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Cultural similarities and differences are rooted in biology in relation to sex and gender.
The terms gender and sex are not synonymous, though they are often understood and treated as such. Mikkola (2011) states that gender is the social interpretation of sex. Gender is socially constructed, and it therefore varies from culture to culture, and it has evolved over time (Gottlieb, A. 2002). There are some clear biological differences which distinguish men and women, most obviously reproductive function. Sex refers to specific biological and physiological characteristics that define women and men although I would argue that also sex is much socially construct and that the biological differences between men and women differ minimally and do not explain the social and cultural quasi universal inequalities between the two. This essay will look at evidence that shows that gender is not universal, and specific gender behaviours characteristics are not stable or rooted in biological differences between women and men rather it is deeply influenced by social roles, expectations and set social criteria. Eriksen (2010) points out that early anthropologist ethnographies had for many years neglected gender and women’s institutions or exaggerated the contribution of men to society as in the case of Malinowski’s ethnography of a Trobian society (in Eriksen 2010:133). As a result their focus on men was clearly the result of an ethnocentric approach and produced biased and one-sided knowledge, and thus has contributed to rendering the role of women almost invisible and their contribution to society unimportant (Moore, H.L 1994). In western societies the way gender is perceived has changed mainly due to various feminist movements and the sixties sexual revolution. This feminist approach separated sex and gender as symbolic categories and saw gender as culturally defined. Until then women were categorised as one and as having the same problems and experiences. One of the first anthropologists to question this empirical approach and distinguish between social and biological characteristics between men and women was Margaret Mead in her ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ (1928). Her comparative study of some teenage girls in Samoa outlined how the main contributors to the formation of girls’ personality and their coming of age passage were influenced by their different cultural approach rather than being biologically determined as thought in western societies. Mead argued that unlike their American counterparts the manner in which they discovered their sexuality carried less emotional stress or constraint; teenage girls were allowed to have a freer approach to the discovery of their sexuality which in turn ensured a healthier approach to life. Mead continued describing how their approach to motherhood also differed from that of western societies in the sense that when rising children more caretakers were involved, releasing parents, especially women, from the constraints of childcare. Mead with her studies identified a need to change American attitudes to the way children were educated and helped identify how approaches to gender differ from culture to culture. Discussions of gender revolve around the concepts of “masculinity” and “femininity” not male and female. Masculinity is typically associated with strength, ambition and emotional control. Boys and men are expected to engage in masculine behaviours. When in public, if boys do not exhibit certain stereotypical behaviours there are often people who will police their actions; boys are disciplined for performing non-masculinity behaviours in a public place, and thereby shamed into rigidly socialised masculine gender performance. Conversely, femininity is...
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