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SOCS 185 Discuss Nature, Nurture, and Gender Identity

Week 3

SOC 185 Discuss Nature, Nurture, and Gender Identity

Sociologists and other social scientists have long been skeptical of biological explanations of social life, and many continue to be so despite advances in the integration of biological and social research. One classic example of the debate between nature and nurture is that of gender identity formation.

First, consider how gender is formed as a social construction. How were you socialized into learning what was considered culturally appropriate behavior for your gender? What agents of socialization taught you these cultural norms, and which was the most significant in shaping your sense of self? Be sure to use specific examples from the reading and your own experience to help form your response.

Ensure to make your first post by Wednesday and remember to reply to your classmate’s posts!

We all know that the family into which we are born has enormous importance in our lives. But what about the importance of birth order? According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Frank J. Sullivan, birth order makes a major difference in personality and a person’s openness to change.

Firstborns, Sullivan claims, tend to identify with authority and uphold the status quo, while later borns are more likely to identify with the underdog and challenge the establishment. This is not just interesting on a personal level but has larger implications for society. During the 1930s, families had an average of 2.5 children, so firstborns made up 41 percent of children born then. This category has been known as the Silent Generation, generally conservative and defending the status quo.

On the other hand, in the Baby Boom of the postwar years, families had three or four children on average, and the percentage of firstborns shrank in proportion. Since the older Boomers, who are more likely to be firstborns, are now passing out of positions of power in business and politics, this is a possible explanation for our nation’s moving away from the conservative era of the religious right and welfare reform to a more liberal political climate. Sullivan expects younger Baby Boomers, of whom many are younger siblings, will follow on the heels of their older brothers and sisters and continue to press for reinventing Social Security, and health care, and to push for expanded government programs.

What about “middle-borns”? According to Sullivan, middle-borns tend to mediate and compromise. In our current age of political conflict, perhaps what we need are more of these.

 How much validity do you see in this birth order theory?  Does your own life experience support it or not? Explain.


Russell, Cheryl. “Birth Order and the Baby Boom,” American Demographics, Vol. 19, No. 3 (March 1997): 10-12.

In the pre-industrial United States, parents had more control over their children’s mates, but that changed with industrialization and parents lost much of their control.  The new industrial economy fostered what is known as the conjugal family, a married couple who lived away from their parents and worked outside the home for income.

How has childhood changed over time and what are the consequences on the family unit/system as a result of these changes in childhood and families?


Second, consider the idea of gender as a performance. Watch the following TED Talk, “A Playful Exploration of Gender Performance (Links to an external site.)” by performer Jo Michael Rezes.

As you watch the TED Talk, consider and address the following questions:

  • How is gender “performed” every day and in social situations?
  • What are some techniques for “performing” gender identity that people use?
  • How does the idea of performance fit into the nature vs. nurture debate?

Remember to keep an objective, research-based critical thinking response that allows for learning to happen.

Another area that comes to mind is the issue of “Female Circumcision”. This is the circumcision of young girls as a traditional practice in certain cultures. This custom takes on different forms in different cultures. Often it is supported by women who insist that the custom continue. Others claim it is a form of ritual torture to control female sexuality.

Discuss (be mindful of your own ethnocentric perspective) this tradition and attempt to explain the gap in public opinion and the persistence of the use of female circumcision despite the prohibition in the countries that still practice this way of life.


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