Evolutionary explanations of gender

Evolutionary explanations of gender

  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 04-06-12 13:56


- One evolutionary explanation of gender is the division of labour whereby men were assigned hunters and women completed the domestic chores which would have increased the packs chance of survival and reproductive success. Men would have made for better hunters because generally they are stronger and fitter, this division of labour would have reduced the group’s chances of starvation and women would have been exposed to the dangers of hunting.

- Doing the domestic chores would have kept women more protected as it is less strenuous and would have guarded the camp whilst the men were out hunting therefore increasing the chances of reproductive success. This division of labour would have made them less likely to sustain injuries and so the evolutionary approach would suggest that groups who divided the labour would have been more likely to survive; this explains how gender roles have evolved over time.

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AO2 Strength

+ The evolutionary explanation of division of labour has strengths in the form of supporting evidence, for example Kuhn and Stiner's research. They suggested the division of labour can explain why humans survived but Neanderthals did not. With the Neanderthals both the men and women hunted and did not divide the type of tasks they did. There is evidence of female skeletons with injuries, which presumably occurred whilst hunting.

+ Not only would this reduce their reproductive success but more food would have been needed as both men and women were hunting, increasing the packs chance of starvation. A more adaptive division of labour evolved in humans which may help explain how gender roles evolved overtime as they were needed to survive.

+ This therefore supports the division of labour as an explanation of gender roles due to the fact there is supporting evidence upholding the main assumptions it can in fact be argued that this theory is valid.

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AO2 Weakness

- However there are problems with this evolutionary explanation as it is based on the evolutionary approach which is speculative. This means that the explanation does not have a factual basis and is highly subjective so it is difficult to prove the explanation is true.

- With gender roles we can never exclude factors such as social influences and therefore the division of labour can never be tested scientifically, so a cause and effect relationship between division of labour and gender roles can never be established. This weakens the division of labour as an explanation of gender roles as it suggests that there may be other factors involved in explaining how gender roles evolved over time.

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- Another evolutionary explanation of gender roles 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 and fertile (physically attractive) whereas women are usually more interested in the resources a man will be able to provide. This can be explained from an evolutionary perspective as mating with a physically attractive woman will give better genes to pass onto their children, and women seek men with resources such as wealth and power as it will increase their security and therefore their chances of survival.

- Evidence of this is provided by Waynforth and Dunbar who analysed personal ads, finding that 44% of males sought a physically attractive partner, 50% of women offered attractiveness, whereas only 34% of males did. This emphasises how physical attractiveness is more valued in a woman and would suggest that those who adapt to their gender roles would be more reproductively successful as they would be seen as more attractive. Mate choice can therefore explain the development of gender roles as we adapt to them in order to attract a male.

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AO2 Strength

+ This explanation has strengths in the form of supporting evidence. For example Buss explained what males and females looked for in marriage partners analysing results from over 10,000 participants from 37 different countries. They found that men placed importance on physical attractiveness whereas women placed it on good a financial prospect which supports the explanation of mate choice when explaining gender roles. This is because it shows we are more likely to pick someone who has adapted to their gender role as they are seen as more attractive.

+ This can help explain how gender roles have evolved overtime as those who adapted were more reproductively successful and therefore gender roles have remained in order to attract a mate. Furthermore the study sample was very diverse in terms of religion and ethnicity, as well as different political views making the results generalizable across cultures as the sample was representative of the wider population.

+ This means that the explanation of mate choice is applicable to many different cultures, therefore strengthening it as an explanation of gender roles.

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AO2 Weakness

- However methodological issues with the supporting study must also be considered, for example the method used was self-report thus leaving the study vulnerable to demand characteristics such as social desirability. Therefore we cannot be sure that anyone in the sample was completely honest in regards to what they look for in a partner.

- This lowers the internal validity of the study resulting in inaccuracy when looking at the findings generated, therefore we should be cautious when drawing conclusions from the study as we cannot be sure that results are accurate due to the confounding variable of demand characteristics.

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- One problem with evolutionary explanations of gender roles is that the evolutionary approach is deterministic; it assumes that all behaviour is pre-determined and that our genes determine the gender roles that we take on. This takes the nature side of the nature-nurture debate claiming that all behaviours are attempting to increase our chances of survival; however this deterministic interpretation excludes the possibility of social influences. Genes may predispose us to behave in a certain way but they do not dictate what we do, so the nurture side of the debate should also be considered.

- The fact that gender roles differ throughout cultures would suggest that social influences are also instrumental in determining our gender roles and therefore an interactionist approach should be considered when looking at evolutionary explanations of gender roles. Evolutionary explanations may partially explain why gender roles have developed but the fact that gender roles can differ globally would imply social factors are also involved, so the evolutionary explanations cannot fully explain gender roles.

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