Gender Roles: Biology Or Culture Essay

1543 words - 6 pages

Brettell and Sargent open their book Gender in Cross Cultural Perspectives with a question: What is the role of biology in human behaviour (Brettell and Sargent, 2009, 1). Ward and Edelstein approach this question using cross-species analysis. They compare chimpanzee biology and behaviour to humans. There are four reasons that Ward uses comparisons to chimpanzees. First, because chimpanzees represent our closest genetic relative and second, the social activities and behaviours may be reflective of human ancestors. Third, cross-species analysis is the best way to overcome cultural biases (Ward and Edelstien , 2009, 101). Finally, there is extensive and scientifically recognized body of work on the relationship between biology and behaviour.
Several of the authors also use cross-species analysis and studies to compare humans to animal models of behaviour. When using biological models to explain human behaviour, there is the fear of the justification of sexism (Zuk, 2009, 7). Stereotypes often arise from the animal kingdom (Zuk, 2009, 7).This can pose a problem for accepting biology as an explanation for gender in modern humans. Zuk counters this belief, promoting an understanding of the biology of human sexual behaviour through an examination of animal models (Zuk, 2009, 8). Ehrenberg presents primate models to show the lack of difference biologically between males and females (Zuk, 2009, 17). Ward also uses primate models, specifically chimpanzees and baboons, to illustrate the similarities between humans and animals (Ward and Edelstien , 2009, 101).
Zuk does warn against attempting to use animal models as a single model for the origin of sex roles as the animal kingdom represents a wide variety of sexual behaviours including intra-sexual behaviour and non-reproductive sexual behaviours (Zuk, 2009, 10). Animal models are to enhance understanding behaviour not to be role models (Zuk, 2009, 11).
Zuk looks at the phenonmen of sexual selection. Sexual selection is a evolutionary pressure that has two components: male-male competition and female choice. Female choice is an important female mating strategies as females have less opportunity and higher resource demands to reproduce (Zuk, 2009, 9). Thus females mate with the best possible male(Zuk, 2009, 9). Current research has revealed that females preference has been a major force in evolution (Zuk, 2009, 9). Females preference has been shown to distinguish small difference and prefer exaggerated characteristics (Zuk, 2009, 9). This may be due to a correlation between exaggerated characteristics and health and vigour, thereby being better able to survive (Zuk, 2009, 9). This was confirmed by studies of peacocks which showed females prefer the most exaggerated male tails (Zuk, 2009, 9) and bowerbirds who chose their mates based on their displays (Zuk, 2009, 10).
Martin also promotes that biology and culture are intertwined. Her approach looks at biology, more importantly the way that we teach and...

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