Before they can speak, or even walk, infants can distinguish between gender stereotypes, according to a conference at Brown University last weekend.
"Studies suggest that at 18 months, before they even have the ability to understand their own gender identity, infants will focus longer on images that challenge typical roles — a man putting on lipstick, for example," reported the university's student newspaper, The Brown Daily Herald. "By age two, they can locate themselves in the gender system and identify pictures of males and females based on external characteristics like hair length and clothing. But they cannot discern a naked person's sex."
The report follows a discussion held Friday at Brown's Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, led by professor of biology and gender studies, Anne Fausto-Sterling. The conversation was titled "An Alternative to Nature v. Nurture: Biology in a Social World," and examined the influence of social mores on physiological development.
"These days the nature-nurture debate is a fallback for a lot of people," Fausto-Sterling told the Daily Herald. "But actually the whole contour of that so-called debate is really changing. It's changing across the board because people are becoming much more aware of the ways in which nature and nurture are integrated phenomena."
The nature-versus-nurture argument is also one of the oldest debates about the source of sexual orientation and gender identity, a fact not lost on Fausto-Sterling. She told The Daily Herald that changing the societal social structure to be more accepting of gender-variant identities is a viable option to consider for those unable or unwilling to medically transition to fit inside rigid societal gender stereotypes.
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