Cathy Young has a nice piece on a new book about real differences between the sexes entitled Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by Prof. Stephen E. Rhoads. I saw Rhoads speak on CSPAN, and pretty much agreed with most of what he said (and most of it were conclusions that I myself had previously drawn). It’s a book that I’ll probably get from the library one day. Still I sensed that he overstated his case, and that he, in observing natural sex differences, derived too much of an “ought” from an “is.” Also that he focused too much on majority “is’s” and ignored the significant minority “is’s.” Young’s piece on his book adds much needed perspective.
Rhoads seemed to note many commonsensical gender differences (Note—some of what I am about to write I distinctly remember Rhoads saying; other things are gender differences that, I, over the years, have become familiar with and Rhoads probably anticipates in his book, or most likely would agree with): Men tend to be more aggressive and competitive (and this leads to good and bad results—men might tend to achieve more in various ultra-competitive areas—even those areas having nothing to do with the greater levels of physical strength that men naturally posses over women [like being on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange]. Yet, men are also greatly overrepresented in such bad things as violent crime). Men are more promiscuous; men value sex more than women and think about it more often. Women tend to be more nurturing and intuitive (women’s intuition may not be just an “old wives’ tale”). The male brain is better geared towards math & science, while the female brain is more geared towards the verbal side of things. Although men & women have the same “average” level of IQ, the male bell curve is longer—that is men are overrepresented on the tail ends of both “smart” and the “dumb” end of the IQ bell curve.
A classic example of this: the sexual revolution—particularly the notion of “sex outside of relationships” that became en vogue among a lot of heterosexuals in the 70s (and still is among many homosexual men). The sexual revolution, as it was idealized in the 70s, to me, seemed to be a big “male” fantasy. I’ve read accounts by many women who, at that time, decided to rebel against their 1950s upbringing and experiment with promiscuous sex, but were utterly unsatisfied by easy sex with no commitment (and didn’t engage in the experiment for very long). The men of that period, however, had no such complaints. Males tend to consume pornography; women don’t—or if they do, it’s only porn that has “romantic storylines,” none of those cheaply made videos where it’s just wall-to-wall sex clips (either that, or they watch porn, because that’s what their boyfriends or husbands want to do with them and they don’t want to ruin their good time). A good romance novel will satisfy women more than a good porno. There is literally no market for male prostitutes for women. If you are a male and you want to prostitute yourself, you have a much better chance of selling yourself to the 2% of the population who are gay males than to the 49% of the population who are heterosexual females (much to your chagrin). The Chippendales, who are, by the way, much smaller in number than the number of female go-go bar dancers, are much more of a “girls night out” novelty, than an appeal to real carnal desire.
There is a reason why we are all familiar with the term “nymphomania,” but very few of us are familiar with the term “satyriasis” (its male counterpart). And that’s because, for a woman to have a “nymphomania” orientation, is aberrant, but men generally, as a group, have the “satyriasis” (seed planting) orientation. And this, in turn, is why gay male relationships—made up of two normally promiscuous males—tend to be more promiscuous than heterosexual relationships made up of a normally promiscuous male and a woman who normally demands monogamous commitment before sex. (And this is why lesbian relationships are the least sexually active—more so based on the “emotional” aspects of relationships, than any other).
And those women, that small %, who, for some reason, are promiscuous (the “nymphomaniacs” or to use the street term, “sluts”), are responsible for a disproportionate amount of males’ promiscuous behavior. It is these women who the men tend to cheat with or lose their virginity to earlier, than women, as a group, do (men reportedly lose their virginity at a slightly younger age than women. Given that men tend to mature later and tend to date women their age and younger—and women, conversely, tend to mature earlier and date men their age and older—it seems counterintuitive that men would, on average, lose their virginity before women. There is one logical explanation: men, with their promiscuous desires, tend to, at very young ages, seek out those women who will consent to sex with them. Here’s an example (this story should not be uncommon): In growing up, I remember a few friends of mine who had had sex with one of these, fairly attractive, but not “gorgeous,” promiscuous females. You only had to call and make an appointment and you could get some. She was very busy, and many a young man sought her out for easy sex without commitment. I know a few guys who lost their virginity to her. But her male counterpart is virtually non-existent (although many a man wish he could be in such a position): Sure there are some men who are so attractive or so charming, that they manage to have constant sex with many partners (literature's Don Juan)—but I know of no similar anecdote about a guy, “cute” but not “gorgeous," who could just put his name out there—“ladies, if you are looking for easy sex, I’m the man to call”—and then have lines of women waiting for easy sex (unless of course, he were famous, or had something else going for him, besides being a decent looking guy willing to have sex, that would explain for his having constant promiscuous sex)…some or many girls might be curious about a “relationship” with him…but lines of girls looking for easy sex? It’s just unheard of.
And men and women cheat for different reasons. Men might cheat simply because they are sexually bored. Women invariably cheat because their emotional needs aren’t being met and tend to cheat with men who satisfy their emotional needs in some way.
Now all of this may seem very commonsensical except for the fact that many elite academics have spent the last 30 years telling us that “gender” doesn’t exist; that it’s all a social construct; that every difference between the genders except our child-bearing capabilities is a social construct. In fact, horrifying social experiments have been done based on this erroneous belief.
But still, Rhoads overstates his case and Young adds much the much needed balance that is perfectly encapsulated in this one passage of her writing:
Perhaps more important, nearly all sex differences are characterized by vast overlap: Generally, a trait more typical of one sex will occur in the other sex 35 percent to 45 percent of the time. Of the two brain-difference studies most widely publicized in the 1990s, one found the "male" pattern of brain activity in 40 percent of women; the other found the "female" pattern in about a third of men.
Now this “overlap” is, according to Young, vaster than I thought it was. But, clearly, it naturally exists. That is, just as men as a group tend to be a certain way and women tend to be a certain way (our dominant “is’s,” if you will), a significant minority % of each gender tend to not so easily fit into the dominant norm. Of course, the gay population has many of these males & females who don’t quite fit the gender stereotypes in certain ways (but in other ways, gays as a group, very much do fit their gender stereotypes). In other words, while most men might like roughhousing & football, etc., a significant # of them naturally don’t. They might be, like women in general, naturally geared towards nurturing activities. And there are women—the “tomboys” if you will—who naturally seem to have many of the stereotypical “male” attributes.
Now, I might be wrong about Rhoads, but the impression that I got was that he, like many social conservatives, thinks that those dominant “is’s” that make up our natural gender roles should be “oughts.” And this, in turn, tends to marginalize those of us who don’t naturally “fit” so well, into the dominant gender stereotypes. A tendency that I notice among religious & social conservatives is to believe that there is something wrong with those of us who naturally buck gender stereotypes in some way. And there is likewise a tendency among the “social constructionist” left to believe there is something wrong with the notion of any kind of natural gender differences entirely.
And along come folks like Young & I who might wish to chart some middle course and that is this: Gender differences naturally exist. So do minorities within each gender who naturally “buck” those norms. Both of these norms—the dominant and the minority—are “natural” in the “is” sense, not necessarily the “ought” sense. That is, this is naturally the way people are, the way human nature is. This doesn’t justify the behavior, as there are many aspects of human nature (many “is’s”) that are not good, or that otherwise deserve to be suppressed. But in the absence of compelling evidence why these naturally occurring “is's” are not the way things “ought to be,” I think that we, as a society, have an obligation to accept and accommodate the “is's” (both the dominant and the minority).
And that means that we will find that most men and most women, in their relationships, might naturally prefer separating their tasks along gender lines. The men might prefer cutting the grass, shoveling the snow, roughhousing with the kids, and providing, and the women might prefer the more nurturing behaviors. But we should also expect to see a minority of folks who naturally don’t fall into these roles. Yes, we should expect to see women who naturally are geared towards providing and shoveling the snow and men who are more naturally geared towards cooking, cleaning, and nurturing the kids (Mr. Mom are Mrs. Dad are natural minority variations).
Many social and religious conservatives in particular tend to stick with these very rigid gender roles. Sure much of this comes from their interpretation of the Bible or just plain unexamined tradition. But, they could also try to justify such beliefs on “naturalistic” grounds (after all, a majority of both men & women tend to naturally fit into these stereotypical roles). I remember conversing with a such a women on an Internet thread where one poster—a gay male—had talked about his exuberance for picking out “china patterns” for an up and coming “gay wedding.” My fundamentalist interlocutor commented that she was “nauseated” by men acting “the role” of women.
And I think that such anecdote says it all: Yes, women more so than men, might be naturally geared towards “picking out china patterns” and if men and women, as groups, take it upon themselves to divide their labor in such a manner because that’s how they naturally feel comfortable, we as a society should be understanding and accommodate such gender differences. Yet, in the absence of a compelling reason as to why this “is” should be an “ought,” we should also, at the same time, realize that a small but significant percentage of men and women naturally won't feel comfortable in such strict gender roles, and we should likewise accommodate those “minorities” within each gender.