This summer I took a human sexuality class. This was a stressful class for me because I basically disagreed with the textbook, and found plenty of misrepresentation of people that disagreed with the authors’ views.
That being said, I thought I would share one of the discussion answers I completed for the class. This was in answer to a question regarding the effect masculine and feminine roles have on society.
There is evidence that a difference does exist between masculinity and femininity, but those differences are not necessarily the same as those imposed by different cultures. In fact, Margaret Mead’s fieldwork in three different societies showed a difference in what is considered masculine or feminine for each area, showing a societal link to gender identity (Crooks & Baur 2017:131). This means that despite the fact there are different hormones produced for male and female (121), and differences in brain development for each gender (123), our perception of masculine and feminine is based, at least partially, on societal norms.
There has been much debate in American society recently regarding gender identity. Even research into gender identity shows different results. A study done at John Hopkins University, looking at children born with ambiguous genitalia, found that most of these children developed a gender identity based on how they were raised, regardless of their chromosomal sex. Other studies were done, finding opposite results (132). Obviously, this is a topic that does not have clear answers at this time.
What is clear, is that there are differences in how males and females receive and respond to information. The brain development for females consists of an estrogen sensitive hypothalamus and a thicker corpus callosum, allowing for communication across both hemispheres. In contrast, the male hypothalamus does not react to estrogen, and their corpus callosum is thinner, meaning communication across hemispheres does not occur as readily (124-125). Another big difference between males and females is the hormones that regulate the body. Males are dominated by androgens, while females are dominated by estrogen (121). These differences show that there is a difference in how males and females develop.
How does this affect the activities associated with gender identity though? There is not any clear evidence to show these biological factors being associated with specific activities. In fact, most researchers believe that psychosocial factors contribute more to our interpretation of male and female than do biological factors, as evidenced by Mead’s work (131). Just as those societies had different gender roles, American society has its own unique set of gender roles. Males are generally seen as independent and aggressive, while women are typically seen as dependent and submissive (140). While men are usually encouraged to hide emotion, women are encouraged to be warm and nurturing (141). These roles probably have a lot to do with the roles of men and women in and outside of the home. Men have historically been the bread-winners, being out working, while women have been the ones at home caring for the children and keeping up with the homes. There is much stigma associated with these roles today, but these roles have allowed for more stable households, generally, throughout America’s history. According to a publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the divorce rate in America increased from 11 per 1,000 married women pre-World War II, to 23 per 1,000 in 2000 (National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER] 2008). This time period is used as the time when the societal gender norms began to shift. The report also showed a decrease in marriage from that time, from 82% to 62% (NBER 2008). However the issue is looked at, it is obvious the interpretations of femininity and masculinity affect how we perform in society.
Crooks, Robert and Baur, Karla. 2017. Our Sexuality 13th Edition. Boston. Cengage Learning.
National Bureau of Economic Research. 2009. Marriage and Divorce Since World War II: Analyzing the Role of Technological Progress on the Formation of Households (NBER Macroeconomics, Annual 2008, Volume 23). University of Chicago Press.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my answer?