In the United States, our concept of gender, and the differences between men and women, have deep traditional roots. Men are supposed to be strong individuals, who support and defend their families. Women are seen as nurturing, and motherly, more gentle and tame. We believe so strongly that the two genders are entirely separate, with such completely different traits, that it almost seems that men and women are just born with different qualities.
But is this really the case? Are girls really born with the genes to prefer pink and Barbie dolls, while boys are genetically predisposed to act like warriors and defend their families? Are masculine and feminine simply genetic facts? Evidence seems to support a deeper reason than that. As a culture, we have developed and defined these gender roles over centuries. We have determined what is appropriate for men and women, and anything, or anyone, that doesn't fit those molds is ostracized. The traits that we decide are so important to men and women are so engrained in our society, that they seem natural.
But maybe they're not. Not all societies operate like ours. There are societies with a distinguished third gender, such as the Hijra in India, and the Kathoey in Thailand. If these “third genders” are acceptable, and normal, in other cultures, it seems unlikely that gender is biologically determined. Instead, learning gender is a social practice that begins before a child is even born. When parents paint their child's nursery pink or blue, they're already reinforcing the same social customs and gender rules that they were taught as children.
There are some biological differences between the male and female brain. But these differences don't account for our strict concepts of gender, or the existence of third gender, or intersex people. It's possible, that the differences between genders are influenced by both biological and social factors. In her paper on the biological differences in cognition between men and women, Doreen Kimura suggests that the social differences between genders arose out of biological necessity (Kimura 46). Even so, it is difficult to argue that social factors do play a large part in gender in society today. A closer look at both biological and social perspectives will reveal more about the processes that determine gender roles.
Merriam-Webster provides two definitions for the meaning of gender. The first is simply that gender is a synonym for sex. The second, however, states that gender is “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex (Merriam-Webster).” This is the definition for gender used in this paper, while sex is defined separately, as the biological differences between males and females.
Biologically, there are some differences between males and females. Boys do tend to be a bit more aggressive, while girls are usually more verbal. Males also have better spatial skills, which research seems to contribute to their higher...