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Discuss the nature v nurture debate in gender development

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There are generally two sides to the nature versus nurture debate of gender. The nature side of the argument states sex and gender is for the most part, biologically determined and that the two sexes think and act differently, often in opposing ways. Also that gender is fixed and not much changing across cultures and time periods. On the other side of the debate is nurture. The nurture side of the debate states that gender which is the way that sex is shown in the outside world, is socially manufactured. They believe that men and women are taught explicitly and implicitly how to be men and women. The nature side of the debate states that gender is biologically determined. This would explain the strong relationship between a person’s sex and their gender. The physical differences between females and males serve an important evolutionary function. They allow males and females to come together and reproduce. The desire to reproduce and pass on genes is one of the basic instincts of any animal including humans. The masculine and feminine behaviours may also be instinctive. Evidence shows that Women seek out such men when choosing a mate. Similarly men are interested in women who are in a good position to provide them with offspring. Buss investigated the heterosexual mate preference of men and women.

The survey was carried out in 37 countries. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of a wide range traits in a potential mate. Men rated good looks, youth and chastity higher than women and women rated good financial prospects, industriousness and dependability. This supports the evolutionary theory that women and men instinctively seek out different traits in potential mates. This study used questionnaires which mean the questions were pre-set. This means that respondents were not able to offer other traits that they may have regarded as important besides the ones that buss has listed. Cross-cultural research such as that of Buss is useful in the nature-nurture debate. If behaviour is a product of human nature, then it should occur across the world regardless of experience and upbringing. Buss’s research indicates that sex-based mate preferences are also universal and so must be determined by nature. There are problems with the nature argument.

Nature doesn’t explain those cases where a person does not adopt the gender roles expected of their sex even when there are no genetic abnormalities. In addition it doesn’t explain how the findings that both sexes are becoming more similar as gender roles become more androgynous. There is also a body of evidence to show that males and females have different roles in different societies. Although Buss found some universalities in gender related behaviour, other cross-cultural research has highlighted cultural variations in gender related behaviour. One of the earliest and most well known researchers on cross-cultural research into gender is Margaret Mead. She investigates the similarities and differences across gender roles in different cultures. Mead carried out a detailed ethnographic study by living with various tribes in New Guinea for six months. In the Arapesh tribe, both sexes were feminine. Both parents were said to bear a child which meant the men also took to bed while the baby was born.

In the Mundugamor tribe, both sexes were masculine,. Both parents detested childcare so much that sleeping babies were hung out of the way in a dark place. In the Tchambuli tribe, gender roles were reversed compared to western society. Females were very independent and took care of trading meanwhile makes sat around in groups, gossiping and preening themselves. Mead concluded that gender roles were dependent on cultures. In most societies, women are the careers and the men breadwinners but this is not the case all over the world. Mead carried out a very detailed observation of the tribes she lived with but on doing so she may have become too involved. For this reason, her findings are sometimes criticised to being too subjective. Mead was accused of bias in the way she interpreted her findings. The exaggerated the similarities between the sexes in the Arapesh and Mundugamor tribes. She also under-stated the fact that males were more aggressive than females in all of the tribes.

Even in the Tchambuli tribe, it was the men who did the majority of fighting in times of war. This may support the theory that some gender –specific behaviours are innate. The nurture side of the debate states gender is essentially a product of socialisation. It is dependent on environmental experiences. Family upbringing and society’s expectation would therefore play an important role in gender. This would then mean that most boys learn to behave masculine and girls learn to behave a feminine way. The nurture argument can explain why some people, adopt the gender role not expected of their sex. In theory, a feminine boy would have had some experiences that had led him to acquire a different gender role from most boys. If gender roles are nurtured, it also explains why an individual’s gender may change over time as anything that is learnt can be unlearnt and replaced with a new set of behaviours. The nurture argument also explains cultural variations in gender related behaviour. What distinguishes one culture from another is the fact that they have their own set of beliefs, values and norms.

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