Originally Posted by mutabor
Where I live ( post-soviet countries) social determinism ( the theory that social interactions and constructs alone determine individual behavior as opposed to biological or objective factors) doesn't really have much influence. It seems that social determinism is somehow intensively taught and propagated in the Western society because I very frequently come across with conclusions based on social determinism on English sites.
To say the truth I absolutely don't understand how can you dramatically change/reshape instincts of a person exclusively by cultural and social factors.
I don't think outside of some kooky fundamentalist academics that anyone actually subscribes to the view that behaviour is purely socially determined or that you can radically alter a person's behaviour exclusively by cultural or social factors. No one literally believes in a tabula rasa theory of behaviour where everyone is born a blank slate - we recognise innate differences, otherwise everyone would believe themselves capable of becoming olympic athletes or concert pianists or memorists.
Nor does any (functional) society really subscribe to the idea that everything is biologically determined. Otherwise, why would parents bother raising their children or send them to school? I would assume that faith in the ability of teachers to influence their students, parents their children, people their peers, still holds true even in post-Soviet countries.
Where I think Western society might differ is the recognition that even if people are not born blank slates, it may be more appropriate to err on the side of caution. Treat them more like blank slates in order to avoid the kinds of presumptions that lead to institutionalised discrimination.
There have been many instances in history, particularly Western history, where biological determinism has lead to some pretty terrible outcomes. Everything from slavery in the US, the Holocaust in Germany, the stolen Generations here in Australia - were all enabled to some extent by some pseudo scientific idea that some people are just born different (read: inferior) than others, and therefore certain instutitions and actions are right and proper because they simply reflect the natural order.
So it would be understandable if as a culture we were adverse to the idea of biological determinism so as to not repeat mistakes from the past.
The common misunderstanding of feminism (and why people with a shallow reading of the whole issue dismiss feminists as hypocrites) is the idea that feminists believe that men and women are literally biologically equal. Of course they aren't. Anyone with half a brain can recognise that men and women are not biologically the same.
What feminists advocate is recognition of cases when we use these differences to justify institutional inequalities that really have nothing to do with the biological differences between the male and female sexes - or at the very least, the awareness in society that we our preconception of what a man is and what a woman often limits our understanding of issues of sex and gender.
An easy enough case in point is findings that suggest that girls on average underperform in maths tests when put in maths classes with boys. This may be because women are biologically weaker in maths test performance, but it may be because of the cultural expectation that girls perform worse, or from more recently findings, differences in how girls react to competitive environments: http://www.stanford.edu/~niederle/NV.JEP.pdf
You can imagine that an underrepresentation of females in science and engineering fields might lead to society as a whole suffering when we suppress the ability of half the population. This kind of discrimination runs both ways - the expectation that men are more aggressive and violent might lead to increases in their rates of incarceration for violent crimes for instance.
Considering that our institutions today are based on thousands and thousands of years of assumptions - some of which may have some merit, but many of which do not - you may need a blank slate just to actually test which differences are salient, and which ones are the fairy tales. It's only recently that we know how to design social science experiments to even gather this kind of data, and it is in part the galvanisation of feminists that even prompts interest in studying and understanding these matters.
Note that when I use the phrase 'institutionalised', I do not subscribe to the idea that there was an active effort on all men's parts to set up a patriarchal society that discriminates against women. I do not think outside of radical militant feminists that feminists at a whole believe in this conspiratorial interpretation of history, and judging the movement based on people who do subscribe to this idea is like judging organised religion based on the Westboro Baptist Church.
But I can believe in the idea that layers and layers of successive false assumptions can calcify into institutions that behave as though there WERE a conscious effort to establish a patriarchy.
Now, for a rational and balanced discussion of where men actually DO seem to differ biologically from women, this is a discussion worth listening to:
Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and the author of Is There Anything Good About Men talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the differences between men and women in cultural and economic areas. Baumeister argues that men aren't superior to women nor are women superior to men. Rather there are some things men are better at while women excel at a different set of tasks and that these tradeoffs are a product of evolution and cultural pressure. He argues that evolutionary pressure has created different distributions of talent for men and women in a wide variety of areas. He argues that other differences in outcomes are not due to innate ability differences but rather come from different tastes or preferences.