The Daily Gamecock

Column: Don't confuse biology and socialization


Freshman year I took an honors theology course entitled Money, Power, Greed and Theology. As one of the few fiscally conservative students, I made plenty of waves. As a socially liberal proponent of feminism and queerness, I think my classmates had quite a hard time sorting me into an appropriate box. There was a boy in that class, a biology student like myself, who seemed to have a hard time separating sociology and biology. Whenever we would discuss something about gender inequity or socioeconomic divides, he would always say, becoming famous for this line, “Well, it all comes down to biology.” At the time, I was mostly horrified that this biology student seemed to have such a poor grasp on the subject. Now, I understand it to be a running theme in mansplaining systematic sexism.

In my previous article, I referenced a New York Times writer who seems to be struggling with the same concept. David Brooks confused genetics with evolutionary psychology — the mental gymnastics of which have not ceased to astound me a week later. But this is a common idea and a convenient excuse for a very social problem. The fact that most humans with vaginas can produce children and most humans with penises have greater muscle mass is biological. The fact that most humans with vaginas are called women and most humans with penises are called men is sociological. Biology and sociology are not mutually exclusive — there is plenty of crossover and interconnectedness — but to blame today’s gender divides on biology, genetics or evolution is inherently shortsighted.

Most people, at a college level of education, will be familiar with the concept of "nature versus nurture." For those computer scientists and mathematicians out there who have never been subjected to elementary psychology, let me break it down for you. Individual development is driven both by the genes a human has and their unique expression, as well as the environment they grow up in and the experiences and life events that shape them. For nearly every aspect of development, there are linked biological, sociological and psychological factors. This includes behavioral gender differences.

Genetically, it is true that women perform better on verbal skills and memory tests. Genetically, it is true that men perform better on spatial skills and systematics. This is true largely because these are the skills that fit the gender roles humans fell under in the period of time in which human beings were still under the pressures of natural selection. Evolutionarily, it was desirable for women, who birthed children, to be able to work together to rear children and for men, who were larger, to be able to hunt and kill prey. Humans have, at this point in our metastasis around the world, largely beat or counteracted the effects of natural selection, for better or worse. (I definitely think it’s for the worse.) So these reinforced genetic predispositions and adaptations are no longer being selected for or acted upon.

What this means is that by around the time humans began the widespread cultivation of agriculture and domestic animals, the evolutionary basis for gender roles was, for the most part, null. The fact that pregnancy and childbirth exact incredible tolls on the female body is indisputable. The idea (not fact, but idea) that women belong in the home to take care of these children is unfounded, more and more so in our modern culture. There is no way to escape the social conditioning of the culture you are born into. You can educate yourself and become aware of the effects it has had on you, but humans are social creatures and as such, there is a learning and training process by which young animals are taught the ways of their environment. This socialization is what produces the idea that women are intellectually inferior to men, which many modern cultures have ingrained into their everyday social and political interactions.

Systematic sexism can no longer be attributed to biology alone, or even largely based in biology, because it has become a major pillar in the structure of so many social and political regimes. The subjugation of women, such as with racism and queerphobia, is born from a desire of those in power to remain in power, namely straight, white men who want a hot dinner and a hot wife to come home to. And by perpetuating the system through which women are trained and socialized to be meek, nurturing and empathetic, while punishing them for being opinionated, ambitious or non-traditional, we are allowing these outdated and ungrounded attitudes to shape the future our daughters will be born into. 


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