Males, Females, and Behavior: Toward Biological Understanding

Males, Females, and Behavior: Toward Biological Understanding

Males, Females, and Behavior: Toward Biological Understanding

Males, Females, and Behavior: Toward Biological Understanding


In nine chapters, contributors explore how genetic, hormonal, and neurological factors affect the behavior of males and females within complex environmental settings. Based on the latest research, the essays theorize about the causes of variation in sex differences in behavior and related phenomena. Sex differences in behavior are examined as a cross-species phenomenon and as having numerous biological as well as environmental determinants.


It is discouraging to note that as the twentieth century draws to a close, social scientists are still wrangling over the nature-nurture controversy, especially when it comes to gender differences in human behavior. Many social scientists are still going to considerable lengths to deny that biological factors make significant contributions to average differences in the way men and women behave (e.g., Fausto-Sterling, 1985; O'Kelly &Carney, 1986; Eagly, 1987; Eagly &Johnson, 1990; Nielson, 1990; Walton,Fineman, &Walton, 1996).

Consider the views offered by three social scientists who have written textbooks dealing with gender differences in human behavior. All three used a similar two-step process to counter assertions that biological influences are important. First, they exaggerate the view of those of us who believe that biological influences are important by implying that we are complete biological determinists. Second, they argue that environmental determinism is a more reasonable alternative than biological determinism.

The first example appears in a gender-studies text written by Charlotte G. O'Kelly and Larry S. Carney (1986). After providing lengthy criticisms of those who believe that "gender roles and gender stratification are biologically determined" (p. 286), these authors suggest that "only within the limits imposed by the conditions of their time and place" are the causes of human behavior to be found (p. 314). No mention is made of any biological causes.

Another example comes from an introductory anthropology text written by Richley H. Crapo (1990). He contends that "the personalities of men and women are not unambiguous manifestations of inherent characteristics that are fixed by nature." Instead, they are "manifestations of each society's culturally patterned role expectations" (p. 245). Like O'Kelly and Carney, he characterizes the views of those who believe biology is important as meaning that nothing else needs to be considered, a view that no one defends. of course . . .

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