Are Personality Traits Genetic?

23 Feb

In the midst of the transgender debate, a thought came to me that perhaps personality traits that are gender-enforced as “male” or “female” might indeed have a genetic component, though not a sex-linked one. 

This is interesting to me because it would create a kind of bridge between people who insist they are “born this way” and those of us who are more focussed on addressing cultural conditioning.

I’ve heard from and read mothers who say their children clearly have different personalities from the beginning of their lives. So what I’m positing here is that people who identify as transgender are not just responding to cultural conditioning, but are actually genetically predisposed to personality traits that the culture brands as male or female, qualities that aren’t sex-linked at all, but that run aground in the face of cultural gender role enforcement.

What’s especially interesting to me about this hypothesis is that it doesn’t challenge radical feminist thought, but also it acknowledges the experience of people who identify as transgender. It doesn’t just dismiss such people as delusional or simply victims of culture.

Instead, it suggests that humans indeed are born with a wide variety of personality traits, and it’s gender that enforces them onto one sex or the other. And that if your genetic predispositions don’t match your sex, this culture will make your life a living hell.

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3 Responses to “Are Personality Traits Genetic?”

  1. pantypopo 2014/02/24 at 7:48 am #

    No, this doesn’t challenge radical feminist analysis, I believe it supports a great deal of feminist thought. What it doesn’t address is the power differential built into The Culture, in which male-branded personality traits are celebrated and female-branded personality traits are belittled and demeaned. This power differential is sex-linked, so that even when females do exhibit female-branded genetic personality traits, The Culture still makes your life a living hell.

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  2. bethteliho 2014/02/24 at 10:01 am #

    It’s such a fascinating topic. I took several gender studies courses in college, and I’ll never forget this one study one of my professors showed us. They exposed toddlers (from 18 – 24 mos old) to a wide array of toys, but which certainly fell into “male” or “female” toy categories. In 90% + of the cases, the boys gravitated to the trucks, toy guns, etc. and the girls gravitated to the doll houses, dolls, push strollers, etc. Another interesting note: the girls were very nurturing to dolls (cradling, dressing, kissing) whereas the boys made them fight each other or were somehow otherwise destructive.
    colors, however, seemed to have no gender favoritism. Just as many boys like the color pink as girls, for instance.
    I think this further substantiates your point.

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  3. BroadBlogs 2014/02/25 at 12:31 pm #

    As a micro sociologist (someone who studies social psychology) the evidence suggests that who we are is a combination of culture, social interaction and personality. So you find broad patterns that vary by society and create big bell curves. But there are always people on the edges of those bell curves who are not swayed by the society. It appears that people with strong personalities won’t be likely to conform to cultural influences. No matter how much they are punished or rewarded for doing so.

    On the gender issue, most of us don’t have super strong personalities and blend in enough with cultural expectations that we feel we fit in, gender wise. And someone who has a male body might have an extremely strong masculine personality (as masculine is defined by the culture). He will just be seen as an extremely masculine guy. But someone who has an extremely feminine personality (as feminine is defined by the society), but is born into a male body, won’t feel comfortable at all. If masculine were defined here as feminine is in a different society, this person would not feel transgendered.

    Perhaps the most surprising expressions of manhood come from a culture entirely different from our own: the Wodaabe of Nigeria in Africa. There, men adorn themselves with makeup and jewelry. Because white eyes and teeth are part of the beauty ideal for men, they often roll their eyes and show their teeth to show off these features.

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