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Critically examine an aspect of gender in a personal, community, social, economic and/or political context. Explore the implications for adult and community education. Topic: The Interplay of Nature/Nurture in Gender and Its Implication in Academia.

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Critically examine an aspect of gender in a personal, community, social, economic and/or political context. Explore the implications for adult and community education.


The Interplay of Nature/Nurture in Gender and Its Implication in Academia


The implication of gender studies in adult and community education is vast and numerous. It includes sensitising participants concerning the conceptualisation of gender, its institutionalisation, evolution, dynamics and the influencing factors in our contemporary society. The issues of gender have become axiomatic, and thus seems as an imperative given the modern changing dynamics of our social system and its impact on both men and women, which has continued to generate discussions, debates and controversies in the fields of academia. The debate is centred over the causes of gender, whether it is caused by nature (biological) or by nurture (socially constructed), and therefore leads to the critique of what ‘gender’ is anyway, and how mankind have embraced it since the dawn of history. However, many believe and contest that the causes are both the interplay of nature and nurture (heredity and environment). The social scientific perspective acknowledges the interplay of nature/nurture in shaping gender, and this has continued to generate contentious debates and controversies. The nature/nurture linkage makes it an opened can of worms. Lippa (2005) noted that, “Nowhere is this debate more contentious than in the study of gender” (xvii). The study of gender attempts to explore and question the degree of interconnectedness or the complementary interplay of nature/nurture in the evolution and sociological norms and theories of gender. Lippa (2005) noted that, “It is a truism in science that no single study can definitively answer any question, and this is certainly true in the study of sex differences” (p. 9). Therefore, this essay will attempts to explore, delineate and analyse gender from classical to contemporary, identifying factors that have influenced its evolution, dynamics and changes. Thus, will attempt to analyse how certain key factors have tended to influence or perpetuate gender study. The essay will then summarise the implications of gender in adult and community education.

The Classical and Modern View of Gender

The concept of gender and gender studies is a recent phenomenon influenced by modernity and its associated and concomitant circumstances, including the institutionalisation of patriarchal social system, the women movement, and also the media, social class, ethnicity and socio-politics, cultures and historical influences. In the ancient times, there was little or no study of the genders, presumably because the social world was less sophisticated, primitive, and uncivilised. We can only speculate that perhaps, there was nothing like conscious awareness of gender. The evolutionary development of human socio-linguistics, cultures and religion influenced the growth of organised human societies, economics and politics, which led to establishment of norms and sanctions that regulated behaviours and social order. Since then, traditional societies oriented from naturalists perspective tended to normalise and functionalise man (male) and woman (female) according to nature’s determinism. The greatest book of all times the Holy Bible recorded what I could vividly attest as my earliest authentic internalised knowledge of the origin, purpose and collaborative duties of man (male) and woman (female) in our social world. This religious authoritative and unquestionable normative notion of man and woman also evolved into the culture of our modern Western societies, which invariably was influenced by Christianity. Although many analysing our contemporary Western society, which was said to be greatly influenced by Calvinist capitalism will argue the exercise of power and hegemonic ideology by men to dominate and marginalize women supported by institution of marriage, contemporary monogamy and patriarchy (Engel, 1845).  

However, the advent of modern philosophy, which began with Rene Descartes’ (1596-1650) mind/body split has been linked to enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, capitalism and modernisation/modernity, which ushered in a new world order characterised by rapid social changes and thus have influenced diversified philosophical views, underpinnings, and ideologies. By ideology I mean the influence of ideas on people’s beliefs and actions; most especially how ideas are used to hide, justify or legitimate the interests of dominant groups in the social order (Thompson, 1990). The implications of these in the study of gender are very broad and complex. As a result sociological norms and theories of gender tend to differ, and remain relative to one’s ontological and epistemological stand. Therefore, in our modern society, classical theorists such as Durkheim (functionalist approach), Marxism (power and conflict approach), and Weber (rationalisation and the interactionist approach) viewed gender from diverse perspectives. However, contemporary schools of thoughts like the critical theory and most especially the postmodernist thoughts have challenged the classical grand narratives or metanarratives of the ideals of modernity – who have through their high level theories tended to generalise and universalise our social conditions. The postmodernists such as Lyotard (1984) argue that our contemporary society should recognise other micro narratives, like marginalized voices, feminism and so on. Hence, postmodernists have influenced tremendously the feminist perspectives and other micro discourses and views in the study of gender.  

Nevertheless, in our modern society, the big question from the layman point of view is always what is ‘gender’ anyway? Is gender referring to sex differences? This is where it becomes a spurious one because many argue that gender does not mean sex difference but still without sex differences there would not be anything like the concept of gender. Gender as we have come to know refers to the concepts or constructs of masculinity and femininity – that is “individual differences within each sex in how male-typical or female-typical individuals are” (Lippa, 2005, p. 4). Lippa attempts to distinguish between two different topics that are usually obscure in the study of gender: “(a) differences between males and females, (b) individual differences in maleness and femaleness that occur within each sex” (p. 4).

From the layman point of view (commonsense), they are intricately interconnected and relational but such views could be relative to stereotypical beliefs or could lead to stereotyping. Stereotypes are those inaccurate, incomplete authenticity, truth, knowledge, information, or “probabilistic beliefs that we hold about groups of people” - that is, “a kind of simplified pictures that we carry around in our heads about social groups” (Lippa, 2005, p. 110, citing Lippmann, 1922). Lippa (2005) believes “stereotypes may distort our perceptions and memories, leading us to see what we expect to see and to remember only information that confirms our stereotypes” (p. 111). However,

     It makes sense that our beliefs about men and women are often quite accurate  

     because most of us have had lots of experience with men and women. Thus our  

     gender stereotypes are not based just on hearsay but rather on our actual observations

     of many men’s and women’s behaviours.

                                                                                               (Lippa, 2005, p. 111)

Therefore, gender concerns the identity and behaviour of men and women. Some theorists believe that the sex differences and gender are not the same. “Somebody’s gender is not the same as somebody’s sex” (class notes). However, Lippa (2005) believes that “Gender shows itself in two ways: as differences between males and females and as individual differences in masculinity and femininity within each sex” (p, 115). He went on to suggest that gender is either “dictated by genes, hormones, and brain structures or it is modified by early relations with parents, by conditioning and modelling, by cognitive labelling and schemas, by social roles, and by stereotypes” (p.115). Lippa (2005) noted that “All approaches to masculinity and femininity confirm one central point: Gender is not simply a matter of sex differences. It is also a matter of variations within each sex” (pp.70-80). He therefore concluded that, “gender is a real thing that people end up possessing, in one form or another” (p.115).

However, the conflate or bipolar views have been discounted and labelled essentialists by many feminist writers who believe gender is socially constructed and can be deconstructed, which means something one can do and therefore, could “undo” (see Butler; 2004; West and Zimmerman, 1991).

The Functionalist or Essentialist Approach

The functionalists (naturalist, behaviourist, positivist or the essentialist paradigms/approach) attempt to view and situate gender within biologic and nature’s dictates and thus through their theories seek to maintain the status quo believing that functionalism inherently helps our society to survive and flourish. Durkheim on suicide noted that the man is “almost entirely the product of society” whereas woman is “to a far greater extent the product of nature”. This implies that gender differences rest on biological distinctions between men and women. Durkheim (1952) believed that men are more widely socialised while women are less socialised, and therefore “closer to nature” than men are. This view simply points to women’s identity and social positioning are mainly shaped by their involvement in reproduction and childrearing. The functionalist views have tremendous effect in the institutionalisation of patriarchal capitalist ideology, which has tended to influence and perpetuate gendered social roles through patriarchal capitalist economic social system, and has been tied to sexual division of labour. But this essentialist views have been challenged by the Marxist power/conflict approach on how certain privileged elites (mostly men) for the protection of their economic interests have tended through functionalism, patriarchy and capitalism creates hegemony that perpetuates inequalities and maintains the status quo (Connell, 1987).

Marxist and Feminist Discourses

The advent of women movement in the 1960s has contributed immensely to the study and evolution of gender and the struggles against inequality and marginalisation in terms of one’s gender or sex difference. The critique of patriarchy has been central in unearthing gender differencing, stereotyping, and domination of women. Hartmann (2006) noted that, “It is in studying patriarchy that we learn why it is women who are dominated and how” (p.182). Though “sex/gender system” (Rubin, 1975) has been viewed by feminist writers as ‘patriarchy’, it could as well be argued that Western societies are plunging toward ‘matriarchy’ due to enormous power accorded to women such as rights over children, domestic violence, rape etc (Whitehead and Barrett, 2001). It has also been noted that in some traditional societies women dominated men. Therefore, one may begin to doubt the whole notion that men are the only ones in position of power and knowledge, which many feminist writers believed have influenced non-recognition of gendered nature of knowledge. Theorist like Gilligan (1993) attempts to suggest that women/girls have their own ways of knowing of the world different from men/boys ways of knowing due to differences on gendered socialisation approaches that tend to influence psychosocial development in girls.

The study of gender, therefore tend to analyse the conceptualisation of gender and its implications in our contemporary society characterised with the emergence of the new world order and rapid social changes influenced markedly by industrialisation and capitalism predicated upon patriarchal social system, which has tended to perpetuate gender inequality, masculine hegemony, and subordination of women. Obviously this line of argument juxtaposes Marxism and Feminism and was given meaning by Frederick Engels, a good friend and collaborator of Marx. Hartmann, (2006) referred to it as “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism.” From this perspective patriarchy is defined “as a set of social relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women” (Hartmann, 2006, p.179), leading to “patriarchal dividend” (Connell, 1987).

Feminist writers such as Muller, (1977) believes it all began with the institutionalisation of patriarchy in state societies. This invariably became the precursor of the dominant male-dominated knowledge (masculine hegemony) that tended to ignore or deny the gendered nature of knowledge. Feminists argue that patriarchal ideology is an exercise of power and thus a discourse (claims to authenticity or truth), that tend to allow “certain things to be said, thought and done and impedes or prevents other things from being said, thought and done” (Hunt and Wickham, 1994). Michel Foucault (1980) believes hegemonic ideology (such as, patriarchy) is an exercise of power, which is predicated upon the dominant source of knowledge. Therefore, for Foucault instead of “knowledge is power, real power is the ability to define what knowledge is” (class notes). Marxism view power, economics and capitalism as central and integral in the socio-cultural politico of our modern social system. Feminists critiquing patriarchy system and also critiquing from Marxist perspectives evolved to what is known as Liberal feminism, Marxist feminism, Socialist feminism, Radical feminism, Black or Non-White feminism and Postmodern feminism. All are unique in their approaches to the issues of gender.

The women’s movement also playing significant roles in the fight against gender inequalities and recognition of women’s contributions is usually analysed through its three waves of activity, with the first wave focused on the struggle for women’s political rights. The second wave began in the 1960s until the 1990s and it was during this era that the aforementioned diverse feminist discourses emerged. This era was also very significant in the contemporary women’s movement. For example, in Ireland, it witnessed notably the organisation and establishment of Women’s Community Education in the 1980 with intent for women liberation, eradication of structural poverty and emancipation through consciousness-raising groups (Se Si, 2007). The second wave has given way to what theorists termed the third wave, which is powered by postmodernism or postmodern feminist movement. This movement sort to dissolve the power imbalance within the rank and file of feminist discourses that have been predominantly well-educated middle-class white women, and thus tend to take cognisance of many other micro narratives - micro feminist discourses. Included here also is the marginal voices like the Lesbians and Gay men.

Gender and Education

So far this essay has established that the advent of modernity influenced the study of gender, just as much as it was responsible for fostering oppressive regime – patriarchal capitalist economic system characterised with hegemonic discourses (masculine/feminine) though privileging men and disadvantaging women in our rapidly changing contemporary society. It was also upon the ideals of modernity argued by postmodernists Usher and Edwards (1994) that our modern educational system was established and developed, including its theories, which have been grounded in functionalist and conflict theory. It is not surprising that gender studies have taken centre stage in the academics by those who sort to critique and question the status quo that tend to perpetuate gender inequality and thus, attempt to ameliorate the power-knowledge discourses.

Adult and community education posits itself as a vantage in the study of gender, which is inclusive of both masculinity and femininity. The adult and community education classroom by its dialogic method represents contemporary “public sphere” (Habermas) suitable for “ideology critique” (Gramsci) thus, influencing the critiquing of patriarchy and sex/gender system. This sector is also increasingly linked to fostering learning society and information age and thus influences “social reflexivity” – referring to the constant reflection upon or thinking about the circumstances in which we live our lives, even though we live in a “runaway world – a world marked by new risks and uncertainties” (Giddens, 2006, p.122-123). It has become axiomatic that our modern society is in constant dramatic changes, and thus influencing and changing social order and situationalities, which demands change in the status quo to accommodate the emerging diversities, most especially the changing dynamics influencing women’s positioning in our contemporary society. In fact, through adult education, the study of gender explicates gender stereotyping thereby transforming our mind set and thus, enriches our “frame of reference” (Mezirow, 1991).


This essay traced and recapped the earliest knowledge of gender, which I linked to the Biblical records from the ancient times. I linked it to the bible account, because my earliest source of knowledge was predicated upon this Holy Scriptures, which influenced my childhood familial upbringing – gender socialisation. The essay acknowledged the interplay of nature/nurture in the formation of gender (masculinity and femininity). This view is based upon my ontological and epistemological stand. Various perspectives of viewing gender were analysed, and also diverse feminist discourses were outlined. The influence of modernity, postmodernity, and also patriarchy identified as the source of hegemony and power-knowledge discourses were also analysed. The essay concluded with the implication of adult and community education in fostering gender awareness and vantage for the study of genders.


          Butler, J. (2004). Undoing Gender. London: Routledge.

          Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

          Durkheim, E. (1952). Suicide: A Study in Sociology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

          Foucault, M. (1980). In Colin Gordeon (ed.). Power/Knowledge - Selected Interviews and Other Wiritings 1972-1977, Brighton: Harvester Press. 

          Giddens, A. (2006). Sociology (5th ed.), Polity Press.

          Gilligan, C. (1993). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

          Hartmann, H. (2006). “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” in Grusky, D. and Szelenyi, S. (2006). Inequality: Classic Readings in Race, Class, and Gender. Westview Press.

          Hunt, A., & Wickham, G. (1994). Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance. London and Boulder: Pluto Press.

          Lippa, (2005). Gender, Nature, and Nurture. 2nd Edition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

          Lyotard, F. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

          Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

          Muller, V. (1977). The Formation of the State and the Oppression of Women: Some Theoretical Considerations and a Case Study in England and Wales. Review of Radical Political Economics, 9(3), 7-21.

          3.2 Ontology and Epistemological Foundation Web Site,


          Rubin, G. (1975). The Traffic in Women, in Toward and Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna Rapp Reiter, New York: Monthly Review Press, p.159.

          Thompson, J., 1990, Ideology and Modern Culture, Polity, Cambridge.

          Usher, R. and Edwards, R. (1994). Postmodernism and Education. New York: Routledge.

          West, C., and Zimmerman, D. H. (1991). Doing gender. In J. Lorber and S. A. Farrell (eds.), The social construction of gender). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. (13-37).  

          Whitehead, S. and Barrett, F. (2001). The Masculinities Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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