Gender refers to the state of being either male or female, which is distinguished by factors such as gender roles, social and economic status, perceptions, and ideals and values (Lee, 2005). Gender has been described as a psycho-sociocultural aspect. In contrast, sex is a biological concept that is determined by factors such as hormones and genetic make-up (Lee, 2005). Gender is also understood as evaluation of behavior based on individual perceptions and societal expectations.
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Gender identity is defined as personal concepts and perceptions of self that are based on gender (Lee, 2005). This paper will explore determination of gender identity based on connections between hormones and behavior. In addition, it will scrutinize how biological and environmental factors affect gender identity. It will also explore current arguments on gender identity.
Interaction between hormones and behavior
Research studies have revealed that hormones have great influence on behavior. For example, hormonal processes contribute towards hostile and aggressive behaviors (Lee, 2005). Studies associate certain behaviors with certain hormones. For example, testosterone is associated with aggressiveness. Studies on effect of hormones on behavior are based on the net effect of hormones on emotions. They cause varying level of moods or behavior depending on their concentrations.
For example, in adults, estrogen causes positive moods while lack of estrogen causes depressive moods (Lee, 2005). This is the same effect testosterone has on moods and behaviors. Some hormones affect behavior directly while others affect behavior indirectly. For example, hormones that determine body size affect behavior indirectly. Big-sized people are domineering and usually rough towards small-sized people. Abnormal activity of glands can also influence behavior directly.
Hormones respond by combining with specific cell receptors to form behavior. Puberty and prenatal periods are the most critical periods in human development that hormones have the greatest impact (Lee, 2005). During the prenatal period, any anomaly in production of hormones results in anomalies in gender identity.
For example, a study conducted on 25 androgenized girls found out that even though they were raised as girls, they exhibited masculine attitudes, sexuality, and grooming (Lee, 2005). After the development of Money’s theories on gender identity, several studies followed that established connections between gender identity and environmental factors.
Current arguments on sexual identity
Current arguments on sexual identify claim that is mainly determined by biological factors rather than environmental factors (Lee, 2005). This argument is based on lifestyles such as homosexuality and lesbianism. These arguments claim that people who adopt these lifestyles were born that way because of interaction between different biological factors.
Other arguments claim that such lifestyles can be caused by environmental factors. If an individual gets exposure to one of these lifestyles early in childhood, then he/she would adopt a similar lifestyle owing to influence of the environment (Lee, 2005). However, research has established that these lifestyles are mainly caused by influence of biological factors and further augmented by environmental factors.
Biological influences on gender identity and sexual differentiation
The influence of biological factors on gender identity can be explained by considering functions of hormones and cerebral lateralization of the brain (Lee, 2005).
Gender is determined before birth by biological factors. Studies have revealed that brain lateralization and hormonal functions contribute in determination of gender. Males and females contain sexual and reproductive hormones in varying quantities. This is observed from childhood through adulthood although in each stage of development certain changes take place. During puberty, gender characteristics become more pronounced because attraction towards the opposite sex develops (Lee, 2005).
Brain lateralization follows different systems of development in males and females. For example, in females the left side of the brain is more developed compared to males whose right side is more developed. Variation in brain lateralization accounts for high performance by males in sciences and mathematics and better performance in languages by girls.
The first environmental child experiences after birth is the family (Lee, 2005). Mothers dress newborn babies in clothes that depict their gender. As they go through different development stages, children learn to discern their gender from how they are treated. Fathers influence boys and mothers influence girls.
Absence of a father in the family affects discernment of gender identity significantly. Other environments outside the family also play critical roles. Television, music, movies, and books depict different genders in different ways (Lee, 2005). Children pick gender cues from these environments and incorporate them in their gender identity discernment processes.
Environmental factors have the greatest influence on gender identity compared to other factors. Environments such as family and classrooms have the greater influence on gender identity compared to biological and psychological factors (Lee, 2005).
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Gender differs from sex in that it is psycho-sociocultural while sex is biological. Aspects such as social and economic status, roles, and personal perceptions determine gender. Gender identity is influenced and determined by biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
The environment has the greatest influence compared to other factors. From childhood to adulthood, people interact with different environments that influence how they discern and define gender identity. According to the foregoing discussion, nurture has greater influence on gender identity than nature. Each of the three factors plays a different role in determination of gender identity.
Lee, J. (2005). Focus on Gender Identity. New York: Nova Publishers.