Evolutionary explanation of gender development

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Stephanie Hoskins
Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of gender development.
Gender refers to the concepts o masculine and feminine whereas sex is the biological
fact of being a male or female. According to the evolutionary approach, gender
differences are neither deliberate nor conscious they exist because they enhanced or
helped men and women perform particular types of roles in the past. Therefore, the role
differences we observe are more a product of our biological inheritance than acquired
through socialisation.
Part of the evolutionary explanation is Trivers' parental investment theory which argues
that the origin of behavioural differences between men and women lies in the different
ways of achieving reproductive success. Trivers (1972) suggests that for males,
offspring involves little parental investment whereas the reproduction for the human
female involves considerable investment. The best strategy for reproductive success for
a human female is to ensure the survival of her offspring. These traits, of investment
level compared to masculinity and femininity, were passed down as a desired
behaviour. A debate of this approach is the nature vs. nurture approach, nature
supporting the evolutionary approach being that we have evolved through survival value
and its ability to increase an individual's opportunities to pass on their genes. Nurture,
on the other hand, is a view proposed by the social approach suggesting behaviour is
affected by experience and environment. The evolutionary explanation of gender
developed has been helpful in understanding why physical differences such as body
dimorphism exist between men and women. Furthermore, the parental investment
theory can explain differences in aggression between men and women. However, a
problem with the evolutionary theory of gender is that evolutionary accounts can't be
tested using scientific methods, as it is not possible to go back in time. This means that
we cannot be completely sure if this theory does actually explain the differences in
gender roles and behaviours. Hagen (2002) argued that the theory is out of date and is
ignoring advancements in anthropology and archaeology. Although some evidence is
indisputable, such as women becoming pregnant, evolutionary psychologists need to
update their theories to align with recent findings.
Baron and Cohen (2002) suggested, in their ES theory, that male hunters gained an
evolutionary advantage systematising over women who were much more empathetic.
With their theory they suggested that during stress responses, men tend to be adapted
for flight or fight, whereas females are not. Shields (1975) suggested that men and
women evolved to have roles that complemented each other, in order for both genders
to survive. This is supported by Ennis et al 2001) who found that men show a better
`fight or flight' response, as during exams men's cortisol levels are higher than women's
during the same time period. However, evolutionary explanations may partially explain
why gender roles have developed but the fact that gender roles can differ globally would

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Stephanie Hoskins
imply social factors are also involved, so the evolutionary explanations cannot fully
explain gender roles.
Another evolutionary explanation of gender development is mate choice, which
suggests that gender role behaviours are related to reproductive strategies. It is thought
that men will look for women who are young whereas women are usually more
interested in the resources of a mate.…read more


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