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Are gender differences socially shaped?

a) The term androgyny is the meaning for a person who uses both male and female characteristics.

b) Content analysis is the analysing of different communications and the sort of message they’re giving out. An example of this is a study of British TV adverts conducted by Manstead and McCulloch in 1981.

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They found evidence that stereo-typing of the male and female role was significant and that because of this, the adverts are likely to play an active part in shaping cultural attitudes towards women.

c) One study in which the experimental method was used was by Money & Erhardt (1972). They were interested in seeing whether a boy who’s identity had been changed would develop as a biological male or, because of his new identity, a male. They could compare this with his identical twin brother.

The method was that due to an accident during surgery, this child of 7 months suffered injuries to his genitals so badly that the doctors advised to the parents that he should be castrated and given plastic surgery to create a female appearance. During adolescence, the hormone oestrogen was given to the child (known as Joan) to encourage breast development. Money monitored the behaviour of Joan until early adolescence.

The results were that Joan did in fact develop as a normal female. She assumed a traditional female identity and was far more feminine than her identical twin brother.

The conclusion to this experiment is that if it was presented in the nature vs. nurture debate, nurture would win in this case. Even though Joan was a biological male, the results showed that Joan developed a female gender identity.

d) The use of cross-cultural research to investigate gender differences is essentially to point the differences in cultures by environmental factors, shaping the development of gender identity.

Mead (1935) conducted a study of three societies to see whether there were differences in gender roles looking at the nature vs. nurture idea.

She went to New Guinea for six months to study ‘The Arapesh’ who lived in the mountains, ‘The Mundugamor’ who lived by the riverside and ‘The Tchambuli’ who lived on the lakeside. She wasn’t campring the differences between the three groups, but the differences of their culture compared to traditional Western culture.

Her results showed that The Arapesh showed that there were similarities between themselves and Western society, although they were more interested in the community than reaching their own individual targets. The Mundugamor showed traits that were described as masculine. Both males and females were ‘fierce’ and ‘cannibalistic’. The Tchambuli had very obvious gender roles, although they were the reverse of the West; men were more artistic and women held more status and economic power.

Her conclusion to this was that culture is the major socialising and conditioning agent, particularly in the early years. There’s no relationship between biological sex and gender role.

Although this has been a hugely studied work, there is some criticisms that should be brought up. She was very young when she produced this study, so she was with little life experience and her judgement may have been influenced and slightly ‘over-the-top’ in places. She was known to have believed strongly in the idea that the environment is a major factor in shaping gender roles. Mead only spent six months in these places, so didn’t get the full yearly cycle. Errington and Gewertz (1989) recognised all of these problems and went to do the same study that Mead had done over 50 years before them. They went to the Tchambuli and recognised that women didn’t diominate men, nor did men dominate women. They believed that Mead being a women and experiencing what she may have thought ‘unfair’ at the time in 1930’s Western culture, may have changed her idea of what she was observing.

Despite the flaws, this was still a great study that used cross-cultural research to investigate gender differences.

In conclusion, I think that cross-cultural studies into gender differences has certainly provided a lot of evidence over the years to show that gender differences are a socially shaped. Traditions and values certainly shape cultural ideas, but maybe due to the nature of evolution, what might appear to be social to us, may now be biological within our bodies, so it would be harder for us to change our ways that we live.