The argument about how people acquire certain traits has been one of the longest with people giving different information about how these traits are acquired. Some say that these traits are acquired through nature; these are the genes that one is born with. Genes cannot be changed and are passed from our parents to us, meaning that, these genes determine how and what we acquire. People who support this view believe that we are born with these traits instilled in us and we cannot change. On the other hand there are some people who believe that certain traits are acquired through nurture or the environment that we are exposed to. People who support this view believe that people learn and acquire traits through the environment or culture they are exposed to the definition of culture being a people’s way of life. For example they hold the view that the stimulation of the brain is quite important for learning to take place. This stimulation can only be found in the environment and therefore the brain is able to take up so much from the environment that is the culture of the people. This paper will therefore seek to explain how people acquire gender, my definition of gender is, the relationships and roles between men and women. These roles and relationships are normally socially constructed in regard to the gender norms of the society.
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On one hand there are people who hold the view that gender is instilled by our genes. This explains the eating habits differences that are present between males and females in the society. For example, in most communities, generally most men take a lot of food than their female counterparts. This explains why in most households there is a significant difference between the amount of food consumed by boys and girls, males and females. Hence, the genes responsible for our body mass help to explain this scenario, due to our body mass. Furthermore the caloric expenditure of both males and females differ a great deal, consequently this influences the eating habits of males and females, and eating habits somewhat describe gender. So compared to the women, men are normally supposed to eat more food because of the much energy they require due to their body mass and caloric expenditure (Gould, 1997).
It has been noted that our social behavior is influenced by our genes that is social behavior such as aggression is directly linked to the sex chromosomes that people have. Hence, this explains the differences between the behaviors of men and women in the community. Most females are known to be motherly and less aggressive but on the other hand, men are known to be aggressive either physically or otherwise. For example the high levels of androgen in men help to explain the aggressive nature of men unlike the females who are known to be so motherly. As are result genes are therefore known to be responsible of how people acquire gender roles.
On the other hand, there is another view that indicates that gender is not hereditary or rather it is not instilled in people through the genes but rather people acquire gender from their way of life (culture). Culture is seen as the behaviors, norms, attitudes, traditions and beliefs that are shared by a group of people. In our society people learn about gender because they are exposed to it that is they are gendered. This means that learn through their interaction with the society what is expected of them, this is passed down from one generation to the other. People learn gender basically through two ways:
- mimicking (example)
Socialization is a very important aspect in the learning of gender, because it makes people aware of what is expected of them. As stated above, socialization can be done through two ways; mimicking and elicitation. In terms of mimicking children learn or are gendered by the elders in the society. For example in most society women are the caregivers, they were taught to do so and they pick it up through their day-to-day activities. Children normally learn through imitation and by the time they grow up most of them know what is expected of them. For example, young girls grow up learning from their mothers, this explains why girls play with dolls, they are normally imitating their mothers day to day activities and in turn the learn and acquire their gender roles. Most children are not told what to do but they pick it up from the elder people in the community. Hence this explains that our gender identity is learnt through our social interactions, to say that people learn about their gender roles through their interaction with their society- what is expected of men and women. Similarly, young boys copy what their fathers or the male figures closest to them do, they are not born with this knowledge but they pick it up as they grow up and as they are socialized in the community (Gould, 1997).
Elicitation is another way in which gender can be learned. It refers to how children are treated as they grow up. For instance this can include the way children are punished for wrong doings or rewarded because of a task well done or excellence. Through this kind of socialization children can be able to acquire certain traits that are considered useful in the community. For example if a child is punished for doing wrong, he/she will learn that not to repeat that action and will uphold the positive trait. Similarly there are children who are aggressive but through socialization they learn how to be polite and less aggressive. For example, an aggressive child can be rewarded every time he/she does not use force to either ask for things or do things. Through the giving of rewards the negative behavior is soon done away with and replaced with a good behavior that is less aggressive. Also children who are rewarded for portraying good behaviors in the society learn to uphold these actions and so they are learning what is good or bad in the community. Therefore such a child would have learned gender through socialization; the child will be living up to the standards of the society (Mead, 1964).
Through socialization children internalize the expectations of their parents (who represent the expectations of the society) and relive them during their daily activities. This shows how gender is leant through socialization. By the giving of the rewards to the children, they learn what is expected of them (Fisher,1994). People are not born with this knowledge but by their interaction with the people in the society, they get this knowledge.
Another way, through which people learn gender, is through rituals, these are the beliefs and practices of the people of a society. This is by having a formalized setting whereby aesthetics, cultural principles and norm are laid out. Religious values can be taught in church and people can learn who is good and bad and ultimately of is expected of them by the society. For example rituals such as baptism highlight certain norms for behavior. Aesthetics of the community are also learned by certain rituals performed in the community. These include things like certain passages of rite, like, birth, death and marriage. These rituals often have meanings attached to them, for example, a young lady who gives birth is no longer a young girl but a mother, a caregiver and so is expected to behave as such. Through such rituals one is socialized and is able to know what the society expects of him/her. There are three steps in these rites of passage that are quite important according to (Fisher, 1994). They include:
Separation means that one no longer belongs to a certain group but a different one all-together. Transition is more or less like training for the new status that one will acquire. Finally re-incorporation means the introduction back into the society as a changed person. These stages are important as they help people to learn about what is expected of them, for example from being a young lady, through pregnancy and childbirth. Such formalized laid down rituals help to acquire gender and so these rituals should be encouraged in the society.
While as it is true that our nature affects us in some way but it does not control the way people learn gender or any other human trait for that matter (Montagu, 1999). This is because it is through the interaction with the society that our brains are stimulated. This interaction makes people aware about their surrounding, for example, through our cultures people know that stealing is bad and anyone who goes against this norm is regarded as a deviant in the society. So people learn about the expectations of the society not by their genes but rather through their culture. it is this same culture that nurtures people by giving them a standard code of behavior, for example in most cultures men are supposed to provide for their families and the women are supposed to be the caregivers. These gender roles are defined by our culture and they ought to be respected as such.
The argument whether people learn gender through nature or culture has been debated for a very long it. But as discussed above people learn gender through their interactions in the community, where gender basically means what is expected of men and women in the society. But as highlighted above “people are born in nature but develop through culture”. Without culture people are just a vacuum, with no expectations, emotions, practices and beliefs. No one is born with these things but through the socialization that people get in the society, people get expectations, norms of behavior, beliefs, practices and traditions. Culture further defines what is expected of different groups of people in the community as such as women, men, boys and girls.
Fisher, H. Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and why We Stray, New York: Ballantine, 1994
Gould, S. The Mismeasure of Ma,: London: Penguin, 1997
Martin, E. $ Ueno K. The woman in the body, London: Open University Press, 2003
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Mead, M. Coming of Age in Samoa, New York: Peter Smith, 1964
Montagu, A. Race and IQ, London; Oxford University Press, 1999