Gender, Nature, and Nurture

By Richard A. Lippa | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER
5

The Case for Nurture

She wanted a son. He would be strong and dark, and his name would be Georges. This idea of giving birth to a male was like a hope of compensation for all her past frustrations. A man, at least, is free; he can explore the whole range of the passions, go wherever he likes, overcome obstacles, savor the most exotic pleasures. But a woman is constantly thwarted. Inert and pliable, she is restricted by her physical weakness and her legal subjection. Her will, like the veil tied to her hat with a cord, quivers with every wind; there is always some desire urging her forward, always some convention holding her back.

The baby was born at six o'clock on a Sunday morning, at sunrise.

“It's a girl!” said Charles.

She turned her head away and fainted.

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert

Like many great writers, Flaubert had the uncanny ability to get inside the heads of his characters. With a leap of empathy, he imagined the world from the viewpoint of a common, middle-class woman—Emma Bovary—and in so doing, he described how the life of a19th century woman was constrained by a host of social conventions and legal restrictions. With a cynical irony, Flaubert understood too that sexism can be lodged in a woman's as well as in a man's mind, and that vanity, frailty, and self-delusion are human characteristics that know no gender. Flaubert helped us to understand the complexities of gender by portraying the myriad events that mold the lives of individual women and men.

Scientific research provides another, complementary route to understanding the ways in which society molds men and women. By collecting

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