Evolutionary explanations of gender roles

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  • Created by: Iqra97
  • Created on: 24-05-16 11:11

A01 - Division of labour

Traditional men were the hunters. The role of division may have evolved because women would have spent of their adult life either pregnant or producing milk or both. If a women spent stile hunting it would reduce the group's reproductive success. But also women contributed in important business of providing food by growing vegetables, making clothes and shelter etc. Not only does this complementary division of labour enhance reproductive success but it is also important in avoiding starvation, an adaptive advantage.

Kuh and Stiner gender division may actually explain why Homo sapiens survived whereas Neanderthals did not. The Neanderthals diet was mainly animals and both men and women hunted, evidence from the fact that male and female skeletons showed injuries which occurred during hunting there was also evidence that Neanderthals were farmers. They were also large and needed Hugh calorie foods, when hunting was unsuccessful the groups starved. A more adaptive division of labour evolved in humans but didn't in Neanderthals. 

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A02 for division of labour

Evolutionary explanations are speculative, they do not have a firm factual basis. Whilst lack of gender role division is a likely explanation for the disappearance of Neanderthals, there are other plausible explanations, such as climate change in Europe around 30000 BC. Therefore, this division of labour evolutionary theory can be criticised for being non- falsifiable; we can neither prove nor disprove it, but must look at the credibility of research support available.

The meat-sharing hypothesis when humans turned from being vegetarians to a diet that included meat, men became the hunters because of selective pressures. An outcome of this may be that men used meat as a means of attracting female interest. Studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies have found that men use meat as a means of gaining access to women. 

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AO1 - Mate choice

Gender role behaviours are related to adaptive reproductive strategies:
men increase their reproductive success by mating as frequently as possible and with those females who are most fertile. To ensure this me look for indicators of youth and healthiness e.g. Smooth skin, thin waist etc but indicate greater fertility.
Women seek signs of fertility in a partner, but are also interested in the ability to provide resources e.g a person’s wealth because they need to be cared for during childbearing and child rearing. Therefore, in terms of gender role differences, men will seek physical attractiveness and women will seek to enhance their physical attractiveness; women seek a partner who is wealthy and powerful, and men advertise their status for example by owning powerful cars. Buss questioned men and women in 37 cultures. He found that, as predicted:

  • Men placed more importance on physically attractiveness in a mate, evidence of a women’s fertility and reproductive value.
  • Women more than men desired mates who were good financial prospects 
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AO2 for Mate Choice

Research support Waynforth and Dunbar, used personal ads to assess what men and women were seeking and also what they were advertising, claiming that such ads are particularly interesting because they represent the writer’s ideal bid in the lengthy process of mate selection. 44% of males sought a physically attractive partner compared with 22% of women; 50% of women offered attractiveness whereas only 34% of males did.

In the study conducted by Buss, a questionnaire was used. Therefore the participants could answered the questions in a way that was expected of them thus the study lacks social desirability bias, meaning the study lack internal validity. 

One of the main difficulties with cross cultural studies is the degree to which data collected actually represents the behaviour of people from differrent cultures. For example people do not always represent themselves hoestly in a questionnair and, in the case of research conducted in other cultures, some of the questions may not make sense. 

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IDA - Nature vs Nurture

S - One debate raised in evolutionary explanations of gender roles is nature vs nurture. 

E - The evolutionary approach is a biological one, as it suggests that human behaviour and therefore differences in gender roles have been coded into our genes and those with the adaptive features are more likely to survive and reproduce. Therefore taking a nature approach towards gender roles.

E - However, the study conducted by Mead (1935), who studied gender roles and behaviour on three different tribal societies. They spent time with each tribe documenting how they lived their lives. The Arapesh put a high value on cooperation, child bearing was highly valued and both parents were said to bear the child. In the Mundugumor tribe, both men and women hated the idea of pregnancy, birth and child rearing. Lastly in the Tchambuli tribe men were regarded as emotional and unfit for making serious decisions. Whilst women took care of food gathering trade and other serious matters.

K - Therefore, since they found no universal features which would suggest an innate basis for gender roles, but instead found cultural specific features thus gender differences is also down to cultural and personal experiences. Therefore, the evolutionary approach can be criticised to be reductionist as it does not consider the social aspect, the cultural or personal experiences that could impact gender differences in gender roles. Genes only predispose us to certain behaviours and that cultural and personal experiences are important features in gender differences. 

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IDA - Determinism

S - The evolutionary explanation for gender roles raises the issues of freewill vs determinims as it ignores the freewill of an individual when it comes to gender roles. 

E - This is because the evolutionar explanation suggests that genes specify exactly how people will behave. For example genes specify that men will take the role of hunters and will seek younger women as partners. This rightly denies an individual of their own freewill, to choose what gender role they want to adopt, as it is already determined by our genes. 

E - However, the influence of peers can influence an individual to adopt a certain gender roles. the study by Perry and Bussey who showed film clips to chaildren aged 8-9. In the film boys and girls were seen as selecting an apple or pear, gender neutral items. Later the children were given a choice of fruit. Boys selected the fruit they had seen another boy selecting and the same for girls. Therefore, the peers may also influence gender roles not just genes. 

K - Therefore, the evolutionary explanation is reductionist as it ignores the many other approaches that could influence an individual in adopting a gender roles such as the infleunce of peers or parents. It also denies the individual freewill. 

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