Whatis the origin of the differences between men and women? How is the genderidentity formed? How are the identity based social roles performed? There arecompeting explanations to these questions, which have connections with physical(sex) or social (gender) differences.

Sociologistsuse the term sex to refer to the anatomical and physiological differences that definemale and female bodies. Gender, by contrast, concerns the psychological, social and cultural differencesbetween males and females. Gender is linked to socially constructed notions ofmasculinity and femininity; it is not necessarily a direct product of anindividual’s biological sex. The distinction between sex and gender is afundamental one, since many differences between males and females are notbiological in origin.

Threebroad approaches to behavioral difference between men and women:

1.Biological basis.

2.Importance of socialization and the learning of gender roles.

3.Both gender and sex have no biological basis, but are entirely sociallyconstructed.

Gender and biology: naturaldifferences in behavior

Howfar are the differences in the behavior of men and women the result of sexrather than gender? Some authors hold that aspects of human biology – rangingfrom hormones to chromosomes to brain size to genetics – are responsible forinnate differences in behavior between men and women. Researches to identifythe physiological origins of behavioral differences between men and women havebeen unsuccessful. The role of social interaction in shaping human behavior isvital.

Gender socialization

Throughsocialization, children gradually internalize the social norms andexpectations, which are seen to correspond with their sex, hence differences intheir behavior. Therefore it is the society that determines the appropriatenessof behavior relevant to male and female. Also, through the process ofsocialization, the society makes a concerted effort that males and femalesinternalize the culturally appropriate relevant patterns of behavior. Hencegender differences in behavior are not biologically determined, but they areculturally produced.

Social construction of gender and sex

Bothsex and gender are socially constructed products. Not only is gender a purelysocial creation that lacks a fixed ‘essence’, yet the human body itself issubject to social forces, which shape and alter it in various ways. Individualscan choose to construct and reconstruct their bodies as they please- rangingfrom exercise, dieting, piercing and personal fashion, to plastic surgery andsex change operations. Human body and biology are not ‘givens’, but are subjectto human urgency and personal choice within different social contexts. Genetictechnology appears to have further facilitated the realization of sociallydesirable characteristics of males and females.

Thetheorists who believe in the social construction of sex and gender reject allbiological bases for gender differences. Gender identities emerge in relationto perceived sex differences in society and in turn help to shape thosedifferences.

Theseapproaches try to explain the gender difference in the behavior of men andwomen either in biology or in social construction. In reality it could also bepossible that the gender differences in behavior may be placed on a continuum, biological determinists could hold one end of which and the other end could be held by social constructionists.

Biological determinists highlight similarities in male behavior across different environments.They argue that male traits have their roots in chromosomal differences or inhormonal differences or in some other natural characteristic that distinguishmen from women. It is a simple causal, reductionist approach that explainshuman behavior in terms of biological or genetic characteristics.

Social constructionists contend instead that gender differences derive from social and culturalprocess.

Theseprocesses create systems of ideas and practices about gender that vary acrosstime and space.

Throughthis process ‘natural’, social processes mediate instinctive forms of behaviorand the sociologists would argue that most forms of human behavior are sociallyconstructed. It is argued that every society has gender order, composed of ahistorically specific division of labor, and the structure of power. The genderorder generates a variety of masculinities and of femininities.

Masculinities referto various socially constructed collections of assumptions, expectations andways of behaving that serve as standards for forms of male behavior. Look atthe word ‘mardaangee’. One could find colloquial substitutes in different cultures. The processof indoctrination of the characteristics associated with ‘manliness’ starts right from thechildhood. For example take the little boy who got hurt and starts crying. Heis told not to do so because crying is not considered an appropriate behaviorfor men.

Femininitiescover various socially constructed collections of assumptions, expectations andways of behaving that serve as standards for female behavior.

Themere fact that men and women across the societies are not characterized byidentical behaviors is suggestive of the fact that these differences are notcaused by biology but by socialization. Hence masculinities and femininities are subject to changeacross cultures and over time.

Globalcomparisons show that, by and large, societies do not consistently define mosttasks as whether feminine or masculine. As societies industrialize, which givespeople more choices and decreases the significance of muscle power, genderdistinctions become smaller and smaller. Gender, then, is simply a too variableacross cultures to be considered a simple expression of biology. Instead, aswith many other elements of culture, what it means to be female and male ismostly a creation of society.

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