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What factors determine an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity?
Sexual orientation and gender identity are social constructs based on normative social roles and a strong desire to place individuals into binary categories. Sexual orientation and the research of queer identities is largely incomprehensive due to this supposed binary, but theories have been devised as to what may influence queer identities, both in sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gay men have been studied much more than lesbian women due to visibility and the social role of the “old maid.” Men are historically more public, and unmarried men are shamed and questioned more than unmarried women.
One historic theory of why gay men exist is the psychological factor of having a strong mother. A boy with a strong mother and a weak or absent father would, in theory, be gay because of the effeminate presence and lack of masculine figure. This theory is very flawed and exists largely to shame strong mothers into submissive roles.
Another theory of why gay men exist is physical differences in brain sizes of gay and straight men. One study found that gay men had smaller hypothalamuses than straight men, destining certain men to be gay. This study’s results are also very unfounded. The subjects of the study were not necessarily self-identified as gay or straight. The identity of subjects, who died prior to the study, were identified as gay or straight based on whether or not they had died of AIDs. Subjects that had died of AIDs were classified as gay while other subjects were classified as straight. By organizing subjects in this way, researchers ignored the possibility of gay men dying of natural causes and straight men dying of AIDs. The study also ignored the fact that AIDs affects the size of the hypothalamus – subjects with AIDs would likely have smaller hypothalamuses due to the disease, not due to sexual orientation.
The discussion of a “gay gene” is another potential explanation for varying sexual orientations. This theory, though, asks a simple question – if gayness is attached to a gene, why has the gene not died out? If the gay gene is X-linked, then it is possible that the gene is passed on through straight carrier women. There may be evolutionary benefits that outweigh the inherent decline in fertility and reproduction of gay men, but these benefits have not been identified.
Studies of gay women have not been as numerous as studies of gay men. Because of gender based differences in cultural acceptance of sex, gay factors likely differ between gay men and lesbians. Women may become gay as a political and social movement. Women who have had poor relationships with men may become lesbians to avoid abusive husbands. Women may also become lesbians to gain a more masculine role in society, a perceived step up.
There is no confirmed reason to explain why some individuals diverge from the heteronormativity of our society.
Gender is also a socially constructed factor designed to place individuals in a binary category system. Cultures create roles and expectations based on sex, and these roles are forced upon children before they are even born. Gender is based on an individual’s phenotype. A person’s appearance as masculine or feminine assigns their life trajectory.
What factors determine which tasks are “men’s work” and which are “women’s work?”
The determination of men’s work and women’s work has been forced upon cultures due to the helplessness of human infants. Humans have a lot of responsibilities regardless of gender. Societies divide labor to get things done. The division of work forces men and women to need each other. It is not efficient to teach every child every task needed to survive, so a division of labor is best for societies as a whole.
The division of labor is not based on biological differences between males and females. Although many may argue that males are stronger than females, males are simply allowed to train, and bones grow in response to muscle growth. Biological differences between the sexes are largely influenced by cultural rules.
The division of labor is largely impacted by the motherhood role of women. Men cannot take on the role of giving birth and nursing young children, so certain tasks are forced upon women. Other tasks then must fit around mothering duties. Women’s work, therefore, is work that can be interrupted and is less likely to lead to death. Women can be the ones sewing and cooking because these tasks can be interrupted to nurse a child. Whaling and hunting cannot.
Dangerous tasks are also given to men over women because of the risk of death. If a man is killed while hunting, only one member of the society is killed. If a woman is killed, the society loses her, any young dependents she may have, and all of her potential future children. Men are more expendable, so the division of tasks between men and women exists to help women stay alive.
Another factor dividing labor is the age of marriage between men and women. In many cultures, women are married very young and start having children as soon as physically possible. This does not allow women to learn very specialized tasks during childhood. Men marry at a later age. This gives boys a longer amount of time to learn specialized and difficult tasks.
Why do all human groups have incest taboos
Incest taboos are a human universal, which is very rare. This implies that incest taboos are either ancient, beneficial, or both. Incest taboos take on many different forms, but all restrict sexual relations in nuclear families to only allow relations between the mother and father. Other cultures extend this taboo to include cousins, aunts and uncles, and beyond.
In other species, incest taboos exist for resource management. By chasing away children when they can provide for themselves, the parents reclaim territory and food. While these sexual restrictions exist in other species, they are not universal. Female orangutans, for example, have sex with their sons to teach them how to have sex. This may be explained by the solitary nature of orangutans and the necessity of teaching sons.
Incest taboos do not have a clear origin. Freud believes that incest taboos prevent boys from killing their fathers to marry their mothers, but this theory incorrectly assumes that young boys know the relationship between marriage and sex. Furthermore, in cultures where a boy’s biological uncle is the main disciplinary and masculine presence, the boy wants to kill the uncle. This shows that boys do not want to kill their fathers to be with their mothers, they dislike the disciplinary figure.
Another theory for the universal nature of incest taboos is the privacy theory. This theory implies that creating separation within the nuclear family allows the growth of separate egos. If the nuclear family lacked privacy, the family members would not be individualized. This theory does not account for the typical system of mothers and fathers sharing and therefore lacking privacy.
The binary theory applies the “us versus them” mentality to sex. The theory states that incest taboos come from a desire to separate an individual’s group from the rest of society. The binary theory is not very convincing because it presupposes incest taboos – why need an “us versus them” mentality if the taboo had not already been created?
Westermark’s theory suggests that incest taboos come from an aversion to seeing people outside of created roles. People see others by their experiences with them – a sibling is seen in the context of a sibling, a teacher is seen in the context of a teacher, and so on.
Taboo implies that it is something people would do, so any biological or psychological explanations for incest taboos do not hold up. The social theory of the incest taboo is that preventing incest somehow benefits the cultures. Restricting sexual partners leads to external alliances, but this implies an equal importance placed on sex and marriage, which is not accurate. Alliances are created through marriage, so the incest taboos are not explained.
Incest taboos may just be a way to protect children and monitor adult behavior. Children can be physically and mentally injured by adults, so these taboos may help prevent harm to children, but this does not explain why the taboo exists among adults. The universal nature and the origins of incest taboos remain entirely unknown.
Why are ceremonies marking the puberty of females more common than ceremonies for males?
Puberty exists as a process, although it is often celebrated as a singular event. Female puberty is marked by menarche, a very visible physical occurrence. Many cultures see menarche and female puberty as the trigger moment of societal roles changing. For females, menarche marks the transition from childhood into adulthood as she can now start having children. Reproduction is, in many cultures, the most important role for females to play, so the beginning of her reproductive life cycle is cause for celebration.
Puberty ceremonies for women may be celebratory or involve mutilation. The Ilima is a celebration for Mbuti people. During Ilima, young girls are welcomed into the adult society and taught adult things, such as how to reach orgasm, childcare, songs, and how to interact with men.
Other cultures have a fattening ceremony to mark puberty. During this time, girls are locked away with no responsibilities besides eating. When she is fattened up, she is at her most beautiful and is ready to be married off.
Some cultures mark female puberty with genital mutilation. In some cultures, the clitoral hood is removed, leaving the reproductive system unharmed. Other cultures infibulate young girls. The mutilated genitalia is the culturally accepted appearance for adult women, so altering girls after menarche is a way to turn them into women.
What kinds of restrictions do cultures place on sexual activity? What is the relationship between restrictions placed on males and those placed on females?
Cultures often limit sex outside of marriage, including premarital and extramarital sex. Most cultures allow premarital sex for one or both sexes. 36% of cultures completely restrict premarital sex, with punishments potentially including death. 46% of cultures allow premarital sex for both males and females. Only 18% of cultures allow only males to have premarital sex, so the double standard is rare. There are no cultures that allow females to have premarital sex but restrict males from doing the same.
Females are more restricted than males due to the possibility of pregnancy. Because premarital sex lacks a forced bond between potential parents, pregnancy and subsequent childbirth may be harmful to both the mother and the child if there are not enough resources.
Within cultures that allow premarital sex and those that allow only males to have premarital, a divide between male and female sexuality still exists. Females are assumed to have less sex. It is possible that these statistics are because males overestimate sexual relationships with females underestimate. It is also possible that men have more premarital sex because of a greater acceptance of various sexual partners. Men may have premarital sexual relations with married women, other men, widows, or animals. This allows males to have premarital sex without unmarried women being involved.
Extramarital sex is also restricted. 74% of cultures disapprove of extramarital sex. This is somewhat remedied, though, by polygamy, which is accepted in 82% of cultures. Men are given more freedom in extramarital affairs than women. Extramarital sex implies that resources are being given to a third party rather than staying within the couple.
In some cultures, extramarital sex is allowed if given explicit permission. The Yanomamo Indians of Brazil often allow brothers to have sex with their wives if he asks. The pressure is to allow the younger brother to have sex when he asks. Eskimos partake in wife swapping, but permission is required.
Some cultures allow extramarital sex during festival activities. Traditional May Day activities included sex with various partners to help soil grow fertile. Some cultures have extramarital sex at funerals to show death that life still thrives and people can replace those who have died. Even American culture justifies and accepts some extramarital sex with the “What happens in Vegas” moniker.
Is there such a thing as PMS?
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a cultural phenomenon that is not universal. PMS is how we describe the dangers of females before and during menstruation. Menstruation is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as cramping, bloating, nausea, acne, and more. PMS is characterized by psychological factors, including depression, lethargy, and irritability.
These psychological symptom can largely be explained by the physical symptoms of menstruation. When a female is in physical discomfort due to menstruation, and society forces her to continue normal daily life, depression, lethargy, and irritability are understandable and quite frankly expected.
PMS is also illogical. The cultural assumption of PMS is that for the week leading up to menstruation and the week of menstruation, females are raging and hormonal beasts. If this were true, half of females would be uncontrollable at any given moment. This simple does not happen.
The existence of PMS allows females to act upon emotions and behave like men without punishment. Men are allowed to be loud and emotional while women are pressured to internalize extreme feelings. When a female is PMS-ing, she gets to act like a man and simply blame her behavior on her body.
Other cultures do not have PMS. In many other cultures, women do not have as many menstrual periods as we do. This is because of the amount of time women spend pregnant and nursing, which alleviate menstruation temporarily. Without menstruation, the negative aspects leading to PMS do not occur. When menstruation resumes in these cultures, the body does not experience the negative physical discomfort that we experience. Because of pregnancy and breastfeeding, the cervix is stretched out, allowing for cramp-free menstruation, and the breasts will not swell as much as those of women who have not breastfed. Because of the lack of physical discomfort, women in other cultures do not experience the psychological symptoms of PMS.
What are the social and biological significances of aging in males and females?
Aging in males and females are uniquely different phenomena. Females and menopause are incredibly rare, with only humans, whales, and elephants experiencing similar life stages. Non-human primates do not have menopausal life stages, so the biological significance of aging females is very interesting.
Menopause is a biological function in which menstruation occurs less regularly and less frequently. This generally occurs about fifteen years before a female’s health begins to fail. The exact reason for menopause is unknown, but it may have evolutionary benefits. The grandmother hypothesis reasons that menopause serves as a chance for women to pick up additional responsibilities. Because she will no longer have a young child of her own to care for, a menopausal woman may succeed in gathering more resources than other members of the society, who must work with a child on their hip.
Theories suggest that menopause stops women from wasting resources. In order to be independent of parents, a child generally has to be around fifteen years old. If women were able to have children throughout their entire life, there may be children born just before the mother’s death. These children will lack parental care needed, and will ultimately be a waste of resources.
Cultures assign meaning to menopause, as well. Mood swings are a largely cultural symptom of menopause. Because of the emphasis placed on female attractiveness in relation to youth and ability to have children, menopausal women are no longer sexy. After a lifetime of being valued, women may be unable to passively cope with their new societal role, creating mood swings. Women who were not considered sexy in their youth are less likely to experience these mood swings.
Other cultures have positive menopausal meanings. In non-western cultures, menopausal women have a newfound freedom. They are able to join councils of elders, have sexual relationships with younger men, and live without the responsibility or risk of child care.
The aging process of men is treated differently than that of women. Men experience climacteric, or “manopause,” in which their hair thins and muscle mass declines. Sperm count and testosterone levels decrease, as well.
While the cultural aging process for women is marked by a biological process, male aging is not defined by climacteric. The major change in a man’s life is retirement. Many men wrap their whole personas in their work, so changing that part of their life can be very unhealthy. Poor adaptation to retirement leads men to die within the two years after retirement.
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