Ars Technica on Gender, Nature vs Nurture

Ars Technica has an article up: Forget Venus and Mars, we’re beginning to understand Gender behavior on Earth in which they try to give an overview over some solid research and developing insights.

As part of the introduction, they write:

It’s all too easy to fall back on the clichéd metaphor that men and women hail from different planets, or the popular but sketchy evo-psych claims that trace every aspect of our behavior back to our origins on the African savannah.

and later on quote some studies that showed significant differences in gender gaps between societies, indicating that these claims can’t hold. They also report on some studies showing very early differences between differently-sexed children, and correlations to certain genes – results that I didn’t know and that I find highly fascinating.

In the home stretch, however, they open up a problematic either-or:

Note, however, that none of the studies advocating the role that culture and environment play in gender gaps actually rule out an evolutionary or biological contribution. As un-PC as it may be, it’s nearly impossible to believe that over our evolutionary history, the brains and behavior of men and women have not succumbed to different selective pressures. In the natural world, species from hummingbirds to hyenas demonstrate remarkable differences in the behavior of each sex. Is it so hard to believe that men and women have evolved to behave differently from one another?

However, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; our evolutionary history may have selected for differences in the behavior of males and females…Furthermore, the influence of the environment on our behavior is so strong that “nurture” likely plays a much larger role in gender gaps than “nature.”

Given the rest of the article, and Ars’ general level of knowledge and rationality, I am missing an important statement in there: Yes, there might be an evolutionary aspect to gender. But, our cultural development over the last couple of millenia has brought evolutionary influences of its own. The entire issue of lactose (in)tolerance comes to mind, as PZ Myers keeps pointing out. And this is why this “genetics or culture” thing is so problematic: Our genetic make-up has undergone selection pressure from cultural factors itself, so any claims that genetic females are predisposed to certain behavior has to eyed very critically.

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