Point, Counterpoint: Talking about Gender Differences

Conservatives insist that there are huge differences between the genders while feminists insist that inasmuch as gender differences exist, they are social constructs. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, conservatives insist. Or are they?

I recently stumbled upon an article by Suzanne Venker published on Fox News. The title? “To Be Happy, We Must Admit Men and Women Aren’t Equal.” Venker is on the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” side. Let’s look at her article and then turn to a study out this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

It’s time to say what no one else will: Feminism didn’t result in equality between the sexes – it resulted in mass confusion. Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.

You see, the problem with equality is that it implies two things are interchangeable – meaning one thing can be substituted for the other with no ramifications. That is what feminists would have us believe, and anyone who contradicts this dogma is branded sexist.

But the truth must be heard. Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings. Men and women may be capable of doing many of the same things, but that doesn’t mean they want to. That we don’t have more female CEOs or stay-at-home dads proves this in spades.

Unless, of course, you’re beholden to feminism. In that case, you’ll believe the above is evidence of discrimination. You’ll believe what feminists taught you to believe: that gender is a social construct.

Those of us with children know better. We know little girls love their dolls and boys just want to kick that ball. This doesn’t mean men can’t take care of babies or women can’t play sports. It just means each gender has its own energy that flows in a specific direction. For God’s sake, let it flow.

The battle of the sexes is over. And guess what? No one won. Why not try something else on for size? Like this: men and women are equal, but different. They’ve each been blessed with amazing and unique qualities that they bring to the table. Isn’t it time we stopped fussing about who brought what and simply enjoy the feast?

There are a myriad of problems here. The idea that the lack of female CEOs is evidence that women just don’t want to be CEOs makes about as much sense as the idea that there were no black presidents before 2008 because black people just didn’t want to be president. For another thing, let me assure you, as a mother, Sally is no less interested in kicking balls than any boy her age. So no, those of us with children do not know better. And wait. Is Venker honestly suggesting that feminists don’t have children? Let me assure her, more than a few of us do! Finally, equal but different? Really? Shades of “separate but equal”?

But let me leave all of that aside. Venker’s argument is that feminists treat men and women as interchangeable and act like there’s not that much difference between the two when there actually is. Venker feels it is very, very important to emphasize that men and women are different. According to Venker, men and women have each, as a gender, “been blessed with amazing and unique qualities that they bring to the table.” Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Venker insists, and the sooner we admit that and follow that truism in our lives the better.

Anyway, I came upon Venker’s article not long after hearing about a new article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Men and Women are from Earth: Examining the Latent Structure of Gender.” Interestingly, this article examines Venker’s argument exactly. Are men from Mars and women from Venus? Or are the sexes really all that different? What did this study find?

Despite considerable popular literature suggesting a vast psychological difference between men and women, a new study suggests that gender differences are relatively insignificant.

Researchers studied a comprehensive list of characteristics ranging from empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion. Overall, they performed a statistical analysis of 122 different traits involving 13,301 individuals.

Their findings rebuke prior studies that suggested character traits often vary by gender.

In the new study, the scientists were able to show that statistically, men and women do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and mysterious your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.

“People think about the sexes as distinct categories,” said Dr. Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a co-author on the study to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“‘Boy or girl?’ is the first question parents are asked about their newborn, and sex persists through life as the most pervasive characteristic used to distinguish categories among humans.”

But the handy dichotomy often falls apart under statistical scrutiny, said lead author Bobbi Carothers, Ph.D.

Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum — the way they do with, say, height or physical strength — psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders.

With very few exceptions, variability within each sex and overlap between the sexes is so extensive that the authors conclude it would be inaccurate to use personality types, attitudes, and psychological indicators as a vehicle for sorting men and women.

Although emphasizing inherent differences between the sexes certainly strikes a chord with many couples, such simplistic frameworks can be harmful in the context of relationships, says Reis, a leader in the field of relationship science.

In fact, Reis believes using gender as a scapegoat can lead to relationship problems.

“When something goes wrong between partners, people often blame the other partner’s gender immediately. Having gender stereotypes hinders people from looking at their partner as an individual.

They may also discourage people from pursuing certain kinds of goals. When psychological and intellectual tendencies are seen as defining characteristics, they are more likely to be assumed to be innate and immutable. Why bother to try to change?”

What is the takeaway here? Put simply, that the differences between men and women are insignificant compared to the differences between individuals. The idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus is flawed, the scholars suggest, and accepting this truism can create problems between men and women. To be clear, the scholars do not contest that there are differences in average scores on the various metrics between men and women. The point they are making is that men and women’s scores on various personality measurements are not grouped on the opposite sides of the spectrum but rather mixed across it, and also that individuals may score more toward one end of the spectrum on one trait and toward the other end in another trait. In other words, where you fall on characteristics like empathy, sexuality, science inclination, and extroversion is not determined by your gender. Men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus. Men and women are both from earth.

With this in mind, let’s go back to the last line from Venker’s article:

Isn’t it time we stopped fussing about who brought what and simply enjoy the feast?

Weirdly, self-professing feminist as I am, I kind of agree with Venker here, but then I don’t think I’m taking Venker’s statement the way she intended it to be taken. Honestly, she seems to be implying that it’s feminists who are freaking out about gender roles when it seems to me that it’s actually she and her cohorts who are the ones hung up on gender roles. See, I’d rather let people be individuals rather than typing them by gender. I’d rather let people be individuals than expecting them to fall into some sort of preconscribed roles. I’d rather we admit that it’s our individual differences that make us who we are. So yes, can we stop fussing about expecting people to be a certain way because of what genitalia they were born with and start simply enjoying people as individuals with individual abilities, desires, and characteristics?

Is that really so much to ask?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • JetGirl

    Funny, but as a woman, all I’m allowed to bring to the table, at least according to the right-wing set, is attractiveness, humility and the willingness to be a good lifelong servant to men and to my offspring. The idea that I am interested in and even qualified to be an active participant in making laws, finding cures for disease, writing literature, exploring the environment outside my home? Not possible, since I don’t have a penis.

    • Venus

      See comment 17.

    • BabyRaptor

      You forgot your virginity, at least for your first trip to the table. We vagina owners are nothing if we’re not “pure” on wedding night!

  • Watry

    Words like ‘culture’ and ‘socialization’ or ‘enculturation’ mean nothing to these people, do they?

  • dawnofthenerds

    Best part of Venker’s article is the picture of the ‘traditionally married couple’ is actually two women.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/02/14/valentines-day-world-couples-romance-cupid-_n_1276516.html

    • http://lyricalpolyphony.blogspot.com Mary

      That. Is. Awesome.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    I saw that post a day or so ago… wow, so much wrong, where to even start?

    Well there’s this bit: “It just means each gender has its own energy that flows in a specific direction. For God’s sake, let it flow.” Let it flow? If it really is true that ALL men fit a certain role and ALL women fit a certain role, then people WILL all “flow” into those roles naturally and no one would need to write articles about how we need to reject feminism and force everyone into traditional gender roles.

    And on a more positive note, I love this comic on “traditional gender rolls”: http://www.explosm.net/comics/2861/

    • J-Rex

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. If we just adjust her quote to: “It just means each [individual] has [their] own energy that flows in a specific direction. For God’s sake, let it flow,” it works perfectly.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    “‘Boy or girl?’ is the first question parents are asked about their newborn, and sex persists through life as the most pervasive characteristic used to distinguish categories among humans.”

    Listen, I just wanted know how far away i needed to get to avoid being peed on by the little @#$%er. The answer with the boy was “farther than 3 feet”.

  • Darth Conans

    Few Things:
    First, for simplicity’s sake, I’m arguing in the absence of transgendered people. This is problematic, but their presence complicates my argument so much that I’d rather take the problem than add an extra page.
    1) I tend to agree with Robert Wright that, considering the fairly sizable biological differences between men and women, it’s pretty unlikely that the genders are cognitively the same.
    2) 1 doesn’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter because:
    a) Given how much our behavior is determined by society, getting at “innate biological” differences is impossible. Any survey you run or test you conduct will be tainted by the societal training your subjects have received, and trying to arrange a cross-culture test is pretty much impossible. It really is difficult to overstate the capacity for culture to override any biological urge. You can make a very strong case that close-relative incest taboos are probably innate (they’re pretty much universal), but there are still cultural contexts where they’re overridden (Ancient Egyptian rulers apparently married their relatives all the time).
    b) Outliers. Even if you accept that men or women have some innate tendency or other, it doesn’t really matter. People are so variable that you’ll still meet individuals who don’t have these tendencies. Prejudices and preconceptions are, in essence, statements of probability (a racist belief that black people are unintelligent is essentially a statement that “if you meet a black person, they’re 75% likely to be dumber than you” or whatever). Whatever statement of probability you make about genders or races, if they’re realistic and accurate, they’ll be so vague and have such low chances associated with them that they’re not helpful (“Oh, a woman. She’s got a 51% chance of being slightly more interested in monster trucks than a man.” “Oh, a man. He’s got a 25% of having a secret librarian fetish that’s difficult for him to manage” or whatever, and these are deliberately odd examples dissociated from existing stereotypes for rhetorical effect.)
    c) Naturalism fallacy (obviously this one had to make an appearance): Obviously, even if the genders had innate tendencies or whatever, it wouldn’t really matter, because an “is” is not an “ought.” Something in men makes them innately good hunters? Doesn’t mean men should go hunting if they don’t want to. Something in women makes them good at child rearing? Doesn’t mean women should have to raise children. To argue otherwise is to make a very crude “genetics is destiny” argument that I don’t think anyone really wants to embrace.

  • jose

    From what I’m seeing Venker is pretty much the SE Cupp of women’s issues.

  • Rosie

    I’m curious to know what Venker would make of my sister and I, who liked neither dolls nor sports as children. (Our interests were books, animals, art, math, and science.)

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    People aren’t interchangeable, Ms. Venker, and I don’t think feminists have ever claimed that.

    You know, none of the feminist blogs I follow panic over interpersonal relationships or marriage or “Where have all the good men gone!?!” That seems to be a function of conservatism and a desire for traditional gender roles. And of course, it keeps people like Venker in business.

    And beg pardon, but feminism did result in equality. Before feminism, Venker would have been the effective property of her husband and a non-person under the law, and she certainly wouldn’t have been writing news columns and controlling the wages that presumably result. Thanks, feminism!

  • Christine

    ““‘Boy or girl?’ is the first question parents are asked about their newborn”

    I wish. These days they ask as soon as you announce. (Most people don’t announce until second trimester, and so have likely had the second ultrasound by the time you hear.)

    • Anat

      But before birth you can get away with answering ‘yes’ or ‘probably’ (to be inclusive of intersex and genderqueer children).

    • Rosie

      And you know, I really wouldn’t care at all if English only had some decent singular gender-neutral pronouns I could use to refer to the kid. Using “it” tends to offend parents.

      • Emmers

        I’m 20 weeks pregnant and I still use “it.” People who don’t like it can jump in a lake :-)

    • Christine

      Believe it or not, some people seemed to think that “yes” wasn’t a good response. They’re the ones who got told how incredibly stupid it was to want to know (and how much stupider it is to assume that the ultrasound is correct and then gender everything you own based on that).

      DH and I refer to our daughter as the little person most of the time. Not just to avoid gendering, but because “girl” and “boy” both have a bit of “less than” associated with them, and we like reinforcing the “person” aspect.

  • J-Rex

    The other day I was talking with my female coworker and I brought up something stupid/oblivious my boyfriend had done recently. She immediately said, “He has boy-brain,” and I laughed because it seemed pretty true…and then I realized that this female coworker also has “boy-brain.” She’s very oblivious and is constantly messing up simple things at work. And my mom has “boy-brain.” I just realized that she uses “boy-brain” to describe oblivious, forgetful personality types that many people have, whether they’re men or women.

    • ako

      I was in a conversation with some co-workers a few months ago, and they all started going off about the whole “Men want to fix a problem when they talk about it, while women like venting and sharing without any expectation of fixing things” stereotype, and I realized that 1) I and everyone I know didn’t fall into a neat binary of “Only takes one approach” and 2) I tended to be far more on the side of wanting to solve things (I often get really stressed out when people vent at me, because my brain is going “You should fix this for them – why aren’t you fixing it?”).

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com somaticstrength

    I always find the gendered-play-proves-biology argument fascinating. I work in a library. Every time a little girl grabs a princess book, this is used as proof that it’s an inherent, biological thing.

    Except they’re just as much as likely to grab Disney books in general. Not just princess Disney, anything Disney. We can’t keep enough Disney on the shelves.

    If love of princesses/dolls etc. is a biological thing, then so is a love of Disney.

  • http://lyricalpolyphony.blogspot.com Mary
  • Venus

    REALLY JetGirl, REALLY??!! I am a Christian Conservative Republican. I chose to further my education, I then chose to have a career, and I then CHOSE to be a stay at home mom. My husband and I have complete freedom in our marriage to make our own choices, he does not dictate ANYTHING to me. I’m not “a servant” to anyone. I travel around the world, ALONE, just came back from 3 weeks in Europe, during which I visited 5 different countries because I love to see how other cultures live and enjoy seeing the different ways that each country approaches life. My own life is rich and full and I can promise you that I know many others in the “right wing” like me. We are not subservient, mealy mouthed, birthing machines whose husbands dictate when we can speak and what we can say. Your lack of knowledge is very telling. I hear the same fallacies all the time coming from “left wingers”. It’s the typical party lie and the sad part is you actually believe it. You probably also believe the lies from Sandra Fluke that “women’s birth control would be controlled by the party that never uses it if Mitt Romney is elected”. And to that I say again…REALLY?? There’s NOTHING wrong with the sexuality of anyone I know in the “right wing”. As for me, I am completely in touch with my own body, have a fantastic sex life-thirteen orgasms in one night with my husband PROBABLY means I’m not the cold, sexless, mindless, subservient robot you think I am. Maybe you should try getting to know people for yourself before you spew lies about an entire segment of the population that are not only insulting, but demeaning as well. You can’t paint any group of people with the same brush, especially a group that large, any more than you can say all women are one way and all men are another. People are all uniquely individual. We owe it to one another to at least respect THAT truth.

    • Nea

      So many words, and yet none about the original post. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

      …except when she’s bragging about porn-star numbers of orgasms, which doth be TMI too much. Also, hilarious. I assume I wasn’t supposed to laugh that hard, but it’s hard not to when you get the mental image of someone shouting “Again! Again! Damnit, you have to help me impress some faceless liberal on the internet!”

      • Venus

        I’m glad my post was so amusing for you, but I can assure you I am not trying to impress you or anyone else. I was simply trying to respond to the erroneous information that seems to be endlessly perpetuated about Conservative people, women specifically. As you so accurately pointed out, my post had little to do with the article. It was a direct response to JetGirl’s comments, it wasn’t intended to address the article itself. It infuriates me when people try to dictate to me what I am about and her comments were insulting. Not that a Liberal would ever know it, but there are just as many strong, educated, Conservative women as there are Liberal, and yet we are constantly bombarded in this country with the message that there is simply NO WAY you can be independent, free thinking and equal to your husband if you’re not a Democrat. I’ve read repeatedly that I’m essentially a robot whose sole purpose in life is to cater to and “stand by my man”. (Funny how the now feminazi Hillary Clinton embraced that moniker when it suited her purposes, and yet look at her now) But I digress. We’re constantly lied to from all corners by people who parrot that the Republicans have a “war on women”. Supposedly, Mitt Romney was going to take us all back to the 1950s if he had been elected. And yet, we heard not ONE WORD about how his parents raised him BY EXAMPLE to be supportive of a woman’s role and HER choices. His mother held public office and his father supported her all the way, and this was well before that was even an idea, much less the norm. If I had all night and unlimited space, I could write a book here on how the Democrat myth keeps women IN bondage. The bottom line though is this- not one of us has all the right answers but when the morons on either side get all the airtime, all we’re left with is confusion. Liberals are told Conservatives are ab&c. Conservatives are spoon fed that Liberals are de&f. But the truth of the matter is that we are all individuals, on both sides and it’s sheer insanity to lump everyone together like we’re all the same. As for your porn-star comment, haha, I can take that. Perhaps it’s justified. But after reading how “Christian Republican women are all frigid”…… And just to be clear, I am not a porn-star, BUT I wasn’t lying.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I was going to say something along the lines of “Congratulations for not being a meek little subervient fembot to your husband. Now kindly stop voting for people who want to turn you–and me–into one.” But then I got to the part about the 13 orgasms and I started to strongly suspect that this poster isn’t old enough to vote anyway.

      • Venus

        That’s too funny! I assure you that I’ve been voting for….. Well, I’ll just say for a while now. :) If you’re referring to the fact that most Republicans who run for office are against abortion, I have to say I agree with them. I realize it’s a very personal choice, but the end result is a mutilated baby. I am all for having a choice- but in my mind, the “choice” is made whenever a person CHOOSES to have sex. I realize that sometimes, even with contraception, women conceive, but far too many abortions are not performed because of that. I personally, have four children and two of them are “birth control babies” so I’m very familiar with the “oh crap!!!” that can happen. I also understand that sometimes a family just can’t afford another mouth to feed. Personally, if I were in that situation, I would rather carry the child to term and place it in the arms of a loving family, longing for a child, rather than live with the guilt for the rest of my life that I had killed my own baby. Two of my closest friend made the choice to abort their babies and both of them still cry over it to this day. This is something that happened over ten years ago for both of them, and they still aren’t over it. If its just a blob of tissue, which we all know it’s not, why do abortionists advise counseling? I had three small moles removed from my back- just tissue- needed no counseling, feel no guilt. The sad thing is, abortion IS the War on Women and so many don’t even realize it. So, I know I made a leap of faith that the abortion issue is what you were referring to, but maybe is was homosexuality? If so, it’s not for me but I really have no issues with it for other people. I think there is still too much that we don’t know about human embryonic sexual development so I would never think to dictate that for someone else. I really couldn’t care less what people do with their genitals, they belong to them, not me. That’s a private matter and I’m not going to sit in judgement of anyone, regardless of their choices. I just hope that you didn’t choose who to vote for this past election based on those issues. If you did, you were robbed. There are FAR more pressing issues at hand in our country right now. I just pray to God that we can survive four more years of regressive thinking by those who have sold the idea that they’re “progressive.”

    • Notreligious

      That’s great that you have such an equal marriage, and that you have freedom and ability to travel and do what you want. I am also a SAHM by choice, and a liberal and atheist.

      PLEASE quit voting for people that want to limit WOMENS rights, and send us back 100years. Which is the entire GOP right now. Thanks.

      • Venus

        Thanks for the nice reply but after endless research, I beg to differ. The Democratic Party is more harmful to women and our rights than the Republicans by a long shot, no offense.

    • Malitia

      Many wrote what I wanted but I still need to add this:
      “just came back from 3 weeks in Europe, during which I visited 5 different countries because I love to see how other cultures live and enjoy seeing the different ways that each country approaches life.”
      What? People still do this stupid (and probably stupidly expensive) thing or is it from an old movie?
      3 weeks in 5 countries is nothing. It’s enough to visit the most famous tourist destinations in a hurry so you barely see anything, or look around a town in each country, etc..
      And this isn’t accounting for the language barrier. Each and every country in Europe (and sometimes even parts of the same country) have separate, mutually unintelligible languages or dialects, that makes it effectively impossible to really interact with the locals and so getting to know the culture at all. Even if they know English you will be marked as a tourist and so an outsider (and they WILL “tourist tax” you for this, in money and/or information).

      • Daughter

        Malitia, few people have the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture. Few people have the chance to spend three weeks traveling, either. And if someone has the privileged opportunity to travel to Europe for three weeks, they may want to see as much as possible, because they might never have another opportunity to go back.

        I get what you’re saying: traveling to that many countries in that window of time isn’t enough to really get to know another culture. Very true. That doesn’t mean it’s a stupid thing to do, or without any learning value.

        Here’s an example: my very materialistic younger cousin traveled to Costa Rica with her school band when she was 15. They were there for about 5 days, and mostly saw tourist type things. Yet the poverty of that country compared to the US couldn’t be completely hidden, and she came back from that trip totally changed. Throughout college she volunteered in programs that served homeless people. She’s now 24 and works as an advocate for prison reform and for helping people with criminal records obtain jobs and re-integrate into society.

      • Nea

        I’m lumping her “If This Is Tuesday, It Must be Belgium” tour in with the rest of her bragging – an attempt to sound oh so much cooler than the rest of us while actually sounding silly to someone who’s actually done the kinds of things she talks about, from marriage through travel to sex.

        Seriously, is anyone THAT judgmental about how half of her own country lives going to truly be interested in seeing how other cultures live?

      • Malitia

        Daughter, your cousin spent 5 days there in comparison she had slightly more than 4 days / country which when I subtract the time spent traveling etc. will become 3 or less.

        I also kind of doubt she went to Eastern-Europe (the poorer, post-communist parts that could give her more empathy). Or that she immersed herself at all in the cultures of Western-Europe (which tend to be scarily liberal and “socialist” for the American conservative type she describes herself for an eye opener).

      • Venus

        I agree, that it is much too difficult to cram all of that into three weeks. My husband and I went to those same countries together this summer but I wanted to go back alone because I am crazy about photography and he can be impatient. I understand it’s frustrating when he wants to keep moving and I stop every fifteen feet to frame another shot! Going solo in October meant that I could move at my own pace and not stress out over stressing him out. :)

      • Venus

        @nea: I’m sorry that my post came across as “silly” and you felt that I was “bragging” because that certainly wasn’t my intention. I didn’t put one thing in that post that isn’t true and yet somehow, you were bothered by something in it enough to think I’m trying to sound “cool” and you read *somewhere*??? that I’m judgmental…. That in itself is awfully ironic, because YOU’RE the one judging ME. I’m not judging ANYBODY. I responded to a post that is one of the standard indoctrination speeches I hear REPEATEDLY that is completely and utterly wrong, wrong, wrong! It offended me, I responded. It was my intention to illustrate WHY what was written was obviously a fallacy, NOT to trot out all my personal data. I’m failing to see how you gleaned that I’m “judgmental” based on what I wrote it, but, hey, you can think and feel however you like. Peace.

    • JetGirl

      Umm, okay. If this is indeed the case, you are not right wing. You sound like a big feminazi to me! Traveling on you own? Not taking orders from your husband? Educating yourself? Yikes. Does Bill Gothard know about you?How about Mary Pride? And Debi Pearl? Shh, don’t worry. I won’t tell.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        To be fair, there are plenty of right-wing women (like Ms. Venker) who enjoy the fruits of feminism while shitting all over actual feminists.

      • Christine

        Also, it is very possible to be right wing and feminist. It might not be possible to be a whole-hearted Republican supporter, due to the rest of what gets bundled in with it, but in other countries there’s a lot less problem.

      • Venus

        ;)

  • ako

    Honestly, she seems to be implying that it’s feminists who are freaking out about gender roles when it seems to me that it’s actually she and her cohorts who are the ones hung up on gender roles.

    Yeah, there’s this weird idea that feminism (which is actually about taking away the “You are obligated to do this in order to be a Proper Woman!” pressure) is somehow all about forcing people to be unfeminine and contradict gender roles. Now I’ve known a few people who are weirdly about not doing conventionally-gendered stuff, but they seem to be a tiny subset of the people calling themselves feminist.

    Of course, it’s much easier to justify pushing the whole “You’re a woman, so you should be doing all of these womanly things, and avoiding all manly things, or deep down you’ll never be truly happy!” line if you portray women stepping out of gender roles as somehow pressured into doing it out of feminist ideology.

    • Emmers

      Third Wave feminism, wooooo! :-D (Do what you want, as long as you’re not trying to make other people – directly or indirectly – do what you think they should do instead of what they think they should do.)

  • smrnda

    Nothing shows that this notion of ‘innate differences’ is nonsense more than looking at other cultures. My brother has lived a long time in East Asia, spending his time in Japan, China and South Korea. He said that the whole idea of men having to be ‘macho’ just doesn’t seem to be a thing over there the way it is here.

    The other thing that got me was working with young kids, say, age birth through five. They’re still being socialized but no, I saw girl who enjoyed imaginative, violent play, boys who played with dolls and girls who hit people when they were upset and boys who cried and wanted to be held. (I’ve even found that kids that don’t conform to gender stereotypes also don’t conform in stereotypical, consistent ways. Some girls like to dress feminine but are still interested in sports and what not.) What I realized was that when people tell you it’s obvious that men and women or boys and girls are totally different, you’re probably getting a result related to confirmation bias. Or, people who believe in the ‘boys=blue girls=pink’ thing put pressure on their kids to conform, whether conscious or not and then take their own kids (very tiny sample size) as evidence of this.

    So, as a person who has worked with hundreds of kids, it was that more than anything that tells you it’s nonsense. You see so many kids who don’t conform to the stereotypes in so many interesting ways that you can’t possibly believe the nonsense about innate gender differences. When the kids you work with come from a diverse pool (as opposed to say, the pool of ideological clones you hang out with in your subculture) you no longer just see what you think is ‘common sense.’

    Darth Conans, I like your point about outliers since even if something is statistically more likely to be true of a member of a group, using that as a cookie cutter approach to members of the group is lazy thinking, and often useless and self-defeating thinking.

    • ako

      I’ve even found that kids that don’t conform to gender stereotypes also don’t conform in stereotypical, consistent ways. Some girls like to dress feminine but are still interested in sports and what not.

      My niece. She loves princesses in pretty dresses, pretending to kill dragons and rescue handsome princes, tea parties, and anything athletic where she can run around a lot.

  • fiercebadrabbit

    My little sister is admirably prone to choosing exactly the option she likes at any given time, regardless of gender roles. I’ve noticed a common phase in girls who object to standardized femininity in a white-bread conservative ghetto like our hometown is rejecting anything theoretically girly, regardless of whether you enjoy it or not or whether your objections make any sense. (I have purely anecdotal evidence, of course; just an observation. There’s a common period of hating skirts and pink stuff for a while until you’re reasonably confident that no one can make you like skirts and pink stuff, and then you go back and readjust opinions accordingly.)

    So I’m always pleased when the kid amuses herself all afternoon by watching X-men cartoons while acting them out with My Little Ponies.

    Anyway, I’d taken her to McDonald’s the other day (wretched food, but in the winter the play equipment is a great way to use up excess energy while I read over crappy coffee) and I overheard her talking with a couple other kids. She was admiring their nerf guns and the two boys were telling her where she could buy her own, and somehow the conversation came over to boy stuff and girl stuff. I didn’t catch my sister’s reply, but one of the boys said, as understanding dawned, “So you’re like, half boy, half girl?” My sister agreed that this was a good way to put it and they went back to battling imaginary aliens.

    So we’ll have to work on her internet social justice-ese lingo a bit, but I thought the way it played out was fascinating. All the kids involved understood that there were rules, theoretically, and that there were boy things and girl things, but didn’t seem to see why these rules should actually limit them. Of course, if might have played out differently with a boy who wanted to do girl-coded things, and there are problematic social implications even in the upbeat reading of the conversation, but it’s still an interesting summation of what these children with their supposed biological predispositions actually perceive.

  • Edward Gemmer

    I loved this post. Some of the arguments about feminism do get lost in the weeds. There probably are some differences between men and women when looking at the entire population. this means next to nothing for individuals. Both men and women are incredibly huge and incredibly diverse populations, so trying to pigeonhole characteristics about one person based on their genitalia is foolhardy.

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  • Daughter

    Her weirdest comment was this one: “Today, men and women have no idea who’s supposed to do what.”
    Really? I’ve found that as long as people have the freedom and opportunities to make their own choices, they choose to do what they want to do. Most people aren’t sitting around frozen in a state of helplessness.

    Re: children. I had the opportunity recently to spend the day with my daughter’s second grade class in her racially diverse public school. It was interesting to see the cafeteria: there was plenty of racial integration, but virtually every table was segregated by gender. (By choice; there are no assigned seats). Kids that age don’t really care about racial or ethnic differences, but IIRC, the 5-8 year old age range is when kids are solidifying their gender identity and thus have strong same gender preferences. So almost everyone in the cafeteria was sitting with their same-gender BFF’s.

    However, that gender segregation melted away on the playground. There you saw kids gravitate to the activities they were interested in. As as many boys were interested in jumping rope and hopscotch as girls were interested in playing soccer and four square.

    • smrnda

      I don’t see any people who are confused about who is supposed to do what. Couples work this out all the time. I think that whole idea is that people who believe men and women must be assigned specific roles and jobs can’t imagine how dinner gets cooked or the lawn gets mowed unless the jobs are always pre-assigned, so that egalitarian couples must be confused about who does what. It’s projection, like someone who can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t commit mass murder unless there was a hell to be threatened with.

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  • hi

    males and females brains actually are VERY different for example women are better at cross thinking because their corpus callosum is larger. men are more motivated to do active sports because their ventral tegmenta area is larger. men and women actually have the same brain structure until eight weeks after conception because a tesosterone surge turns the brain male by killing off some cells in the communication areas of the brains and growing some cells in the sexual and aggression centers so thats why boys are more aggresive and girls are more social.

    • smrnda

      I have known several neuroscientists and I don’t think there’s actually conclusive evidence that ‘male brains’ and ‘female brains’ are actually automatically different. On the popular science angle, anything that ‘proves’ there’s a difference is going to get lots of press and anything else is only going to be read by people in the field. I’ll try to dig up some other sources, but I’d be very, very skeptical that we can tell men from women by brain MRIs.

      Also, having worked with kids age 0 through 6, I haven’t seen much evidence that girls are less aggressive than boys, or that girls are more social, less physical, or less competitive. As I said though, if I can make it to the library I’ll dig up some studies…


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