The differences between men and women have plagued philosophers and the common man for millennia; is there really any true difference that stems from biology, or is the male tendency to fight and the female tendency for emotionality a product of our upbringing, as well as social expectations? In my perspective, there are quite a few significant differences that exist between men and women, but they do not have to be the case; there are always exceptions to the rule, but many societal and behavioral (not to mention physical) truisms exist that lead to the tendency for men and women to act differently towards each other. In this essay, this perspective will be explored with the help of other investigations into the subject.
In “Condemning Our Kids to Life on Mars or Venus,” Angier (1998) cites the growing use of sex-centered language and behaviors to describe trends among male and female children. Namely, the pervading wisdom is that “boys will be boys” while girls are thought to be more delicate and demure. In “Male and Female Brains,” Quirks and Quarks (2005) tested the theory that intellectual capacity differed between the sexes (as had been implied by people examining why fewer women hold university teaching positions). Some studies have revealed the differences between men and women brains, present at birth and not a result of upbringing. In women, there is a greater desire to empathize, while men desire to systemize (learn how things work). Others believe that there is no difference in brain activity, especially in regards to intellectual capacity. This debate is outlined, with no real answer either way decided within the program.
There are some who have identified scientific and biological differences between men and women. However, the primary thing to consider is that these are mere differences, lateral moves that indicate no sense of superiority by one gender over the other. From a biological and reproductive level, the tendency is towards the female; an embryo needs androgen in order to become a man – “Nature may prefer women, but virtually every culture has been partial to men” (TIME, 1972). What’s more, there is the presence of ‘cultural universals,’ such as the mother taking care of children in society, something which is the norm among many different cultures. Also, the protective nature of men towards women stems all the way to primates, indicating a biological rather than a cultural truism. Finally, it is often the case that babies exhibit sex characteristics long before they would cognitively know the difference, alluding to genetic predispositions (TIME, 1972).
A lot of attention has been paid to the possibility of different brain activity and concentrations in men and women. In Dan Hodgins’ article “Male and Female Differences” (2001), the genetic differences in mindset between the sexes is outlined. First of all, women mature much quicker than males in the brain area, including faster myelinization which gives them better verbal skills much earlier than in men. The larger corpus callosum found in many women grants them a higher level of decision making skills, as well as superior sensory processing. On the other side of the coin, men learn more visually, while women use words and audible language to learn. Different brain chemical concentrations are found in each brain, men secreting less of these chemicals, especially the empathy-encouraging chemical oxtocin (Hodgins, 2001).
Even the stereotypical presences of estrogen and testosterone in women and men, respectively, speak a great deal to their roles in male and female brains. With progesterone in women, they are more inclined to bond and form connections with people, whereas testosterone in men makes them more aggressive and furthers their sex drive. There is even the implication that women think faster and are better at processing emotions than men (Hodgins, 2001). With these unique differences, it is clear that there are at least some disparities between women and men when it comes to biology.
These disparities between male and female brain activity begin within a few months of being conceived; what’s more, men do gain an advantage in some areas of the brain than others, including math and geometry. This tradeoff occurs seemingly at the expense of advances in fine motor skills and language, which are better in girls. Dominant language skills are more advanced in women, using it to compete against other women through gossip and manipulation of emotions – this is known as relational aggression. This is compared to the more physical aggression displayed by boys for competition (WebMD, 2011).
Of course, this information merely deals with the capabilities that men and women have; what they do with their differences is another story. There are most certainly men who are emotionally-driven, and women who are physically aggressive, and the interests that people have run a wide spectrum in between male and female. What’s more, there is a large component to upbringing and environment in what forms individual personalities, regardless of sex. In a Nightline report on sex and behavior, one panelist claimed that war was not the product of aggression, but of political states and ideas, instead of any biological need to be aggressive. (Nightline, 2011). In the long run, men and women have essentially the same mental capabilities; many of the biological and nervous system differences displayed by men and women are miniscule and negligible.
With this evidence in mind, it is my perspective that there are biological differences between men and women, though that does not mean inequalities in capability, or the potential to do anything the other sex can and wants to do. There are just certain biological tendencies that point women and men towards different things; men have a tendency to protect and think about things in an organized manner, and women are biologically predisposed toward more nurturing, emotional bases for behavior. That being said, these are mere tendencies and not completely set in stone rules – there are many women who will do stereotypically masculine things and vice versa. However, it would not serve anyone well to completely ignore trends in gendered behavior; one merely needs to recognize and accept the exceptions to the rule.
Angier, Natalie. “Condemning Our Kids to Life on Mars or Venus.” The New York Times. N.p., 24 Nov. 1998. Web. 8 Aug. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/24/science/condemning-our-kids-to-life-on-mars-or-venus.html?pagewanted=4&src=pm>.
Hodgins, Dan. “Male and Female Differences.” Focus 1.1 (2001): 6-7. Print.
Nightline. “What are the Differences between Men and Women.” The Writer’s Eye. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2011. <www.mhhe.com/socscience/english/costanzo/ch08_media_2.html>.
Quirks and Quarks. “Male and Female Brains.” The Writer’s Eye. CBC.ca, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 7 Aug. 2011. <www.mhhe.com/socscience/english/costanzo/ch08_media_1.html>.
TIME. “Behavior: Male & Female: Differences Between Them.” TIME.com. N.p., 20 Mar. 1972. Web. 7 Aug. 2011. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,942519-1,00.html>.
WebMD. “How Male and Female Brains Differ.” WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2011. <languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/llog/Hodgins1.pdf>.