been debated for a long time whether the role of men and women are culturally
constructed or biologically determined. Indeed, the dichotomy between culture
and biology is a debatable matter in almost all scientific disciplines. This
dichotomy is mostly known as nature and nurture controversy. Every academic
discipline examines the subjects from its point of view. Thus, role of men and
women are examined from different perspectives in variety of disciplines. There
are two main perspectives regarding the role of men and women. They are
biological and sociological perspectives. Biological perspective focuses on
genes, hormones and evolution of people while sociological perspective
investigates the impact of society and culture in order to explain the role of men
and women. Role of men and women have been changing dramatically in today’s
world. Women have gained many important
rights throughout the past century ranges from suffrage to the right of
controlling their reproduction. Therefore, role of man and women already
changed to some extent. I partially agree with the idea that role of women
culturally constructed and it can be changed. However, it is a well-known fact
that biological factors have also an impact on the role of men and women.
and society have a huge influence upon individuals. Cultural norms shape
individuals’ life enormously. The role of men and women are essential for a
society. Thus, gender roles are constructed in a culture through family, peer
groups, schools, mass media and religion according to sociological perspective.
The sociological perspective describes two various concepts regarding the role
of men and women. Sex refers to certain
biological characteristics while gender is the social construction of feminine
and masculine characteristics in a culture based on biological sexes. Femaleness
and maleness are the sexes. However, concepts of femininity and masculinity
refer to what a culture expects man and women to behave and think. In
an article, the feminine characteristics are described clearly “What we
traditionally mean by femininity is captured in the adjectives, both positive
and negative, we traditionally ascribe to women: gentle, sensitive, nurturing,
delicate, graceful, cooperative, decorative, dependent, emotional, passive, and
weak.” (2016, p. 390). On the other
hand, it is a well-known fact that masculinity refers to aggressive, strong,
insensitive and unemotional characteristics. Beauvoir (1956, p. 273)
asserts that girls and boys have the same desires, physical and cognitive
abilities. She also points out that the differences occur after twelve years
old. However, gender roles are indoctrinated people since they were born. For instance, pink clothes are expected to be
worn by girls while blue clothes are expected to be worn by boys. Margaret Mead
(1935, p. 279) conducts the most significant study supporting the idea that
gender roles are social constructions. She examined three tribes living in New
Guinea. The astonishing findings
suggested that gender roles of these tribes are completely different from the modern
world’s gender roles. Whereas both sexes were feminine in one tribe, both sexes
were masculine in another tribe. More
interestingly, gender roles were opposite of today’s gender roles in one tribe.
Women were masculine and men were feminine. This study suggests that gender
roles are culturally constructed, demonstrating that gender roles are
changeable from culture to culture dramatically.
Biological perspective explains the role of man and
women in terms of genes, hormones and biological evolution. Scientific
evidences clearly showed that brain is responsible for people’s cognition,
emotion and behavior. The fundamental cause of sex differences is hormonal distinction between
men and women in the brain. Hormones in the early ages shape our brain and
later regulate our brain activity. The other cause is difference in genetic
material since men have XY chromosome and women have XX chromosome. Besides, it
is proposed that differences in the brain reflect differences in the
personality, cognitive abilities and behaviors of people. In a review study, researchers (McCarthy et al., 2012) argue that females’ and
males’ brains have many structural and neurochemical differences leading
differences in personality, cognitive abilities, behavior and illnesses.
Moreover, a study (Daseking, Petermann, &
Waldmann, 2017) are conducted to investigate the sex differences in
cognitive abilities. Researchers used
WAIS – IV IQ test to assess participants’ cognitive abilities. Men outperformed
women on nearly all subtests of WAIS – IV IQ test. This cutting-edge finding suggests that some
role of women and men are not culturally constructed because it is obvious that
their cognitive abilities are different. As well as genetic and cognitive
arguments, theory of evolution gives insights about the role of women and men.
Theory of evolution assumes that people are evolved in prehistoric times.
Therefore, conditions in prehistoric times shaped the role of women and men.
The main goal of people was to get food by hunting or gathering in prehistoric
times. Raising children was also important. Women stayed at home for the
majority of their life period for the reason that only women can breastfeed their
children, additionally they usually used to get pregnant. However, men did not
have to stay at home. Besides, they were more capable than women in terms of hunting.
Women and men that were not fitting the role of caretaker and hunter respectively
in prehistoric times, were naturally eliminated since their reproduction
success decreased dramatically.
Arguments and studies supporting the idea that the role of man and women
are culturally constructed have some shortcomings. The main argument is
indoctrination of women and men from early ages about their gender roles. On
the one hand, it is partly true that family, peer groups, schools, mass media, religion and
other factors influence the role of men and women. On the other hand, scientific
findings demonstrate that brain structures and cognitive abilities are
different between sexes. Some anthropologists have criticized the anthropologic
study conducted by Mead (1935, p. 279) recently. It is argued that Margaret
Mead described gender roles in three tribes in a simplistic way. The main limitation
of biological perspective is focusing on differences between sexes, not on
similarities. Women and men have only one different pair of genes, while
twenty-two pair of genes are same. Although there are some differences in the brain
structure and chemicals between sexes, women and men have identical brain to a
great degree. Arguments from evolutionary perspective lack robust scientific
evidences. Prehistoric times are not known enough to support the argument that
conditions in that time shaped the role of women and men. Moreover, it
is not possible to be certain about whether sex differences in cognitive
abilities stem from biological factors or cultural factors based on the study (Daseking et al., 2017) about cognitive
conclusion, both sociological and biological perspectives have strong and weak
arguments. However, sociological perspective, which describes role of women and
men as culturally constructed, is more important and beneficial in today’s
world. Because arguments of biological perspectives may be abused against the
women’s rights. For example, it may be argued that women should stay at home
and look after children since women’s hormones are more suitable and they were
evolved to do so. If role of women and
men are considered biologically determined, then these roles become inevitable.
Nevertheless, women’s rights and roles have been improving for more than a
century, therefore role of women and men are not inevitable. Biology and
evolution have an impact on role of men and women. However, role of women and
men should be considered as culturally constructed and it can be changed in my
opinion since this is more significant and useful for women’s and men’s rights.
Beauvoir, S. D.
(1956). Childhood. In The Second Sex (pp. 273-283).
London: Lowe and Brydone.
Petermann, F., & Waldmann, H. (2017). Sex differences in cognitive
abilities: Analyses for the German WAIS-IV. Personality
and Individual Differences, 114, 145-150.
McCarthy, M. M.,
Arnold, A. P., Ball, G. F., Blaustein, J. D., & De Vries, G. J. (2012). Sex
Differences in the Brain: The Not So
Inconvenient Truth. The Journal of Neuroscience?: The Official Journal
of the Society for Neuroscience, 32(7),
Mead, M. (1935). Sex and temperament in three primitive
societies. New York, NY: William Morrow.
Sex and Gender. (2016). In Sociology: Understanding and changing the social world. (Online publication). Retrieved from http://open.lib.umn.edu/sociology/