The Case for Nurture
Gender affects virtually every aspect of our lives: the clothes we wear, the decoration of our rooms, our hobbies and interests, our favorite school subjects, our work and careers, our ways of interacting with others, our sexual relations, and our roles in family life. Why is gender so overwhelmingly important? It is tempting to answer that it is because women and men are born with different natures.
According to evidence presented in this chapter, however, the reason gender is so important is that it is ceaselessly drilled into us from birth on: by our parents, teachers, and peers; by the mass media; by a host of social institutions. We amplify the impact of social learning when we label ourselves as males and females, develop gender stereotypes, and internalize self-concepts as males and females. Aiding and abetting the process is a society that enforces gender roles and status differences between the sexes. The environmental gender juggernaut is so pervasive, so ubiquitous, that it becomes invisible to many of us. We are like the proverbial fish in water; we cannot see our environment for what it is. Our surroundings are so saturated with gender lessons that gender becomes second nature to us, which we readily confuse with nature itself.
And so we suffer from an illusion—that gender is innate rather than a product of relentless, ongoing, and ever-present environmental forces. Scientific research can help us see past the illusion. It can help us realize that, like the veil to Madame Bovary's hat, our behavior as men and women is constrained by many cords; it quivers before countless past and present gusts.