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Nature and Nurture in Gender

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    In the field of gender studies, an issue that has recently become quite controversial, is the debate over when a child establishes their own sense of gender identity. John Money argues that both nature and nurture, together, play a role in establishing one’s gender. Money is completely correct; there is not one specific instance in a child’s life that will lead them to determine their gender role; however, it is the accumulation of experiences and exposure to different environments and situations that will lead one to determine their gender identity.

    It is important to understand that each child develops differently and will determine their gender identity according to individual situations. Surroundings, such as media and friends can also heavily influence one’s formation of gender identity. Probably the most influential role in one’s determination of gender, is the role of the parent. Today, there are so many specific ‘roles’ applied to a specific gender, that, for some, determining a gender has become quite difficult.

    John Money brings up the important argument that both nature and nurture play a role in the establishment of one’s gender. Money implements the fact that nature and nurture work together in determining gender roles. Nurture, such as outside surroundings, like media and family, can impact the way one interprets gender roles and what identities belong to each gender. Nature, which is the feelings that one gets from their inner self as well as through one’s genetic make-up, can also be a big factor in determining gender.

    In James Reed’s article, “Gender Role: The Early History of a Concept,” Money is quoted as stating that, “psychologically, sexuality is undifferentiated at birth and it becomes differentiated as masculine or feminine in the course of the various experiences of growing up” (497). Money’s argument makes a very good point as he states that gender identity can not be determined by one simple factor, but it is determined by numerous amounts of events that happen within one’s lifetime. The time when a child will determine their sense of gender is unknown to anyone, even to that child.

    The child will not know the age at which they will be completely able to determine their gender until it happens. This happens because each child develops at a different rate and is exposed to many different types of situations that can influence their determination of a gender role. As displayed in the “Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part” article, written by Jenny Nordberg, many children are put through similar situations, but not all react in the same manner. Azita Rafaat was one of the many young girls who was dressed up as a boy when she was younger in order to give her family credibility and a little bit more freedom.

    She was one of the girls who did not find the transformation from being dressed up as a boy back to being a girl difficult, but just irritating. However, Miina was one of the many young girls who was dressed up as a boy, but did not want to be. Miina tried on her sisters’ clothing when she was home and longed to go out of her home without having to wear slacks and tee shirts (1-6). Afghanistan is not the only place where it is unknown when children develop their gender identity, but this is a problem all over the world. Parents have the biggest influence on their children.

    Not only do parents set the standard for what is wrong and right within the family, but they also set the standard for how children should act depending on their sex. Parents have preconceived notions of roles that are applied to each gender respectively, that they inherently teach to their children. Sometimes parents may intentionally teach their children gender roles that are opposite of their sex in order to benefit the family. As found in Nordman’s article, in Afghanistan if a family does not give birth to a boy, then that family is considered to be less than those families who do have boys.

    Due to the socioeconomic pressures to have a boy, some families will dress their daughters up as boys and send them off to work (“Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part 1). Previously, it was taught that women were inferior to men and did not have the same capabilities as men. This notion may still be deep-rooted in some parent’s heads, which they may teach their children, but that notion has been discredited in Plato’s excerpt, The Role of Women in the Ideal Society. Plato states that if women are given the same lessons in life as a man, then they will have the same abilities as a man would (425).

    Men and women do not have the same genetical make-up, which sometimes results in them being raised differently, but if they were raised under the same exact circumstances they would be able to perform the same as each other. Money has made the point clear that it is not either nature or nurture that can bring one to determine their gender identity, but it is both combined. Money is completely correct in his argument, because it is impossible to disregard specific occurrences that can and usually do influence gender formation. Growing up, nurture plays a big role in children’s lives.

    Parents are children’s biggest role models from day one and they set the standards of what is considered wrong and right within each family. Not only do parents influence children, but the outside world, such as media, and also friends can play a big role in giving children ideas of how they should or should not act depending on which gender they are. Characteristics are attributed with each gender, such as “real” women do not do math (Campbell 4). This type of characteristic can lead children to thinking that they may be a different gender than they really are if they want to wear a specific color.

    As adults we know this is not true, but children are still learning and they rely heavily on their surroundings to learn what is the norm of society. Taking into consideration the impacts that nurture have on a child, it is also very important to remember that nature also plays a big role. How children truly feel inside will always influence the specific gender roles that they choose to follow. For most children, they may follow the norms of society and base their gender identity on their genitalia. For others, they may not feel drawn to follow the gender roles associated with their sex.

    A prime example of this is shown in one of Money’s case studies in which “a twenty-four-year-old subject who was a genetic female but had lived his whole life as a male” was able to relate with male attributes, not female (qtd. in Reed 497). How a person really feels, despite their genitalia, will determine the gender role they decide to adopt. The enormous amount of particular roles that are associated with a specific gender make it even harder for some people to determine a gender. A list of gender norms and violations was posted online by Dr. Pam Haley.

    This list includes examples such as “men use tools; men belch; men give women flowers; women wear make-up; women go shopping, men don’t” and many more (Haley). It is considered a violation of the norms of society if a man were to wear make-up or if a women were to use tools. These gender norms and violations may not seem like a big deal, but to one who is determining their gender identity, trying to follow all the norms and violations may make identifying with a specific gender very difficult. It is not set in stone that you have to be a man to use tools and there are plenty of women in the world who know more about tools than a lot of men.

    This may seem like common sense that you do not have to qualify with every societal norm to be a certain gender, but to someone who is still a child and trying to determine their gender identity, this may all seem confusing. The most reasonable explanation of figuring out how a child determines their gender may be by observing and accounting the roles of nature and nurture in the child’s upbringing, some people argue that this is not the case. There are many people who think that gender is determined by sex and that is the only factor.

    If there were no outside factors that could have an impact on one’s determination of gender, then the sex of a person would be an excellent explanation as to how one chose their gender. It is apparent though, that this is not the case. There are family members, friends, media, biology, and many other factors to take into consideration when determining gender. Both nature and nurture, together, are what bring a child to be abel to determine their gender identity.

    Works Cited

    Campbell Ph. D, Patricia B. “Girls Are… Boys Are… : Myths, Stereotypes & Gender Differences. ” Office of Educational Research and Improvement U. S. Department of Education. Web. 1 Mar. 2011. . Haley, Dr. Pam. “Gender Norms and Violations. ” Social and Cultural Anthropology 2007-08. 10 Dec. 2001. Web. Nordberg, Jenny. “”Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part”” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Sept. 2010. Web. Plato. “ ‘The Role of Women in the Ideal Society’ from The Republic. ” Vesterman 424-431. Print. Reed, James. “Gender Role: The Early History of a Concept. ” Vesterman 492-501. Print. Vesterman, William. Great Interdisciplinary Ideas: a Reader for Writers. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. Print.

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