Bodies – Biology

Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals and some plants. Sociologists agree that our species, the human species, has a low level of sexual dimorphism which basically means that thhe physical differences between males and females are relatively low.


According to Wade and Myra (Authors of Gender, Ideas, Interactions, Institutions)”…while men and women may not be biologically identical, we’re not particularly dimorphic either.” Our bodies are well human, developing from the same cells/tissue – modified by chromosomes and hormones to enable sexual reproduction. In truth, men and women have more similarities than differences, and both have strengths and weakness. This speaks to the ideal of looking at variation in two ways; within groups and between groups. We tend to use the word “opposite” when describing the relationship between men and women; thus constructing the dynamics between them in a polarized and negative way. It then becomes a case of “us versus them” in a number of subtle and obvious ways. As sociologists, we must take into account the variations within groups as well.

Despite this most people assume that females and males are extremely different to each other. Often this boils down to the age old debate; nature or nurture?

Nature versus nurture… the basics

Nature versus Nurture:

Nature or “Naturalism” suggests the observed differences between men and women are biological. Why is it so attractive to accept biological explanations concerning difference? It has the ring of “true” science; it supports common sense thinking; it tells us, “we can’t help it” – it reassure us it’s “natural.”

Nuture or “Culturalism” posits we become different through the process of socialization. Treated differently from birth, gradually acquire to the traits, behaviors, and attitudes our culture defines as “masculine” and “feminine.”

Research has shown that parents unknowingly treat ‘boy’ infants differently than ‘girl’ infants…

The nature/nuture debate is really discredited and flawed because both our biology and our socialization affect our differences and similarities. Scholars from all disciplines overwhelmingly reject naturalism, the idea that biology independently is responsible for our behavior. Likewise, we also reject culturalism, which is the idea that we become who we are strictly through learning and socialization. Since both our bodies and our minds interact with the physical and social world, we have to consider biocultural interaction, which is how our bodies respond to our cultural environment and vice versa. Pretty much, we as sociologists believe it’s a mix of both.

The nature versus nuture debate is fairly polarized – with only 2 sides to consider; and although sociologists and their ilk embrace a more inclusive perspective there are other considerations that come into play.

Alice Dreger talks about the our anatomy, which should it be our fate? I leave it you to make your own judgement. I think it is the best to educate ourselves and ask why we think what we think.

Additional videos to feed your curousity.

Defining difference – why women’s clothing sizes don’t make sense (Vox)

Why we need gender fluidity – Nicholas Metcalf

The Complexity of Gender Identity – ASA

Good luck!

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