Nature vs. Nurture; The Great Debate
One of the most controversial debates of modern society is the idea that our natures and how we are nurtured are in conflict with each other to determine what defines who we are. When one attempts to define sex and gender, he/she often finds him/herself stumped as to what the definitions are. More so, one is puzzled by where the came from. How do nature and nurture influence the definitions of sex and gender? To understand how nature and nurture affect these definitions, we must first know what they are. Sex is biological while gender is socially constructed. Genes produce sex. It exists in itself, and is sublimely indifferent to what humans think of it. Gender is the meanings that society assigns to sex. Richard Mulcaster wrote the words, Nature makes the boy toward, nurture sees him forward. Even though nature plays a role in defining sex and gender, nurture plays the greater part in helping society define the two terms.
Definitions come from that which is learned, not that which is part of our genetic system. John Locke believed that all people were born with a blank slate (a tabula rasa.) Him and other Empiricists thought that experiences were written into the mind and that every aspect of human behavior is acquired from the environment that surrounds them. Take for example the story which Susan Baxter tells in her article The Last Word on Gender Differences of the boy who was castrated at birth and raised as a girl.
Amazingly, this boy had an identical twin brother, which made it possible to compare two genetically identical individuals raised as a boy and a girl… our hero became the perfect little girl, the very picture of adorable femininity. (Baxter 52)
This boy was clearly raised as a girl and he grew up thinking of himself as a girl. He was not born as a female and he did not have a predetermined image of himself as one. This boy grew up as a girl because throughout his life he was told that he was a girl and he was taught to be feminine. His twin brother who had the exact genetic make up grew up as a boy because he was treated like one. Since the mind is born with a tabula rasa, the person will learn from what others teach him and from experience. The boy was taught that he was a girl so hem came to believe it, just as we are taught the definitions of sex and gender by our parents, peers, teachers, etc.
Because gender is a socially constructed ideal it must be taught to us and not innate. It seems pointless for one to argue that the definition of sex comes from what nature gave us. The definition is clearly related to the dimorphism in humans. Gender on the other hand is taught to one. In society we have preconceived ideas of what males and females should act like. This is what gender basically is. To take an example from the current world; in countries like Pakistan men are clearly more dominant than women. However, in countries like America men and women are seen as pretty close to equal. The men born into the cultures of countries like Pakistan are not born with a different gene than men in America that makes them dominate over women. The males in Pakistan are taught by their elders and see through their experiences that women are inferior to them.
Societys predetermined ideas on the definitions of sex and gender also may be causing people to act certain ways.He had long, blond hair, and a waitress came up to us and said, Oh, shes so cute. What a sweetie, and so on. And I said, Well, hes actually a boy. The waitress without missing a beat, said, Tough little guy, huh? (Baxter 52) The waitress immediately changed her tone of voice and the way she talked just because she found out that the child was actually a boy. Societys idea that boys must be tough was implanted in her and she is passing that idea on to the boy. A boy must be tough and a girl must be cute. This boy was cute so he must have been a girl. Soc
Parents are always trying to influence their children into fitting the mold that society has cut out for them. Boys must play sports; girls must play with Barbie dolls. If a child is out of the norm they are castigated by out judgmental society. If little Johnny showed a predilection for wearing pink hair ribbons and nail polish, wouldnt these same gender-blind parents gently but firmly dissuade him? (Baxter 53) Why would one want to be abnormal from society and act different from others? People are always taught that normal is the best way to be. A girl who is bright enough to solve a quadratic equation is smart enough to bat her eyelashes and pretend she cant. (Baxter 85) To be different in this world is to be wrong.
People do not want to fall out of the definitions that are set up for sex and gender. Had the definitions been due to nature people would not have preconceived notions about the way males and females should act. Everyone would act according to his or her genes and then all males would act the same and all females would act the same. Because all humans act differently due to theirs being nurtured differently, society feels the need to set limits upon what sex and gender differences should be.
Nature versus nurture is an ideal that is greatly argued. For example, it might be argued that little Timmy is afraid of big dogs because it is a healthy biological response rooted deep in DNA coding. But isnt it more that he is afraid because he has learned from peers that being afraid is the socially acceptable thing to do. No one will ever truly know where our definitions come form. But while it is true to say that nature starts the process, nurture play it and in the end finishes it. The trouble is that sometimes people see societys ideas about the way sex and gender are as scientific truth.
Theories are most successful when they let us believe that our social prejudices are scientific facts after all. (Baxter 53)