Gender, Nature, and Nurture: Looking to the Future
Gender results from a complex cascade of biological and social-environmental factors. Biological factors include genes, hormones, and neurophysiology. Social-environmental factors include family, peer, teacher, and media influences and the effects of social roles and institutions. Various causal factors constantly interact with one another; therefore it is often difficult to precisely partition the causes of gender into two categories labeled nature and nurture.
Still, nature-nurture questions are worth posing, if we are willing to accept a range of answers. The relative impact of nature and nurture may vary depending on factors such as age, social class, cultural milieu, and gender itself. The future task of gender researchers is to specify exactly how a host of biological and social-environmental factors weave together to create the complex tapestry known as gender.
The causal cascades that influence sex differences in behavior and individual differences in masculinity and femininity may differ. Analyzing the relationship between sex differences and within-sex variations in gender-related behavior, across cultures, may provide new information about the influence of nature and nurture on gender.
The nature-nurture debate is relevant to many public policy issues: gender equity in schools, the advantages and disadvantages of same-sex schooling, the digital divide by gender, sexual coercion and violence, the success and failure of close relationships, parenting styles and child custody, and gender equity in the workplace, in politics, and in the military. Both scientific research and public opinion about the nature and nurture of gender will influence future public policy decisions concerning these issues.