We are surrounded by gender lore from the time we were very young. It is ever-present in conversation, humour, and conflict, and it is used to explain everything from driving styles to food preferences. Gender is embedded so extensively in our institutions, our actions, our beliefs, and our desires, that it appears to us to be completely natural. The world swarms with ideas about gender; these ideas are so commonplace that we take it for granted that they are true, accepting common adage as scientific fact. Rarely do we — but we should — look beyond what appears to be common sense to find not simply what truth might be behind it, but how it came to be common sense.
It is frequently argued that biological differences between males and females determine gender by causing enduring differences in capabilities and dispositions. Higher levels of testosterone, for example, are said to lead men to be more aggressive than women; and left-brain dominance is said to lead men to be more rational while their relative lack of brain lateralisation should lead women to be more emotional. As an example, consider the obvious biological fact that women bear and nurse children and men do not. Couple this with the unremarkable view that women are also more gentle and nurturing than men, and, hey presto, we end up with a “biological recipe” for women to be the primary caretakers of children.
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