Monday, January 15, 2007

Gender and Sex

Most feminist calls for equality are based on the idea of 'gender'. This quote from UNICEF summarises their position quite well:

"The call for equal rights evolved into a quest for gender equality when a distinction was made between gender and sex. Sex is biological: Females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y chromosome. Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct that describes what is feminine and what is masculine. Recognizing that gender roles are not inborn but rather learned, proponents of gender equality challenged the stereotypes and pervasive discrimination that kept women and girls socially and economically disadvantaged."

The problem is that their assumption is simply wrong. Gender is the name given to those parts of your sexual identity (masculine/feminine) that are socially constructed, but gender is only a part of what you are. Some of what is thought of as masculine is due to 'gender', but not all. All the feminist arguments about things like the wage gap, differences in the numbers of women in government or businesses, or the amount of housework men do are based on this assumption that men and women are just the same and any differences are solely due to 'gender'. The arguments fall apart if there is anything else involved.

But there are sex differences that are not due to society. Lots of them. You can find differences in the way boy babies and girls babies behave when they are only a few months old. Surely that can't be due to societal conditioning. An example - girls babies have a preference for look at faces that boy babies do not. In experiments boy babies will look at an abstract mobile just as much as one based on faces, but girls babies look at the faces mobile longer than an abstract one.

Later on differences show up in IQ tests and brain scans. Standard IQ tests contain two types of questions - verbal/language questions and logical/spatial questions. On average men do better on the logical/spatial questions, and women do better on verbal/language questions. The difference is seen across different cultures.

In brain scans different parts of the brain are shown to be active when a person performs a certain task. Women's brains process language equally in both the left and right hemispheres. Men's brains only process language on the left side of the brain, and in a slightly different area. When someone is trying to answer a spatial question, women still use both sides of the brain (the same area's they use for language). Men only use the left hemisphere, but they use a different area to the one they use for language. That explains why men do better on some of the IQ test questions - they have a specialised area of the brain they can use for those types of questions.

Put simply what all that means is that men and women think differently. Given that is true, it makes no sense to expect them to behave in exactly the same way. It doesn't make sense for them to want to do exactly the same jobs, or be equally good at the same jobs, or get the same amount of satisfaction from doing to same jobs. So if you want to prove that women are being short-changed in some way you need a much better argument than 'gender'.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Great work.