Where does one’s socialisation start? Does it begin with one’s parents or primary caregivers? Do you unconsciously observe their codes of behaviour and emulate that growing up, thinking that is normal? Does it get added to at school and then through life, influenced by the social circles you find yourself in? Does the media influence all of this, or religion or cultural practices. Do ancient rituals play a part? How important are the stories we are read (or read about) as children or the films we watch growing up? What about the fairytales and their characters that we fall in love with in our youth, perhaps they too are responsible for shaping who we are? Whatever it is (and it is probably a combination of all of the above) we are so subliminally shaped into who we are. But then again, maybe we were born that way? Perhaps their is a biology deeply entrenched that we cannot escape because we are not even fully aware that it is there?
When I was growing up we had a tradition of Sunday lunch every Sunday. It didn’t matter where you had been the day before or what your plans for Monday were, on Sunday we all knew we would be round that lunch table eating a delicious roast that my mother had prepared. The funny thing is that when we had finished that lunch, it would be my mother and I who cleared up, whilst my brothers and my father sat finishing their conversation. It was not until I had graduated from university (where I studied some feminist theory) that it even occurred to me that this was unfair. Or was it unfair? Because I suppose what I don’t remember is that my brothers were expected to mow the lawn. My brothers were responsible for looking after me as we got older and started going out. My brothers got in to a lot more trouble, I recall; and I don’t think that’s because I was a goody two shoes either.
The nature versus nurture debate around gender behaviour, gender roles, sexual orientation and gender difference is an interesting one. There are clearly ‘nature’ differences, but how much of these are heightened (or suppressed) through nurture, or our taught codes of behaviour and how much of that influences the fact that women don’t earn as much as men, or the fact that women tend to choose different careers to men? Do men really make better construction workers and do women really make better secretaries, or was this just something someone decided somewhere along the line and so now we all believe it. (By the way, I am not suggesting for a second that women couldn’t make fantastic engineers and men make wonderful secretaries). Why is it, I wonder, why more women than men wear nail polish, or dye their hair?
Recently scientists have discovered that in human DNA there is something that they have termed an ‘epigenetic tag’. There is an article on this in January 2012’s National Geographic Managzine, which you can read for more on this. Epigenetic tagging, very simply, refers to chemical mechanisms that can express (either by activating or suppressing) genes to different degrees. They do not change DNA, but rather redirect DNA if you like. So for example, trauma experienced by a pregnant woman can possibly activate or suppress the development of the fetus neurologically and influence things like whether or not that child is then born with mild autism.
I wonder if epigenetic tagging could influence the male and female biological imperative? I wonder whether or not our biological imperative is that different, or whether difference has been taught for economic reasons starting roughly in the eighteenth century?
Please let me know your thoughts, if you have any? There are so many avenues along which to explore the gender question. I wonder which are the most useful, let me know. I would love to know your thoughts.