LAW: Study shows gender behaviors not so innate

Helen Law

How much of our seemingly inherent personality is decided by those that surround us? Decided by others before we were born? What behavior we currently exhibit has its roots in the pre-ice age era? According to new research recently published by the American Psychological Association, men and women have few innate mentality differences. That is to say, our thought patterns and reasoning are nearly identical in structure and process. So what explains the obvious disparities present? Examples of contrasts are seemingly endless: more materialism in women, differences in basic apparel styles and preferred entertainment, even at a young age (think Hello Kitty versus Transformers), as well as variation in emotional attitudes. The source of this clear gender divide is our culture. Most behavior is learned. Ever since we obtained during infancy the basic abilities to observe those around us and retain information, we mimic the customs and roles of our society. The urge to play copy-cat with family, neighbors, and friends is genetic and observed in most primates and other intelligent social animals. Plenty of inclinations are encoded in our brains, behavior that would have been useful during Paleolithic times and has simply carried over to now. Among them is conformity. Devout loyalty in tight knit tribes of nomadic people was crucial to survival during ancient history, whether it aided in cooperative hunting and gathering or just everyday life. Compliance with—or devotion to—social authority meant that children would be safer (“stay away from the mammoth herd!”) and conflicts with other roaming clans would be less dangerous. Over hundreds of thousands of years, this instinct, like many other ancient inclinations we possess, has been altered into a new form from humanity’s technological development. Those traits we still possess from the Paleolithic are being adapted to the technological world, and our culture is a result of this. The keyword here is “our”, as in Western culture. One piece of evidence that supports this theory, known as gender similarities hypothesis , composed by Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde of Wisconsin, is that seemingly “innate gender traits” are in isolation from separate cultures. If said attributes really were instinctual, they would be observed across the world and not vary in every society. For example: while the interest in shiny metals and minerals is prevalent in almost every society known (and even a few other species, including dolphins, birds, etc.), the use of jewelry shows a discrepancy. Jewelry in Western culture is almost only reserved for women. Said females adorn themselves in various decorations for purely aesthetic reasons. Yet in many parts of the world, including South East Asia and recorded in ancient Egypt, jewelry is used primarily as a status symbol. Only high authority figures, usually elder males, wore adornments. Or often, jewelry has more spiritual significance rather than aesthetic value, a custom ranging in almost every continent, from Native American Inuits to ancient European pagans. In fact, men and women have almost the same gender roles in countries such as the Philippines, with a primarily agricultural sustenance-based economy. So, assuming gender stereotypes are fabricated by the environment, what is the harm in continuing to obey distinct gender roles? According to the APA, gender stereotypes cause a myriad of social problems, ranging from inner turmoil and low self-esteem to the inability for resolutions to be found in relationship conflicts. For instance, due to the popular media portrayal as men and women being fundamentally different, couples arguing tend to either give up, seeing a resolution as fruitless or seeing the other spouse’s opinion as influenced or undermined by their perceived gender flaws. Also, individuals who have a difficult time entertaining their own stereotypes or feel uncomfortable doing so face lower confidence levels. Meanwhile, people who do strive to live up to their gender standards sometimes receive stress and a sense of inadequacy. The obvious solution to fixing said problems is to stop obeying gender biases . There have been many instances of this happening within the past few decades, from women advancing status in the workplace to the existence of bronies (males who watch My Little Pony). Arguably, in a perfect world gender distinction would not happen. Interests and preferences would be exclusively attributed to an individuals’ taste, rather than a role. Men and women would dress in whatever color or style apparel they please, unique to them. Perhaps most importantly, we would see each other eye to eye intellectually and emotionally. To establish said hypothetical world, steps must be taken from the beginning: childhood. Encourage children to play with whatever toys they pick up and enjoy, rather than designate gender-oriented toys. Toys like Legos are the most optimal, because in their purest form they invoke creativity and depend entirely on imagination. Overall, don’t judge people and question your own standards. Helen Law is a staff writer for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter@BeardenBARK and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.