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Society, through its agents - foremost amongst which are family, peers, and teachers - represses or encourages these genetic propensities. It does so by propagating "gender roles" - gender-specific lists of alleged traits, permissible behavior patterns, and prescriptive morals and norms. Our "gender identity" or "sex role" is shorthand for way we make use of our natural genotypic-phenotypic endowments in conformity with social-cultural "gender roles".
Inevitably as composition and bias of these lists change, so does meaning of being "male" or "female". Gender roles are constantly redefined by tectonic shifts in definition and functioning of basic social units, such as nuclear family and workplace. The cross-fertilization of gender-related cultural memes renders "masculinity" and "femininity" fluid concepts.
One's sex equals one's bodily equipment, an objective, finite, and, usually, immutable inventory. But our endowments can be put to many uses, in different cognitive and affective contexts, and subject to varying exegetic frameworks. As opposed to "sex" - "gender" is, therefore, a socio-cultural narrative. Both heterosexual and homosexual men ejaculate. Both straight and lesbian women climax. What distinguishes them from each other are subjective introjects of socio-cultural conventions, not objective, immutable "facts".
In "The New Gender Wars", published in November/December 2000 issue of "Psychology Today", Sarah Blustain sums up "bio-social" model proposed by Mice Eagly, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University and a former student of his, Wendy Wood, now a professor at Texas A&M University:
"Like (the evolutionary psychologists), Eagly and Wood reject social constructionist notions that all gender differences are created by culture. But to question of where they come from, they answer differently: not our genes but our roles in society. This narrative focuses on how societies respond to basic biological differences - men's strength and women's reproductive capabilities - and how they encourage men and women to follow certain patterns.
'If you're spending a lot of time nursing your kid', explains Wood, 'then you don't have opportunity to devote large amounts of time to developing specialized skills and engaging tasks outside of home'. And, adds Eagly, 'if women are charged with caring for infants, what happens is that women are more nurturing. Societies have to make adult system work [so] socialization of girls is arranged to give them experience in nurturing'.
According to this interpretation, as environment changes, so will range and texture of gender differences. At a time in Western countries when female reproduction is extremely low, nursing is totally optional, childcare alternatives are many, and mechanization lessens importance of male size and strength, women are no longer restricted as much by their smaller size and by child-bearing. That means, argue Eagly and Wood, that role structures for men and women will change and, not surprisingly, way we socialize people in these new roles will change too. (Indeed, says Wood, 'sex differences seem to be reduced in societies where men and women have similar status,' she says. If you're looking to live in more gender-neutral environment, try Scandinavia.)"
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com