Gender Roles - Biological and Socialization Factors Debated

Gender Roles - Biological and Socialization Factors Debated

Walking by a hospital nursery and looking in it can be seen that the babies do not look very different from each other. The one thing that can be seen: pink or blue hats. At birth, a child has a sex, but based on that it will be taught different ways to function in society throughout its life. The apparent differences between men and women other than physical ones are learned rather than innate. The nature versus nurture debate is one that will probably never be settled. Many people do believe that nature is the reason children grow up the way they do, but none of these ideas have been absolutely proven to be the reason behind male and female gender roles. There are many things in life that will help socialize the child to act either masculine or feminine. Parents, media, teachers, and peers are important socializing agents for teaching the young their gender roles. Men and women will learn how to act in relationships. Roles of men and women have changed over the last century, and it has been shown that different cultures have different ideas about gender roles.

The nature versus nurture debate has been dancing around the way gender roles are established for a long time. “The limited number of proven biological differences among the sexes has been vastly exaggerated by cultural interpretations.” Although it is important to acknowledge biological differences in males and females, they are not always very convincing arguments when explaining the many differences between the two sexes. Many of the biological gender differences do not have anything to do with actual gender roles. In an article discussing this topic is stated, “researcher’s suspect that an excess of testosterone before birth enables the right hemisphere to dominate the brain, resulting in left-handedness. Since testosterone levels are higher in boys, this would explain why more boys are left-handed.” The fact that more boys are born left-handed does not have anything to do with the fact that boys and girls will act and function differently in society. The nurture side of the debate seems logical. As soon as a child is born it will be treated differently depending on its sex. A girl will be talked to more often and in a softer voice, she will be held closer and more than a boy might be. A boy will be treated more aggressively during play while a girl will be taught to be very careful.

This way of being treated starts with parents. Parents are the main socializing factor in a young child’s life and will start to teach them gender roles whether they are aware of it or not. They will dress girls in pink dresses and boys in blue pants and shirts. Once boys and girls are a bit older, the girl will be encouraged to be neat, orderly and act very feminine. Boys will be encouraged to be rough, tough and have a masculine demeanor. Parents will assign chores to children based on their sex, girls will help with dishes and vacuuming, while boys will mow the lawn and take out the garbage. These differences, though small will influence the child greatly.

The media is another powerful socializing agent for children. Children on average will watch 23 hours of T.V a week. They will see many television advertisements and shows which will convey male and female roles in a certain way and the children will notice this and think they should behave the same way. “Portraying the sexes in dated and 'traditional' roles can not only influence a child's choice of toys or clothes, but more importantly than that, television can "strongly influence what opportunities children see for future work and what sense of self respect and pride they have"” By watching T.V boys will see business men with flashy cars and think of that as a ‘mans career’, girls will see housewives and secretaries and think that is what they should become. When children are watching television they are more likely to see things through a male perspective and females will think they are to be in the background and become housewives or merely sex objects for men. “Extensive studies of television have indicated that it is males who dominate the television medium, outnumbering women, on average, by 3:1.”

Once a child is old enough to attend school they will be exposed to teachers and peers, which will help in developing their gender roles. Teachers will treat the two genders differently. In a study by psychologist Lisa Serbin it was found that teachers behaviours towards their students reinforced gender specific behaviour, “specifically when boys acted more aggressively, their teachers were more likely to reprimand them than they were to reprimand girls who acted in a similar manner.” Teachers become less of an influence on children as they get older, but they will still separate and encourage differences between male and female. For example, gym classes will be segregated into male and female classes and teachers are more likely to go easier on the girls. With school peer groups also come into play as a socializing agent. They influence gender roles also because males will do different things from female. Males are more likely to get into school sports, while girls may become part of a group like amnesty international. The gender roles are further enforced with peer groups and new information is added to how both genders think they should act in society. “Young boys show off their ‘masculine’ behaviours for girls, and girls act if they find the boys ‘masculine’ behaviours quite appealing. Girls coach each other on the ways of boys and vice versa.” It is with peer groups that girls and boys start to learn how they should act in relationships.

Throughout life, males and females see how they act differently in relationships. The male will take on the leadership role and will be the breadwinner; the female will play the housewife and be submissive. In 1980 this was stated, “Males are urged to excel, they are supposed to grow up to be powerful; they don't show their weaknesses; they are valued; they are preferred; they are encouraged more and prepared better for careers than females are; they are expected to be tough, independent, demanding, aggressive, and good problem-solvers. Women are encouraged to be good mothers, they need, therefore, to first attract a man to depend on; they are expected (by our culture) to be giving, emotional, unstable, weak, and talkative about their problems; they are valued for their looks or charm or smallness but not their strength or brains; they are expected to follow "their man" and give their lives to "their children.”

Even though it is thought that society is far developed, males still are seen to take the ‘leading’ role in many relationships. These relationship roles are seen in the media, they are taught to children by parents, teachers, peers, and other institutions. Society has changed a lot though because women have been gaining equality in relationships and many other areas of life in the past century.

Gender roles in men and women are not as strong as they were before. Women especially are seeing a change in the traditional gender roles put upon them. More women have careers and can live independently. “The Women's Movement was one of several gigantic, wonderful ground swells of freedom and idealism in the 1960's. Women all over the nation between 20 and 50 joined "consciousness raising groups" and supported each other to go to college or get a job, to ask their husbands to help with child care, cooking, and cleaning.” Men have also changed, for example, some men are becoming a “stay at home dad” while the wife continues to work and support the family. Women and men have more equal parts in today’s society, unlike the extreme differences between the two sexes in the past. "Only two centuries ago, the mental gap between the sexes was so wide that women were perceived as "closer" to animals than to men and granting them rights seemed as ludicrous as extending such rights to beasts.” This is very different from how women are perceived today, which would make the argument of biological differences determining gender roles very weak. The human brain did not change dramatically over the past century, but society has.

Another argument against gender differences being biologically set is that many other cultures do not have the same gender roles as western society. Margaret Mead studied different cultures and found that many gender roles were no different for men and women or that they were completely reversed.
“Neither the Arapesh nor the Mundugumor profit by a contrast between the sexes; Arapesh ideal is the mild, responsive man married to the mild, responsive woman; the Mundugumor ideal is the violent, aggressive man married to the violent, aggressive woman. In the third tribe, the Tchambuli, we found a genuine reversal of the sex-attitudes of our own culture, with the woman the dominant impersonal, maning partner, the man the less responsible and the emotionally dependent person.” This proves that different ways of socializing people has a much greater effect than biology on how gender differences are established.

Biological factors and socialization factors have been debated for a long time, taking into account that one of them has to be the main factor in teaching people their gender roles. By looking at different socialization agents and how they treat both males and females, it seems to lead many people into believing that gender roles are based mostly on socialization factors. Also the fact that men and women’s roles have changed throughout history makes the argument that gender roles are learned rather than inherent much more feasible. Cultures that have different or even reversed gender roles again support the nurture side of the debate because all humans have the same biological arrangement. Gender roles will keep changing throughout the future as different ways of socializing and treating both sexes are practiced in the world.