Is gender behaviour learned or innate

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Construction of one’s gender often starts at birth, and perhaps even before. John Bowlby (1953) says that the preparation is the very beginning of gender construction. It is even possible to find out the sex of a child before birth and when this happens, parents often begin to buy clothes and toys which are usual to a specific gender, i. e. blue for a boy, and pink for a girl, dolls for girls and cars for a boys. So gender construction happens from the outset. It is difficult to determine whether gender behaviour is innate when the parents of a child begin this construction of gender identity at such an early stage.

Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox (1972) however believe that the difference in behaviour of both males and females can be explained in part by hormone production. As hormones are so closely related to the actions of the nervous system, this would then mean that hormones affect sexual behaviour, personality and emotion. Increased levels of testosterone and androgen in the human male can make them more boisterous, influencing change in their physical self as well as their psychological self. Sexual desire and aggressiveness are also related to these hormones.

This would present a very ‘animal’ way of looking at the human male. The behaviour of many animals (such as wolves and monkeys) has been linked to hormone levels, and the higher the testosterone level, the more likely the animal would be to mate more, and assert his authority with other males. The alpha, or head, male in both these species are often found to have higher testosterone levels than the other ‘lesser’ males (G. P. Murdock 1949). This could then be used as a basic way of explaining the behaviour of human males.

Though Ruth Bleier (1984) maintains that the socialisation that all males go through as humans, and the prejudices that still exist can also have a great deal to do with the way they behave and perhaps even more so in the modern world. While these prejudices would have a moulding effect of males, so they could fit the stereotype and be socially acceptable, there is also the other effect as many gender prejudices fall away. The numbers of openly homosexual men has risen, and more men are entering jobs that were traditionally dominated by women. As attitudes change, so does the behaviour moulding that all forms of society impose.

The nursing and clerical professions have seen a rise in the amount of men in their ranks, just as positions traditionally held by men are seeing an increase in women. As the gender lines blur so do the behaviours, which were seen as acceptable and ‘normal’ for each sex. And to answer the question, I could conclude that we have a basic innate behaviour stemming from the biological differences between the two sexes, and yet these basic behaviours can be shaped and changed as we interact and socialise throughout our lives, often changing ourselves consciously and unconsciously to meet the expectations of our culture and society.

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