Nature and Nurture: The Complex Interplay of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavior and Development

By Cynthia Garcia Coll; Elaine L. Bearer et al. | Go to book overview

4
Commentary
Anne Fausto-Sterling
Brown University

The interests that bring me to this topic include my own training and background in developmental biology, that is, the development of embryos from fertilization to birth, and my interest in systems theory and questions of embodiment, which come from the work I've done on two aspects of gender. My interests in gender can, in turn, be subdivided into the individual and the institutional. Individual aspects of gender often include the development of what people call sex differences. I define these as the set of cultural attributes or overlapping, but somewhat average, differences that appear between boys and girls and men and women as they work their way through the life cycle. Thinking institutionally about sex differences, however, leads me to examine how those characteristics emerge in the context of gender as many feminist theorists define gender—as a set of power relationships and a set of cultural attributes. So, gender has multiple meanings, which require definition at the beginning of any interdisciplinary discussion of the topic. Unless we make clear how we are using the word, there is enormous slippage from one level of social organization to another.

Gender has to do with power dynamics, and it can have expression in economics and the law as Felton Earls suggested in the context of his own work. Gender can have cultural expressions. Feminist humanists study these cultural expressions—for example, the portrayal of women and men in advertisements or on television. But, interestingly, a particular style of portrayal can have effects at the level of what one might call embodiment. The images, for example, of models or movie actresses or TV stars have changed over a period of years from the more voluptuous mode to the more anorexic mode; accompanying this change one finds 5-year-old girls who are saying that their legs are too fat. How do we move from

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