Nature vs Nurture

Nature & Nurture: Pertaining to Gender

I should start by saying I was prompted to write by reading this article, which I don’t really recommend reading unless you enjoy being lambasted by male privilege and gender essentialism. In summary, the piece pays lip service to exceptions to gender stereotypes, conflates sex and gender (it’s the “way we were made … no matter how much post-graduate work you do”), and then goes on to list the author’s personal conjectures distinguishing men’s and women’s shopping habits. No sources are cited.

My favorite part of the article is when the author says, “But, unlike Women’s Studies professors, I love and celebrate our gender differences,” which one can effectively rewrite as “But, unlike people who study gender disparity for a living, I think reinforcing stereotypes consistent with a dichotomous gender paradigm is great and not terrible.”

I don’t want to ascribe too much weight to this article since one has to do a weirdly specific Google search to find it (long story), but the dude apparently has a radio show, and the notion of gender being majorly a product of biology is out there, so I want to devote some time to deconstructing gender identity and behavioralism and the discourse of nature vs. nurture.

First of all, babies are crazy geniuses designed to take in copious amounts of information from their environments and adapt and develop accordingly. Even when studies are done with babies, it is really difficult to say which facets of an individual are attributable to genetics and which can be attributed to external influences. It will probably be a long, long time before scientists can parse these things out with any indisputable accuracy.

But it’s both, okay? It’s both. Either aspect might be more significant depending on the person, the behavioral facet, and the context, but, generally speaking, who we are is a complex fabric of physiology and environmental influence. It’s both. Biologists, meet Sociologists; Sociologists, Biologists. Now that we’re all introduced, maybe our Psychologist hosts can put on some relaxing Skrillex while we all have a seat, sip some wine, and acknowledge the validity of each other’s professional fields.

Gender is not exempt from either influence, so when someone asserts that “boys will be boys” because they are “made that way,” a critiquing response is “yes, but not strictly as a consequence of converging genes creating an unchanging somatic being, as there are also external stimuli that affect us tremendously,” and a feminist response is “yes, and what can and should we do about it?” Boys can be boys, fine, but neither biology nor environmental influence is justification for behaviors and attitudes that subjugate groups of people. The wonderful thing about environmental influence is that we have an element of control over it, which is why I think feminism often focuses on cultural mindsets and sociological patterns.

What is perplexing to me is when people point to evidence of biological impact on behavior and identity, and say “this is the way it is!” as if that’s a reason to leave it alone. If biology, rather than sociology, is the major determinant of men inflicting domestic and sexual violence on women, or men marginalizing other men who emulate stereotypically feminine traits as “pussies,” or men dominating the work force, or men being violent and emotionally stunted, or people venerating and emulating these men or these traits in men, or people limiting individuals to two gender boxes, or people slut shaming women, or women being perceived as performative and men as normative—if biology is a major determining factor in these things, that is all the more reason to muster the strength to combat it with every tool we have.

Barring scientific advances that would inspire some intense philosophical GATTACA-related discussions , we can’t really do anything about biology. We can respond to it—so in that sense and the medical sense I think it’s important to have an understanding of biology and generalized tendencies—but biology is embedded innately, so when we look to reform gender and our understanding of gender, we necessarily look outward at our culture.

Nature or nurture? The short answer is both—but nature is not a defense for sexism, and nurture is the mode of reform.

Categories: evo-psych, sexism | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Nature vs Nurture

  1. I give this the greatest applause ever: *clapclapclapclapclap* Way to go, someone finally tells it like it really is by looking at all options and calmly determining “Yeah, it’s both. Sexism’s still bad, though. Get over those expectations, already.” This rocks.

  2. Everyone keeps framing the nature vs nurture debate in the wrong light. The key is to think about the situation in terms of ranges. For all but a few extreme examples the potential range of expression for any given trait is determined by biology. Then environmental factors are going to influence development and behavior to determine where within that range the trait is going to be expressed at any given time.

    I wrote about this a bit recently and if you find the above interesting feel free to check out my article on the topic:

  3. Your entire blog, or something relevant to this discussion?

  4. Pingback: Feminism and Consumers and Conscience | Being Feminist

  5. SamT.

    Excellent article, though it surprises me that people are still using only one argument or the other these days. When I was in grad school in the mid-80’s, this debate reached a fever pitch with the advent of Sociobiology, a lame attempt to justify all sorts of behavior by citing biology as the reason, turning various thugs into supposed genetically controlled puppets whenever they committed a crime.

    I was violently against this concept until Jane Goodall’s discover of how violent our closest relatives, chimpanzees, actually are. I have reformed my assessment of humans, not to say that men are men because of genetics, but that all humans are nasty and brutish (if not short!), because of evolution…or rather, a horrible mistake in evolution that will hopefully result in our extinction. Why do I wish this? I wish it because we have not been able, as a species, to fix this mistake ourselves, for all our “culture”. We are ruining the planet and taking a lot of innocent species with us on the way out!

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