Evaluate whether the statement ‘Boys are hardwired to be different to girls’ is true

This essay will evaluate the debate surrounding whether boys are biologically different from girls or it is the social environment which causes the diversity among them. The text will start introducing the nature vs. nurture debate which is closely linked to the topic. Then, it shall explore the different genetic makeup that exists between males and females before moving on evaluating that social construction is the main force that shapes the difference between boys and girls. This whole theme is of interest because new investigations over the last two decades have brought a lot of new data and insights into how genetics and the media influence the way boys and girls feel, think and act differently. Therefore, educators and psychologists can offer better information and policies aligned to each sex rather than to children in general.

Firstly, the history of the nature vs. nurture debate goes right the way back to Plato and Aristotle and runs through the whole western philosophical tradition until the present day deep into the fields of sociology and psychology. Plato already considered that children are born with innate ideas which are buried deep in the psyche of each soul much in line with the well-known theory of the linguistic Noam Chomsky who considers young toddlers to have already set in place an innate cognitive structure in their mind to handle and talk several languages from birth. In contrast, Aristotle believed that each child learns through experience and the environment they live in, in much the same way as John Locke who considered that children are born equal and with discipline and education can reach higher intelligence, health and wealth in life. Gjersoe (2014) highlights this whole nature and nurture debate together with its various authors, diverse views and long history, coming down to the study of genes and social environment and even the way they are interwoven nowadays. New research over the last two decades, especially into genetics, related to the nature vs. nurture debate has provided greater insight how and why girls and boys act, feel and think differently, and this will lead to the first idea.

The biological differences between girls and boys are shaped by genes which determine several cognitive and physical distinctions in their later development. To start with, boys have one Y and one X chromosome and girls have two X chromosomes, and that genetic trait, being given from their parents, defines whether a child is born male or female. In addition, genes affect body height, hair and eye colour, blood type and even mental health issues such as autism, schizophrenia and antisocial behaviour (Gjersoe (2014). Lise Eliot in ‘Debunking gender stereotypes’ The Open University (2014) shows that male brains from birth are 9% larger than female brains and that difference continues for men and woman throughout their entire life. These same findings also reflect the fact that men are somehow 9% taller than women and that is clearly seen throughout many cultures. Furthermore, Eliot, in her meta-analysis study, demonstrates that there are differences observed in the adult brain which highlight the fact that woman use more the verbal strategy ability of the brain to remember things and emotions while men use more the visual spatial division. That indicates that, from birth and throughout their development to adulthood and life, boys and girls use different brain structures, hence males and females recall and work with the senses, memory and emotions differently due to their genetic makeup.

These genetic data highlight the fact that boys and girls use different brain structures which affect them differently in the way they grow, hear, act, feel and think. Men are not just taller as girls but also enter puberty later as girls who are also related to the genetic makeup. Hauspie and Roelants (2012) cited in Gayle Dillon (2014, p. 277) state that girls begin puberty at the age of 10 while boys begin at the age of 12. And some girls start as early as 7 or 8 with pubic hair and breast development (Greenspan, 2014). That data shows that girls encounter sexuality related developmental issues earlier due to genetics. Another biological factor is that physical aggression is more prevalent in boys than girls, who in contrast, are more prone to using verbal aggression (‘Debunking gender stereotypes’ The Open University 2014).  Due to these innate biological traits, it is completely understandable that boys are much more drawn towards violent video games and more aggressive sports such as soccer or rugby. In contrast, girls are much more in tune with their emotions and feelings and start puberty earlier. In line with this, Sax (2006) reports that girls, as young as babies, listen and hear better and care more about feelings due to the verbal strategy ability of their brain while boys are much more in action mode, restless and aggressive relevant to the visual-spatial function of the brain. All this data highlight evidence enough that the genetic configuration plays a significant role in children depending on which sex they were born.

The essay will now look at the other main idea which is the social and cultural construction which many professionals consider as the major force that shapes the differences between boys and girls. Commercialization, socialisation, and sexualization are major ‘environmental’ factors, which construct gender and personality in girls and boys, each of them in a very specific unique way.  For example, there are cultures where men must go to war while women have to take care of children, household and family (Holford 2014).This attitude is deeply embedded in some societies’ belief and actions which shape children as early as their infancy. In these countries, boys are trained to fight and respond aggressively to invaders. The whole country needs to survive as a nation as seen in some conflict-ridden African countries nowadays or back in the Second World War. Going back to the genetic component of physical aggression which is more common in boys than in girls as discussed in the previous paragraph, it makes it quite complex to understand which part of ‘genetic vs. social construction’ is more predominant in this aggressive behaviour in boys/men when they need to fight in a war. And it is not only in those warring countries where people and society behave differently to girls and boys. In western societies too, adults act and behave differently towards boys and girls even when they are babies (Seavey et al., 1975) cited in Holford, p. 257 (2014). Adults use different verbal or bodily languages depending on whether they are dealing with a boy or a girl and that will influence children’ behaviour on the basis of their sex.

Another social construction that affects boys and girls differently is seen in some countries through commercialization such as clothing differentiated by gender and gender orientated toys and attitudes. In countries such as the UK, there are entire shops for girls and boys offering gender-specific products, such as clothes and toys. In line with this, The Open University (2016) refers to research carried out with boys and girls under the age of 5 in a house setting where they were allowed to play freely with any toys. It showed that boys engaged in more active pursuits such as playing at campfires, camping, driving a car and even chasing robbers. In contrast, girls were seen as working more in harmony in the house, making food and taking care of babies. The researchers also observed that boys were much more aggressive or dominant towards the girls telling them to sit quietly in the back of the car or that shopping is for girls. This setting shows that gender oriented toys and attitudes learnt from parents and society affect boys and girls differently and this shapes the personality depending on gender.

Another example of social construction between males and females is sexuality and gender performance. It is a well-known attitude of gender roles in Western societies that boys who have sexual encounters with many girls are considered to be strong and popular while girls who explore their sexual drive, in the same way, are seen as ‘whores’. Patriarchal societies, through the church, parents, peer groups and the opposite sex criticise girls harshly for exploring in ways considered inappropriate. Judith Butler(1990) cited in Holford (2014, p. 261) explains the concept of gender performance, by which children are not just children, but experience a constant process to fit into the environment and society and gender roles. Boys are seen as heroes if they sleep with as many girls as possible, while girls are educated as sweet, gentle and angelic to fit into the gender norm of the society. Thus, gender norms and gender performance affect boys and girls differently in a consistent way throughout child and adulthood, thereby influencing their behavioural attitudes and way of thinking.

The media, sexualization and commercialization have shaped boys and girls towards an entirely new dimension of being, thinking and doing. The best example for girls is the long history of the Barbie doll and her beauty syndrome. She is blond, tall, sexy, has rich friends and a perfect body. Girls who play with one feel more attractive and up to date. The Open University (2016) comments that over one billion Barbie dolls have been sold over the last 50 years. (Kehily et al., 2002 cited in Kehily (2014) direct research with teenage girls in a real classroom setting over a period of time points out that prepubescent girls are already imagining having sex with their male teacher and other boys. This finding demonstrates the huge sexual desires these girls are already feeling. The magazine ‘Dolly’ is another example how the way girls think, act and behave is shaped. Teenage girls consider themselves as attractive, feminine, young, healthy and not as childish or naive and ‘Dolly’ helps them to create this new identity. There is no doubt that the market and its industry stimulates boys and girls to feel wants and desires based on their unique genetic constitution, as seen in the next paragraph for boys.

The commercialization of violent video games and being the hero is more appealing to boys than girls. The vast majority of boys play video games where action, killing and violence are dominant. Playing is fun, boys can choose their weapons and ‘kill’ just about anyone they want (The Open University 2016). Research has shown that playing these violent video games engages the visual-spatial ability of the brain (Ferguson, 2010). Reflecting back on the genetic makeup in boys, who were biologically born with the brain structure where this visual- spatial function is more predominant than in girls, this raises the question of whether the inherent genetic aggression in boys is the key component in this violent attitude or whether society and commercialization transfer these aggressive qualities onto them. Nowadays, many scientists agree that there is an interaction between genes and environment which shapes boys and girls accordingly as seen in these last examples such as video games and the Barbie doll or magazine Dolly.

This essay has discussed the nature vs. nurture debate and how new data in genetic research has provided new insights into how and why boys and girls act, fell and think differently by using different functions of the brain. The text then explored the other main idea that boys and girls are socially constructed in the sense that the media, the whole commercialization and sexualization play a major role in shaping girls and boys differently. Whether boys and girls are biologically different displays the complexity of the interaction of these two fundamental ideas. The biological side definitely exerts a significant influence. However, throughout life boys and girls are also affected by their overall environment. It seems clear that with this new research and these findings, parents, educators and society as a whole can provide much better education, policies and information to each gender and help boys and girls in their unique way to develop well-being which each individual deserves as his or her birthright.
Words: 2000

Reference list:

Dillon, G. (2014) ‘Adolescence’ in Farrington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (eds) An Introduction to Childhood Studies and Child Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Ferguson, C. J. (2010) Blazing Angels or Resident Evil? Can Violent Video Games Be a Force for Good? Review of General Psychology, 2010, Vol.14(2), pp .68-81 Peer Reviewed Journal

Gjersoe, N. (2014) ‘Nature and nurture’, in Farrington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (eds) An Introduction to Childhood Studies and Child Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Greenspan, L. (2104) (Online) Available at http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/12/02/367811777/how-girls-are-developing-earlier-in-an-age-of-new-puberty. (Accessed 11 May 2017).

Holford, N. (2014) ‘Gender and sexuality’, in Farrington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (eds) An Introduction to Childhood Studies and Child Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Kehily, M. (2014) ”Tweenagers’ and the commercialisation of childhood’, in Farrington-Flint, L. and Montgomery, H. (eds) An Introduction to Childhood Studies and Child Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Sax, L. (2006) Why Gender Matters, Broadway Books, New York

The Open University (2016) ‘Debunking gender stereotypes’ [Video clip], E102 Introduction to childhood studies and child psychology. Available at http://bigthink.com/videos/debunking-gender-stereotypes (Accessed 18 May 2017)

The Open University (2016) ‘Gender identities in pre-school.’ E102 Week 25 Gender and sexuality (Online). Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=853557§ion=1.1 (Accessed 18 May 2017)

The Open University (2016) ‘The story of Barbie’ E102 Week 24 Tweenagers and the commercialisation of childhood (Online). Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=853553§ion=1.1 (Accessed 18 May 2017)

The Open University (2016) ‘Doom, boys own digital adventure.’ E102 Week 24 Tweenagers and the commercialisation of childhood (Online). Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=853553§ion=1.3 (Accessed 18 May 2017)

Taylor, A. and Richardson, C. (2005) Queering home corner, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 163–74.