The determination of gender identity is much deeper than whether a person is born a male or a female. The exact identifier that separates gender identity is currently unknown but researchers believe that genetics, hormones, reproductive organs, biological, and environmental factors all play a role in distinguishing a person’s gender identity. A person’s physical gender and their sense of gender are formed at two different times in two different parts of the body. A person’s gender is whether they are born male or female, but the way they identify themselves may be the opposite, which is not uncommon and has occurred since the beginning of time. In culture males are known to be the stronger, more aggressive sex, while females are the fairer, more nurturing sex. Usually, by the age of four, individuals have identified their gender identities aside from what gender they were born as physically. Throughout this paper, I will discuss the biological factors of gender identity (nature), environmental factors (nurture), and the role between hormones and behavior, and how these interactions all affect the determination of one’s gender identity.
Gender identification begins to develop while the fetus is in the beginning stages of development. Between weeks six and twelve of gestation is when the fetus begins developing reproductive organs and that is when the fetus takes on the role of male or female. Hormones are produced in both the nervous system and the endocrine system and are transported through the blood stream. Specifically, hormones are chemicals that combine and respond to certain cell receptors. Hormones like testosterone and androgen are mainly found in the male gender while estrogen is mainly found in the female gender. Testosterone is a contributing factor to behaviors like aggression. “Gender identity, an individual’s self-awareness of maleness or femaleness, and gender role, are programmed for the child within his mother’s womb,” (Institute of Medicine, 2006).
Evidence has shown that the female gender is likely to excel in verbal skills and muscular coordination when their production of estrogen is high rather than when it is low. For men, they are stronger and more aggressive when their testosterone levels are high and they are able to perform better in actions that require physical performance. The nature side of the theory relies on prenatal hormones that modify the brain and peripheral tissue and the development of male or female external genitalia. Although a person may have a certain physical gender, their gender role is the adoption of masculine or feminine behavioral traits that are appropriate for that specific sex. Gender identity differs from the gender role because it is an individual’s personal sense of sex, which is not necessarily their physical gender.
There are multiple stages from childhood to adulthood when hormones are present that are identifiable of a specific gender. The pituitary gland (or hypophysis) secretes many hormones during puberty including adrenocorticotropic hormones, growth hormones, gonadotrophins, prolactin, and thyroid stimulating hormones. Gonadotrophins, which include luteinizing and follicle stimulating hormones, stimulate sex hormone production in the ovaries or testes and also lead to egg and sperm maturity. Prolactin stimulates milk production and adrenocorticotropic hormones stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete steroid hormones like cortisol. All of these hormones play a major role in sexual development and an individual’s determination of gender identity.
Environmental factors of gender identity arise as soon as the individual is born. Everything from a female child wearing a pink dress to a male child having a sports themed blanket can play a role in their gender identity. Sociologists believe that by the age of five years old, females show a preference for dolls, arts and crafts, and playing dress up while males prefer cars, blocks, tools, and outdoor play. “The environment has a direct relation to personality traits, because characteristic adaptations are always involved in expression,” (Nature over Nurture, 2000). At a young age, children who are taught that traits and activities are appropriate or inappropriate for them to perform because of their gender tend to absorb those teachings and are influenced by them later in life. For example, young girls who are raised believing boys are innately better at sports than girls, may disclaim their interest in sports and go on to believe they are not good at them without practicing them to their full potential.
Both males and females have proven to be great athletes but if at a young age, a girl is told she will never be as good as a boy she may never give sports and athleticism a chance. Young children learn by observations, if a young girl witnesses her mother performing the acts of a man then she will repeat those acts and believe that is what is appropriate for her. The same goes for the male gender, if a little boy observes his father doing something that a woman is more likely to do like sewing or interior decorating then that is what the little boy will believe is expected of him upon adulthood.
“For instance, the way in which one educates children, how children in institutions such as orphanages are raised, and the kinds of day-care are considered optimal have all been influenced by one’s understanding of the interaction of biology and environment regarding gender identity,” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). The previous statement is very true because children observe many things that one may never think would make any difference but in reality they do. Nature factors include everything from what kind of parents raise the child, what roles they perform, the culture, and even the color of paint on the child’s walls all make a difference in the child’s personal gender identity.
I believe that between nature and nurture and their influence on gender identity, nature has a greater influence. For example, if a perfectly healthy little girl with no hormone disorders is raised with a single father and only brothers with no immediate influence of females, she is more likely to become a tomboy and take on the gender identity that resembles that of her father’s or brothers’. The same reference goes for a boy raised with a single mother and only sisters with no immediate influence of a male figure in his life. Matthew Wolfe-Meyer makes a valid point when saying, “nature and its contestation is a dominant strategy… unfortunately nurture fails to receive similar scrutiny and culture is more often used as an explanatory device than deeply interrogated for its logistics.”
Often times when a child is going through puberty and takes on the role of the opposite gender, many people jump to the hypothesis that there may be something wrong with their hormones or a chemical imbalance but before jumping to that conclusion, they should look at their home life, how was the child raised, what was their environment like and from there they will find many answers. All children naturally comply with the demands of their internal sense of gender without effort. If the child becomes confused with their gender then they often refer to behaviors of adults near them and they learn what actions are appropriate for them relatively quick. Environmental factors bear a critical amount of effectiveness in gender identity but because environmental factors are ever changing, it proves that the nurture theory is a substantial factor.
Currently, psychologists and researchers do not know the exact causes of gender identity and individuals taking on the opposite roles. But there are many factors that support both sides of the nature versus nurture argument. The male and female genders each have differences in many areas both physical and emotional but neither is “better” than the other. By the age of four years old each child already has an idea of who they are and what gender they belong to. Gender confusion is normal but most children are able to look at parents or acting influences in their lives and see what the appropriate actions are for their gender. Nature versus nurture has and will continue to be a strong argument.
McCrae, R. R., Costa, P. r., Ostendorf, F., Angleitner, A., Hřebíčková, M., Avia, M. D., & … Smith, P. B. (2000). Nature over nurture: Temperament, personality, and life span development. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 78(1), 173-186. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52
Matthew Wolf-Meyer. (2007). Complexities: Beyond nature and nurture. Anthropologica, 49(2), 325-327. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214174663?accountid=35812
Money, J. (1971). Differentiation of gender identity and gender role. Psychiatric Annals, 1(4), 32-37,42-43,8-9. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/894195162?accountid=35812 (2006). Institute of medicine (us) committee on assessing interactions among social, behavioral, and genetic factors in health. Washington DC: National Academies Press (US). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19934/
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