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Sc2220 Lecture 3a 2009


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Lecture 3a: Biology, Sex and Gender (Continued)

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Sc2220 Lecture 3a 2009

  1. 1. SC2220: Gender Studies Biology, Sex and Gender (Continued) Dr. Eric C. Thompson
  2. 2. 3. Sex Differences that Matter in (Some) Social Contexts *Sexual Dimorphism *Reproductive Strategies *Sexual Competition *Hormones
  3. 3. Sexual Dimorphism <ul><li>Dimorphism: Two (“di”) forms (“morphism”) </li></ul><ul><li>Sexual dimorphism results from “natural” selection (and “sexual” selection) acting differently on males and females. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cooperation (selection) between sexes; mate-selection (women choosing men and men choosing women) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Competition between members of each sex; men competing with men; women competing with women. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Reproductive Strategies <ul><li>In mammals (including humans), females are far more limited in the number of offspring compared to males. </li></ul><ul><li>This inclines females toward “quality” and males toward “quantity” in sexual reproduction and practice. </li></ul><ul><li>Females are more “selective” (and in this sense, more active in driving human evolution; Hrdy 1981) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Sexual Competition <ul><li>Sexual Competition (over access to mates) occurs between men and between women; NOT between men and women. </li></ul><ul><li>Men compete with other men to make themselves attractive to women (based on what women want; or what men think women want). </li></ul><ul><li>Women likewise compete with other women. </li></ul><ul><li>At the same time, groups of men and groups of women often cooperate (in order to out-compete other groups of men or of women). </li></ul>
  6. 6. Some Consequences of Reproductive Strategies <ul><li>Physical dimorphism (men’s relatively larger size) is an outcome of competition between men. </li></ul><ul><li>Men’s larger size did not come about in order to physically dominate women; but in some cases it results in physical domination (violence or abuse). </li></ul><ul><li>Male competition focuses on sexual access to women. </li></ul><ul><li>Female competition focuses on access to the excess resources men produce (meat, money, etc.). </li></ul><ul><li>Some of the social and cultural consequences of these differences will be discussed later in the course… </li></ul>
  7. 7. Testosterone (Hormone) Theory <ul><li>Male dominance is often attributed to testosterone (e.g. Steven Goldberg, 1993). </li></ul><ul><li>Testosterone has effects that are important to understanding gender socialization – but they are oversimplified and exaggerated culturally. </li></ul><ul><li>The oversimplified, exaggerated testosterone explanations perpetuate gendered outcomes and are often inaccurate excuses for gender discrimination. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example: Goldberg (1993) concludes that because testosterone (may) incline men to be more competitive therefore women should never compete with men. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. A Few Facts about Testosterone <ul><li>Men and women have testosterone and are affected by it. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Men on average have 7x as much as women, but ... </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some men have less testosterone than some women. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Testosterone levels are affected by environment. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Levels of testosterone rise during competition (e.g. sports) – among participants and fans. The members and fans of a winning team have spike in testosterone after the game; testosterone levels in losing teams and fans drop. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Men’s testosterone levels fall after marriage and rise after divorce. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Boys have spikes in testosterone at various stages of childhood and adolescence. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Testosterone affects the body and emotional responses. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Social Effects of Testosterone Example: Childhood Sex-Segregated Play <ul><li>Testosterone makes boys more “aggressive” (agitated). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Boys and girls respond equally to physical/aggressive activities, but boys are more likely to initiate them. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Aggression contributes to different play styles. </li></ul><ul><li>Different play styles contributes to self-segregation by gender (boys play with boys, girls play with girls) </li></ul><ul><li>Segregation leads to different socialization (girls learn from each other ‘how to be girls’; boys learn from each other ‘how to be boys’) </li></ul><ul><li>The socialization is responsible for the greatest differences; the testosterone is a “catalyst” but not a “cause” (Testosterone would have no effect in the absence of socialization processes). </li></ul>
  10. 10. Beyond Testosterone <ul><li>Testosterone is just one example of the complex interactions of biology (hormones), society and cultural contexts. </li></ul><ul><li>Interactions between sex (biology) and gender (society, culture) are always similarly complex. </li></ul><ul><li>Correlation between a biological fact and a social and cultural one can never be taken as proving that one causes the other. </li></ul><ul><li>Reducing gender to biology is myth-making; not science. </li></ul>
  11. 11. “ Hormone drives sexy women to infidelity – says study ”* <ul><li>Based on research by Norman Li at SMU </li></ul><ul><li>Reported world-wide (France, China, Singapore, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>How do we interpret this report/finding? </li></ul>*See discussion in Course Wiki
  12. 12. Possible Misinterpretations <ul><li>Oestradiol (the hormone) makes women ‘horny’ and seek sex… (wrong) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Apparently NOT; Li and Durante specifically found that the hormone is associated with looking for a new (and presumably better) LONG TERM partner and NOT with seeking casual sex. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The finding is “significant”; therefore very important in understanding infidelity… (maybe, maybe not) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“ Significant” in statistical, scientific language means “probably not just an effect of chance” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>But, there are many factors involved in infidelity (social, cultural, environmental as well as other biological factors). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>While the effect of this hormone may be statistically significant, it may not be substantially significant. (Its significance may be tiny compared to all the other factors involved… that is an open question). </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Does Oestradiol “Explain” Infidelity? <ul><li>Example: “ The Quiet American ” (by Graham Greene) </li></ul><ul><li>Set in 1952; Older British Journalist in Saigon has beautiful young Vietnamese mistress (Phuong), who dumps him for a young American man. </li></ul><ul><li>Is the plot “explained” by Phuong’s high levels of Oestradiol? </li></ul><ul><li>Can we discount colonialism, social class, social and cultural beliefs about gender, nationalism, race, ethnicity, politics, etc.? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Biological Differences Matter. But (often) Myths Matter More . Biology is not destiny. Biology is ‘ expressed’ differently in different environments. Gender (social practices and cultural interpretations of sexual biology) is a process we live and a project we construct every day of our lives.