Nature/Nurture Debate on Gender with Reference to David Reimer Case

Topics: Gender, Gender role, Gender identity Pages: 6 (2216 words) Published: January 13, 2009
David Reimer was born on 22nd August 1967 as a male identical twin. His birth name was Bruce and his twin brother was named Brian. At the age of 8 months while undergoing a circumcision operation, Bruce’s penis was burned beyond surgical repair. Ten months after the operation, Bruce’s parents became associated with Dr. John Money, a world renowned sex researcher developing a reputation in the field of gender identity. Dr. Money argued it was possible for a person to change gender successfully through surgery, socialisation and hormone replacement. Unaware Dr. Money had never attempted this before, Bruce’s parents, Ron and Janet Reimer consented. On 3rd July 1967 Bruce was surgically castrated and renamed Brenda. Brenda’s parents took her home under strict instructions on how to raise her. They were never to tell her she was born a boy and were to visit Dr. Money annually. Brenda had long hair, pretty dresses and girls toys but it soon became obvious that in everything else Brenda was masculine. She borrowed Brian’s toys and played with soldiers, cars and guns. Brenda walked like a boy, sat with her legs apart and insisted on urinating standing up. All of which was confusing for her and upsetting for Brian. Dr. Money passed this off as ‘tomboyish’ and instructed the Reimer’s to continue raising ‘Brenda’. Brenda began experiencing behavioural and emotional problems at school. Along with these problems, both Brian and Brenda detested visiting Dr. Money for annual check ups. These eventually ceased when the Reimer’s realised they were doing more harm than good. Brenda became increasingly troubled at school. Local psychiatrists reported Brenda knew she was different to other children and she continued to blame herself for problems within her family. As time passed and with Brenda’s increasing display of a boys persona and a nervous breakdown, it was recommended Brenda be told the truth. Immediately after being told Brenda reverted to her biological sex, she chose the name David and began having testosterone injections. David went on to marry but after harbouring resentment against Dr. Money, he decided to go public with his story. Tragedy struck when David’s brother died. Withdrawing into his grief and blaming himself, his marriage broke up, he lost contact with his step children and he made bad business decisions. David Reimer committed suicide in 2004. Mrs. Reimer blames the unusual circumstances of her sons upbringing on their deaths. Throughout Brenda’s childhood Dr. Money enjoyed continued success on his theory of gender neutrality and the success of gender reassignment surgery despite the torment Brenda was displaying. Many people believe gender roles are instinctive and predicted by our biology and genetics, others assert that we learn to behave the way that we do. This is known as the nature/nurture debate, which has been a prominent topic within psychology for centuries. Those that support the nature side of the debate would argue that behaviour that goes with male or female is determined by biological forces. The Biological Approach suggests the role of instincts and genetic inheritance explain gender role behaviour in terms of hormones and chromosomes for example, males have XY chromosomes and females XX chromosomes. In terms of hormones, boys produce Androgens which influence general male characteristics such as body shape, muscle growth, body hair and levels of aggression. Females produce Oestrogens which influence body fat, breast development and menstruation. In other words, biological theories of gender roles argue that boys and girls are genetically programmed to behave in ways that are compatible with male and female roles. Theories emphasising biological forces look for experimental evidence that link certain kinds of male or female hormones with certain types of behaviour. Research carried out on rhesus monkeys, has shown that their behaviour is greatly influenced by their levels...

References: Archer, J. and BloomLloyd, B., 2002. Sex and Gender. Cambridge University Press.
Cardwell, M. and Flanagan, C., 2003. Psychology A2: The Complete Companion. Nelson Thornes.
Davenport, G. C., 1992. An Introduction to Child Development. Collins Educational: Hammersmith London.
Money, T., Ehrhardt., 1972. Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, The differentiation and dimorphism of gender identity from conception to maturity. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. [Online] Available from: [cited 3 January 2009]
Thorne, B., 1993. Gender Play: Girls and boys in school. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. [Online] Assessed 4/01/09
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