Men and Women are Different

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I once thought the same way many people think today: that apart from obvious physical differences, men and women think similarly and want similar things. I thought the average man is just as people-oriented as the average woman, who is just as object-oriented as the average man.

But I don’t think most men my age would watch guilty-pleasure chick flicks with as much ease as I do. I’m not going to pretend that if they tried a little harder to understand the character dynamics, they’d enjoy the drama more.

This is an intuitive response, but social scientists and psychologists have doubled back on the idea to prove it with hard facts. Biological determinism is the suggestion that, before anything else -–before cultural, social and parental influence – biological makeup is the biggest decider of individual behavior.

Look to female involvement in systems/object-oriented fields, particularly STEM. In 2009, 48 percent of the U.S. workforce was female, but only 24 percent of STEM workers were female, according to the Census Bureau. Yet according to a global study of 472,242 teens, psychologists Gijsbert Stoet and David Geary found that girls “performed similarly to or better than boys” in science in 66 percent of countries. Nonetheless, this was not reflected in what girls chose to study in school.

Olga Khazan points out in her article “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM” that populations with the most social freedoms for women have the least women in STEM. Conversely, in countries like Algeria, Turkey and Tunisia, where the climate is the most oppressive for women, STEM fields experience the highest percentages of females – around 35 to 45 percent. Psychologists theorized that oppressive social environments encouraged women to seek financial independence in the only way possible: by pursuing STEM jobs. Otherwise, in a less socially conservative country, financial independence for a woman can mean being a librarian just as well as can being an engineer. Thus it is in freer countries that, unshackled by political necessity, women pursue the things that most interest them.

That is: female involvement in object-oriented study and thought is not limited by ability, but by interest.

People take issue with the idea that the simplest answer to the STEM gender gap might be the correct one: that men and women, on average, are generally different. This is not a shameful difference, yet those who do not scientifically study the matter often shush those who suggest the most obvious conclusion, as a gender-dependent difference would be dishonorable.

The same people advocate for artificial injections of women into STEM via affirmative action programs because, they argue, the field lacks diversity of thought. Implicit in this diversity concern is the idea that men and women think and behave differently. This contradicts the original protest that mental gender differences are imaginary!

British clinical psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen of “Borat” fame) wrote an article called “It’s Not Sexist to Accept That Biology Affects Behaviour.” He explains that biological determinism isn’t inherently sexist.

“[Biological determinism] can be sexist, if it is used to claim that all women do X and all men do Y (since sex differences don’t imply to all individuals of one sex) or if it used to perpetuate social inequalities,” says Baron-Cohen. But in itself, he says, biological determinism is merely the suggestion that biology affects behavior.

Females across many animal species have developed their social skills more strongly because they depend on them to survive and raise children: a mother without empathy will raise her child poorly, and a female who can’t be diplomatic might risk an attack. Females who master these skills pass them on to their offspring and are more likely to survive. Thus the adaptations become biological, ingrained in the physical structure of the brain and the hormones it releases.

Baron-Cohen studied very young children, which helps exclude environmental and social factors, because the children weren’t old enough to be “trained” how to think.

Given a broad selection of toys, toddler boys “are more interested in cars, trucks, planes, guns and swords, building blocks, constructional toys, and mechanical toys,” says Baron-Cohen. In a Cambridge study of one-year-olds, he found that boys preferred to stare at films of cars. Girls preferred to watch a film of a person’s face displaying many emotions.

So, I contend, a gender gap is biologically rooted. Outliers exist: the fact that I study mathematics does not preclude the fact that only 10 percent of math professors are female. But what has long been political controversy is already scientific consensus, and if advocates of political correctness look to workplace dynamics and childbearing to explain most of female avoidance of STEM, they’re going to keep feeling frustrated.

To those who are still doubtful, I offer one more idea. Sex-dependent differences in anatomy and behavior exist across hundreds of thousands of species. Humans evolved from mutual ancestors of some of these animals. So why, during their evolution, would humans suddenly have lost their gender differences? Why would they be unaffected by the biological differences – hormones, reproductive roles, inequality of physical strength and size – that set apart the genders of so many other animals?


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Men and Women are Different