79 Comments

FAQ: But men and women are born different! Isn’t that obvious?

That idea is known as “essentialism”: the belief that there are uniquely feminine and uniquely masculine essences which exist independently of cultural conditioning. Both actual (minor) and alleged (major) differences between the sexes have been used to justify inequities and constraints which harm women emotionally, financially and physically.

Even where (and if) such differences do exist, why should such differences justify sexist oppression? *

Biological determinism is one form of essentialism which has been used to argue for male superiority for all of recorded history: that men are naturally stronger, smarter, more rational and more trustworthy and thus are entitled to rule both politically and domestically. The more science discovers about biology the more this male biological superiority is shown to be utterly without foundation: for any quality measured there is far more variation among the group of all men and among the group of all women than there is on average between individuals of opposite sex.

A common corollary belief is that while men are physically and rationally superior, women are morally superior. At times influential groups of both men and women, both feminists and anti-feminists, have subscribed to this view. It is equally without evidentiary foundation, and has often been used to give women a sense of power in the role of morality enforcer which acts to support the larger social system of male dominance (and which especially excuses the male sexual exploitations of women as due to a baser moral nature which can’t be changed, but which “good” women have the duty to “tame”).

Masculine and feminine traits have been culturally placed in opposition to each other, and claimed to thus complement each other and result in harmony when men and women are constrained within the accepted sex roles. Masculine roles differ across societies, but are always portrayed as not only different from but also superior to the feminine. Women and men who transgress the boundaries of the accepted sex roles are considered “not real” men/women, and usually denigrated and sometimes abused and punished by outraged defenders of normative sex roles. It is this rigid ghettoising of masculine and feminine, and the assigning of superiority always to the masculine, that feminism challenges.

* Spot-the-strawfeminist: It is often claimed that feminists say there are no differences between men and women, by people who tend to condescendingly point to women’s chest area as they “debate”. Rubbish – feminists are fully aware that women have breasts etc. What feminists say is that neither the size of the fatty glands on one’s pectoral muscles, nor whether one’s reproductive organs are innies or outies, are indicators of deeper essential differences, and nor are such indicators of sexual dimorphism relevant when discussing rights, equity and sexual egalitarianism.

Introductory:

Clarifying Concepts:

  • Innate or socialized? A look at “the stereotype threat”:

    There is a well-documented psychological phenomenon, the “stereotype threat”, which describes how stereotyped groups perform worse as their group membership is emphasized. In many experiments, all that is needed for it to kick in is a subtle reminder that the person belongs to the group — for example, asking subjects to check a box for race or gender at the top of an exam.

    Today in the journal Science, lan Dar-Nimrod and Steven Heine report that certain quite specific stereotypes about gender and math trigger this effect. The study, appearing under the somewhat unfortunate title– “Exposure to Scientific Theories Affects Women’s Math Performance”– is sure to stimulate controversy over how ideas about gender and ability are discussed.

    [See original article for explanation of said study.]

    The study suggests that genetic theory can give powerful support to discriminatory stereotypes. It is likely due, in no small part, to the way genetics is presented to the public, with an emphasis on determinism.

  • More on the impact of socialization:

    Gender essentialism is the assumption that women are naturally like this, while men are naturally like that, and nature made it so and anyone who deviates from that pattern is a freak. Most commonly it comes in the form of “women are naturally submissive and men are naturally dominant”.

    This is an absolutely unprovable statement. It is an opinion, not a fact. Look at the amount of gender conditioning we receive from infancy: different colors for girls and boys (in some cultures), commercials proclaiming boys like toy guns and trucks while girls like dollies that pee. Throughout life, we are punished for deviating from our cultural gender norms, and yet very few people find it easy to avoid those deviations.

    If it’s so natural, why all the conditioning?

  • Looking at difference from a feminist POV:

    It came to seem less reasonable to me to argue that men and women did not have biological and anatomical differences in their brains that might result in functional differences. Although establishing a functional effect for anatomical differences in the brain is difficult in humans (and so my belief is that there isn’t any current scientific evidence for a conclusion such as the one cited by the Absorbacon post), I came out of the research project with a revised opinion of the science: it seems less reasonable to me to blindly imagine that men and women would have reproductive differences and differences in hormone production and release in the brain, but not other differences in the initial hardwiring of the brain.

    However, the science still has not completely resolved this point when it comes to humans, and while it is likely that our different genetic makeups prescribe different neural circuitry in the brain, the nervous system is particularly plastic, and we have yet to distinguish between the effects of nature vs. nurture in the development of the human psyche. I think that while it is reasonable to believe that male and female children might start out with sexually dimorphic circuitry, as we develop post-natally, our brains are capable of converging.

  • Debunking commonly held myths about language differences:

    Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain, published last August, featured a number of striking quantitative assertions about sex differences in communication. The jacket blurb claimed “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000″, while the text (p. 14) gave the same numbers in the other order: “Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty thousand.” Dr. Brizendine gives a set of references in her end-notes, but none of them support those numbers. In fact, no study of any sort has ever measured any numbers at all like these, as far as I’ve been able to find.

    What are the facts about sex and talkativeness? There’s an enormous amount of individual variation, and each individual talks more or less depending on mood and context. Against this background of variation, many studies have measured how much women talk, on average, compared to how much men talk, on average. The differences that they find between men and women as groups have always been small compared to the differences among men as individuals or among women as individuals. And more often than not, these small group differences actually show men talking a bit more than women do. For additional details, see the links at the end of this post.

Recommended Reading Offline:

  • Anne Fausto-Sterling (Basic Books, 1992): Myths of Gender: biological theories about women and men. ISBN 0465047920
  • Hyde, Janet Shibley (American Psychologist 60 No. 6, September 2005): ‘The Gender Similarities Hypothesis’, pp. 581-592.

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About tigtog

writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

79 comments on “FAQ: But men and women are born different! Isn’t that obvious?

  1. Two helpful posts on this issue that I’ve written can be found here:

    Embracing Your Inner Skeptic, which outlines some simple ways in which to critically engage with studies. Since many gender essentialist arguments are more than a few steps removed from the science that they rely on for their arguments, being able to look at the original conclusion and see how it evolved into the larger argument is key.

    The Gender Similarities Hypothesis, which is a summary of the study with a little bit of critique of the way that studies are presented in journalism.

  2. Third attempt, sorry, preview would be helpful. (Moderator note: deleted the first two to minimise confusion)

    Biological Determinism is a bit of a strawman though isn’t it? Since few practicing scientists in this field would really make the claim for strict biological determinism in humans when it comes to sexual reproduction. Insects maybe but not us.
    The Biology of Sexual Orientation

    “What feminists say is that neither the size of the fatty glands on one’s pectoral muscles, nor whether one’s reproductive organs are innies or outies, are indicators of deeper essential differences, and nor [are] such indicators of sexual dimorphism relevant when discussing rights, equity and sexual egalitarianism.”

    Correct on the latter point but the case has yet to be made on the former. You do not know what you do not know. Unless “essential differences” is yet another strawman you’ve set up just to knock down. When you get to define each and every term according to your own ideological needs it then becomes difficult if not impossible for any real conversation to take place. All ideologies do this, it’s one of their primary defining characteristics.

  3. few practicing scientists in this field would really make the claim for strict biological determinism in humans when it comes to sexual reproduction

    Exactly. That doesn’t stop a lot of people who aren’t scientists arguing for Biological Determinism though.

    Unless “essential differences” is yet another strawman you’ve set up just to knock down.

    Excuse me, whose strawman exactly is the concept of “essential differences” between the sexes beyond reproductive roles that supposedly justify limiting women’s social roles?

    Essentialism is reducing complexities to simple intrinsic commonalities, and presenting those simplistic commonalities as the most important way of defining the complexity. It is this reductionism which is the problem when Essentialism is applied to humans to produce Biological Determinism.

  4. Reductionism is what science does, it reduces complexity into “simple intrinsic commonalities”. I see nothing wrong with that because it has given us immense power over our natural world. It is also far more successful at explaining reality than religious/political ideologies have ever been. I thought that perhaps you were making a philosophical argument about Kantian “Essentialism” or “the thing in itself”. Introducing this concept into what is a scientific question creates a great deal of confusion because “Essentialism” is an unscientific concept. It is a red herring.

    I have my doubts that what I mean by biological determinism is the same as what you mean nor the same as what most people think biological determinism means. For most people XX means you are born female and that is biological determinism and that is true as far as it goes. We know that reality is far more complicated but really, it isn’t that different. Most people would also say, once they learned the role early hormonal development plays, that sexual orientation is pretty much biologically determined. We again would claim it is much more complicated and there are lots of ifs ands and buts in there but again, it isn’t that different from the more general view.

  5. For someone who readily agreed upthread that

    nor [are] such indicators of sexual dimorphism relevant when discussing rights, equity and sexual egalitarianism.

    you seem to be heavily invested in the idea that there are too essential differences between men and women. I’m also not sure what your reference to material on sexual orientation is meant to add to a discussion of acculturated gender roles.

    Now, I was indeed talking about philosophical essentialism (which long predates Kant – try some Aristotle). At one time essentialism was considered science, and now scientists largely know better – the average sexist has not however caught up. The red herring of essentialism is the tool of those arguing against feminism on gender essentialist grounds.

    As to reductive thinking being “successful”: scientific reductionism certainly is a very powerful tool for technological prowess. In terms of explaining physical reality science is indeed much more successful than religious/political ideologies: but human society is a mutually-agreed abstract reality which uses religious/political beliefs as its building blocks – scientific reductionism is far less successful at explaining social forces than it is at explaining physical forces.

  6. you seem to be heavily invested in the idea that there are too essential differences between men and women.

    Naww, that’s just the box you want to put me in, it’s all you can see. So if you want to discuss the noumenal world please count me out and don’t try shoe horning science in either. The scientific method was in fact created as a counter response to Kants’ “thing in itself”. Essentialism has no place in this discussion what-so-ever and every scientist I’ve ever heard of rejects such drivel for the unscientific mysticism that it is.

    I may be silly but I think there are differences between males and females. Some are biological in origin (i.e. not arbitrary) and others are no doubt cultural. Where does one draw the line? Is there a line? I don’t know and I’m pretty confident that you don’t either.

    I think the problem arises because science has been chipping away at that distinction. Making a lot of people on both the left and right very nervous. Both sides are heavily invested in their own realities and so they cherry pick what supports their political agenda and suits their purposes. That is why I provided the link that I did, it addresses the anxiety that many feminist rightly have and I thought that would be helpful. But clearly, the fear of being discriminated against due to sex differences and the origin of those differences are not the same things. Just as “race” is not a scientific concept that will hardly stop discrimination based on skin color. They are two separate issues. Understanding the ground from which gender difference arise will likewise have little effect on sexual discrimination. Those who wish to discriminate will do so irregardless of any scientific evidence one way or another.

    [Moderator note: stereotypes snipped as comment too long - post them separately if you must]

    scientific reductionism is far less successful at explaining social forces than it is at explaining physical forces.

    I have no idea what your notion of “social forces” would be but if we are seeking an explanation for them I think it would be best to use the scientific method and not politics and certainly not divine inspiration. These have a really poor track record when it comes to discovering objective reality. Umm, that is something you believe in right? Some people believe that reality itself is a social construct. I hope you don’t subscribe to such mysticism.

    Abstract realities, oh let’s use proper words for these and call them what they are: “fictions”, ok? Well, such fictions that are not grounded in the objective world are fragile things. For most of human history people have believed in fictions like these and most of the time they don’t suffer adverse consequences, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically.

    But wouldn’t it be better for society in the long run if it’s ideas about the world, including our ideas about ourselves, were based in reality and not fiction? I do, though I could be wrong about that. Perhaps we are better off not knowing, perhaps illusion is preferable to, and more adaptive than, despair.

  7. [Moderator note: stereotypes snipped as comment too long - post them separately if you must]

    Wow, I mean, wow. Here I though you were actually going to debate honestly. Boy was I wrong. How can we possibly have a conversation if you are going to censor what I say. How can I possibly trust you? It doesn’t look to me like I can.

    I am really not interested in playing you power game. Let me know when you decide to treat me fairly.

  8. Essentialism has no place in this discussion what-so-ever and every scientist I’ve ever heard of rejects such drivel for the unscientific mysticism that it is.

    As do most forms of feminism. Hurrah!

    Abstract realities, oh let’s use proper words for these and call them what they are: “fictions”, ok?

    “Law” is a fiction? Please do physically analyse a law for me, won’t you?

    Humans have cooperatively formed a cognitive construct called “society”, which constrains our physical interactions with each other. The physical effect of various aspects of “society” can be measured, but “society” itself cannot be measured.

    The scientific analysis of society is useful, very useful, but limited – because various social contracts that constitute the larger cognitive construct can be altered arbitrarily if enough minds decide to make it so.

  9. [Moderator note: stereotypes snipped as comment too long - post them separately if you must]

    Wow, I mean, wow. Here I though you were actually going to debate honestly. Boy was I wrong. How can we possibly have a conversation if you are going to censor what I say. How can I possibly trust you? It doesn’t look to me like I can.

    The role of a moderator is to keep a discussion on track. Laundry lists of assertions about stereotypes add nothing to your preceding paragraphs, and are tedious for the reader.

    How do you propose to distinguish between acculturated gender behaviours and intrinsic biological behaviours? Your list of behaviours merely begged the question that constellations of gender behaviours were in fact intrinsically biological.

  10. Umm no they didn’t beg the question and I can cite juried studies to back them up.

    That was really out of line and not something that you would tolerate if done to you. Why should I spend my time and energy putting forth my position if it’s only going to get censored? What kind of a blog do you really want here? Do you want a mutual admiration society and “let’s beat the crap out of the troll” blog? Or do you want real substantive discussions? If it is the latter then the last thing you want to do is to destroy any trust you have with posters here.

    Now I can understand, there are some pretty ugly trolls out there and I bet that in the past they have said some very hateful things to you and to others you care about. I am not one of those people. Even if it was true that what I said was stereotypical and tedious (and I deny that) how is it that you intend to perform your stated purpose if you censor things you don’t like to hear? How is that going to happen? Do you really expect people to come here on their knees begging for drops of wisdom from your brow? If all you are looking for is a supplicant or a punching bag well then count me out.

    You violated my trust and that is a big deal to me. I think I will just wait for you erudite reply to what we have so far.

  11. Umm no they didn’t beg the question and I can cite juried studies to back them up.

    The term is peer-reviewed, and unless those studies controlled for acculturation in some way then they do beg the question of which/whether gender behaviours can be attributed to intrinsic biology, no matter how accurate the statistics they’ve collected are.

    As for trust, I don’t trust you. I’m willing to discuss things with you, but I don’t trust you. If that offends you, I’ll manage to sleep at night.

    I don’t trust Leamas either, which is why I’ve deleted every attempt the two of you have made to engage with each other. Maybe the two of you are not following the old alt.syntax.tactical playbook, in which case I will one day owe you an apology. But in the meantime I’m keeping you both on a tight leash.

  12. “I don’t trust Leamas either, which is why I’ve deleted every attempt the two of you have made to engage with each other. Maybe the two of you are not following the old alt.syntax.tactical playbook, in which case I will one day owe you an apology. But in the meantime I’m keeping you both on a tight leash.”

    Well, I don’t quite know what conclusion to draw from this other than to note that moderating comments in this way gives you a distinct advantage – nothing I cannot overcome – but an advantage nonetheless.

    I assure you I do not know, nor have had contact with the other post author. I don’t know what more assurance I can give you, and if my efforts will be so deleted I am not certain if even wasting my time in the way that I have been so doing is a desirable state of affairs.

    Someone really needs to host a blog that actually permits free fire debates between feminists of any wave and those falling within the purview of “misogynists” as defined by said feminists, unmoderated as to content. I assure you, the patriarchy does not possess the resources to do so at this time.

  13. Sorry. I will not participate in your power trip. Goodbye.

  14. Someone really needs to host a blog that actually permits free fire debates between feminists of any wave and those falling within the purview of “misogynists” as defined by said feminists, unmoderated as to content.

    Why? The history of any unmoderated forum you care to name is that any substantive debate rapidly falls victim to bullies who simply drown everyone else out.

    You could be the most reasonable and respectful adversary ever, and the debate would still degenerate due to the obnoxious behaviour of others not being moderated. Unmoderated forums are a waste of time and energy.

  15. Well, I am not certain how a fair debate can be had otherwise.

    You see, I have been subjected to “women’s studies” professors and “feminist legal scholars” teaching compulsory classes, but I am not at all certain that any of you have ever or will ever greet the retort full force.

  16. Well, I am not certain how a fair debate can be had otherwise.

    That’s odd. Every formal discussion I can think of (town council, legislature, committees, boards) orders debate according to something rather like Robert’s Rules of Order. Are you saying that none of these widely accepted forms of moderated democratic debate are “fair”?

  17. “That’s odd. Every formal discussion I can think of (town council, legislature, committees, boards) orders debate according to something rather like Robert’s Rules of Order. Are you saying that none of these widely accepted forms of moderated democratic debate are “fair”?”

    Rules of Order or Parlaimentary Procedure are generally fair in contexts where there has been an election, and the majority is reflected in the chair or speaker.

    Who would chair? You? Marcotte? Me? Are there more feminists or Legionairres of the Patriarchy?

    The problem is similar to that of moderated blogs. Especially when “out of order” gets applied to your interlocutor’s best arguments.

    And ‘round the circle you go.

  18. Back on topic: a nice mathematical analysis of the gender expectation of male promiscuity and female chastity: The Myth, The Math, The Sex

  19. WTF? I’m confused as to how Noen missed your original point that even if there are major physical differences between men and women, why does that mean we should not have equal rights?

    Because if differences do NOT mean we should not have equal rights, why even debate about them?

    I certainly see physical differences between men and women. I’m not blind. But sexual reproduction has to do with providing the widest genetic variety possible in the species–sort of like shuffling the deck before you deal. It has nothing to do with making one sex “better” or more powerful than the other. So other than understanding how reproduction works there really is no point in discussing the matter in terms of politics. I mean, if men who are of average IQ have as many rights as men who have higher IQs, then what’s the justification for depriving the rights of women who allegedly have smaller average brain size then men do? If some men are weak while others are strong but all have an equal shot at combat positions in the military, what’s the justification of not giving women fitness tests for same rather than shutting us all out on account of we don’t have penises?

    And why do I have to ask these questions anyway? I’m sure you wonder the same thing.

  20. Tigtog: I’m afraid there isn’t actually any mathematical analysis in the article. The theorem he proves – usually called the Handshake Theorem – is certainly true, but it’s not relevant. The key word is “median”: “[...] men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners.”

    The theorem he quotes applies to the average. The average is not the median: the average is the sum divided by the number, while the median is the value which is exceeded by half the population. They can be different, and one situation in which they can be radically different is when distributions have long “tails”, extreme values that occur infrequently. For a concrete example, suppose that nine women out of ten have sex with one man, but the tenth woman has sex with a hundred and one. Then on average women have sex with eleven men; the median value is one. If each man has sex with eleven women, the numbers work out; the averages are the same. But the median number for men is ten while the median number for women is one! No mathematical problem.

    Is this what’s happening in reality? I don’t know. But it seems to me that prostitution and the virgin/whore dichotomy (if I understand the term correctly) both serve to push women who have sex with more men to have sex with *many* more men; the pressures on men are different.

    Medians are used again in the article; as a rule, statisticians prefer averages (the analysis of significance is easier, for one thing) but use medians when distributions do have long tails. So maybe it’s a sign that the data do include this kind of outlier.

    The article is a typical newspaper article, so I don’t think it likely that the mathematician involved is making this error, but it’s rather difficult to tell what he does think. Certainly the issues of survey selection bias and misreporting are real.

  21. You know what? I bet a lot of men include non-consentual sexual encounters in their total, while women do not.

  22. Someone really needs to host a blog that actually permits free fire debates between feminists of any wave and those falling within the purview of “misogynists” as defined by said feminists, unmoderated as to content.

    Please review the archives of alt.feminism (the old pre-Web days) for examples of what such a discussion is like. You will see an awful lot of “free fire” and very little debate. You will also see an awful lot of misogynists, without the scare quotes.

    As tigtog notes, when you have “free fire debates” you don’t really have a debate; you have a shouting match. Your insistence that no rules of discussion or procedure can possibly help makes your interest in “debate” rather suspect.

  23. WTF? I’m confused as to how Noen missed your original point that even if there are major physical differences between men and women, why does that mean we should not have equal rights?

    Well, because tigtog seems to deny that there are any significant differences. Which is patently false. Men are, on average, stronger. (Yes, there’s great variation among men and among women, but I guarantee you that two gaussians would fit a strength histogram much better than one.) Also, at the extremes men are demonstrably stronger than women – look up any Olympic records. This is due to real biological differences.

    Does this mean women shouldn’t have the same rights and opportunities as men? Of course not. Unfortunately this point of tigtog’s was clouded by the silly affirmation that there were no major differences.

    (For the record, I think it’s been pretty well demonstrated there are no differences in terms of intelligence, morals, etc. It was just unfortunate that strength was thrown in there.)

  24. Men certainly have, on average, greater pound for pound upper body strength. I had no intention of denying that in my piece above, and don’t see where you think I actually did so. I certainly stand by this:

    for any quality measured there is far more variation among the group of all men and among the group of all women than there is on average between individuals of opposite sex.

    You don’t think that Prince is stronger than Queen Latifah, do you?

  25. I love how “men are stronger” (physically, of course) is the “major biological difference” most often cited by anti-feminists as proof that men and women are practically different species. Men have more upper body strength than women, on average.
    Some of my girlfriends are stronger than I am; does that mean we’re more different than we are alike?
    Anti-feminists only point to instances wherein men are “superior” to women. What about mental/emotional strength? I guess that’s not important because women would “win.” Whatever. Most of our “differences” are a result of gender conditioning.

  26. I’ve updated the article with some more sources and updated everything to reflect our current citation style.

  27. I like the new sources/quotes tekanji! Good update.

  28. “A common corollary belief is that while men are physically and rationally superior, women are morally superior.”

    How so? Pray explain this. Just because women act like angels doesnt mean they are “morally superior”.

    I highly disagree. Men are known for being blunt, honest and frank. Women on the other hand are known for being more underhanded. In your typical high school, you will find women “backstabbing” people far far more than men. This includes even their closest of friends.

    Morally superior? I disagree.

    Go on and delete this comment if you so wish. Unlike the feminist’s sites, Menarebetterthanwomen.com (A male right’s site) doesnt do the same. Thats facism but go on ahead.

    Ciao.

  29. Saying that something is a common belief doesn’t mean that I personally subscribe to that belief, so I’m not about to defend it. I personally find it just as ridiculous a belief as those beliefs that men are superior.

    However, the idea that women are needed to “tame” men is very, very common, and it is based on an idea that women are the ones who police morality (usually justified with the Pandora/Eve type myth that it’s women’s job because sin/suffering is all women’s fault in the first place). Take it up with the religions who push this idea.

  30. Ah, that was well put. Personally, in my country, there are ton of girls whom I must say have more morals than the men.

    I am Asian so I am wondering if that makes it an exception. However, women who rise to power to tend their morality from what I have observed. The same goes with men though in much lesser degree. I wonder why at times.

    “I personally find it just as ridiculous a belief as those beliefs that men are superior.”

    Well, I do believe men are superior. The strong protect the weak, no? If women were truly equal, there wont be fundings to women’s studies and women’s movements to grant “more rights” which infact, women do not need. (http://ocpathink.org/ViewPerspectiveStory_pf.asp?ID=795)

    Plus, men defend women in times of war. More men die than women to defend the peace. Far far more men.

    But anyhow, I dont wish to debate on this issue. Knowing you feminists, you would never accept this train of thought.

  31. Well, I do believe men are superior. The strong protect the weak, no? If women were truly equal, there wont be fundings to women’s studies and women’s movements to grant “more rights” which infact, women do not need.

    This would be a good time for you to read up on male privilege.

    And just because I happen to have the document open, here’s some food for thought regarding the true reason that we have things such as women’s studies and women’s movements:

    Look up WOMEN in the card catalogue of the library and you find a pack of entries as long as your arm. There are almost as many entries under NEGRO, and YOUTH. JEWS and CATHOLICS are represented respectably, too.
    Most of the books in the library are about individuals who happen to be middle-aged male; white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but there are few or no books about the middle-aged, men, white people, Anglo-Saxons, or even Protestants.
    Middle-aged, male, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants are al treated as individuals.
    Because it is assumed that all individuals are middle-aged male WASPS, people who don’t look like them are classified by the way they differ. They become not people, but subjects and all too often, problems—problems for, and to be solved by middle-aged male WASPS.

    [Bird, Caroline. 1968. “On Being Born Female.” Vital Speeches of the Day, 15 Nov., 88.]

    It’s written from an American perspective for an American audience, but the same basic principle applies for other feminist movements around the globe.

    Plus, men defend women in times of war. More men die than women to defend the peace. Far far more men.

    That might have something to do with the way that women are blocked from “dangerous” positions in the military in many countries. It’s not my area of specialty, but just doing a quick google search turned up these links:
    Women in the U.S. Military: Selected Data
    Facts About Women in the Military, 1980-1990
    Women in Combat category On The Happy Feminist
    The case for women in the military
    Feminism and Military Gender Practices: Israeli Women Soldiers in “Masculine” Roles

    And that was just what I pulled up on the first page. They tend to be American-centric, but the same principle applies for any military that practices sex-based segregation.

    Gah, now this makes me want to do an article on women in the military for the FAQ. But I need to finish the sexism one first. x.x

  32. Oh, I wouldn’t say that men necessarily protect women during war.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/congo/story/0,,1947147,00.html

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/4078677.stm

    http://joost.com/040000i

    http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswirestory.asp?id=7260

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_199503/ai_n8724330

    And this is just the tip of the ice berg. Men use the rape of women as a weapon during war.

  33. The website that MansVoice points to in his comment is a trollish blog, menarebetterthanwomen.com, with intentionally provocative anti-woman articles like “Old men are saviors, cougars are gross”. Instructions to the reader, “Ladies as always, this site is totally off limits.”

    And a book you can buy!

    His appearance here is the blog equivalent of the grepping loon on Usenet, responding to a dog whistle Google hit on

    men women superior

    to try to incite argument and get people to visit that site.

    And just like the grepping loons of yore, he is oblivious to context.

    I don’t know if he actually misunderstood what was, to me, fairly straightforward prose, or he pretends because understanding it would just cut the fun short. If he misunderstood, well, that’s a hoot, since he is supposed to be smarter, because he’s a man. If he understood, then he’s trolling.

  34. To steal a line from Joanna Russ, aren’t all those men dying in battle to protect women….protecting them from other men?

    But anyhow, I dont wish to debate on this issue.

    “I wish to lecture on this issue, but I don’t want any of you ladies talking back.”

  35. MansVoice may well be a grepping loon, but his comments will continue to be approved (up to the prescribed limit of 3 per day for known antifeminists) as long as he continues to abide by the Comments Policy.

    I’d love an explanation of this snippet (bolded below), which seems to be missing a crucial word or two in order to make sense:

    However, women who rise to power to tend their morality from what I have observed. The same goes with men though in much lesser degree. I wonder why at times.

    We can’t debate this point if we can’t find your meaning in there, MansVoice.

  36. In response to MansVoice, I’ll steal from a recent Pandagon post:

    The draft issue is misguided for two reasons: One is that the need for and the practice of the draft are both results of the patriarchy’s tendency to war-monger and ill-informed notions about women’s weakness.

    The other reason is that the draft argument implies, quite wrongly, that men bear the most cost of war. In reality, the vast majority of war casualties are unarmed civilians, and they come in all ages and genders. In addition, women are especially targeted in war for rape campaigns, which are sometimes semi-organized (Balkans, Congo) and sometimes freelance (our soldiers who are raping Iraqi women), but always present in war.

    Granted, your average MRA is interested in downplaying the severity of rape, sometimes coming close to implying that since many women consent to allow penises inside our bodies on a frequent basis, an occasional non-consensual penis is not that big a deal. Even if you’re compelled by that, do realize that war rape is a much nastier beast than your average “friendly fire” rapes that happen in our everyday lives.

    “Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.”

    For the reason that war rapes often leave women mutilated and therefore infertile and because war rapes are often about forcing the victims to bear the children of their oppressors, war rape is considered a form a genocide. The point of bringing this up is not to play “who’s more victimized” here, but to show that the argument that the draft shows that men are discriminated against and forced to bear the majority of the cost of war is nothing but a lot of hand-waving. War is to gender like fire is to everything in its sight—different materials may burn up differently, but in the end they’re all just burned up.

  37. Great quote, SarahMC. I just tidied up the formatting and links a bit.

  38. Oh good, Tigdog. Looks much better that way!

  39. [...] hightail it to a religion site, which this is not.) In addition to my own link above, I recommend Feminism 101’s article on the subject if you have any thoughts in your head about how men and women are naturally different – even if [...]

  40. [...] Brizendine and the skeptics’ favorite, Not-A-Dr John Gray. Before someone jumps up with the “feminists deny biological differences” strawman, read the article properly. Pointing out that there are bucketloads of dubious difference myths is [...]

  41. [...] What roles should men pla…Paul on FAQ: What is the “male gaze…Debunking difference… on FAQ: But men and women are bor…Definition of Femini… on FAQ: What [...]

  42. [...] choosing jobs which compensate them with a risk premium is not the explanation, what is it? Cue the gender essentialist arguments about how women just naturally choose less financially rewarding jobs for various reasons that are [...]

  43. Here’s a possible addition to the clarifying points.

    While it’s clear there are *overall* differences between “the average man” and “the average woman”, statistically most of these differences (other than the reproductive system and a short list of other physiological differences) are dwarfed by the differences between the “shorter-than-average man” and the “taller-than-average man”, or the differences between the “stronger-than-average woman” and the “weaker-than-average woman”. (Even for the reproductive system, variation between individuals is much larger than most people think. And as for hormones, testosterone is converted directly to estrogens by most cells before it’s used, and estrogens are converted directly to testosterone by some cells — only a few types actually care which they get.)

    For mental differences, it’s even more extreme: all “average” mental differences ever measured between men and women by legitimate studies which tried to control for socialization effects are miniscule-to-nonexistent, while the differences among individual men and among individual women are huge (several orders of magnitude larger). The language studies aren’t the only ones which look like that: they *all* look like that.

    Given this, the “differences between men and women” don’t say much about real individual people. For any characteristic where “men are more X than women” (yeah, except the reproductive tracts and a few other physiological points) I can pick out a woman and a man where that woman is more X than that man, without trying very hard at all.

    Basically, if the activity you’re thinking of isn’t directly related to the reproductive system, “born male or female” is a very poor, even worthless, substitute for looking at the individual.

  44. I’m sorry if this is off the point but this is what I think:

    – Women and men are different

    – Men are naturally physically stronger but this doesn’t mean all men are stronger than all women in everyway.

    – I’m sure a female athelete is stronger than some beer belly man that sits on the sofa watching football.

    – I’m sure a female scientist is more clever than a man who drinks all his brain cells away down at the pub.

    – Thing is, men are “on average” stronger than women, this is something we were born with and we can’t help, there is nothing we can do about it.

    – If we tried to be masculine and weight train everyday, I don’t think we’d get much respect, terms like “lesbian” etc come to mind.

    – I think the only way for women to be classed as equal and to be truelly respected would be to be ourselves – and be happy.

    – Ignore those who are sexist.

    – This doesn’t mean we have to be feminine, this doesn’t mean we have to be masculine, it doesn’t mean we have to be anything!

    – This only means we have to be ourselves and not care what those men think! Do they care what we think? No.

    – At the end of the day I reckon fairly few sexist men would look at this site and it would change their mind, they wouldn’t take us seriously.

    – If we want equal pay and such why don’t we just set up women only businesses and such? They might say that is sexist but if we can’t make it in things we want to do in life because of male views, we should find away around it.

    – Anyway if this is all wrong I’m sorry, I’m not experienced in debating and that :S

    – And I know you probably wont want to dumb down what your saying but I’m finding it hard to understand everything.

    Thanks! x

  45. [...] relevant to FF101, and posted on a thread about anti-troll tactics? A slightly different take on gender essentialism. Any tactic/temptation that is targetted[sic] to males is particularly preditory[sic]. This entire [...]

  46. Sorry to not reply to your comment earlier, Annabelle. I think you’ve got some good ideas mixed in with some naive misunderstandings above, and I would suggest that you try and read the article again and follow some more links to get a better understanding. All this takes time to absorb if the ideas are very new to you.

    This stood out to me:

    - If we tried to be masculine and weight train everyday, I don’t think we’d get much respect, terms like “lesbian” etc come to mind.

    But why do we as a society view women wanting to be strong as trying to be “masculine” or “lesbian”? Why is is that our society equates “feminine” with a conspicuous effort to appear physically fragile?

    Why can’t it simply be accepted that it’s good to feel strong? Krista Scott-Dixon has some good tips for women who want to lift weights.

  47. [...] “But men and women were born different…” at Feminism 101 — debunks silly essentialism [...]

  48. [...] women in times of war. More men die than women to defend the peace. Far far more men.” (as commenter MansVoice did) is not supported by the casualty reports of recent [...]

  49. [...] differences” somehow all manage to privilege the male experience. Check out the Feminism 101 article on the subject. They also miss what seems to me a contradiction in their position, as Betacandy [...]

  50. I understand this is a really old discussion, but I just came across the thread and this comment was too good to let go:

    “The scientific method was in fact created as a counter response to Kants’ “thing in itself”. Essentialism has no place in this discussion what-so-ever and every scientist I’ve ever heard of rejects such drivel for the unscientific mysticism that it is.”

    What was this guy’s hangup on Kant? Do you think he was aware that the scientific method predates Kant, that Critique of Pure Reason was written partially in response to the empiricists and not the other way around, and that a lot of later philosophy of science was in fact based around Kant’s epistemology?

    I would imagine not. Take the blatant factual errors, add in the complaining about how they are being ‘repressed by the evil feminists’ and this thread is full-on surreal.

  51. Oh, hey… there were pages of other comments.

    That’ll teach me to post responses at 1 a.m.

    • I might have to look at the settings for the comment threads if that wasn’t obvious enough, Chris!

      • Are the other comments somewhere else? I haven’t been able to find them. The top of the section says there are 54 replies to this thread but I only count 4 (before this one). I just assumed the old ones dropped off after a while.

  52. kandela, do you see the “Older Comments” link just above the “Leave a Reply” text? Click on that.

    • Ah, thanks. Now it seems obvious. I guess I just expected it to be at the top of the comments section.

  53. Men die because they are told they have to, wars are started by people who don’t fight in them, generally…..

    Man voice barely warrants a response. Personally Im embarrassed, as a male.

    I am trying to learn about feminism because I find a lot of self proclaimed feminists irritating, and I want to have half clue what I’m talking about next time a get embroiled in a feminist debate.

    Having watched generations of children grow up through extended family, and talked to the elders of this family, some of whom were and are feminists…

    It is agreed that there are general differences, but these manifest in proclivity and attitude, personality rather than aptitude, it would be utter heresy to say that women werent as capable of any given undertaking as men, with perhaps the exception of those that require extreme physical exertion….

    I mean these are kids that are brought up by feminists and surrounded by strong women… but the feeling on the whole is that boys and girls tend to lean in certain ways, and handle problems differently…

    What causes this and whether there isn’t subtle gender conditioning going on anyway is impossible to answer I guess….

    Making this a post a waste of time….

    I’m here because I’m interested… that’s all.

    I think I agree with a lot of “feminism” but that isn’t really a unified view point is it….

    Maybe its just a discussion that goes on and on… I guess I would consider myself a humanist and a socialist, but I’m not sure I identify with feminism…. Im not sure I can I identify with a cause that refers to its gender, which is not my gender, as its name.

    I support womens rights, and mens rights, I feel sorry for men some times as I think they do have there own crosses to bare, being male can lead one into situations that are very difficult, and what ever the causes, men and women are different. That much is obvious. maybe difficult to quantify

    The way men and women function socially is different i think, and what ever the causes of this difference, artificial or other wise….. It is in a persons best intrest to understand these differences if they are to make their way in the world,
    that much is true…..

    Dont know how relevant this post is.

    But I have always made a

  54. ….. have always made a distinction between academic feminism and pop feminism….. I am exposed to pop feminism at time which I find irritating, the arguments are often badly thought out and often just an excuse for general misandry….
    (sp?)…

    Academic feminism tends to be well thought out, as you would expect….. which is why Im trying to get a handle on that…..

  55. “A common corollary belief is that while men are physically and rationally superior, women are morally superior. At times influential groups of both men and women, both feminists and anti-feminists, have subscribed to this view. It is equally without evidentiary foundation….”

    Do you honestly believe that? This is so stupid. Yes, there is so much evidence to support biology and the advantages that men have over women; vice versa.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biology_of_gender

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human#Biology

    You need to catch up own your homework. Not everything is a social construct, despite 2-dimensional view of feminism offers.

    It is a strong argument and something that feminism has yet to refute besides using reverse psychology, sexual manipulation, and ad hominim attacks. If these tatics weren’t so affective feminism would be like creationism. No substance.

    • Do I honestly believe that there is no evidence for rational superiority in men and/or moral superiority in women? Yes.

      Do I honestly believe that the much-touted male physical superiority is confined only to muscle-twitch speed and upper body muscle bulk, which enables average men to overpower average women in unarmed physical conflict? Yes. There are many other physical qualities where there is minimal difference between the sexes or where women have the physical advantage – pain thresholds, cold endurance and response time are just a few.

      Yes, humans have sexual dimorphism which leads to some persistent phenotypical differences between XX and XY individuals. The point is, when we are talking about social/economic/political equality in all fields of human endeavour, how much do those differences matter?

      There are far greater differences for any measurable biological quality within the genders than the average differences between the genders – there are lots of men who are physically weaker than the average woman who are not automatically excluded from certain fields of employment/study despite being smaller/weaker than the average man. There are lots of men who are not as smart as the average woman who are not automatically assumed to be incompetent in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields and are thus not discouraged from pursuing those careers. There are many men who would rather be full time parents/homemakers than their ambitious and talented female partners, yet they are pushed to be the breadwinner even if she could earn more money for the family because “men and women are born different”.

      On the schoolyard, when the bigger kid picks on the smaller kid and tells him to stay away from the areas that the bigger kids have staked out for themselves, we have no problem in calling that for what it is: bullying. How do you justify it differently when it’s men telling women to keep out of the areas that men have staked out for themselves?

  56. In response to Ben, in addition to what TigTog said:

    In one of the wiki articles you put up I want to draw your attention to this:

    >>However, findings of sex differences in the brain do not answer the Nature versus Nurture controversy raised again by Summers’ comments, because studies of neuroplasticity show that the brain can be altered by experience.<<

    The last part of Tigtog's statement seems most important. Even if there is statistical variation in certain areas, it's beside the point. This is why the model of the one area we know that there is statistical variation is important to look at. Because 'everyone knows' men are stronger then women, men are encouraged to be strong and women discouraged. This not only creates an unpleasant pressure on both genders, but it puts even the mild outliers of each gender in an uncomfortable place.

    The same will stand in the case of language and spatial awareness(math disparities look more and more likely primarily social). This is a major underpinning of enforced gender roles.

  57. Your Mad Science Mama link appears to be thoroughly dead (the site itself is defunct!), but I found a mirror of sorts for the article at http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/gender-stereotypes-larry-summers-and-the-observer-effect-11797.html .

    • Thanks for spotting that, Gabriel. I’ll update the post body accordingly. Looks like madsciencemama got herself some free hosting from a scienceblog outfit.

  58. [...] right there is the huge problem with gender essentialism. It tries to shove people into neat little boxes, and people are more complex than [...]

  59. [...] differences between men as a group and women as a group. I am still very wary indeed of going too essentialist, because–again–reality is rarely as neat as a lot of people would like to think. And [...]

  60. [...] around from the Finally Feminism 101 FAQ But men and women are born different! Isn’t that obvious? material may [...]

  61. “Rubbish – feminists are, on the whole, not blind.”

    Could you please rewrite this so it’s not ablist?

    • @vass, thank you for picking up on that. I was less sensitive to ableist language in 2007, and it’s long since time that line was redacted to be more inclusive.

  62. I updated broken links and removed a dead one from the now-defunct Mind the Gap site.

  63. “Masculine roles differ across societies, but are always portrayed as not only different from but also superior to the feminine”

    Seriously? Is this actually universally true? Not trying to come off as confrontational (tongue-in-cheek handle notwithstanding); I’m genuinely curious as to whether there’s even a single “exception that proves the rule” anywhere in history. If there’s not, is there an accepted theory as to why this situation is so universal?

    • ARWP, if you can point me to a single society that doesn’t think it’s cute when a little girl wants to wear boyish clothes, yet freaks out when a little boy wants to wear girlish clothes, I’d be astonished.

      Tomboys are valorised, janegirls are shamed. All around the world. Why is that if not that taking on the feminine role is seen as inferior?

      P.S. as to why it’s so universal, IBTP: see this FAQ.

    • Man up, be a man, that guy has balls.

      vs

      Take out your tampon and stop throwing/running/crying like a girl, you pussy.

  64. I just finished reading a great book that I think would make a suitable item under Recommended Reading Offline:

    Deborah Cameron (Oxford University Press, 2007): The Myth of Mars and Venus. ISBN 0199214476

  65. Thank you thank you thank you. You’ve saved me so much breath.

  66. I came to this thread based solely on the title and that it’s a feminist thread, figuring it for a good intelligent debate and aside from the censoring of noens post (he only embaresses himself) I was not disappointed. As such I wanted to leave my two cents worth.

    Like most (?) males, prior to meeting my life partner, I never truly acknowledged/realized the privileged position males are automatically assigned in society. Although I had been aware of the patriarchal/sexist attitudes of males since a child of ten, (this from topless posters on toilet doors in my father and friends houses, the lack there-of of a female equivalent, and the continual saturation of the over sexualization of female roles in the media.)

    Growing up I fixated on my penis during pubescence and thought about how unfair it was my respect for females not as objects but as people didn’t get me the attention from the opposite sex I felt I deserved/needed as a teenager. I wince a little now at that sexist naive arrogance.

    I had considered myself a firm advocate for universal human rights and equality for all races, nations, religions AND genders, GLBT and H. Despite this it took my partner to show me the harm being caused by allowing men (including myself) to define what is female.

    Living in a heavily indigenous housing development area at a young age I was aware the impact structural marginalization could have on an individuals well-being, mentally and socially, and I had thought myself to be separate from that practice yet here I was. participating in it. with no less than half the human species. (What an ego).

    I had been applying the concept of sexual dimorphism, differences in brain structure and my personal experiences of heightened hormonal arousal fluctuations during puberty as proofs of positive differences between genders both emotional and mentally and the legitimacy (to a degree) of the over sexualization within the existing social structure.

    I still believe that sexual dimorphism and differences in brain structure and hormonal balances play a part in social interactions but to what degree is simply unclear, and I have come to realize that how we respond to others (socially, individually) tends to stem more from previous bias accrued, past interactions and more often than not conditioning. And as such can with education and critical thinking be overcome. (This is of course laced with personal opinion).

    Certainly anyone who desires the marginalization of anothers basic universal human rights needs reminding that without humanity for others one is barely human oneself.

    FYI: I am a White, Australian Male, Agnostic (I don’t believe in man-made religions), Raised single parent environment by my mother. I have mild Bisexual tendencies, am 33, two children, both boys under 3, and intend on taking a new name with my partner if/when we marry.

  67. Would it be more accurate to say that each individual man and woman is born different? Neither gender fully subscribes to the collective. Surly even the most stereotypical male or female must have something about them that makes them different from the rest of humanity. Sometimes I think gender equality comes from thinking of ourselves as genders instead of seeing ourselves as individuals. A woman is a woman, sure, but she also has a name you know…

  68. Hi, just to bring to your attention – scribblingswithgreenchalk.wordpress.com is no longer available. I clicked it from the pingback and discovered that the authors have deleted the blog.

    @Tigtog: Thank you so much for Finally Feminism 101. Love it. I’m sharing your site with a few friends and family. :)

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