Women and Men: Equal, But Not The Same

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.

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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.

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3 comments on “Women and Men: Equal, But Not The Same

  1. Michaela says:

    I have to admit that you got me thinking with this essay. So here are some of my thoughts:

    I really question the chapter which talks about how children have some ‘innate’ gender preference to the toys they choose to play with. Socialization and gender preferences are imposed on children from the minute they are born. Are these toys given to infants only minutes after they have exited the womb? Because if not, there is no way to actually test for un-socialized preferences for gendered toys. Also, what cultural group(s) were included in this study. Different cultures do not hold consistent ideas of gender roles and expectations. What does this study say to that?

    Also, the fact that we can engender inanimate objects, like toys, should point to our obsession as a society to differentiate between genders in every form of our interactions. How can a fire truck be masculine or a doll be feminine without society imposing those categories on them? The preferences of the children are not created in a vacuum. This study seems to prove that gender roles are imposed constantly and immediately on children by the parents and other societal institutions.

    Your statement “The difference between how women and men communicate is both noticed and partially understood” troubles me and you seem to be almost contradicting yourself from the previous statement. How I disagree with you on this is the same way I argue about your example about children choosing gendered toys. The only biological difference we can account for in the speech of men and women comes from the physical size of the voice box and larynx. Still, you are not wrong to say that men and women ‘communicate’ differently, but to assume this is a basic difference of sexes is a flawed assumption. Like you were saying, we do not exist in a vacuum. The moment we are born (and some linguists now argue even before we are born), speech patterns specific to the language of our family and culture are imposed on us. It only takes a few years for children to lose the capability to recognize other phonemes outside of their own language. The same goes for ‘gendered’ language. Girls and boys are both talked to and talked about in very different ways, and this is something children start observing and participating in the moment they are born. To use the ‘fact’ that men and women speak differently as a ‘fact’ of fundamental difference of the sexes goes against your very observation that we do not exist in a vacuum. Also, it is quite easy to train oneself to adopt the speech patterns of the ‘other’ gender in order to imitate to present oneself differently. I have to assume that speech is very much socially learned more than biologically inherited.

    I suppose this brings me back to the study of Lilenfeld et al., which you brought forward to point to how some argue that homosexuality is a purely genetic trait. Though I have heard this argument before, I personally do not know anyone to actually believe this, especially when they are aware of the powerful impact that socializing factors have on our lives. From my own perspective: Reproduction is a biological fact; Sexual orientation is not. Does this driving factor to reproduce our species influence our sexual orientation? Yes, I think it does. Does it make it right to deny the powerful emotions that people share with and for one another? Absolutely not. How we want to express whom we love isn’t purely genetic nor socialized, this we can agree on. However, we are obsessed with trying to locate where homosexuality ‘comes from’ and I think this is an extremely damaging viewpoint and assumption in society. To assume that any other sexual orientation other than heterosexuality is not the ‘norm’ is a very biased starting point to a scientific inquiry. How we view and interpret the data of a study is very much influenced by our own preconceptions of ‘how the world is and should be’.

    Anyways, you are using the findings of one study to base the assumption that homosexuality is not purely genetic. So it is socialized to a large degree, correct? Then are you extending this argument to gender identification? That it, is it not also largely socialized? But then you are arguing that there are also a large amount of genetic factors that differentiate men and women throughout much of this blog, correct? What are the parallels between sexual orientation and gender identification you are trying to make? Are you arguing for equal influences of genetics and socializing in our lives? It is not clear to me.

    If homosexuality is strongly influenced by ‘environmental’ conditions, then why is it that all categories of sexual orientation are not also influenced thusly? What I am trying here to bring forward, why do we take heterosexuality as the unquestioned norm? Why are the influences of ALL forms of sexuality not brought into question?

    I agree that we should embrace differences, as you say to pursue a better balance or harmony in our society. However, I like to believe that our differences should be acknowledged and celebrated at an individual level, not a categorical level like gender or sexual orientation.

    I want to say one more thing. When you love someone, it is never your first instinct to go get a DNA test or dig into your socialized past to find out why you feel that way. Love is love. Why do we have to question that? Why do we have to make someone’s form of love wrong or make it into some unmoral thing? Difference of how and whom we love should be just as embraced and celebrated as any other difference you are arguing for. When you fight for one form of difference, be ready to fight for them all.

    • Adam says:

      Due to it’s length I’ll post my reply in two parts…

      Michaela,

      First off, thank you immensely for reading my essay and responding, I am grateful for the time you’ve spent. I will do my best to either answer your questions or correct the points where I believe you’ve missed my intention, if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss just let me know.

      Psychologically speaking, children don’t have the capacity to be socialized until a certain point in their lifespan. I could show you the original article sometime if you’d like to see it. Children do not conceptualize the world as we do until later in life. Until after a year of life children have no capacity for an understanding of the permanence of objects (understanding that an object still exists even if it can’t be seen), let alone femininity or masculinity.

      Children learn to understand language in the womb, well at least they learn to distinguish sounds. We must not draw an umbrella statement here and call that socialization. It is the innate ability of the human mind, an instinct if you will, to grasp language as quickly as possible. This is not gender identity in any form.

      Yes men and women differ in their use of tones because of physical characteristics of each sex. I am not, however, talking about physical differences. I’m talking about the method, the content, and the essence of how we present and interpret information. Now, whether these differences are social or inherent, and to what extent for either? It brings me back to my original point: I don’t have the exact numbers, but to claim 100% socialization is not a founded conclusion.

      Some good points about homosexuality Michaela. In regards to your last comments “…is a very biased starting point to a scientific inquiry” or “how we view and interpret the data of a study is very much influenced by our own preconceptions of ‘how the world is and should be’.” The scientific method always begins with a prediction, a preconceived notion, which is then tested.

      So if a scientist surmises that homosexuality has an abnormal cause, then he/she sets out to try and prove him/herself wrong. That is the scientific method. As for interpretation of scientific data, you’re absolutely right. Science is always at risk of being skewed by it’s researchers. That is why we have safeguards in place like replicability, peer review, and other effective methods.

      If we want to know the truth, we should foster and encourage scientific study of the things we defend.

      …..more in next reply…..

      • Adam says:

        In regards to your question, “What are the parallels between sexual orientation and gender identification you are trying to make?” My point is simply this: these notions of the origins of both gender identity and homosexuality are resting on unfounded ideas. I’m not making a particular cross reference, but showing that popular notions on these topics aren’t supported by either our knowledge or scientific research to date.

        In response to your statement, “When you love someone, it is never your first instinct to go get a DNA test or dig into your socialized past to find out why you feel that way,” I would say that we should never confuse sexual desire or attraction with love. They are two separate entities, though they also hold a lot of common ground. I researched and wrote an article on this topic if you wish to understand what I’m saying here. This particular article I wrote specifically for a mutual friend of ours.

        https://ahumblepursuit.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/for-a-friend-a-conversation-on-love/

        You said, “Why do we have to make someone’s form of love wrong or make it into some unmoral thing?” Morality is not a choice, but a reality. It is a pre-existing truth. Love, the same way, is something, not a vague idea made by human beings. If someone says that rape is love, I’d say they’re wrong. Most people would, but not everyone. People who say rape is love, are wrong, regardless of how they see it, regardless of how anyone sees it. That will be true today, tomorrow, and every day that will ever exist.

        I can’t thank you enough for your comments Michaela, I hope we can remain in discussion. With great joy and thanks,

        Adam

        P.S. If I failed to comment upon anything in your response you’d like me to, please feel free to remind me.

Thanks!

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