I wrote a post here on competition in children and the gender differences that I saw in the classroom. In one of the comments Fairlane (I hope you don't mind me reusing your words again here) responded,
I'm not so sure it's simply "social programming." Look at how we lived for 90% of our time on this planet. Males, in general, are physically stronger than women (We know testosterone increases muscle mass), and it was men who did most of the "hunting and warring." (If not all). Women did the "gathering," which is a more social behavior, and is not as competitive. In a hunting or war party, (Although I've never been in either) I imagine you don't speak as much, and it's very competitive... I'm not saying people "have" to be a certain way, but there's little doubt evolution has played a significant part in our "gender roles."
The Gourmet Goddess took exception to what Fairlane had posted and responded on her own blog (after getting her permission I am reprinting this as she said that she did not want to offend anyone),
Um, the "man the hunter" theory has actually been pretty well debunked over time. Men, evidence is finding, were probably the primary hunters (or scavengers) of large game, usually in groups (which seems to me to be a pretty, ahem, social, cooperative activity as is going together as a war band to destroy your rivals). Women were the primary getters of food through gathering, fishing, as well as hunting small game and birds. And this idea that women are not as aggressive as men? Said commenter has obviously never been to an after-Thanksgiving sale at Target or the Filene's Basement bridal event.
These two comments made me think of the nature versus nurture debate that seems to spring eternal in child development. It also can come into play with discussing the sexual preferences of people. Basically this debate is whether we are inborn with certain characteristics that we cannot change such as sexuality, temperament and intelligence (nature) or whether these characteristics are a factor of our upbringing (nurture), yes there is more to this debate than that, but for now this is what is important. So, when I say that the boys in my class tend to be more aggressive in competition, people on the nature side of the debate say that this is merely evolution at work and that it is a genetic trait that causes this aggression and men are predisposed toward more aggressive nature. It is in our DNA. While those who argue for nurture say that it is the way in which children are raised with the violent media and the emphasis on aggression as the tool for boys to use to solve conflict.
I tend to see most human behavior as a combination of both nature and nurture. I see the aggressive behavior that is displayed by the boys and the less confrontational manner of girls to be a combination of these two factors. Part of my thoughts are that children this young do not have a firm grasp on gender roles, yet. This is easily evidenced when I have a little boy say that that he is the mommy or the sister and the little girls who sys that she is the daddy or the brother. Mommies and sisters have to be female and daddies and brothers have to be male. I am not saying a child cannot have two mommies or two daddies, but I am saying that the female cannot be called a daddy and the male cannot be called a mommy. Our language has established the names for the male and female caregivers and we cannot arbitrarily change that. I am not commenting on the connotation of what a mommy or daddy is, just that language has determined these are the words we use for a female caregiver, mommy, and male caregiver, daddy. So when children do not identify the correct gender word with the correct gender child it is a prime example of the fluidity of gender roles for children. There is actually a lot of research that says that children are still defining gender roles at this young age, I do not have in front of my know, but if requested I can find some. So back to the expected gender stereotypical response to conflict, I am not totally sold on the fact that children respond purely based upon nurture, I believe that there must be some nature that affects children's responses to conflict. But on the other hand we are bombarding children constantly with our cultural expectations for each gender, children are certainly assimilating much of this into their psyche and utilizing it whether they realize it or not. There is simply no way of knowing which one, nature or nurture, affects a child more. The only way to really find out would be construct an experiment where a child would receive no human contact at all and then see how they reacted to certain situations after a period of time. Since this is totally unethical, it will never happen and so are basically stuck trying to guess at and use other scientific experiments to determine the affect of nature versus nurture.
The other thought I have is that this seems to be a chicken or the egg situation, which came first the way in which children are nurtured or the way in which nature has designed humans. Did we first notice that males seem to be stronger (I am not arguing that they are or aren't here) and then our culture decided to condition children to this or did we condition males to be stronger living in a patriarchal society and then based upon this we created males that seem to be stronger (again not arguing that they are or aren't stronger here)?
If you agree or disagree, please comment here, as I am constantly struggling with this whole nature versus nurture debate. I know this seems to go without saying, but I wanted to say it anyway.