The issue of gender and its construction is one that has been a major debate for the longest time. The rise of gay and lesbian rights as well as rights for other non-cisgender people has brought this issue to the limelight and many scholars have ventured into this topic. With regard to gender, one question that has been in the center of most debates is whether gender is a natural or a social construction. Most scholars support the latter, and that ones gender is not determined by nature. Those who are of this opinion argue that sex is not the same as gender and that while one may have male or female biological sex, that does not necessarily define their gender. This debate is part of an age-old debate about the role of nature and nurture (environment) in determining human behavior, a debate that has been there for centuries now, since it was introduced by Socrates and his student, Plato. In the modern times and with regard to gender, the debate is important because it is the linchpin with which the rights of those with different genders that do not correspond to their biological sex are either secured or discredited.
Kane is a Professor of Sociology and also a member of the Program in Women and Gender Studies at the Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. In her book, she looks at the issue of gender and the role of nature and nurture in its construction. She does this by interviewing numerous parents of all social and economic categories about this issue. These parents range from single parents brining up both girls and boys, gay partnered parents and heterosexual parents as well. As she carried out the interview, it was clear that most people believe that nature has a major role in determining someones gender. However, some argue that they believe that the environment also contributes to the gender construction.
Those who believe that social factors have a role in determining a persons gender also believe that nurture alone cannot be responsible for gender constructions and that it only plays a minor part. For instance, Kane interviewed Maya, who is a low income single mother of African American ethnicity. This single mother who is bringing up her own two daughters and a son believes that someone is born with their gender, they are born knowing their gender (Kane, 2012:54). In her interview, she said this about her daughter to emphasize that gender is natural and society has little to do with socialization; She likes dolls, she likes makeup, she likes girl things (Kane, 2012:54).
As Kane (2012:54) says, Maya is part of what she calls Naturalizers and in line with this, Maya combined biologically determinist analysis with commentary on the social construction of gender, particularly noting peer influence as a source of some of her children's interests (Kane, 2012:55). Kane also interviewed another kind of parents that she categorizes as Naturalizers. One of them was Jamie, who said I pretty much encourage him [his son] to stick to mostly boys' things, toys and clothes and stuff.... Like I wouldn't let him wear pink, because like I said before, I wouldn't want people to think he was gay (Kane, 2012:75).
She also interviewed some gay parents as well as heterosexual parents. Anthony is one such heterosexual parent who has a cisgender wife and a gay partner, and has children in both relationships. According to him, nature has a bigger role in determining ones gender. This can be expected from such a person given that his gender does not conform to his biological sex.
Kane argues that most parents who were interviewed tended to have the view that nature has a bigger role in gender construction. This is probably because a greater majority of the population constitutes cisgender people and they are more likely to have the traditional view that gender is natural, and not caused by environmental factors. As she says; most parents interviewed reported a range of actions that reproduced or resisted gendered outcomes for their children (Kane (2012:38).
Kanes book is one that is crucial to the current debate about gender and the role of both nature and nurture (environment) in constructing it. However, her approach is one that may raise some questions. Her main aim in developing the book using interviews was to probably establish the general publics view with regard to the construction of gender. In the book, it is clear that most parents believe that both nature and environment has a role in gender construction.
However, the book fails to delve deeper into the issue. For example, it does not look at the larger society in a more critical perspective to determine how the society as a whole helps in gender construction. What comes out more powerfully is the fact that parents play a major role in this process, given the way they treat their children with regard to how they dress them, the toys they buy them and the kinds of activity they gear them towards. However, a closer look indicates that even these parents, in doing so, are being affected by the larger society.
Parents do these things that reinforce a certain gender because they are forced to do so, through symbolic interactionism, by the society. They learn these lessons from childhood and when it is their time to bring up their own children, they use the same motif that structured and formed them in terms of their gender and personality. The book fails to look at this issue and also fails to look at other problems such as how some children turn out to have non-conforming gender orientations. How, for instance, do parents of such children react when they know that this is the case, when they know that their child is not taking a gender that is in line with their biological sex. More so, the issue is gender in relation to sexuality is not well discussed and this is something that tis critical to this debate. It is common for most people to have the idea that gender and sexual orientation are the same, yet this only applies for cisgender people. The book could do a better job in addressing this issue.
The book by Kane indicates that most people are likely to have the perspective that gender is a natural construction. The author provides good insight into this issue, but has failed to provide deeper analysis regarding the same. The ideas she brings forward are not new and even a nonprofessional can synthesize them. The author can provide better insights by addressing critical issues such as the role of the society in not only directly influencing ones gender, but also in influencing the parents in regard to how they bring up their children to construct a certain gender.
Kane, Emily W. 2012. The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls. New York, NY: New York University.
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