There is a huge debate on what the influence of culture and customs is on gender differences. There are two different points of view which can be roughly described as nature vs. nurture. Of course those are the extremes and there are people that have viewpoints somewhere in the middle. What is truth? Let’s find out.
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Let’s first explore what the two starting points are where people are coming from. This is where most of the differences in point of view originate so it’s important to understand them.
There are two places you can start thinking from and they’re pretty much opposite each other.
The first starting point is nature or biology and also includes genetics.
This is the idea that all differences are the result of differences in biology. That means that all differences between people are purely biological. This means that upbringing has nothing to do with who you are as a person.
Coming from a “blank slate” idea that everyone is the same and there are no differences between the genders at birth.
That means that all differences between people are the result of societal pressures, upbringing and other indoctrination.
This also immediately explains what the phrase “social construct” means. It means that all differences between people are constructed by social interactions.
In the context of gender that means that a boy and a girl would grow up to be exactly the same if they were treated, taught and raised in the exact same way.
So which one is correct? Well, it seems pretty obvious to me that there are arguments that both viewpoints are wrong.
It’s much more likely that there is a balance between the two.
The blank slate argument has pretty much been disproved by Steven Pinker in his 2002 book with that exact same name.
At the same time there is evidence that genetics have a very large role in how people turn out. Check out the results of this famous twins study. (Click)
Ok, most reasonable people won’t believe that differences between people are purely the result of one or the other. Although there seems to be a growing amount of people that believe that nurture is 100% responsible for creating masculinity and femininity.
Most people will believe that both nature and nurture have an influence on how people turn out. Truth is rarely found in extreme positions. Most things in life have some sort of balance to them.
The same article as linked above, quotes a study that found that 70% of IQ is genetic and 30% is environment. 30% is not nothing, optimizing this part can mean a huge difference in IQ regardless of where you start.
It seems that character and personality might have a similar balance between nature and nurture.
Now let’s apply that idea to gender differences. Let’s say 70% of personality is nature and 30% is nurture.
There is some data to suggest that there are differences in brain structure from birth although some researchers are critical of the results, saying they’re “agenda driven”. Which is something you can also say about that critique of course.
There are also studies that show that fetuses are subjected to different levels of hormones depending on the gender. (Click)
So it’s likely that there are some differences between the genders from birth besides just plumbing.
Besides differences from birth, there are huge differences occurring after birth as well. The biggest differences probably being testosterone and estrogen.
Check out these normal testosterone levels by gender and age.
From 0 to 5 months old, boys have testosterone levels that are 4-5x higher than girls. Then until puberty it’s about the same but then, when puberty strikes, the differences become huge.
The environment can certainly have an effect on your hormone levels. However, it seems very unlikely that such differences in hormone levels (more than 10x during puberty) could be an effect of environment.
Since hormones have a big impact on how you feel, act and develop, it seems fair to say there are biological differences between men and women that are unrelated to environment.
Interplay between nature and nurture
Besides the pure influences of nature and nurture, there is something else to keep in mind in my opinion.
The natural parts of masculinity have probably dictated a big part of cultural parts of masculinity. Many parts of our traditional gender roles were just logical from a biological perspective.
Pregnant women can’t go out to hunt. Since there was no baby formula, you had to breast feed. Guess what? Men don’t produce breast milk. That means a man had to do and learn certain things like hunting, fishing, exploring, protecting, etc, if you wanted to successfully reproduce.
So in that sense, a part of masculinity is societal BUT, it is a result of biological differences.
And in turn, these partly learned masculine behaviors have probably made their way into genetics, making it part of the biology.
How? Sexual selection.
- Most men and women are attracted to things that are likely to help in reproducing successfully.->
- Masculine traits in men help with successfully reproducing. ->
- This makes masculine traits attractive to women. ->
- Men who naturally exhibited more talent for certain things became better at them, therefore being perceived as more masculine. ->
- This makes those naturally masculine men more attractive to women to reproduce with. ->
- This results in those traits being reproduced more often than other traits.->
- Now these traits are encoded in the genetics.
Ok. But, we’re not living in the past, I can almost hear you thinking. Maybe masculinity should change in the modern world? A few questions to think about;
- Is it reasonable to ask a whole gender to change their genetics?
- Do we know which purposes masculinity and femininity serve?
- If masculinity should change, does femininity have to change?
- Why are most women still attracted to masculinity and vice versa?
- Do we know how the world will change in the future?
I think we don’t understand many intricacies of the gender differences and their purposes. I also think people that advocate for changing masculinity do so from a misguided perspective. Why don’t we let nature take its course and prevent throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
So masculinity is a social construct?
No, at least not in the sense that boys and girls would be the same if raised the same.
That view is way too simplistic. So simplistic that it’s simply wrong. The view that everyone is the same at birth and all differences are the result of society’s influences is just not correct.
Which ratio there is exactly between nature and nurture is hard to say but, they both have an influence.
The fact that (at least a part of) personality is a result of biology should be enough to debunk the theory that men and women are the same from birth. If men and women are not exactly the same from birth, it’s unreasonable to say that later differences are all the result of society.
There can be differences between people as a result of environment. That is however not the full story.
Hi there. I’m BetterDaily. I’m a man in his early thirties that likes to travel, ride motorcycles, work out and write. Usually I write about men, things related to masculinity and things men like. Teacher by day, blogger by night.