested through animal experimentation. Some studies showed a link between testerone levels in human males and aggression. Others showed how castrated male rats tend to fight less, while female rats given extra hormones are more aggressive in life than those who have not been given them.
This has been criticised by Ruth Bleier (1984), who states that there are numerous flaws in animal experiments, because it would be dangerous to assume that humans behave exactly like animals, furthermore the experiments that were carried out where under un-natural circumstances (laboratory conditions). Anne Oakly agrees with this argument and backs up the criticism of the hormonal explanations by referring to a study she carried out consisting of a boy who underwent an operation at seven months so that she took on the appearance of a girl.
At seventeen months old her name was changed from a boy to a girl and later she was dressed in girls clothes. Afterwards her mother commented on how feminine she had become. This strongly suggests that it is environmental influences that have changed her behaviour and not biological matters, because no changes to hormones in the brain were made. There are claims that hormones have indirect and direct effects on the male and female brain. A research of brain lateralization has been produced, which looks at the hemispheres of the brain.
According to Gray and Buffrey, hormonal differences do make a difference. Tests have shown that girls have a greater verbal ability than boys, however boys perform better in mathematics. Bleier opposes this, she says that the difference could result from differences in socialisation rather than brain lateraliztion. ‘Gender differences were noted, are small, and are almost certainly exacerbated by social factors’. Evolutionary ideas have also been a way to try and understand the difference between males and females, today this is called socio-biology, sociologists such as E.
O Wilson argue that it is not just physical characteristics that evolve but also behaviour patterns. Barash backs this up by pointing out that males produce millions of sperm during their life, whereas females produce one egg at a time and only 400 in her life. The male is also interested in making as many women pregnant as possible, the female acts differently and takes a lot of time and energy in the pregnancy progress, so looks for quality in who she has sex with. Therefore she chooses the most genetically suitable male partners.
Wilson says that ‘it pays to be aggressive, hasty, fickle and undiscriminating. In theory, it is more profitable for women to be coy, to hold back until they can identify males with the best possible genes’. Wilson also claims that rape can be explained in this way. Wilson and Barash see that a women always knows that her child is certainly hers, therefore be more willing to perform care towards the child, further more be willing to be a housewife in a modern society. The larger and more aggressive males will be more successful, females have no need to act in this way.
This leads to the dominance of males over females. Wilson realises that males and females do not always hold the same behaviour patterns and conform to their typical gender role, but if they don’t he says it goes against their ‘biological predisposition’s’ and makes them less efficient in maintaining the human race. Criticisms of sociobology are also taking place, by stating there is no evidence to support these ideas. Steven Rose and Leon Kamin, and R. C Lewontin believe that that humans and animals are different in the way that there behaviour is shaped.
Their environment rather than instinct shape human behaviour. ‘A child is born with the few of its neural pathways already committed. During its long infancy connections between nerve cells are formed not merely on the basis of specific epigenetic programming but in the light of experience’. Bleier (1984) criticises socio-biology, she sees that sociobiologists do not look at other societies in the world that go against the grain, of if your male we can assume you are assertive and if your female we can assume you are coy.
She believes Wilson and Barash assume everybody acts to that in the white capitalist world. Oakly gives proof that some women are far from ‘coy’ by studying other societies such as Lesu, Kurtatchi, Lepcha, Kwoma and Mataco where women take the lead role in a relationship. Oakly also noticed how Wilson and Barash left out examples of animal behaviour where males were not aggressive and dominant. She believes sociobiologists leave out evidence that contradicts their view.
Feminists believe it is excuses for an attempt to provide ‘scientific evidence’ for male power. Another problem with socio-biology is that it can not explain any reasons for homosexuality or people who don’t want sex (celibacy), that stop the passing on gene to offspring. Another view on the matter comes from George Peter Murdock (anthropologist) who believes that biological differences between men and women are the basis of sexual division of labour in society (1949).
He referred to the simple biological differences in men and women that led to gender roles out of practicality. Men have more strength and women can bear children, and this organises the society. Men can work and women can have children and look after them, because of her biological function the women is tied to the home and her physique means she is limited to tasks that need strength. Talcott Parsons (1955) believed that because women gave birth and nursed their children they automatically had a stronger relationship with them.
Bowlby made many studies on youths that had committed crime and found many were psychologically disturbed because of being separated from mother at an early age. So were mother and child meant to stay together in the early years of the child’s life? Or is it a matter of a child needing a responsible parent male or female instead to stop children becoming disturbed? Oakly studied a number of societies where biology has little influence and in some cases none which can go against the view of Parsons, who she accuses of basing his work on beliefs and values of his culture.
Oakly mainly believes that gender roles are not biologically defined but are culturally, evidence from other societies back this, biological characteristics do not keep women from certain occupations and the mother role is placed on women through their culture. In other words men and women learn the behaviour of what is expected of them in their society. She sees four main ways in which socialisation in gender roles take place. Firstly a child learns through manipulation e. g. mothers tend to pay more attention to girls hair and dress them in ‘feminine’ clothes.
Secondly the direction of boys and girls towards different objects gives them a good idea of what is expected of them in the future e. g. girls are given dolls (caring is practised) and boys bricks and guns (aggressive behaviour is practised and logic). Thirdly, verbal appellations ‘ you’re a naughty boy’ and ‘you’re a good girl’ leads children to identify with their gender. Lastly boys and girls commit to different activities, girls are encouraged to become involved in domestic tasks.
Recently there has been an increase on the explanations for differences between women and men, there are a variety of ways to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. What needs to be realised is the inequalities of different amounts of male and female hormones in people. This can effect how masculine or feminine a person is for there are no strict borders of being feminine or masculine, so can partly consist of biological matters. However more evidence suggests the individuals are shaped in their gender identities by their upbringing in life, how their culture, religion, general environment and socialisation shape their roles.