19. The History of Behavioral Gender Assignment

From: The 7 Sexes

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19 The History of Behavioral Gender Assignment Identifying genes for homosexuality is difficult, but it is even more difficult to assign a genetic or innate basis for gender roles. Why should this besodifficult?Becausegenderrolesarenotoriouslyvariable.Atthetime of this writing, I am 79 years old. Almost three generations ago, when I was a child, my father was known as a breadwinner and my mother was known as a housewife. Most males were expected to earn a living for the family. If you mentioned the word “doctor,” I thought of a male. If you mentioned the word “nurse,” I thought of a female. In those days the police were policemen. Firefighters were firemen. Job assignments were sometimesgenderizedwithsuffixes—anactorwasamaleandanactress was a female. It was also widely believed that women were nurturing, emotional, and not as cerebral as men. Men were the thinkers, deciders, and protectors. Women cried, and men were supposed to tough it out. I remember my surprise when in June of 1940 I came home and saw my father crying. He told us Paris had fallen to the Nazis. It was so unusual I have never forgotten it. Now all my children, three daughters and two sons, have dual roles. They cook and they shop. They each diapered and cared for their children . They and their partners hold jobs, at least when economic times permitit.WhenIwenttoelementaryschoolIwasshuntedwiththeother boys into a woodwork class and girls were shunted into what was then called “home economics.” It was a surprise when my youngest son came from school ready to make us “cookies à la grandma.” I kept up with the changes and learned to cook, to shop in a supermarket, and to negotiate household chores.Itisn’tinmygenes to take out thegarbage or alternate cooking each week. They are roles I accept for living a life in which my The History of Behavioral Gender Assignment 141 wife and I could both pursue jobs before we retired, and in which we can both enjoy doing our projects. The gender model for most Americans is derived from the Bible, withitspatriarchalsocietiesthatprevailed3000yearsago.Inthatmodel, women are victimized because Eve was tempted by a serpent and, in turn, tempted Adam. While both were punished, Adam got the better deal. He labored for a living but he got to rule the household. Eve was limited to childrearing and serving her husband. Until relatively recently, women in the United States were largely absent from the affairs of state. None of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were female, no females attended as delegates to write the Constitution and females could not vote until the twentieth century. Gender Roles in the Animal World If people followed the advice of Solomon and studied ants for wisdom, they might have been surprised.1 In an ant colony, there is a queen, some short-lived drones, and a massive colony of sterile female workers. Many of these colonies protect themselves with an army of amazon warriors that engage in claw-to-claw combat, nipping off limbs and heads in the struggle to protect their queen. When people are afraid of spiders, it is the females they fear. Female spiders are larger than males. They are the ones who build the webs, wrap up the prey, and kill what they capture withvenom.Spidersdonotfollowthemammalianmodelofthestronger male and the weaker female. No spider male protects its female in the web from attacks by flies intruding into the web. In our popular mammalian image of gender roles, we have a comic book hero, Spiderman, rather than Spiderwoman, reversing their roles in nature. While sexual dimorphismisrealinthemammalianworld,itisclearlynotuniversal.In mostmammalsthemaleislargerandthefemalehastheroleofnurturing the infants and young offspring. In some mammals, like elephants, it is the matriarchal model that prevails. The males, when old enough, are expelled from the social unit.2 There is no evidence of genes associated with human gender roles. In the nineteenth century, it was widely believed that women were not capable of higher education. In the United States before the Civil War, very few colleges existed for women and very few jobs were available 142 for them. Women could not be ministers of their churches. If they had a writingtalenttheycouldwritebooksandarticles.Theycouldplaymusic, because that was considered suitable (it soothed the savage breasts of their mates). Some became artists, and kept sketchbooks and painted, but they were usually excluded from the male-dominated academies. Manywomenfoundanartisticoutletinquiltingorweavingwhichposed no threat of competition for men. When I was a premedical advisor at UCLA in the mid 1960s, most of the medical class was male. When I served on the medical...