Thursday, April 1

Nature vs Nurture

It’s an interesting discussion, actually. Conservatives often argue against equal rights or equal pay for women saying “it’s not a woman’s nature to have a career”. A woman’s nature, at least for those people, still is having kids and stay at home.

Other people claim that certain behaviour is in our genes and if we have the “bad mother gene”, then we can’t help being a bad mother. But is that true? Human behaviour is a complex thing, something we still don’t fully understand.

Is it a woman’s nature to be nurturing? Can women simply be naturally unfit for nurturing? Or is the real truth somewhere else?

Quite often the first argument, “women are only happy when raising kids and staying at home”, is based on “how it was in the beginning of mankind”. We all know the stories about the men going out and killing the mammoth and the women staying home and caring for the kids. Only, recent discoveries topple that picture. First of all, women have not only stayed in the caves, they’ve gathered fruits, vegetables and roots – sometimes the only food the tribe had, as hunting is not always successful. And, in addition, it has turned out there were even women among the hunters. It was down to physical fitness whether or not someone went out hunting and so stronger women became hunters as well.

The “it’s in their genes” argument (“bad mother” or not) is just as strange. If it were in a woman’s genes to care for children, which gene would that be? Every person on this world has inherited 50 percent of their father’s and 50 percent of their mother’s genes. Our chromosomes come from both sides. The only difference in the genes of men and women is the Y-chromosome which only men have. Women have a double X, men have XY. So, where is that gene? Except for the Y-chromosome, every gene a human has can come from both mother and father (women get one X-chromosome from their mother and one from their father). And if the X-chromosome where the one with the ‘mother gene’, then men would inherit it, too, as they get their X-chromosome from their mother. Every other gene a woman could have just as well inherited from her father.

It’s in the nature of all humans to care for their children. That’s biologically important, because the ultimate reason for every species to exist is to propagate. If the children don’t survive, the whole species will go extinct. And human children, being born rather ‘incomplete’ (compared to newly born or hatched offspring of other species), need a lot of care to grow and finally get ready to create the next generation of humans.

In the past, when the only way to nurture babies was to breastfeed them, only women could actually do it. But today most women do not breastfeed their babies – at least not for long. And a man can prepare the milk for a baby just as well as a woman. A man can also change the diapers, read a story to the baby, take it for a stroll in the park and do all the myriads of other things that come with parenthood. There’s no logical reason why it should always be the mother who stays at home.

In Germany, it’s very difficult for a woman to have both, children and a career. In other European countries (France, Denmark and others), it’s much easier. Childcare in those countries is far better developed and it’s much easier to work part-time.

Yet, it makes you wonder. Is the nature of women in two countries who share borders with Germany that much different? My father has grown up at the border to Denmark and knew a lot of people from ‘across the border’. I’ve always lived rather close to the French border. French and Danish people do not seem all that different to their counterparts inside Germany.

It’s neither “woman’s nature to nurture” nor is it a question of “nature vs. nurture”. It’s a question of conservatives vs. socio-biologists. And both are quite possibly dead wrong.