Gender, Nature, and Nurture: Some Real-Life Concerns - Gender, Nature, and Nurture: Looking to the Future

Gender, Nature, and Nurture - Richard A. Lippa 2014

Gender, Nature, and Nurture: Some Real-Life Concerns
Gender, Nature, and Nurture: Looking to the Future

We acknowledge a biological difference between men and women, but in and of itself this difference does not imply an oppressive relation between the sexes. The battle of the sexes is not biological.

(Editorial Collective, Questions féministes, 1977).

But then again, maybe the battle of the sexes is biological, at least in part. For example, if evolution molded women to seek devoted, faithful mates but it simultaneously molded men to sow their wild oats, then men and women bring an evolved conflict to their sexual relationships. And if men tend to be bigger and stronger than women, then biology may contribute, indirectly at least, to male violence against women. The battle of the sexes is certainly social as well as biological, fought over a host of issues such as equal pay for equal work, corporate glass ceilings, educational opportunities, programs to stop sexual harassment and violence, the availability of parental leave and day care, and child custody.

Let's briefly examine the nature-nurture debate in relation to a number of current real-life controversies that swirl around the topic of gender. Should working mothers receive more parental leave and more flexible work hours than working fathers? Should boys and girls receive identical treatment in school? Should women serve as combat soldiers? Should standards—for college admissions, for political office, for job promotions, for enrollment in the military—be the same for men and women? The goal is not to resolve these difficult questions but to consider how different assumptions about nature and nurture may suggest different answers to these public policy questions.

Rearing Girls and Boys

When psychologist Sandra Bem gave birth to her daughter and son in the 1970s, she knew at once that she was determined to rear them in a completely nonsexist manner (see Bem [1998] for a personal account). With her husband, Daryl, she instituted a carefully developed program to counter traditional gender socialization:

... [we] did everything we could for as long as we could to eliminate any and all correlations between a person's sex and other aspects of life. For example, we took turns cooking the meals, driving the car, bathing the baby, and so on, so that our own parental example would not teach a correlation between sex and behavior. This was easy for us because we already had such well-developed habits of egalitarian turn-taking. In addition, we tried to arrange for both our children to have traditionally male and female experiences—including, for example playing with both dolls and trucks, wearing both pink and blue clothing, and having both male and female playmates. This turned out to be easy, too, perhaps because of our kids' temperaments.

(Bem, 1998, p. 104)

Bem tells how, when her daughter Emily was very young, she would repeatedly drive past a local construction site where a woman worked as part of the crew, because she wanted Emily to learn that women and men could do in any kind of work. Bem limited her children's TV viewing to three hours a week to reduce their exposure to gender stereotypes, and she gave her children nonsexist children's books to read, even to the point of doctoring books with magic markers and whiteout to change the mostly male characters into female ones.

In raising Emily, Bem tried to counter common cultural attitudes about women's physical appearance and female beauty:

... I felt that a girl in our society would especially need to be inoculated against the ubiquitous message that there is something fundamentally wrong with the female body in its natural form. Why else, after all, would we women have to watch our weight so meticulously, shave our legs and underarms, douse ourselves in perfume, cover ourselves with makeup, augment or diminish our breasts, curl or straighten our hair, and so on ad nauseum? So when Emily asked for the first time, at about age three, why some very made-up woman in a restaurant had "all that stuff" on her face, all 1 could say, and I think I said it with a perfectly straight face, was that the woman wanted to look like a clown. As outrageous as this now sounds to me, the reason I said it was that I didn't want Emily, at such a tender age, to have to conceptualize the wearing of all that makeup as a necessary part of being a grown-up woman.

(Bem, 1998, p. 127)

When Emily was young, her nonsexist upbringing did in fact seem to influence her behavior. For example, Emily did not show the same degree of sex segregation that other children in her kindergarten class did:

When Emily was five years old, her kindergarten teacher told us that she functioned as a kind of bridge between the girls in the class and the boys, who would otherwise not have been playing with one another so productively. I doubt that Emily was still playing the same role in high school, but she did still have at least as many male friends as female friends, just as she had in kindergarten and nursery school. I don't know whether her ability to get on so well with boys had anything to do with her experience in rough-and-tumble physicality, because the boys she was friendly with were rarely the roughest. But whatever the reason, I was glad that, at every age, she constructed both a self and a social world big enough to incorporate both sexes.

(Bem, 1998, p. 129)

Of course, Bem was not a typical mother. She was a prominent gender theorist and a passionate feminist. Furthermore, she and her husband were academics who lived in liberal university towns, which provided supportive milieus for her feminist goals. Most parents do not have Bem's determination to constantly combat gender stereotypes and to rear their children in nonsexist ways. Indeed, many conservative parents would probably look aghast at Bem's child-rearing practices, and they would strive instead to rear their children in more traditional ways.

Although Emily and Jeremy Bem grew up to hold nonsexist attitudes and to be gender benders who violated traditional gender norms as young adults, both children nonetheless showed many sex-typed interests. Emily's passions were creative writing, drama, and the arts, whereas Jeremy's forte was theoretical mathematics, computer science, and physics. Of course, a sample of one boy and one girl reared in a non-gender-stereotypic home does not a scientific study make. Still, it appears that even though Emily and Jeremy were strongly influenced by their non-sexist upbringing, each brought unique (biological?) pre-dispositions that interacted with their unorthodox upbringing. The nontraditional rearing of Emily and Jeremy raises a host of broader questions: How much do nature and nurture influence children's gender development, and is it possible to easily change the course of gender development by changing rearing practices?

Childhood Gender Segregation: Can It Be Reduced?

In describing the consequences of her unorthodox childrearing practices, Sandra Bem noted that Emily preferred male as well as female playmates as a young girl and that Jeremy actually preferred the company of girls. Did Emily's and Jeremy's unusual upbringing lead them to seek out other-sex peers, and did their atypical playmate preferences influence their later gender development? We can never know the answers to these specific questions.

However, we do know that many studies indicate that childhood sex segregation is an important factor—a fulcrum—that contributes to early sex differences (see Chapter 5). Is it possible to reduce, or even eliminate, children's tendency to segregate by sex? If it were possible, would it be desirable to do so? As described in Chapter 5, attempts to reduce sex segregation in classroom settings have not proven very successful. It may be possible for teachers, with unlimited resources and constant surveillance, to bring boys and girls together. For example, teachers could assign students to alternate by sex in classroom seating, and they could always assign children to mixed-sex groups. On the playground, adult monitors could assign both girls and boys to participate in all activities: hopscotch and baseball, jumprope and football Gender integration would be constantly encouraged and even enforced.

Of course, children do not spend all their time at school. Would boys and girls be allowed to choose their own friends? If so, then sex segregation would probably emerge despite teachers' best efforts. Would sex segregation be permitted outside of school: in Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups, in Little League teams and ballet troupes? If so, then again, sex segregation would probably result. Would children be allowed to choose their own hobbies and activities: to collect Barbie dolls or baseball cards, to take dance lessons or karate lessons, to bake cakes or assemble model airplanes? If so, then children would probably choose their friends partly based on shared interests, and again sex segregation would likely result. Would children be allowed to pursue their individual preferences for rough-and-tumble versus more sedate styles of play? If so, then once again, sex segregation would likely result.

To prevent sex segregation would require strict regulation of children's lives, to the point of forcing many boys and girls to participate in activities they disliked. Although parents and teachers sometimes force children to do things they would rather not do, the rigid control of children's friendships and activities necessary to eliminate sex segregation would probably strike most American parents as excessive. Furthermore, even if parents and teachers wished to eliminate sex segregation, which many do not, they could not possibly monitor children 24 hours a day. It seems likely that reasonable efforts to eliminate childhood sex segregation would be doomed to failure.

In most real-life settings, childhood segregation by sex will remain a powerful reality, a reality that is probably fostered, at least in part, by biological factors. The real choice facing adults who supervise children is not to eliminate sex segregation but whether to reduce it in some situations, some of the time. Despite its resistance to change, childhood sex segregation may very well constitute a fulcrum in early gender development. Change it and you may alter the course of many of the other causal cascades that follow.

Historically, the one institution in the United States (excluding the family) that has most successfully brought boys and girls together in relatively equal-status settings is the public school system (see Tyack & Hansot, 1990). Indirectly, public education for large numbers of girls has undoubtedly contributed to the huge advances in women's rights that have occurred over the past century. Given the role of public education in integrating the two sexes and fostering gender equity, it is ironic that, same-sex education has increasingly been proposed as a remedy for problems facing America's schools.

Gender in the Classroom

Studies have indicated that girls receive less attention and encouragement than boys do in classroom settings (Sadker & Sadker, 1995). Teachers sometimes show gender bias when they call on boys more than girls, ask boys more complex questions, and listen longer to boys' responses. Compounding the problem., in the past teachers and counselors have often channeled girls into lower-status educational tracks, majors, and careers (see American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1992). Boys may contribute to gender inequities in the classroom. Due to their greater assertiveness, they may sometimes end up hogging instructional resources: lab equipment, computers, audiovisual aids. And because boys are, on average, more disruptive than girls are in classrooms, their very presence may detract from learning.

In all fairness, it is important to note that boys as well as girls face serious problems in school. Indeed, some contemporary observers argue that boys may be more educationally at risk than girls are (Sommers, 2000). For example, boys experience more reading problems than girls do, they are more likely to drop out of school, and on average, they receive poorer grades than girls do. Perhaps because of these problems, young men now constitute a minority of enrolled college students in the United States. Young men of all ages suffer disproportionately from an array of problems: attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, drug and alcohol abuse, violent assault and homicide.

Solutions for Problems Faced by Girls and Boys in the Classroom.

Are there solutions to the different (and shared) problems faced by girls and boys in school? If girls are in fact short-changed in many coed classrooms, then all-female education might constitute one solution. In same-sex schools, girls do not have to compete with boys for classroom resources, teachers' attention, or leadership positions. Furthermore, girls may experience a more comfortable, collaborative, and cooperative learning environment, and they do not have to play up to male egos or seek the attention of male peers. Finally, girls do not have to choose between academic achievement on the one hand and societal notions of femininity on the other.

Of course, there are other ways to create educational equity for girls. One is to educate teachers and administrators about the problem of gender bias in educational settings and to develop institutional guidelines on how to treat the two sexes equally in mixed-sex classrooms. Other approaches include special programs for girls, such as workshops that encourage girls to study science and math, classes and field trips that expose girls to successful female role models, and classes in women's studies.

Programs to address the problems facing boys in school include additional special education teachers and classes, special assistance for boys with reading problems, after-school tutoring programs, workshops to teach boys social skills and ways to de-escalate violent confrontations, and after-school activities (e.g., sports leagues) to help vent and channel male energy, competitiveness, and aggression.

The nature-nurture question is clearly relevant to discussions of how to best educate boys and girls. On the one hand, if environmental factors completely account for differences in boys' and girls' educational choices and outcomes, then environmental changes can reduce and even eliminate gender inequities and sex differences in the classroom. On the other hand, if genetic and biological factors contribute to sex differences in academic behavior and outcomes, then perhaps special programs must be tailored to each sex.

Many education researchers view math and science classes as especially critical for later academic and job success, particularly in today's high-tech, information-based economy. How should educators encourage girls, who seem less interested than boys in mathematics and the natural sciences, to take more courses in these subjects? A gender-neutral solution might be to require more math and science classes of all students and to counsel all students about the importance of math and science classes for future job success. A more gender-differentiated solution would be to develop special programs for girls that encourage them to take math and science classes and to develop instructional methods that are particularly suited to them, methods that make use of cooperative, group learning and of mathematics word problems that appeal to girls' interests.

If research suggests that some kinds of instructional techniques (e.g., group-based, cooperative instruction) are more effective for girls and different kinds of instruction (e.g., competitive, individual-oriented instruction) are more effective for boys, then which kind should be implemented in a mixed-sex classroom? Should educators use a Goldilocks in-between strategy that uses mixed techniques? Or should they educate girls separately from boys and tailor instructional strategies to each sex's on-average learning styles? This brings us back to the topic of same-sex schooling.

The Value of Same-Sex Schooling.

Many feminists view all-male schools, such as elite military academies, as bastions of male privilege. If all-male schools are objectionable, can all-female schools then be ideologically acceptable? One possible response is that all-female schools compensate for past inequities, whereas all-male schools serve to preserve them. Although there may be some truth in this argument, valuing all-female schools while devaluing all-male schools violates the principle of equal treatment for girls and boys. It also is logically inconsistent.

Does all-female education actually benefit girls? A number of studies suggest that women's colleges foster academic and career success in their graduates and that all-girl junior and senior schools encourage girls to develop more positive attitudes toward traditionally masculine subjects such as science and math (for a review, see American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1998). Girls attending same-sex schools also report that they experience more social support and that their classes have better order and discipline.

However, some of the positive effects of all-female education may be due to self-selection. The girls and women who attend such schools, which are sometimes also religious schools, probably differ in many ways from girls and women who attend coeducational schools. They may be more serious, more academically oriented, more religious, and more conservative. Same-sex education removes girls from the influences of a heterosexual peer culture, which often emphasizes appearances, sex appeal, dating, and nonacademic social and extracurricular activities (Riordan, 1990). As a result, the self-esteem of girls in all-female schools may be based more on their academic achievement and less on their physical attractiveness and sexiness. Same-sex education may also help reduce the problem of teen pregnancy.

On the other hand, the evidence is quite weak that girls in same-sex schools actually learn more than do girls in coed schools (Salomone, 2003). Existing research suggests that attending same-sex schools has little effect on girls' gender stereotypes. There has been little research on the effects of same-sex schooling on girls' later relationships with men. However, it seems obvious that same-sex schooling reduces girls' opportunities to interact with male peers. As a result, it may encourage female-typical styles of communication and interaction, and it may serve to extend the female culture of childhood into adolescence and beyond. Is this good or bad? On the positive side, same-sex schools provide girls with a nurturing and supportive environment. More negatively, they may not prepare girls for the more rough-and-tumble mixed-sex academic and corporate worlds they are likely to encounter later in life.

Some educators have recommended that schools experiment with a small number of all-girl classes, particularly in science or math. Such experiments can have paradoxical and unintended side effects, however. If participation is elective, then the existence of one or two all-female classes guarantees that girls not enrolled in these classes will attend math and science classes with higher-than-usual numbers of boys. The possible advantage of same-sex classes for some girls, then, might create disadvantages for other girls, who find themselves in mostly male classrooms. (Recall research on stereotype threat, described in Chapter 5, which shows that token female status in a group can trigger negative gender stereotypes and thereby undermine women's math performance.) Boys would also find themselves in increasingly male-dominated science and math classes. This could have the effect of fostering their negative stereotypes about women, particularly if they come to view girls are seen as requiring special math and science classes. Mostly male classes might also amplify the male culture of early childhood and adolescence and increase male behavior problems.

Same-sex education has been proposed for boys as well as for girls. Research suggests that same-sex schools may provide boys with higher levels of structure and discipline than coed schools, and they may also reduce adolescent boys' tendency to grandstand for girls' attention. At the same time, all-male settings may help continue the male culture of childhood, which emphasizes toughness, dominance hierarchies, and tribal loyalty to peer groups. Furthermore, when boys are separated from girls, it. may become easier for them to regard girls as sex objects and more difficult for them to view girls as intellectual peers and future work colleagues. Some research suggests that all-male schools may most benefit lower class and ethnic minority boys (Salomone, 2003).

Thus there Is a paradox: Whatever benefits same-sex education may bring, it also serves to extend childhood sex segregation to later stages of life and thereby perpetuates the male and female cultures of childhood. Current research evidence is quite mixed and ambiguous. In the words of one recent reviewer, "... the research comparing the relative merits of single-sex and coeducation has not yielded definitive answers" (Salomone, 2003, p. 235). Probably the best recommendation, given today's state of uncertainty about the advantages and disadvantages of same-sex education, is to experiment cautiously with same-sex schooling in selected populations of boys and girls.

A final cautionary note: Even if research shows that same-sex education provides some benefits, these benefits may turn out not to result from same-sex education per se but rather from correlated factors. Same-sex schooling may be effective because it provides students with individualized attention in small schools and classes. In addition, it may encourage classroom order and discipline, provide social support to students, emphasize academics over extracurricular activities, and break up some of the more negative aspects of peer culture. Many of these same results could be achieved in coed schools, with sufficient will and resources. Thus, it is important not to view single-sex education as a magic bullet that will solve all educational ills. Political battles over same-sex education should not distract us from other needed educational reforms, and the costs of implementing same-sex classes should not subtract from other worthy educational programs.

Gender and the Digital Divide

Research consistently shows that girls are less comfortable using computers than boys are, and they suffer higher levels of computer anxiety than boys do (Brosnan, 1998; Whitley, 1997). As a result, girls work and play with computers less than boys do, they take fewer computer classes in school, and as college students they are less likely to study computer science (Panteli, Stack, & Ramsay, 2001; Reinen & Plomp, 1997; Schofield, 1995). Girls tend to see computers more as means to accomplish tasks and communicate (e.g., writing papers or sending e-mails), whereas boys tend to see computers more as a source of fun and mastery (e.g., playing video games, solving programming problems) (Colley, 2003). In a world that increasingly depends on information technology in all areas of education, business, and entertainment, the digital divide has broad implications for the future educational achievements, job prospects, and incomes of women and men (Cooper & Weaver, 2003). if the past is a reasonable predictor of the future, then many fewer women than men will work in information technology jobs, and when they do work in such jobs they will tend to receive lower pay than men do (Baroudi & Igbaria, 1995; Klawe & Leveson, 1995; Panteli, Stack, & Ramsay, 2001; Tijdens, 1997).

Why do girls like computers less than boys do and reel more anxious about using them? One reason is that computer games and educational software, at least as implemented today, have features that appeal more to boys than girls. For example, they test spatial abilities (fly through the hoops in the Harry Potter quiddich game), they are competitive and aggressive (kill the alien invaders), and they employ sports and military images (explode the tanks with artillery shells). One study compared girls' and boys' reactions to two educational software programs: (a) Arithmetic Classroom, which presents problems on fraction multiplication and division and then provides verbal feedback about correct or incorrect answers, and (b) Demolition Division, which presents math problems embedded in pictures of military tanks that are moving toward the student's on-screen artillery position; after solving the problem correctly, the tank explodes on screen. The goal of Demolition Division is to solve all the problems (i.e., explode all the tanks) before the tanks overrun your artillery battery. When social psychologists Joe! Cooper, Joan Hall, and Chuck Huff (1990) had groups of New Jersey girls and boys play these two games they found that girls experienced more anxiety than boys when playing Demolition Division, but boys experienced more anxiety than girls when playing Arithmetic Classroom. Of course, in real life most computer games and educational software packages are more like Demolition Division than Arithmetic Classroom; they are designed (often by men) to appeal primarily to boys.

The social setting also tends to make a difference in girls' and boys' computer anxiety and computer performance. Some studies show that boys working in the presence of girls show better performance on computer tasks; in contrast, girls working in the presence of boys show worse performance (Light, Littleton, Bale, Joiner, & Messer, 2000). The Arithmetic Classroom and Demolition Division study found such effects (Cooper, Hall, & Huff, 1990). Girls' and boys' anxiety levels differed across the girl-friendly or boy-friendly software packages, particularly when girls and boys worked in public settings, in the presence of other children. In general, when working on computers, boys seem to excel more in competitive group settings, girls more in solitary or in collaborative and cooperative group settings (Cooper & Weaver, 2003).

Research on the impact of social settings on girls' and boys' computer performance is clearly related to the topic of same-sex versus coed education. In many high school and college computer classes, males outnumber females. Such male-dominated settings may automatically place females at a disadvantage. The presence of mostly male classmates may undermine girls' performance, especially when the software is male-friendly and the computer tasks are male-typical. Furthermore, girls' token status in male-dominated classes can evoke negative gender stereotypes about girls and computers, which undermine female performance further (recall the discussion of Claude Steele's [1997] research on stereotype threat in Chapters 3 and 5). The top students in any given computer science class are more likely to be male simply because most of the students are male, and this may lead schoolgirls and college women to make incorrect attributions ("males naturally tend naturally to excel at computer science, whereas females aren't as good") (Cooper & Weaver, 2003).

Are there ways to remedy the digital divide between boys and girls? Parents and teachers need to be sensitive to the issue and to encourage girls to use computers and to learn more about computers. Companies should develop educational software that is friendlier to girls, and educators must then select this software for classroom use. Girls may benefit from same-sex computer classes and labs. Even when schools do not opt for same-sex education, there are other ways to provide girls with same-sex settings in which they can learn and practice computer skills, such as all-girl computer clubs.

How does the nature-nurture question relate to the digital divide? On the one hand, to the extent that people's interest in computers and their acquisition of computer skills are influenced by parents, teachers, stereotypes, and social settings, society should be able to reduce and even eliminate the digital divide. On the other hand, to the extent that the two sexes differ, on average, in their interests, males may continue to be more drawn to computers and to computer science than females are (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Gottfredson, 1981; Lubinski & Benbow, 1992). Higher male thing-orientation and higher female people-orientation may ensure that boys continue to be more turned on to computers than girls are, despite equal abilities. The improving status of women in western societies, changing gender roles, and more educational programs designed to decrease the digital divide will provide new evidence of whether sex differences in computer use and computer knowledge are totally a function of nurture, or whether they are influenced, in part, by men's and women's natures as well.

Sexual Harassment and Assault: Are They Male Problems?

A recent (and controversial) book argued that male tendencies toward sexual violence, coercion, and rape have an evolutionary basis (Thorn-hill & Palmer, 2000). Although the reasons why men engage in sexual violence are open to debate, the empirical data are not: Men engage in sexual violence at much higher rates than women do. and women are much more frequently the victims of sexual violence than men are.

The nature-nurture debate is relevant to this real-life problem in the following sense: If biological predispositions—toward greater male sexual urgency, dominance, and aggressiveness—contribute to the problem of male sexual violence and coercion, then special educational and legal programs may be required that particularly target young men. And if girls and women are more often the victims of sexual violence, then special education programs—self-defense, risk prevention, and assertiveness—may be required that particularly target girls and women.

A gender-neutral strategy would be to socialize and educate boys and girls alike, to inform them of the ethics and legal consequences of abusive sexuality, and to teach them ways to protect themselves against sexual harassment and assault. More sex-differentiated strategies might be to monitor and restrict girls more than boys, to segregate the sexes (e.g., at summer camps, in dormitories, and at school), and to provide boys with special educational programs (e.g., about the emotional and physical consequences of sexual assault to victims and the legal consequences for perpetrators) and special extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, youth groups) that channel male energies and monitor adolescent males after school. Those who believe that biological factors contribute to male sexual violence would probably opt more for the gender-differentiating strategies just listed, whereas nurture theorists would likely opt more for gender-neutral strategies.

Chapter 5 described how girls tend to be sheltered ana protected more than boys and how this constitutes a kind of dependence training for girls. Because of fears about their sexual assault and abuse, many parents are unlikely to grant as much independence to their daughters as to their sons. Girls could be taught self-defense strategies and self-assertion. In a sense, this would constitute a socialization program designed to masculinize girls in certain ways. And boys could be taught to be less impulsive and more sensitive and compassionate, that is, to be more feminine. Men's sexual callousness may sometimes be aggravated by their participation in all-male groups (gangs, fraternities, all-male sport teams, military groups), which means that the problem of sexual violence intersects, in some ways, with the phenomenon of sex segregation.

Husbands and Wives: The Nature and Nurture of Close Relationships

Most people, regardless of their gender, find their greatest fulfillment in close and intimate personal relationships. However, men and women may, on average, behave differently in close relationships. How much is this difference due to nature, how much is it due to nurture, and does the answer to this question affect the potential happiness that men and women can find in close personal relationships with one another?

As described in Chapter 1, men and women look for somewhat different qualities in a mate. Men emphasize youth and beauty more than women do, and women seek out status and good earning potential in a mate more than men do. At the same time, men and women seek many of the same traits in a mate: kindness, fidelity, intelligence, honesty, and a sense of humor. Research suggests, consistent with social stereotypes, that men are more interested than women in sex for sex's sake, whereas women are more interested in committed, intimate, emotional relationships, which include sex as one part of a larger intimacy (Roscoe, Diana, & Brooks, 1987). Sex differences in sexual styles and desires are likely influenced, at least in part, by biological factors (see Chapter 4).

Traditionally, women have taken a more cautious approach to sexuality than men have. Women's role as the gatekeepers to sex in heterosexual relationships certainly has strong cultural as well as possible biological causes. Women are still subject to sexual double standards, which stigmatize them for engaging in sexual behavior that is accepted and even admired in men. Women become pregnant, but men do not. Women may face higher risks from sexually transmitted diseases, both in terms of health and fertility, than men do. If sexuality is socially constructed, then men and women may find increasingly common ground in their intimate relationships. On the other hand, if there are real and sometimes strong sex differences in aspects of sexuality, then many men and women may need to continually renegotiate their sexual relations, and they may often experience some degree of conflict (Baumeister & Tice, 2001).

Rearing Children.

Although men and women do not differ in their desire for children, they do differ, on average, in how and how often they interact with their children. Male participation in child care has increased in recent years in industrialized countries such as the United States, but women still bear the brunt of child care (Bronstein & Cowan, 1988; Coltrane, 2000; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004), and even when mothers and fathers spend equal amounts of time with their children, mothers nonetheless assume greater responsibility for demanding tasks such as grooming, tending to distressed and sick children, helping with homework, and disciplining (Renk et 2003).

The biological realities of pregnancy and breastfeeding ensure that most mothers invest more time and energy in their babies than fathers do. These biological facts of life may also cause women to experience stronger bonding with their babies than men do (Hrdy, 1999). Although men often deeply love their children, the nature of the mother-child bond may differ, on average, from the nature of the father-child bond. During early and middle childhood, fathers often play the role of occasional playmate and giver of discipline to their children, whereas mothers more often play the role of nurturer, mediator, caregiver, and executive who runs the child's life (Bronstein, 1988; Lamb, Pieck, Charnov, & Levine, 1987; Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Mothers are more likely to be the managers who make decisions about children's day-to-day activities, whereas as fathers are more likely to play with the kids for a time.., and then leave (Parke, 2002). Mothers seem to be more intimately connected with their children's lives, and they monitor the comings and goings of their children more closely than fathers do (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992).

Except in unusual cases, mothers and fathers are equally capable of taking care of young children. However, men and women may bring somewhat different skills and dispositions to the task. Whether as a result of nature or nurture, women are on average more socially perceptive than men are, and mothers are more nonverbally in tune with their babies and young children than fathers are (Huang, 1986; Lamb, Frodi, Frodi, & Huang, 1982). On personality tests, women report that they are more tender-minded and agreeable than men, whereas men report that they are more assertive and aggressive than women (see Chapter 1). Consistent with these self-reports, fathers are more likely than mothers to roughhouse with children, to command respect and obedience from children, and to deliver commands to their children (Bronstein, 1988). As described in Chapter 5, fathers treat sons and daughters differently more than mothers do, and fathers are more disturbed by feminine behavior in their sons than mothers are. On average, fathers police gender in their children more strongly than mothers do.

Divisions of Labor.

Husbands and wives must divide duties and chores between themselves. In some families, tasks are equally shared. In others, the division of labor is gender-based and gender-stereotypic. For example, husbands may be more responsible for outside work, and wives for inside work. Within the family, husbands may be more responsible for disciplining children and keeping family members—particularly boys—in line, whereas wives may by more responsible for mediating disputes, maintaining warm family relationships, and boosting and maintaining family members' morale.

Some gender-based divisions of labor in families are probably related to other kinds of sex differences, such as sex differences in nurturance, aggressiveness, assertiveness, interpersonal sensitivity, and people-versus-thing-orientation (see Chapter 1). On the one hand, to the extent that these differences have biological bases, it is likely that husbands and wives will continue to show somewhat different behaviors and roles in family life. On the other hand, to the extent that the behaviors of husbands and wives are determined by gender socialization and gender roles, the possibility exists for a future in which husbands and wives divide tasks according to their individual abilities and preferences and not according to gender.

Harmony, Disharmony, and Divorce.

It is estimated that in the United States, almost 50% of all first marriages end in divorce. Do the two sexes bring different interpersonal styles to marital harmony and disharmony and if so, are these differences due to nature or to nurture? Although social stereotypes portray women to be the more romantic sex, a number of studies suggest that men are more quick to fall in love and they take longer to fall out of love (Choo, Levine, & Hatfield, 1997; Peplau & Gordon, 1985). However, love may mean somewhat different things to the two sexes. For men, erotic attraction may be a relatively more important component of love, whereas for women, intimacy and friendship may be relatively more important components (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1986).

Some studies suggest that women are better than men at taking the pulse of relationships: monitoring their relationship's strengths and weaknesses and foreseeing problems and even breakups (Rubin, Peplau, & Hill, 1981). Such findings are consistent with the notion that women are, on average, more interpersonally sensitive than men are and that women are more people-oriented; that is, they reflect on, ruminate about, and analyze human feelings and relationships more than men do. If such differences are learned, then men and women may, in the future, aspire to relationships in which each is equally tuned in to the ebb and flow of interaction. On the other hand, if such differences have biological bases, then men and women may be destined to remain, on average, on somewhat different wavelengths in close relationships.

Some of the interaction patterns that men and women bring to close relationships may reflect patterns developed in same-sex childhood groups. For example, men may worry more than women about dominance, independence, and saving face in relationships, whereas women may focus more on verbal negotiation, sharing intimate information, developing reciprocal roles, and on cooperation. Perhaps men's and women's different experiences in sex-segregated childhood groups contribute to a common pattern observed in troubled marriages: the intrusive, verbally pestering wife versus the avoidant, distant, stonewalling husband (Gottman, 1994).

This pattern may relate to another sex difference: When stressed, women display more of a tend-and-befriend response, whereas men show more of a fight-or-flight response (Taylor et al., 2000; Taylor, 2002). Women often want to talk things out, negotiate, and verbally resolve conflicts. In contrast, men often want instead to flee a conflict situation, particularly if fight ing is not perceived to be an option. Research suggests that men show more physiological arousal than women do during marital conflicts, although on the surface they may appear inexpressive (Gottman & Levenson, 1988). This finding is consistent with research (see Chapter 1) that men are more often internalizers who maintain facial caim while churning inside, whereas women are more often externalizers who show their feelings facially but do not churn as much internally.

The differing interaction styles of men and women and the different strategies men and women use to resolve conflicts may result from both nature and nurture. Whatever their causes, the differing communication styles of men and women require continual accommodation on both sides (Tannen, 1990).

Child Custody.

Although both men and women are capable of caring for young children, the legal system in the United States favors mothers over fathers in child custody cases. This was not always true. Until the late 19th century, American society adopted British legal precedents, which held that a man's wife and children were, in essence, his property. As a result, when marriages dissolved, custody of children was usually awarded to the father. This made a kind of sense in agrarian societies, in which fathers worked at home and children served as laborers. With the advent of the industrial revolution, however, men left the home to work in factories and mills, and women assumed responsibility for child care. By 1916, social attitudes had changed to the point that the Washington State Supreme Court could write the following opinion in a child custody case:

Mother love is a dominant trait in even the weakest of women, and as a general thing surpasses the paternal affection for the common offspring, and moreover, a child needs a mother's care even more than a father's. For these reasons courts are loathe to deprive a mother of the custody of her children, and will not do so unless it be shown clearly that she is so far an unfit and improper person to be intrusted with such custody as to endanger the welfare of the children.

(Freeland v. Freeland, 1919: cited in McNeely, 1998)

Although modem courts and lay people would probably not state the matter quite so extremely, many probably agree, in essence, with the doctrines set forth by the Washington Supreme Court that mothers are more essential to young children's well-being than fathers are, and that a mother's love is more responsive to a young child's needs than a father's love is.

Over the course of the 20th century, and particularly since World War II, women have increasingly entered the work force. At the same time, women have remained the primary caretakers of young children. Many feminist organizations decry the gender inequities of parenting, and they strongly advocate more male participation in child care. At the same time, wives often oppose husbands who seek primary (or even joint) custody of children during divorce proceedings. Feminist groups are ambivalent about child custody rights for fathers, perhaps because child custody is one of the few areas in which women possess power in comparison to men. Whatever the ideological rationale, women end up with primary custody of children after divorce more than 90% of the time (for reviews, see Maccobv & Mnookin, 1992; McNeely, 1998).

Although many people still believe that, all things being equal, young children are better served by living with their mothers, the exclusion of fathers has had negative consequences for children. Fathers may distance themselves from children with whom they have no close emotional ties, and if fathers feel that their role is simply one of writing checks, they may then be tempted to abandon child support and eventually, their children. Unfortunately, child custody cases too often serve as means for embittered spouses to get back at one another for real and imagined past injuries rather than as means to serve the needs of children. Given the legal system's tendency to favor mothers in child custody cases, fathers often end up feeling victimized by the process.

If there are biological factors that predispose mothers to be more responsive caretakers of young children, then perhaps the legal system is right to award custody more frequently to mothers than to fathers. At the same time, the child custody system must try to keep fathers involved in their children's lives. Fathers may play a more critical parenting role during some stages of children's lives (e.g., during a boy's middle childhood and adolescence) than others. Further research and legal reforms are necessary if conflicts between mothers' and fathers' desires for child custody are to be resolved wisely (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992).

If a person's skill as a parent is strongly influenced by socialization, then one recommendation should be uncontroversial: We need to train both sexes—through family role models, through media role models, and through formal instruction—how to be better parents.

Gender in the Workplace

The increasing participation of women in the workforce has created public policy dilemmas. Should men and women be expected to act the same in the workplace? Should employers treat working mothers differently from working fathers?

The demands of parenthood clearly are biologically different for working women and men. Pregnancy and childbirth affect mothers more than fathers. Working mothers must often deal simultaneously with the physiological demands of pregnancy and the physical and psychological demands of work. Women must decide how much maternity leave to take. Then they must worry whether their absence will affect their careers and whether their return to work will adversely affect their babies (Hrdy, 1999). If mothers choose to breastfeed their babies, they are faced with additional decisions about how soon to return to work and whether it is possible to breastfeed and work at the same time. Even while recovering from the physical stress of childbirth, women are usually more responsible for child care than their husbands. (It is important to note that many new mothers do not have husbands with whom they can share child care responsibilities.)

Parental Leave, Daycare, and Mommy Tracks.

The biological facts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding may require public and corporate policies that treat women differently from men, at least in certain regards. Maternal leave must be sufficient for women to give birth, recover, and bond with their infants without worrying about the security of their jobs or paychecks. Of course, some would argue that what is really required is adequate parental leave and that both husbands and wives (and nonmarried parents as well) should be free to care for newborn children. The availability of affordable high-quality daycare would provide important help to many working women.

One controversial suggestion for dealing with the conflict that women experience between the demands of motherhood and the demands of work is for companies to create two career paths for women: a so-called mommy track for women who want to tone down their career goals a bit while they are rearing young children and a non-mommy track for women who want to purse their careers full steam ahead, without any concessions to motherhood (Schwartz, 1989). The mommy track would entail greater time flexibility, greater time off, and job features (e.g., little requirement for travel) that would make rearing children easier, whereas the non-mommy track would be the no-holds-barred default career path, which men typically pursue. Pursuing the non-mommy track would seem to require mothers to be superwomen, who heroically juggle all their responsibilities at once, and it would probably encourage some women to remain childless, at least during critical periods of their career development.

The proposal of a corporate mommy track generated strong protests from some women who argued that child care should not be a predominantly female responsibility and that parent tracks should apply to men as well as to women. The nature-nurture question lurking behind the mommy track controversy is this: Do biological factors lead women to be more physically and psychologically invested in child care, or is parenting purely a function of socialization? Can we envision a future society in which men and women equally participate in child care and child rearing? If not, should society create options, like the mommy track, that accommodate women's unique role as mothers?

Policy debates over women's work roles interact with other public policy questions. For example, if the legal system continues to favor women in child custody decisions, then divorced women who work will face different pressures, on average, than divorced men who work. And if women continue to hold lower paying and lower status jobs than men do, then many married couples will be tempted to sacrifice women's careers more than men's careers to accommodate the demands of rearing children. One virtue of the mommy track is that it aids women who wish to have children and to enter into high management positions, and thus it may help to reduce gender segregation in elite corporate occupations.

Sex Differences in Employment and Pay.

Perhaps no slogan so embodies the modern feminist movement as, "Equal pay for equal work!" In 2002, the median income of working women in the United States was 78% that of men. Despite the sizabie disparity, this represented an improvement over the corresponding figure from 1979, when U.S. women's income was only 62% of men's. In many ways, U.S. women have made impressive economic gains in recent decades. From 1979 to 2002, women's median income increased a whopping 27%, compared with a stagnant 1% increase for men (in inflation-adjusted dollars). From 1970 to 2002, the percentage of adult women in the U.S. labor force increased from 43% to 70%, and the percentage of adult women who had graduated from 4-year colleges increased from 11% to 32%. In addition, the percentage of employed women who were managerial or professional workers (typically, in jobs that required college degrees) increased from 22% to 34% from 1983 to 2002 (U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, 2004, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook).

Why do women nonetheless continue to earn less than men? Pay differences may result in part from prejudice and discrimination against women (Blau, Ferber, & Winkler, 1998; Glass Ceiling Commission, 1995a, 1995b). Some employers may hold stereotypes that women are less competent than men, particularly in male-typical occupations (Agars, 2004; Heilman, 1995, 2001; Swim, Borgida, Maruyama, & Myers, 1989). Furthermore, when women do succeed in male-typical jobs and display work-enhancing traits such as competitiveness, assertiveness, and dominance, they may be seen to be unlikable, aggressive, and unfeminine (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004). Thus, successful women face a double bind that successful men do not. Institutional barriers and old boys' networks still retard the progress of women in corporate board-rooms and in government corridors of power.

At the same time, it is important to note that there are other factors that lead to differences in men's and women's salaries. One factor is the kind of work that men and women do. Table 7.1 lists recent statistics for the percentage of workers in various jobs who are male and female. As the table shows, many occupations continue to be quite segregated by sex. Men and women receive different wages, in part because the differing kinds of work they do are often rewarded differently (Blau, Ferber, & Winkler, 1998).


Of course, this pushes the problem back one step, but it still does not explain why male-dominated jobs tend to have higher salaries than female-dominated jobs. Again, prejudice and social attitudes may provide one explanation: In sexist societies, occupations with higher proportions of male workers may acquire higher status because of their maleness, and occupations with higher proportions of female workers may lose status because of their femaleness (Blau, Ferber, & Winkler, 1998).

However, jobs with higher concentrations of men often differ in many ways from jobs with higher concentrations of women (see Table 7.1). Male- and female-dominated jobs often require different sorts of training, and they demand different kinds of human capital (i.e., traits, abilities, educational backgrounds, and personal resources). Women, on average, participate more in occupations that are people-oriented helping professions (e.g., teacher, nurse, psychologist, daycare worker), whereas men participate more in thing-oriented technical professions (e.g., farmer, engineer, mechanic, and computer scientist). Many male-dominated occupations (e.g., fire fighter, lumberjack, construction worker, miner, mechanic, telephone lineperson) entail dirtier, riskier, and more physically demanding work than female-dominated occupations do. Conversely, many female-dominated occupations (e.g., secretary teacher, nurse, social worker, librarian) offer more pleasant, indoor work environments, more opportunities for social interaction, better fringe benefits, more flexible hours, and more possibilities for part-time work than male-dominated occupations do.

Thus, there are economic and personal tradeoffs in choosing one sort of work over another, and sometimes women give up one kind of benefit (salary) to gain other kinds of benefits (pleasant, nonrisky work environments, good health care, congenial social settings). Similarly, men may give up some kinds of benefits (security, safety, good health care, fixed work hours) to gain others (higher salaries, outdoor activity and variety, the possibility of making it big in risky business ventures). Women's greater involvement in childrearing may provide one explanation for why working mothers prefer secure jobs, flexible hours, good health care and leave benefits, and options for part-time work. Consistent with this hypothesis, research shows that salary differences are greatest between married men and women with children, and smallest between single men and women without children (Blau & Kahn, 1992; Furchtgott-Roth & Stolba, 1999).

Men tend to invest more time in their jobs than women do, on average. For example, in 2002 the typical employed U.S. woman worked 36.1 hours per week, whereas the typical U.S. man worked 41.5 hours per week (U. S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, 2004, Women in the Labor Force: A Databook). Men on average bring more human capital to their work than women do (i.e., greater education, greater math and science knowledge, and more prior work experience) (Paglin & Rufolo, 1990). When studies attempt to explain male-female salary differences by statistically taking into account the differing human capital that men and women bring to their jobs, the unaccounted-for differences in men's and women's pay are often quite small (Harris, Gilbreath, & Sunday, 2002; Lai, Yoon, & Carlson, 1999). Again, this moves the problem of male-female pay differences back a step, but it does not fully explain them. Why do men, on average, work longer hours than women do? Why do men acquire higher levels of education than women do, particularly in highly paid, iu-demand technical subjects such as computer science, engineering, and natural science? And why do women prefer, on average, different kinds of work environments than men do?

Here is where the nature and nurture of gender may come into play. As described in Chapter 1, men are somewhat higher than women on traits like assertiveness. aggressiveness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, and social dominance, whereas women are higher than men on traits like tender-mindedness, neuroticism, and harm avoidance. Such differences likely influence the kinds of jobs and work settings that men and women seek. Men prefer realistic occupations (e.g., carpenter, mechanic, electrician) much more than women do, whereas women prefer social occupations (e.g., counselor, social worker, nurse) and artistic occupations (e.g., writer, dancer, home designer) more than men do. Not surprisingly, men's and women's work choices reflect these differing preferences. Finally, the ability profiles of men and women differ somewhat, on average. Men are more likely, relative to their other abilities, to excel at mechanical, spatial, and mathematical tasks, whereas women are more likely to excel at certain kinds of verbal abilities and social perceptiveness (Backman, 1979). Men's and women's work choices, to some extent, reflect these differences too.

The differing interest and ability profiles of men and women undoubtedly result from a complex mixture of environmental factors (e.g., socialization, social learning, cultural stereotypes, and social structures) and biological predispositions. On the one hand, to the extent that job preferences and work motivations are learned and malleable, we may move increasingly to a society in which men and women equally participate in all occupations and sex differences in pay continue to decrease and even disappear. On the other hand, to the extent that job preferences and work motivations are influenced by biological predispositions that show on-average sex differences, there will probably always be some occupations that attract relatively more men and others that attract relatively more women. Societies must then decide whether to let so-called men's work and women's work be freely priced by the marketplace or to "put a thumb on the scales" and implement social policies that guarantee that men's work and women's work are compensated equally (Browne, 2002).