01 August 2007

Nature, nurture

Even as I write this blog post, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, parents and others across the globe argue to establish their points of view on gender differences and why they occur. Some provide biological explanations of human behaviour; some propose cultural stereotyping; some talk about evolutionary programming as God’s will and testament.

Whatever the real reasons may be, I can’t deny the fact that men and women are different. That, when it comes to men and women, and boys and girls, their abilities, their responses to everyday stimuli, and the applications of their bodies and minds differ from one another according to their genders.

It’s still a mystery to me if the reason women have a nurturing nature is because they learn to play with dolls as girls earlier in life. Or, the reason men take to fast cars and spaceships is because, as boys, they grow up playing with toys which they keep throwing around their rooms or playgrounds or at each other. Not to mention the fact that boys and rough play is as common as girls and tenderness.

There are, of course, undeniable natural biological differences between the genders. After all, in any given population, on an average, men are taller, built heavier and more powerful (in, say, throwing a rock, or lifting heavier loads, or running faster) than women. I guess these abilities naturally define some of the job roles that men and women take up in any society.

I also believe we are defined by our environment and our upbringing (and, not by nature alone). In that order, cultural stereotyping does define many gender roles in our society. Which means, thinking and speaking positively, nurturing certain abilities in us can prepare us for many job roles which have, traditionally, been attributed to a specific gender… and break the myths associated with cultural stereotyping.

An example of this would be space travel, a domain which had been exclusive to men as they were believed to possess ‘the right stuff’ but has now welcomed women astronauts like Sally Ride (first American woman in space, 1983) and, more recently, Sunita Williams. It’s interesting to note here that the Russians had broken this myth of stereotyping way back in 1963 when they had sent Valentina Tereshkova on a space flight aboard Vostok 1. So, perhaps, nurturing can make a difference we are normally unaware of.

Regardless of our beliefs, the nature versus nurture debate still continues. I remember reading somewhere that internationally-renowned paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould had always despaired over the question of nature versus nurture. Professor Gould believed that biology and environment are so inextricably linked that such debates were meaningless.

No comments: