Sex and Temperament

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Anthropologist Margaret Mead addressed the differences in temperament found between men and women in her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935). In this study she concluded that sex has no bearing on social traits and the temperament of an individual. Her research looked at whether masculine or feminine traits are innate or learned. She also questioned whether men and women differ because of nature (heredity) or nurture (socialization). She concludes that cultural conditioning is more important than biology in shaping the behavior of women and men. The observed differences in temperament between men and women are not a function of their biological differences. Rather, they result from differences in the socialization and the cultural expectations held for each sex within a society.

However, Meade makes a point about the role of deviance in the societies. Deviance is defined as any behavior that violates social norms. When women are naturally gifted or better than men in their own field of expertise, this causes the men to doubt their own manhood. This is one of the reasons why men who conform most closely to accepted “temperament for males in their society are most suspicious and hostile towards deviating women who in spite of a contrary training, show the same temperament traits” (306). It is certainly possible for one to be female and identity themselves as masculine or to be a male and identity themselves as feminine. For example, gender roles might include women investing in domestic life and men investing in the worker role. The concept of gender identity is also different from gender stereotypes, which are shared views of personality traits often tied to one's gender such as instrumentality in men and expressiveness in women.

In western culture, stereotypically, men are aggressive, competitive and instrumentally oriented while women are passive, cooperative and expressive. Early thinking often assumed that this division was based on underlying innate differences in sex traits, characteristics and temperaments of males and females. In this older context, measures of femininity/masculinity were often used to diagnose what were described as problems of basic gender identification, for example, feminine males or masculine females.

In her book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, there are sections that concentrate on how particular cultures in the Pacific regions view femininity and masculinity. Her anthropological examination of these Pacific island tribes examines in detail the different dynamics involved in the evolution of some of primitive cultures. She contrasts these Pacific island tribes and their societies with America's modernized perception of the term “male and female.”

Mead disagreed with the theory that masculine and feminine roles were innate and unchangeable. She is led to the conclusion that the society influences different patterns of temperament. Among the Arapesh people, both males and females displayed what would be considered a “feminine” temperament. The Arapesh were passive, cooperative and expressive. Among the Mundugamor people, both males and females displayed a “masculine” temperament. These Mundugamor were active, competitive and instrumental. Finally, among the Tchambuli, men and women displayed temperaments that were very different from each other. The women in Tchambuli society were shown to be dominant and impersonal, and managerial. The males on the other hand were less responsible and more emotionally dependent on their female counterparts.

Another example, among the Arapesh people is that both men and the women are gentle and nonaggressive (40). Men are equally responsible for nurturing of children, as are the women. “The baby is never left alone; comforting human skin and comforting human voices are always beside it” (42). This shows that both the parents will take turns watching the baby and never leave its side. The way in which men...
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