Women = Natural Nurturers = Less $, Status and Power

Nurturing dad.

Nurturing dad.

Girls are naturally more nurturing than boys, right?

A lot of people think so.

Some scientists think it’s because testosterone blocks male nurturing instincts.

Incidentally, this notion conveniently brings men more money, status and power.

Because if women are natural nurturers then — naturally — they should stay home with children. And keep out of arenas that bestow money, status and power.

What’s the scientific evidence?

Boys don’t like nurturing?

Boys have more testosterone than girls, both in utero and after they’re born. And boys shy away from nurturing activities, like playing with dolls or babies.

Why? Must be testosterone.

Or not.

Actually, very young boys and girls are equally interested in babies.

Girls are praised for what good mommies they will someday be.

nurturing-dad-2But boys learn that they aren’t supposed to be too interested in babies. And most definitely, “Boys don’t play with dolls!” Over time they turn their nurturing instincts to their pets.

And little boys do enjoy stuffed toys too, research finds. My brother carried Mickey the Monkey everywhere he went as a little boy. And one of my friend’s sons begged me to give him my big stuffed rabbit that had been an Easter gift from my dad. (I kept it.)

Actually, men can become very nurturing fathers. Especially when they are single dads.

So it turns out that between caring for pets, stuffed animals, and their own children, boys and men can actually be quite nurturing. Despite testosterone.

Girls with high testosterone don’t like nurturing?

We can also look to girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone in utero. Are these “CAH girls” less nurturing than their peers?

Turns out that they do have less interest in babies and dolls than other girls. But, like boys, they are still interested in pets.

CAH girls were exposed to higher-than-usual levels of testosterone in utero and they physically resemble boys when they’re born, having what look like either a very small penis or a large clitoris. There is a possibility that their parents treat them more like boys, and that the girls see themselves as more boyish, because of this. As a result, they may model themselves more closely to boys.

nurturing-dad-3It turns out that children are self-socializing. By the age of three all children identify themselves as a girl or a boy, and then they tend to notice, pay attention to, remember, and imitate things that are assigned to their sex.

In some cultures men wear dresses or skirts (the Romans and the Scots), care about fashion (elite early Americans like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), have ornate hairstyles, gesture graciously and enjoying ballet (King Louis XIV), and wear makeup and jewelry (the Wodaabe of Nigeria).

But in America today all of those things — along with nurturing dolls or babies — are considered feminine and largely rejected by boys, men and CAH girls.

Some think it’s due to testosterone. Looks more like it’s due to culture.

Source: Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 3, 2017, in psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. It’s really interesting to see that men and women from a young age are both interested in children and that testosterone has almost nothing to do with it. I always think about social norms when it comes to topics like nurturing and babies. It’s easy to see that society has imposed ideas on girls from a young age that wanting to be a mom and be happily married is the perfect or ideal life while men are being taught by society to show less emotion and to not care about things like that. This is so unhealthy, its so important for society to let kids from a young age feel however they want about topics such as kids or marriage and not teach them to suppress or overly express their emotions because of their gender if they don’t want to, because continuing this will affect future generations negatively .

  2. When I think of the differences in men and women I often fall on the long history of gender roles and, as this post mentioned, testosterone. While I read this post, I thought again about why women are always seen as the nurturers of family and men are seen as more detached and focused on their work or something else. I’ve seen these stereotypes in my family and in the families of my close friends. I believe this cycle of specifying what is for boys and what is for girls is so deeply rooted in our society that it’s nearly impossible to amend. Though times are different and some people do break out of the cycle, change is a slow process that can’t happen over night. I believe every day more and more men and women break the role that history gave them not because they can’t fulfill a certain role but because they want something different.

  3. My understanding of female and male nurture comes from my conservative Latino upbringing. As an adult, it is clear that my machismo dominated household forced assigned gender roles in our home. I can’t deny that its aftermath still lingers or that I completely disagree with how we were raised.
    My parents openly admitted to having different rules, standards and expectations for my sisters and brothers. So I am forced to believe that nurture is undoutedly perpetuated by our culture. My brothers never played with dolls, they weren’t expected to share their emotions either, all very normal expectations in our home. They were raised to be strong boys, to get dirty, and be leaders. Fast forward 30 year-today, they are extremely nurturing, loving and wonderful brothers, husbands, and fathers. Thier characters today probably contradict their machismo upbringing. Therefore, while I agree that nurture is fully evolved through one’s upbringing, I do not necessarily believe it has to be given the negative connotations our society gives it.

  4. I agree that this idea that women are more nurturing than men is definitely due to culture as well as history. In hunter-gatherer societies, the men would go out to hunt because they were naturally stronger, leaving women to tend to the home and care for the young and elderly. From this started the tradition of women staying at home to do household duties and provide childcare, while men went out to do strenuous tasks. Nowadays, going out and making an income doesn’t always require strength, but we still have that tradition of leaving women to care for the home. Little boys are encouraged to pursue more prestigious and leaderly jobs while little girls are encouraged to be caring. It has nothing to do with what naturally comes to us, but more with how we are socialized as children. The gender division in roles is no longer relevant today, but it’s still ingrained in our culture.

  5. Elaine Gastelum

    It’s amazing to know for some odd reason males are not nurturing like women. A lot of people argue that it’s probably the testosterone that blocks males to be nurturing. No, I do not agree with what scientists believe or think that is the reason that make males not nurturing and women to be naturally nurturing to babies. I have seen fathers to be just as nurturing to their babies like mothers are. Actually, I’ve encountered people and have heard that women can naturally not be nurturing. Shockingly, there’s women out there that don’t know how or don’t like to be nurturing to their own babies. Why is that? I don’t think that’s because of the testosterone. I don’t believe testosterone can stop a guy from being just as nurturing as a woman can be. I don’t think nurturing a child should be considered to be “feminine.” Also, yes I completely agree that it is more to do with culture than what it is to do with testosterone.

  6. This is the first I have heard or read about the CAH women or the theory that testosterone is the main reason why men are not as nurturing, loving and sensitive as women but I do agree with it. I also agree with the fact that our culture has convinced the sexes what their gender entails for their future, starting at a young age. Growing up, little girls are expected to play with dolls and boys are expected to play with trucks and action figures and when this is the opposite it is highly frowned upon and sometimes parents stop this because they do not know what to do. Girls have had the idea of becoming a mother in their future embedded into their minds by the age of 3 or 4 when they are playing with dolls and I believe that is a huge reason as to why we tend to think that is our sole purpose in life. Women tend to feel worthless when they are unable to bear children and I believe it is our culture that has convinced us of that being true.

  7. Yes, I do agree that the influence of either male or female child involvement/ nurture can’t be based off of testosterone, it sounds ridiculous. I do believe that the culture are the ones the influence the whether or not one “naturally” can help develop and nurture a child. I know a few intimidating-machismo men that love kids as well as being the only parent figure to their child. Its all about breaking these boundaries or norms of people looking down on people do to what they do or are into. Although, it is true that people who tend to be “natural nurturers” have less money, power, and status as they rely on their significant other to provide income for the family. But this doesn’t only apply to women, there are men that are considered natural nurturers by decision while their partner(woman) is the one that provides the income to the family. Women being the head of household as well as being the dominant figure has increased throughout the years as i have been noticing more and more people in this situation.

  8. I am not sure if that is related to testosterone, but I am sure that it must have something to do with the internalization and socialization that the baby receives. Though that baby can have a great chance that born not like blank slate, meaning that they are not totally equal physically and mentally when born, still, the boys and girls appear to have different attitudes about nurturing is still connected with how the society teaches them. The teaching creates social pattern and mind set in the baby’s mind, and thus creates differences. I think, in a sense, it helps the society to stay stable. However, is it a good thing or not? I won’t draw my conclusion now, since I think it may be a good thing that the “guidebooks” for boys and girls can stay more similar, which may create more space for the development of the kids

  9. I feel like I was a natural nurturer with all three of our children, and my son is now doing the same. He spends a tremendous amount of time playing with his one year old daughter, and he enjoys it as just as much as she does. When he’s away on a business trip, his daughter misses him terribly. They live in a two story home, and when he’s gone, she spends a lot of time at the base of the stairs saying, “Da, Da, Da, Da.” He plays such a major role in her life and she’s hoping that he is home, and upstairs.

    Little boys do enjoy stuffed toys. My grandson has a big stuffed rabbit that he carries around. At Halloween we visited a pumpkin patch that had farm animals.
    They had a rabbit that he got to hold and pet, and he was on the top of the world. He was able to focus his nurturing feelings on this soft little animal. My grandson is six, and unfortunately in the near future, some of his friends will probably start teasing him about having a stuffed rabbit, and he will likely change to conform to peer pressure and put it away.

    I remember when my son was around 5, he was very afraid of monsters and the dark, and he would have a difficult time getting to sleep. So, I would get into his bed and hold his hand, and he would fall to sleep within 10 minutes. It made me feel really good to give him this feeling of comfort and security.

    Since women are perceived to be natural nurturers, this results in their staying at home to be homemakers and raise the children. This is not a paying job, and they receive very little recognition for their work, and this does not place them in a position of power. “Although housekeeping services can be bought and sold, when this labor is performed for ‘free’ it is not considered ‘work.’” (WRWC, p. 350).

    I would have to agree with Cordelia Fine that the perception of girls being naturally more nurturing than boys is due to cultural influences, and not testosterone.

  10. I have thought about this idea a lot lately. I couldn’t figure out, besides the actual hormone, what makes females and males so different, more so, why both genders are expected to act so different. As a kid, I can recall playing with dolls and expected to like pink and frills. I loved my dolls, but I also loved my brother’s remote controlled powered monster trucks. I remember my mother and father telling me those are boys toys, and I remember not caring because I liked playing with them. Parents need to learn to be more accepting of their children and not put them in a certain category until the child chooses one for themselves. There might be more equality and unity in the world if everyone can learn to accept each other. One of the most prominent topics in the world today is gender equality, and we should all teach the younger generations that it is ok to be your own person, and it is ok to not be in any category.

  11. What does CAH stand for?

  12. “Boys don’t play with dolls!”

    They’re action figures.

  13. My dad was a stay-at-home dad and my mum worked. Of course, fathers have their own way of doing things, but overall I don’t think we would have been better of if it was the other way around. And when my partner split up with the mother of his two, at the time very young, daughters, they stayed with him, and he did a great job in raising them!
    Gender stereotyping is so 1487 😄

    • Yep. So 1487!

      I know a couple who always say that it’s too bad the mom isn’t the dad and the dad isn’t the mom because she prefers to work outside the home and he would rather stay home and take care of kids. Well, they could do that! If they would just get past the gender stereotypes.;-)

  14. I want to say it’s true that women are more nurturers then men but I can’t agree. Men are labeled as providers, protectors, and fixers. They are biologically programmed that way. Men are not seen as caregivers and when they are, they are praised for it.

    I don’t see women being natural nurturers. I know many men who are nurturers. Nurturing is a human trait that is different among different people. The difference varies from culture to culture.

    When men become fathers, it’s a different story. Father spoil their daughters (daddy’s girl) and are over-protective of them. I see fathers being nurturers. Also, it is common to find men being more nurturing, when they are stay-at-home dads and single fathers.

    Don’t forget that nurturing is a learned behavior, and men are more than capable to learn how to nurture just as women are. I believe it’s an area of human activity where feminism can help men learn to nurture others.

  15. I don’t think there should be a difference when it comes to nurturing our children. Both parent made the child with love (in most cases at least) so they should both equally care about him/her. I can agree that most women have a special bond with their child because they can feel them move inside the womb and carry them for 9 months and then deliver with pain and suffering but, in reality both parents should care for the child the same. I also believe that women mature much more faster which is why they think differently when it comes to relationships and family. I also agree with Georgia, the family culture has a lot to so with the way a child is raced. In the book, Women’s Reality, Women’s Choices, we learn that culture is a big influence when constructing our gender ideas and make a great impact. For example if a family that has a transgender child, he/she may become confused as to what he/she likes because the parents push them to go towards the blue if they are boys and pink if they are girls. Some cultures are different and that is okay. We need to teach our children that men can wear dresses or skirts. That in the times of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, they wore wings and extraordinary hairstyles and it was okay. We need to teach our children to be open and not ignorant. That it is okay to do stuff women do and vice-versa.

  16. An eye-opening, thought-provoking post. Thank you!

  17. I always find it biased that people still believe that because women are “nurturing” it will and cannot bring any good into business. It is always said that women are emotionally unbalanced and make decisions upon what they are feeling but why can’t people realize that sometimes that is a good thing? After reading this article, I questioned myself whether I fall under the category of a CAH female. My mother raised me to be tough and strong and although 99 percent of my friends are male, I still portray myself as an emotional and nurturing female. Being around high testoerone doesn’t make me any less of a female but it certainly does help me to think things through logically. It also doesn’t make me feel any less towards children over having a pet because you’re right, it comes down to how they were raised within the culture. Some cultures are more nurturing than others and it will effect future generations.

    • CAH females are biologically created — and like the rest of us, socially created too.

      In utero they are exposed to higher levels of androgens than is typical for girls. So when they are born they have what either looks like a large clitoris or a small penis. And their facial features look a bit more masculine too. And then their parents might also treat them a bit more like boys because of how masculine they look. So it’s not surprising that these girls don’t feel like typical girls and feel a bit more masculine.

      And they align with “boy behavior” in our culture, but not what would be considered “boy behavior” in other cultures.

  18. I fully agree woth your thoughts. It is more of our realization how we behave…and also out of our fear of acceptance by the same gender!

  19. I have observed that both boys and girls are natural nurturers. It is the conditioning and the culture that weans them away.

  20. Your posts always end up with me nodding throughout the whole text. I’m very glad I found your Blog a while ago. Looking forward to your next posts! 😊 👏

  21. After reading this article, I realized that it’s true, men are taught to be less nurturing not because they have too much testosterone but because it’s what they’ve learned. As well as women that have higher levels of testosterone, or women that have been treated like boys by their families. As mentioned in this article when boys and girls are young they love babies, stuffed animals, playing with all kinds of toys such as dress up, kitchen, and or house. When children start growing they do learn what boys and what girls are supposed to do. For example, I myself was a teacher’s assistant for four years, and I have to say that it’s true! I never really thought about how much gender role influences children as their growing up, and It’s amazingly crazy to reflect and see that children are not only influenced by their culture on what boys and girls are supposed to do, but also in school. When their toddlers and even up to just before becoming teenagers children are still interested in playing, whether it’s dolls or cars. And as they grow up parents buy toys that are “appropriate” for their gender, balls, dolls, puzzles of barbies or cars/monsters again specifically for boys or girls, and even if they might buy a girl a car it will for sure be pink. They sign them up for ballet classes or soccer teams, parents don’t realize that they are teaching their children gender roles by doing these type of things, but they are. And when children get to school gender roles are even more enforced, maybe not by the teachers because teachers wants equality between boys and girls, but just among themselves there’s role teaching. For example children that come from parents that are only giving boys boy toys will tell the boys that playing with girl toys isn’t ok, and vise versa with the girls.
    We should be able to let children be as they wish, and have no gender role, for when they grow up they can be as nurturing as anyone and there be no comparison. Men are and can be nurturing, it’s a human thing to love our children and babies, but if we enforce it more when their little, it would be even better.

    • Yeah, typically we see a gender difference and assume that it is grounded and biology. Because that’s how things are in our culture and so it just seems natural and normal. We don’t see the socialization that goes behind it.
      It takes more work to discover that.

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