Have you ever noticed that it’s the same people who tell us that the only reason men and women are different is entirely because of socialization, are also the same people telling us that homosexuality is purely genetic, and has nothing to do with socialization at all? Though this standpoint is tempting, it represents wishful thinking as opposed to reality.
Genes are expressed differently depending upon our environment. Likewise, they predispose us to different environments. So the environment we are exposed to affects how/what genes are expressed, as well as having a profound effect on the human personality and behaviour. Nature and nurture are two complex and intertwined realities, but there’s one thing I know from my own experience: I have never been able to find an empirical study which showed that any particular behaviour or disposition was entirely the result of genes or environment. To make such a claim is not only unfounded, but also has an imminent risk of negatively affecting those we love.
To illustrate my point consider this study: In Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding by Lilenfeld et al. (published February, 2013) several studies where referred to in which identical twins raised in separate homes were studied to try and understand which factor (genes or environment) produces homosexuality. In an Australian study done with over 1500 identical twin pairs, only 20% of the time when one twin was homosexual, so was the other. That means that 80% of the time only one of the twins was found to have a homosexual orientation, even though, they were genetically identical. The authors state that “the finding that a substantial percentage of identical twins aren’t concordant tells us that environmental influences play a key role in homosexuality, although this doesn’t tell us what these influences are” (Lilenfeld 452). Genes cannot be written out, but the idea of “100% genes” can be.
One reason this debate has become so heated is that people treat the statement “men and women are different…” as if it were the founding platform for the next point that “men are better then women at…” or “women can’t do ______ as a result of…” I do not, and never will, support such a view. The contribution of women to society during the entire history of the human family is immeasurable. I have a profound awareness and gratitude for this immense gift. Sadly, women have been treated, and are being treated, with injustice, with hatred, and with oppression. Women have been undermined and unrecognized for their irreplaceable contribution to humankind. I wish I had the ability to wipe the slate clean, but I do not.Feminists have seen and acknowledged the power of social and cultural movement, and so they are trying to alter its course for their perception of what is best. Don’t we all? Many feminists will tell us that a woman is not free until she is free from all societal pressures and preconceptions. We cannot forget, however, that the idea that a man or a woman is merely a blank slate waiting to decide who they want to be, is yet another societal pressure and preconception. If men and women are different, it is a misleading one; one that if continued will have a negative impact on future and current human beings.
I pray and work for a world where women and men will become two equal partners in the pursuit of human life, art, philosophy, love, science, medicine, and every other aspect of our lives. With that said, I will never support the idea that women and men are identical. We must never confuse equality, which is intrinsic in every human being, and sameness, the idea that they are the same. An apple is different from an orange, even so, this is not an argument that one is better than the other. A life of intellectual pursuit is different from a life of intense manual labour, but this again, is not an argument for which is better. Equal, but not the same. We already know and embrace this understanding when it comes to individuals. We know that just because a person lived their life in India doesn’t make them any better or worse then someone who lived in Australia. Yet, we don’t have a hard time acknowledging their differences, even though differences like these have been used in the past to effect certain forms of hatred or oppression.
Within the aforementioned text, one chapter dedicated to childhood development makes a clear statement on the subject of gender and socialization. The authors reveal that in regards to a child’s early years “a popular misconception is that gender differences don’t emerge until socializing influences, like parenting practices, have had the opportunity to act on Children” (Lilenfeld 402). They continue, “Yet some gender differences are evident in early infancy, rending this explanation unlikely.” Among the differences noted are children’s tendencies to play with gender specific toys, even when presented with either gender neutral options or equal access to gender specific toys like balls and fire trucks versus dolls etc. This raises an important question of the chicken and the egg. It is possible that the use of gender specific toys arose out of the preferences of the children, and not the parents preferences for their children. This study supports this hypothesis.
There is one commonly implied idea that I disagree with most of all. It’s the idea that our society cannot be deemed equal or fair until there is an equal balance between men and women in various places in the workforce. While it’s impossible to deny that unfair gender biases exist in the workplace, and that this is a tragedy, on the other hand, the constitutive differences between men and women will affect their inclinations, choices, and tendencies on average. If both men and women are allowed to be truly free, we will notice some gender dominated areas of society. This reality can be a symbol of our freedom, not our inequality. If a man or woman with equal qualifications is refused from a specific positi0n because of their gender alone, this is a grave and moral error, one which every effort should be made to fix.
I stand against stereotypes whole-heartedly, however, they do not exist in a vacuum. The difference between how women and men communicate is both noticed and partially understood. To pretend this contrast doesn’t exist is to throw ourselves backwards in our understanding of one another. Likewise, applying one simple stereotype over all men or all women, is equally harmful. Careful discernment, centered in love, is the gift every human being deserves, regardless of gender. Acknowledging our diversity is the first step in working towards communicating effectively and with care.
We stand to lose a great wealth of understanding of the beautiful dynamic of our genders if we toss the baby out with the bathwater. As a whole, great effort should be undertaken to ensure that gender stereotypes do not work to enslave, to subjugate, or to crush either men or women — in fact, stereotypes should never be used. Some have succeeded greatly in this good pursuit. Just because a particular institution has failed us on one occasion or another, is never a sufficient reason to comprehensively eradicate it. Our differences are not arbitrary, but complimentary. This reality gives birth to the great potential for a beautiful balance between strengths and weaknesses. Many assume that difference will therefore fuel separation or discord, but this thought misses the point altogether. In the pursuit of balance and harmony, our complementary differences give us all the more reason to work together, to love one another, and to strive to reach absolute and complete equality, because when we co-operate together, it creates something altogether more beautiful and powerful, then what we ever could have reached apart.