What would be your first thought if
the toy
preferences were reversed?
Even though many of us do not give serious
thought as to what makes us feel like a man or
a woman, our gender does factor into our
Scholars are divided about the degree to which
inborn biological characteristics have an
enduring impact on our gender identities as
“feminine” or “masculine.”
First of all, some important distinctions:
SEX refers to the physical differences of the
GENDER concerns the psychological, social,
and cultural differences between males and
These distinctions are important since many
differences between males and females are not
biological in origin!
How much are the differences in the behavior
of men and women the result of biological
differences? The opinions of researchers are
Some hold that innate differences between men
and women appear in some form in all cultures
(ex: in almost all cultures, men rather than
women take part in hunting and warfare).
Most sociologists are unconvinced by these
ideas. The behaviors of men and women varies
widely among different cultures.
Moreover, theories about these “natural
differences” are often grounded in data on
animal behavior, rather than in anthropological
or historical evidence about human behavior,
which reveals variation over time and place.
Hey, there are not many images of primitive woman on
Gimme a break! Also, don’t ask me what these bubbles
Some have also pointed to the hormonal
makeup between men and women to explain
differences. For example, testosterone’s ability
to induce aggressive behavior.
This may explain behavior differences, but
research on monkeys has also shown that
aggressive behavior may affect the production
of the hormone testosterone rather than the
hormone’s causing increased aggression!
Another source of information comes from the
experience of identical twins. In a famous case
in the 1960’s involving a botched circumcision,
the parents were encouraged to raise their son
David as a girl, Brenda. The physician, Dr. John
Money, argued that biology did not shape one’s
gender…social learning did!
Now you know why so many teachers wear such professional
You could grate cheese on these things!
After a botched
circumcision, David
Reimer’s (top left) parents
were encouraged by Dr.
John Money to raise
their son as a girl named
Brenda (bottom left).
Despite hormone treatment
and a hefty dose of being
socialized as
a girl, David was never able
to shake his inner sense of
himself as a boy.
Another route to take in understanding the
origins of gender differences is the study of
gender socialization.
In this theory, people create gender through
their social interactions with others, such as
family members, friends, and colleagues.
This process begins at birth when doctors,
nurses, and family members assign the infant to
a gender category (boy/girl). Once the child is
dressed in appropriate colors, everyone who
interacts with the child will treat it in
accordance with its gender.
They do so on the basis of the society’s
assumptions, which lead people to treat women
and women differently.
How many of you have participated
in “No Shave November” because of
an inner sense of living out your rugged,
manly, biological hairy desires or
because society condones it as a “guy
thing” to do?
And, ladies, WHY DO YOU LOVE PINK? Is
some inner desire that compels you to wear
color or is it something that has been forced
on you since the day you were born? Eh?
So, in summation, some believe that there is a
biological basis to gender differences. The
biological distinction between the sexes
provides a framework that becomes culturally
elaborated in society itself.
In contrast to this, others reject all biological
bases for gender differences. Our gender
identities emerge, they argue, in relation to
perceived sex differences in society and in turn
help to shape those differences.
Think of your daily routine as a man or a
woman. How do you “do gender” in your daily
interactions with others? Do you do these things
based on some inward feeling or do you think
societal expectations have caused you to
participate in them?