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1. Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation for gender roles Gender refers to culturally constructed distinctions between femininity and masculinity. Individuals…
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  • 1. Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation for gender roles Gender refers to culturally constructed distinctions between femininity and masculinity. Individuals are born female or male but they become feminine or masculine through complex developmental processes that take many years to unfold. For example, women usually look after babies while men are the providers. The evolutionary approach argues that gender role division appears as an adaptation to the challenges faced by the ancestral humans in the EEA. Therefore, the role differences we observe are more a product of our biological inheritance than acquired through socialisation As the evolutionary approach is a biological one, it suggests that aspects of human behaviour have been coded by our genes because they were or are adaptive. However, a debate of this approach is the nature vs. nurture approach, nature supporting the evolutionary approach being that we have evolved through survival value and its ability to increase an individuals opportunities to pass on their genes, an example showing this was Bowlby’s theory of attachment – concerning the role of evolution is the explanation of stress as an adaptive response to environmental pressures. Animals born without such responses die quickly. Nurture, on the other hand, is a view proposed by the social approach suggesting behaviour is affected by experience and environment. To support the evolutionary perspective, the division of labour was shown to be an advantage. Men were the hunter gathers, breadwinners, while the mother was at home acting as the ‘angel of the house’ and looking after the children. If a women was to hunt, this would reduce the group’s reproductive success, as the woman was the one who was pregnant or producing milk. Although, the women could
  • 2. contribute to the important business of growing food, making clothing and shelter and so on. This enhances reproductive success but it also important in avoiding starvation – an additional adaptive advantage. Kuhn and Stiner (2006) suggest that the division of labour may have been the reason why humans survived, whereas the Neanderthals died out. The Neanderthal diet was mainly animals and both women and men were hunter gathers, Neanderthals were large and needed high calorie foods; when hunting was unsuccessful the groups starved, suggesting a more adaptive division of labour evolved in humans but didn’t in Neanderthals. A key criticism from this is that evolutionary perspective is speculative, for example, the division of labour may be a plausible explanation for the disappearance of Neanderthals, but we have no direct evidence – other theories are equally as plausible, for example, climate change in Europe around 30,000 BC (Tzedakis et al, 2007). As the key to adaptive behaviours is a reproductive success. In terms of mate choice, men look for partners who are physically attractive, whereas women are additionally interested in there resources a partner might be able to provide. Males select women who are more young and healthy – smooth skin, glossy hair, red lips and thin waist are all indicators of this and add up to what we see as physical attractiveness. Females also seek this to an extent, although are more concerned to find a partner who can provide resources. Baron-Cohen (2002) calls a theory the emphasising – systemising - E-S theory. Research has shown that women are better at empathising whereas men are better are systematising. They have proposed that this gender difference may be the result of selection pressure for males, who develop better hunting strategies, and females, who
  • 3. focus on rearing children. Baron-Cohen suggests that males who are able to systematise with greater precision would have gained an evolutionary advantage. Baron-Cohen found that only 17% of men had a female empathising brain and the same percentage of women had a male systematising brain. This could show individual differences, in addition this research shows alpha bias, this theory sees there to be real and enduring differences between male and females. Following on from the E-S theory, women may not just be better at empathising but may also be more focused on interpersonal concerns, i.e relationship between people. Taylor et el (2000) have proposed that this may stem from the different challenges faced by men and women when dealing with stress in the EEA . Ancestral males would deal with threats by getting ready to fight, in contrast woman as primary caregivers would be to protect themselves and their young in their role as primary caregivers to children. This leads to female tendency to ‘tend and befriend’ at times of stress, whereas men are more likely to become defensive. Ennis (2002) conducted a natural experiment, showing there was no manipulation, to test male-female difference in stress responses. They sampled levels of cortisol a week before students took examinations (low stress) and immediately before the examination (high stress). In the male participants there was a significant increase in cortisol levels, whereas in females there was significant decrease, supporting the view that women respond to the stress of others in a different way to men. A further criticism to the evolutionary explanation is that it is deterministic. For example, our genes specify exactly how we will behave. In the case of gender roles, it s suggested that men naturally take the role of hunter, and have a natural inclination for a younger women as partners. This determinist interpretation fails to take into account the view of evolutionary psychologists that genes only predispose us
  • 4. to behave in certain ways, but do not dictate what individuals choose to do. Other factors also include the culture in which we live in and our personal experiences and decisions – suggesting that nurture is involved, not simply evolutionary – a biological approach. I do not think nature and nurture should be played against each other as it is quite clear there is a mix between biological explanations and social explanations, which we must take into account.
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