The Great Debate

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 8 January 2017

The Great Debate

Sex and gender, nature and nurture; these are some terms that have been the heat of debate among the Social Science field for some time. Sex and gender have been used as interchanging terms for many years. You may ask, is there a difference? Yes, there is. Sex refers to the biological differences, chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs (Nobelius, NPG). Gender refers to characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine (Nobelius, NPG). The debate over sex/gender and nature versus nurture has been intriguing to many in the Social Science realm. Social Science has long been concerned with the extent to which certain aspects of behavior are a product of inherited (nature) or learned characteristics (nurture). Nature deals with the aspects of our being that are innate, while nurture regards how environmental aspects affect us. There is little doubt that genes (nature) determine such things as eye, hair or skin color.

But the nature versus nurture debate seeks to understand how a person develops factors such as personality, intelligence and behavioral traits. There are many questions that arise with this debate. We know that both nature and nurture play parts in defining us as people, but exactly how much? If everything in our personality can be changed by our environment and how we learn, then does our birth sex matter? Does being male give the right to be the “head of the house”? And does being the mother always mean you have to raise the children? In my paper, I am going to discuss the history if this great debate of nature versus nurture, patrilineal and matrilineal societies as well as other cultures and how they function, followed by a brief summary and my conclusion.

Going back into the history books, we know many people studied this topic (and similar behaviorism topics), people such as John B. Watson, Margaret Mead, Marshall Sahlins and B. F. Skinner. We can see the earliest recorded debate over this topic, using the terms “nature” and “nurture” started in France during the 13th century (, NPG) in a manuscript titled Silence. Though the exact terminology was “nature” and “noreture” (for nurture) these terms were used to discuss characteristics that worked to shape one’s personality (, NPG). 600 years later was the next instance by a man named Francis Galton in 1874 (, NPG). In Galton’s work English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, published in 1874, Galton states: “[Nature and nurture are] a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence that affects him after his birth” (, NPG).

The meaning has stayed the same for the centuries that have passed, so let’s take a look at different types of societies, patriarchal (patrilineal) and matriarchal (matrilineal) and see if there are differences. The term patriarchal defines a social system in which the male acts as the primary authority figure, central to the social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children and property” (Wikipedia 3, NPG). Patrilineal refers to relating to, based on, or tracing ancestral descent though the paternal line (Dictionary, NPG), so, matriarchy and matrilineal mean the same, except for the women.

We will look at Patriarchal/patrilineal societies first, starting with the United States, being both of these. “Patriarchy in the United States is based upon the idea of white male superiority. All others, those who are white and females, non-white and male, and non white and female, for example, are generally excluded from positions of privilege and power” (Reviere, pg. 1). In my opinion, the United States is a land that speaks of equality between race, gender and ethnic backgrounds, but does not act as such; women are often paid less than men for the same jobs, women are often objectified more than their male counterparts and women are often treated as inferior citizens.

The males are taught early on that they are stronger, more superior to girls, they are molded and shaped by the toys they play with, how we (parents) talk to them, TV and movies. They are to be a “man’s man” and to act tough, macho and not cry. They are to be the head of the house, run the roost and be the breadwinner for the family. In the United States, the majority of the decisions are made by males, they run the political and religious aspects of the country as well as most households.

Other counties that have patriarchal societies include (but are not limited to) Saudi Arabia, Italy, Uganda and Germany. In Saudi Arabia their religion, Islam, governs the way day-to-day life is ran. “In contemporary Muslim patriarchal societies, such control over women is considered necessary in part because women are regarded as the potential source of fitna, that is, moral or social disorder” (Mernissi, 1987). Also, women of all ages are required to have a male guardian “all women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian (Wikipedia 4, NPG).

This guardian is the decision maker over things like education, marriage, elective surgeries, travel, work, etc. (Wikipedia 4, NPG). It is usually her husband, brother, or someone close within the family (Wikipedia 4, NPG). Also, women cannot vote or be elected to high political positions; law also prohibits them from driving (Wikipedia 4, NPG). “The World Economic Forum 2009 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity. It was the only country to score a zero in the category of political empowerment” (Wikipedia 4, NPG).

In Italy, women’s sufferage came about and women were liberated somewhat. Women were allowed to vote in 1945 and were elected to Parliament in 1946 and also took part in the drafting of the Italian Constitution that same year (123, NPG). “For centuries, women were banned from the public arena, and Italy existed as a patriarchal society. Today, women have more rights, especially in the workplace, but Italian women deal with increased responsibilities in other areas while being expected to sustain their responsibilities at home without help from their spouses” (123, NPG).

They are deemed the ultimate homemakers (Andrews, NPG). “Far more than in America or the UK, Italian mothers in the twenty-first century tend to be home-makers while their husbands go out to work” (Andrews, NPG). While they are allowed to work and even be in the political jobs, they are also expected to run the household entirely, “Italian women are faced with the task of working full time and also coming home to the full-time job of being a homemaker” (Wicket, NPG). While Italian women are becoming more modern, working, voting, and even being elected to high political positions, the mindset among men is still that of the old times (123, NPG). Actions won’t change until the mindset of true equality sets in.

In Uganda, tradition dies hard. Uganda has a very patriarchal culture, so much so that, despite government, the people deny women rights and gender based violence is very high. The government is making tough decisions and laws to help aid women in the fight for equality (Irinnews, NPG). President Yoweri Museveni has been trying to make huge strides in equality over the last 25 years, but with little success. President Museveni stated in 2002, “women’s rights for the first time have been enshrined in the Ugandan constitution.

Uganda’s women’s movement has grown dramatically into a vibrant political force throughout the country. Uganda also is the first African country to have appointed a woman as vice president. The affirmative action policy has, for example, ensured that at least a third of legislative and civic positions were reserved for women. The Ugandan government also introduced a Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy to provide free education to four children per family, two of whom must be girls.” (Irinnews, NPG).

Presently, the Ugandan government has offered assistance in furthering women’s rights, economic and infrastructure issues continue to prevent women from achieving gender equality (Irinnews, NPG). But even with a tough government, customary laws and traditions are still hard to fight. Traditions in Uganda die hard and ownership of land upon death of the husband, is one of those. “Uganda is still largely a patrilineal society. Customary practices that place women in an inferior position continue to operate in many communities in spite of the statutory laws that condemn such practices. Under customary law, women do not inherit property on widowhood. When a man dies, the clan immediately appoints an heir. The heir is usually the first son in the family. He inherits the property of the deceased and he is supposed to take care of everybody in the home” (Asiimwe, pg. 8).

Another issue in Uganda would be gendered violence. Although President Museveni has condemned violence against women, it still takes place, he stated “gender-based violence and other discriminatory practices in our society have also hampered women from using their skills in development activities and prevented them from claiming their social-economic rights, for example, property rights and inheritance” (Ssempogo, NPG).

While women play a central role in society, and few have been empowered, he noted most are still trapped in the low-income category (Ssempogo, NPG). In 2007, it was reported that 70 percent of women, since the age of 15 years, had experienced some form of violence (physical or sexual) inflicted by their spouse or intimate partner and 16 percent have experienced it during pregnancy (UDHS, pg. 15). Uganda’s President isn’t giving up hope or his fight. He still persists with his fight for equality, fight to end violence against women and pushes for women to be landowners, even without a male’s involvement.

Looking at matriarchal and matrilineal societies, we will first discuss the Iroquois tribe, then the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, the Mosou of China and finally the Asante of the Akan in Ghana. First looking at the Iroquois, while they are now a chapter out of our history books, they were truly a matriarchal and matrilineal society. “In the Iroquois community, women were the keepers of culture they enjoyed equality and respect (Portland State University, NPG). They were responsible for defining the political, social, spiritual and economic norms of the tribe (Portland State University, NPG).

Iroquois society was matrilineal, meaning descent was traced through the mother rather than through the father” (Portland State University, NPG). They also preformed many tasks and activities that were commonly reserved for men, such as, gambling, Medicine Societies, they also participated in politics, were landowners and tended to the crops (Portland State University, NPG). Also, when a couple marries, the man traditionally went to live with the wife’s family (Portland State University, NPG). Although the leaders were men, it was the Clan Mothers who nominated and elected them, and could remove them from their position; the women made sure the male leadership fulfilled their responsibilities (Portland State University, NPG).

The Minangkabau are the largest and most stable matrilineal society in the world today, numbering some 4 million people in West Sumatra (Sanday, NPG). They are a proud people well known in Indonesia for their literary flair, democratic leanings, business acumen, and “matriarchal” ways (Sanday, NPG). With the Minangkabau people, “tribal law requires all clan property to be held and bequeathed from mother to daughter, the Minangkabau firmly believe the mother is the most important person in society.

Upon marriage, every woman acquires her own sleeping quarters. The husband may sleep with her, but must leave early in the morning to have breakfast at his mother’s home. At age 10, boys leave their mother’s home to stay in men’s quarters and learn practical skills. Men are always clan chief, but women select the chief and can remove him from office should they feel he failed to fulfill his duties” (Garrison, NPG) Their matriarchal customs are being threated by the industrialization of Indonesia (Sanday, NPG). Westernized culture is influencing parts of Indonesia with malls, bookstores and public transportation (Sanday, NPG). But the Minangkabau people are holding tight to the reigns of their way of life, not giving up so easily to outside influences.

The Mosuo are perhaps the most famous matrilineal society. The Mosuo live with extended family in large households; at the head of each is a matriarch. Lineage is traced through the female side and property is passed and inherited along the matriline (Garrison, NPG). Women are business minded while the men run the political side; children are raised in the mother’s household, and also take her name (Garrison, NPG). In this society, there is virtually no violence; in fact, it is shameful to fight (Spiegel, NPG). Men are expected to finish the tasks give (by women), when he doesn’t, he is expected to admit it; he is not scolded or punished, but yet, treated as a boy who was not up to the task (Spiegel, NPG).

Men are raised to be competent, men are good for aiding in decision making and physical labor and the Mayor is a male, but little attention is paid to him and he doesn’t have authority (figurehead) (Spiegel, NPG). Women decide with whom they want to spend the night, it can change daily (Spiegel, NPG). When a man enters a woman’s house (hut), he hangs his hat on a hook, outside the front door for others to see this woman has a male visitor (Spiegel, NPG). In the event a woman falls in love, she will only accept this man and this man will only come to this woman (Spiegel, NPG). The women solely care for the children, with the father playing little to no role (Spiegel, NPG). In the Mosuo society, women are the sole caretakers, money managers, leaders, laborers, and decision makers (Spiegel, NPG). They have virtually no use for the man except to fall in love with and for child-making, other than that, the men are “useless” until given a task by a woman (Spiegel, NPG).

Lastly, the Asante of the Akan. The Akan are the majority in Ghana and still adhere to the matrilineal social structure despite pressures from the local government to change (Garrison, NPG). “The Akan social organization is fundamentally built around the matriclan. Within this matrilineal clan, identity, inheritance, wealth and politics are all determined. All matriclan founders are female, but men traditionally hold leadership positions. Succession to inheritable appointments is still determined by the male’s relationships to the women in his matriclan. Often, the man is expected to not only support his own family, but those of his female relatives” (Garrison, NPG).

In the Asante tribe (part of the Akan), traditionally, both men and women serve as political leaders. The highest-level female leader is believed to be the mother of the entire society and it is she who chooses the male leadership (Brydon, 229). Asante’s ancestry is traced to a mother figure and through the line (Brydon, 229). Their stories and folklores also originate from a motherly figure (Brydon, 229). Although a woman’s brothers and sons have superior claim to property, women control the resources (Brydon, 229). Females are also responsible for settling domestic affairs (Brydon, 229). Asante’s women are viewed both internally (by the clans) and outwardly (by other cultures) and a strong and empowered female centered society (Brydon, 229)

So the “Great Debate” asks, all of what we learn, our behavior, our intelligence, our “way we are”, is it internally inclined or socially constructed? In my Section A paper, I referenced a study done by Margaret Mead in New Guinea in the 1930s. In this study, she used ethnography to study three tribes, their behavior, their children and the results were immediately noticeable. The tribes were the Arapesh, the Mundugumor and the Tchumbuli (Lindsey, pg. 21-22). Tribal children regurgitated the behaviors learned by their parents and other tribe members. The Arapesh were noted in the text as “nurturant and compliant” between both genders (Lindsey, pg. 21). Both genders achieved great amounts of pleasure in tasks such as gardening, hunting and parenting (Lindsey, pg. 21). The Arapesh shared these tasks equally and willingly (Lindsey, pg. 21).

Mead concluded that even though some societies have labeled tasks as paternal/maternal, their tasks (Arapesh) could not be separated based on gender (Lindsey, pg. 21). The Tchumbuli tribe was comparable to what we are more familiar with in the United States, but in reverse. The Tchumbuli tribe displayed a role reversal in gender roles (Lindsey, pg. 22). “This tribe consisted of proficient, and unadorned women and passive, vain, and decorated men” (Lindsey, pg. 22). Women fueled the tribe economically by being skilled in trades such as hunting, basket weaving and barter or trade (Lindsey, pg. 22.). Men were less masculine, remained close to the homes, danced and practiced art (Lindsey, pg. 22). Men also fought for the affection and attention of women; women usually accepted and tolerated the advances, sometimes even finding their need for attention amusing (Lindsey, pg. 22).

The Mundugumor tribe was drastically different from both tribes. The Mundugumor tribe “barely tolerated children” (Lindsey, pg. 21). Children were often left to fend for themselves, they were taught to be fierce and hostile, competitive and wary of others (Lindsey, pg. 21). Mother nor father showed much affection, nurturing or tenderness towards children, even their own and often used harsh, physical punishments (Lindsey, pg. 21). The learned behavior quickly culminated to understanding tribal success being “measured by aggression, with violence as acceptable, expected solution to many problems” (Lindsey, pg. 21). Due to the hostile, angry nature of the Mundugumor tribe, the children exacted these roles in their adolescent and adult life with their children and the cycle continued (Lindsey, pg. 21).

Mead noted that as with the Arapesh tribe, the Mundugumor tribe did not differentiate between male and female roles. That both male and female roles were interchangeable and personalities did not differentiate based on gender (Lindsey, pg. 21).

This information, coupled with the differences in the patriarchal and matriarchal societies lead me to believe and draw conclusion that “nurture” is the true winner in the debate. In society, many traits we attribute to being “inherited” such as how we act like one of our parents, or how we grow up to be a certain way, with certain morals and beliefs; but these are not inherited, but merely cultured by the environment (our home life, upbringing). How we act (or the role we play) is largely based on the ideals, morals, beliefs and customs of the society we associate ourselves with.

As shown above, many different cultures do things differently, so to say that things are “inherited”, I would say is wrong. Rather, the term I would use instead is “guided”- people are guided by their surroundings and families. While they are free to make their own decisions about who they want to be, what they want to believe and such, they are still shaped by what is deemed acceptable or not by the society they live in. It all relates back to cultural relativism, where nurture, not nature, shapes who we are.


Asiimwe, Florence & Owen Crankshaw. “The impact of customary laws on inheritance: A case study of widows in Urban Uganda.” Journal of Law and Conflict Resolution. Vol 3 (1). Jan 2011. Web. 1 August 2012.

Andrews, Cath. “Italian Family Traditions- Mothers, Sons and Marriage in Italy”. EZ Articles. 8 April 2010. Web. 1 August 2012.—Mothers,-Sons-and-Marriage-in-Italy&id=4074668


Dictionary. “Patrilineal.” 2012. Web. 29 Jul 2012.

Garrison, Laura. “6 Modern Societies Ruled by Women.” Mental_Floss. 23 July 2012. Web. 1 August 2012.

Lindsey, Linda. (2005). Gender Roles a Sociological Perspective. (4 ed.). Pearson Education International.

Mernissi, Fatima. “Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society.” (Revised Edition). 1987. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press

Nobelius, Ann-Maree. “ What is the difference between sex and gender?” Monash University. 23 June 2004. Web. 26 July 2012. WEBLINK NEEDED

N.A. “Women in Politics: Turkey, Greece, and Italy.” Web. 01 Aug 2012.

N.A. “ Uganda: Focus- Little change for women despite affirmative action.” 19 Dec 2002. Web. 1 August 2012.

N.a. “Nature versus Nurture: Genetics and Environment”. 2011. Web. 26 July 2012.

Portland State University. “Iroquois Women.” Portland State University. 1 October 2001. Web. 1 August 2012.

Reviere, R. “Women in US Prisons: Behind the Bars of the Patriarchy.” University of California, San Diego. N.d. Web. 29 July 2012.

Sanday, Peggy. “An excerpt from Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy.” University of Pennsylvania. 2002. Web. 1 August 2012.

Spiegel. “Men live better where women are in charge.” Spiegel International. 28 May 2008. Web. 1 August 2012.

Ssempogo, Herbert. “Uganda: Gender Violence Blocks Women Rights.” 5 October 2010. Web. 1 August 2012.

UDHS- Uganda Demographic and Health Survey. “Uganda Demographic and Health Survey Key Findings 2006.“ Uganda Bureau of Statistics. 2006. Web. 1 August 2012.

Wicket, Sticky. “Italian Culture Produces Patriarchal Society.” 16 June 2010. Web. 1 August 2012.

Wikipedia 1. “Nature versus Nurture.” 20 July 2012. Web. 26 July 2012.

Wikipedia 2. “John B. Watson.” 22 July 2012. Web. 26 July 2012.

Wikipedia 3. “Patriarchy.” May 2010. Web. 29 July 2012.

Wikipedia 4. “Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.” 24 July 2012. Web. 29 July 2012.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 8 January 2017

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