One of the great debates of our era is in regard to differences between men and women. Scientists and psychologists set up countless experiments to see whether men and women have different intelligence levels, strength levels, skills in vocabulary or object rotation, mathematical abilities, brain sizes, relationship drives, sexual desires…you name it, they’ve probably tested to see if there’s a difference between the sexes.
There tend to be two sides to the argument:
- Men and women are different
- Men and women aren’t different
Both sides find statistical evidence and cogent arguments to support them.
But what neither one realizes is that the argument isn’t really about whether gender differences exist. The real argument is unstated, thus unrecognized and unable to be resolved.
There’s a logical fallacy at play here called an unaccepted enthymeme. Okay, there’s two unaccepted enthymemes.
The first is that gender is binary.
But the second, and I think in regards to the sexism debate, the most important one is: If men are different from women, men are better than women.
The two sides of the debate are really rather absurd on their own because the answer to both sides is ‘yes.’
Yes, men and women are different from each other. In general women have a uterus, though that is not true for all women. In general men have testicles, thought that is not true of all men.
Yes, men and women are very similar on many levels. There’s enough evidence now to suggest that mathematical abilities only differ because of classroom socialization. Everyone has varying levels of testosterone and estrogen within them. We all have a basic human need for connection. And it’s a myth that men are only interested in sex and not in relationships.
But when you add in the unstated value judgment that men are better than women, that “masculine traits” are better than “feminine traits,” then the debate becomes so much more than just the absurd question of whether something objectively is or is not.
Feminists could argue until the world ends that women are just as capable as men, but unless we actually address the underlying assumption that certain traits are “less than” others, we will never be able to actually resolve this issue.
And this is where the construct of gender comes in because those devalued traits aren’t even exclusive to women. They are human traits, but because they’ve been stereotyped as “feminine,” they’ve been deemed worthless—so even men who possess those traits are looked down on in our hypermasculine culture.
Take emotionality for instance.
If a guy cries, he’s made fun of for being a “girl.”
If a girl cries, she’s accused of being “too emotional” or “too sensitive.”
Being in touch with your emotions is not a quality that we associate with a savvy business person or a political leader because, as a society, we value emotional intelligence less than analytical intelligence.
For that matter, we value quantitative research (stats and numbers) more than qualitative research (interviews and actually listening to someone’s experience of something).
We value aggression more than negotiation—just look at how many “action” movies exist that immediately resort to shooting people up as opposed to sitting down around a table to resolve differences.
We value conquering more than nurturing, competitiveness more than cooperation, judgment more than understanding, assertiveness more than congeniality.
As women attempt to work their way towards equal representation in the workforce and government, they are essentially told to be more like “men.”
But the traits that men (and women) are supposed to avoid are human traits! They are necessary to our society as much as the other traits are. They’re the glue that binds humanity together, without which our elevated primate species wouldn’t survive.
Somehow, I think ancient cultures understood that better than we do now. Perhaps being closer to death by predator, act of nature, or just plain bad luck did something to help them recognize how important a balance of both was.
There is a time for emotion and for logic, for assertion and for congeniality, for aggression and for negotiation. There are times when we should conquer and times when we should nurture, when we should compete and when we should cooperate, when we should judge and when we should seek to understand.
If men and women could be equal but different (not in the icky Complementarian way) without it being good or bad, would it really matter so much about whether there were differences? If people could be equal but different, with different mixes of different traits unique to them, without being shoved into boxes of masculinity and femininity–If we thought of the “feminine” traits as being as valuable as the “masculine” traits, would we even feel the need to defend ourselves when we were called “sensitive”? Goddess forbid that actually be a compliment and a sign of capability rather than an insult and an assumption of weakness.
I used to be interested in whether men and women were different. I wanted so badly to prove that those differences didn’t exist.
Now I just wonder why it matters.