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Nature Versus Nurture: Gendered Identity in Adolescents

Focusing on the way in which both nature and nurture serve to create and inform gendered identity in adolescents.

Theorists and scientists alike have, in recent decades, sought to understand the roles that heredity and environment play on human growth and development. This debate, commonly known as “nature versus nurture,” has gained a large degree of attention, with advocates fiercely defending each respective side as well as some who choose to take the middle ground. During the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, discoveries by Mendel and Darwin encouraged theorists to lean towards evolution and genetics as the primary source of identity.

Francis Galton’s 1869 text hereditary Genius: Its Laws and Consequences, in particular, served to advance this school of thought. Galton’s research pointed to a propensity for genius being bred through the intellectual capacity of an individuals parents. He went so far as to conclude that a genius race was within the realm of possibility through intentional and specific breeding. World War II, however, served to illustrate all too vividly the dangers of thinking in terms of the creation of a master race. Although in 1924 John Watson is quoted as stating:

Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select…”

the more common view began to accept that both nature and nurture have a distinct effect on factors including but not limited to intelligence and social identity.

Any attempt to fully address a topic of this far reaching significance would require a much more detailed examination than a few short pages, but one area of study in this field that has been influential in the shaping of attitudes both inside the classroom and in the community is the debate over the origins of sexual orientation. During adolescence, there exists a time of transition from child to adult. Identity issues, including gender roles and sexual orientation, are coming to the forefront at this time.

Gays and lesbians, who face discrimination by society as a whole at adulthood, often find themselves at an even greater disadvantage due to discrimination in the educational world as a result of condemnation by their peers, educators and even administrations. Understanding the roles that nature and nurture play on sexual identity is the first step to eliminating this discrimination.

There are those who would like to believe that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. They often subscribe to the “nurture” debate, citing familial influences (same-sex parents) as well as social codes and morals as the reason for what they consider abherrent behavior. In his article Straight and Narrow: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate, Thomas Schmidt notes social constructivist theory, which states that sexual orientation is determined by nurture:

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