In this essay the claim ‘gender is determined by biology’ will be critically examined. Sociologist’s concern is whether men and women are the product of biological or cultural and environmental factors. They raise the argument for nature versus nurture, as to whether men and women differ naturally or are the differences influenced by societies and cultures. Sociologists who claim gender is determined by nurture say that some of the behaviour displayed by men and women is developed through the social learning of male and female identities. They claim our gender is socially constructed, learnt behaviour. Sociologists who claim gender is determined by nature argue that it is a hormonal process, which determines our gender. Their perspective argues that by our very nature it is our gender roles, which are determined by biology. Gender roles that do not fit this pattern are considered deviant.
By examining the evidence for both sides of the argument, nature versus nurture, this essay will give more insight and understanding into each theory. The evidence in this essay will show and support the claim ‘gender is determined by biology’. It will show that it is a biological process that determines our gender. This essay will show examples of how males and females are biologically determined and how trials into nature versus nurture can go drastically wrong.
Nature versus nurture arguments attribute to the social roles performed by men and women and the underlying biological structures, in particular hormonal differences and reproductive differences. It is suggested that women nurture and men go out to work. The functionalist sociologist Parsons in the 1950s argues that there are natural differences between men and women and that they are suited to particular roles in society. It is the woman’s role to look after the family and stay at home and it is the man’s role to provide and go out to work. The one thing that virtually every professional scientist and researcher can agree on is that the brains of men and women are different (Moir and Jessel, 1989).
Moir and Jessel’s argument for biology determining our gender supports the pre-natal hormone theory that is based on the production of hormones at particular stages and times in the lives of males and females. The key differences between males and females are laid down approximately around six weeks when the male foetus starts to produce hormones different from those of the female. In the male foetus, male hormones such as testosterone are released. These hormones help to determine the thought processes and emotions. Moir and Jessel argue that these hormonal changes in the brain have an effect on personality and capabilities.
In summing this up, they are claiming that men and women’s brains are wired differently due to these hormonal releases. At adolescence other hormones are released in the male exaggerating and confirming further the differences between males and females. Moir and Jessel further suggest that in women it is language and social skills, which are controlled by both sides of the brain. Though it is suggested in men they are more single-minded only concentrating on more factual information enabling them to focus and come to conclusions and decisions quicker than women could. These differences have an impact on men and women’s social structures and it is this theory, which shows evidence of a range of gender differences. For example it is suggested that women don’t have as many high status jobs as men, as they do not possess the same drive as men. Men appear to be more aggressive and competitive (Moir and Jessel, 1989).
It appears that men play a very limited role in the home. A women’s upbringing is supposed to prepare her to be more sub servant and men are socialised to believe that they should be the providers. The women are supposed to be more emotionally supportive in the home, for example acting as emotional sponges mopping up male anxieties. This is because men are not supposed to cry or show emotion. Being a man in today’s society means being emotionally strong. Fathers play rough games with children whereas mothers kiss and cuddle their children (McNeill & Townley, 1986).
From a Marxist perspective it is argued that children are socialised into accepting their gender roles, these roles being learnt through the family, resulting in clearly distinguishable adult roles. The woman is seen to be at the centre of the family maintaining the environment for the family it is her responsibility to do all the housework. In her playing out this role within the family this then enables the man to operate as a stable and efficient worker. It is his responsibility to financially provide for the family (McNeill & Townley, 1986).
Many people are of the opinion that differences between the sexes can be explained biologically. It is thought that men and women possess different inherent capabilities. In the nineteenth century in Britain and USA women were not encouraged into entering further education or to vote. Some claimed that mental work was likely to damage women’s maternal organs and their reproductive potential. This is no longer the case as these arguments are no longer valid (McNeill & Townley, 1986). Although Fundamentalists recently argue the biological differences do influence our social role. Parsons chooses biology to support the following statement.
In our opinion the fundamental explanation of the allocation of roles between the biological sexes lies in the fact that the bearing and early nursing of children establish a strong presumptive primacy of the relation of mother to the small child (Parsons cited in McNeill & Townley, 1956). As it is the woman who is biologically the only one to bear children, it is seen as her role to rear them and establish strong bonds. Biological differences are seen as the basis for the sexual division of labour in society. It is suggested that the biological differences such as the physical strength of men and that women bear children, leads to the conclusion of clearly defined gender roles (McNeill & Townley, 1986).
In examining the nature versus nurture theory sociologists do not yet know how much is determined by DNA and how much is about our life experience. Though it is suggested that both forces are at play. Nature equips us with inborn abilities and traits. Nurture then takes these genetic tendencies and moulds our growth. So the debate goes on as to how much is determined by our genes and how much by our environment.
Specific genes encoded in each human cell determine eye colour and hair colour. Also the nature theory goes a step further by claiming that traits such as intelligence, personality, aggression and sexual orientation are also encoded in an individual’s DNA (Powell, 2005). Sociologist’s who argue it is nurture that determines gender believe that children learn as they grow. Their personalities develop from the environment they live in and everything they have learnt during these early years. Sociologists argue it is impossible to grow up and not be influenced by environment, society and culture (Cluff, 2005).