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Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of gender roles, including parental investment and sexual selection

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Introduction

´╗┐Outline and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of gender roles, including parental investment and sexual selection (24) In relation to gender, Evolutionary Psychology assumes that the goal of most human behaviour is to maximise the survival chances of the individuals genetic line, and therefore gendered behaviours developed through the process of sexual and natural selection as an advantageous mutation to each sex to aid survival. It argues that gender differences arose to enhance our chances of reproductive success and producing healthy offspring. Evolutionary psychologists therefore explain many differences between males and females in terms of the ?Parental Investment Theory?. Males can produce millions of sperm, and can potentially father vast numbers of offspring, and as a result an effective reproductive strategy for the male is simply to impregnate as many females as possible to ensure his genes flourish in the next generation. Various male strategies have arisen to find suitable partners, such as hip to waist ratio and youth, which both signify a woman?s fertility. ...read more.

Middle

William and Best?s findings show that men were perceived as dominant, whereas women were seen as caring, which supports the parental investment theory as part of the evolutionary explanation, therefore adding validity to the approach. Barry (1957) conducted a supporting study with detailed research across many non-Westernised cultures, looking at which qualities were deemed important for males and females. Nurturing was seen as a dominantly feminine characteristic while self-reliance was seen in the same way for males. These findings are similar to Western perspectives of gender roles, suggesting universal generalisability. His study supports the evolutionary explanation of gender roles as females were seen as nurturing, which has an evolutionary advantage in helping to raise offspring, while self-reliance could relate to the independence of hunting and competition for resources. Also, non-westernised and westernised cultures both had the same perception of what masculine and feminine characteristics were, which in turn undermines the cultural approach to gender roles and adds validity to the evolutionary explanation. Mead (1935) conducted a study on social groups in Papua New Guinea, providing evidence of cultural gender role differences and thus contradicting the evolutionary theory of gender. ...read more.

Conclusion

The evolutionary theory argues that gendered behaviours developed because they were advantageous mutations to each sex and thus gender roles and divisions of labour are argued to be universal. Evolutionary research, such as Barry?s (1957) study, therefore presents an issue for the argument that gender is culturally relative. As much research has shown there is some universality to gender roles and behaviours throughout the world, this would suggest there is an evolutionary basis to gender, which cultural research fails to explain. However, evidence has shown that gender is culturally relative and thus behaviour, roles and division of labour varies widely between cultures. This can be seen in Mead?s research, which demonstrates the differences in how gender roles are divided cross culturally in Papua New Guinea communities. Overall, the debate into whether gender is universal, with roots in evolution, or culturally relative, is complex and the research is varied. The best approach would be to consider the complex phenomenon of gender as a combination of both evolutionary traits, which are shaped by cultural experience. In this way, an approach can account for all research and argument into the causes of gender around the world. ...read more.

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