Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gender Differences

I think it would be helpful, in light of topics I've written about recently, to define my perceptions of the differences between the genders. I've had people assume that, because I am a feminist and an egalitarian, I don't believe in any gender differences. That is not correct. According to my perception, gender differences fall into several categories, with varying degrees of sexual dimorphism present in each one.

1. Basic Plumbing
Men's and women's reproductive equipment are different. Women can nurse and gestate children; men cannot gestate children and generally, with rare exception, do not lactate. Plumbing differences are universal apart from genetic deformities and are constant within the genders but exclusive to one or the other.

2. Other physical differences
In general, men have more upper body strength, more endurance, and are taller than women. They also have different hormone levels and their brains look a bit different. However..... this is a generalization and isn't true in every case. While men are on average consistently and substantially stronger and taller than women, some women are stronger and taller than some men. There is also the issue of degrees- unlike basic plumbing, not all women are consistent nor are all men. Then, too, physical training and hormone therapy can greatly affect results. If men and women had the same training, nutrition, et c usually the men would be able to do things the women could not, (though not always, and the modern availability of hormone therapy is another possible equalizer) but a well-trained woman can often best an untrained man. As to brains, we can make generalizations, but they will not be universally accurate as every brain is different and brains vary widely within the subsets of women and men. In summary, the non-reproductive physical differences between the genders hold true as a generality, but are not exactly as universal and consistent as the reproductive differences.

3. Social/Behavioral differences
These are more subjective, and more an issue of degrees, than the distinctions in the previous categories. They are things like nurturing, relational, logical, emotional, competitive, passive, aggressive, et c. Here there are differences between the average man and the average woman, but those differences pale in comparison to differences between two people of different cultures, backgrounds, or personalities. Take logical vs. emotion-driven, for example. On a straight line, completely logical will be at one end and completely emotional at the other. The average (mean) woman and the average man will fall somewhere in the middle. (see this study) However, since this is the mean of a very diverse gender, the chances that any particular female or male will match the average designation for their gender are really miniscule. Then, too, the spread between "men" and "women" is not usually that large. There are both women and men who fall on every point of the spectrum. So, while there may be more women on one side and more men on the other, there can be, and often is, as much or more difference between two random women as there is between two random men. A woman with a certain personality will, in my experience, have more in common with a man of the same personality than with a woman of a different personality. For example- recently some friends and I took personality inventories for fun. The person whose personality was the most like mine was male, and the person whose personality was least like mine was female. We can say that "the average man is more aggressive(or less empathetic, or whatever) " than the average woman, but 1. This does not mean that all females are less aggressive or more enotional than all males, 2. This does not mean that the vast majority of females/males, or any particular female/male, are/is any more than slightly statistically likely to exhibit the traits associated with their gender more than the traits associated with the opposite gender. 3. This does not differentiate between innate and socially conditioned traits. Unlike reproductive/biological traits, social/personality traits have a great deal to do with environment and socialization. I really don't think it's possible to prove exactly what is nature and what is nurture, as they say. But ever assuming all present traits to be naturally innate, sexual dimorphism on a social, psychological, or non-physical level is a game of statistics, and really does not accurately predict the traits of individuals. In summary, yes, there are differences between the average man and the average woman. But they are not universal, not uniform, certainly not prescriptive, and gender can no more accurately predict innate traits than can culture, environment, and personality. 

So, we really can't say that "women are like x" or "men enjoy z" with any certainty. We can guess, but we may not want to lay a great deal of money on the results.

God made us unique and valuable, and that includes our personalities and social traits. A slight statistical probability, if that, does not mean that a trait is God's design for me, or for my husband.

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