Gender Differences

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How far does this equality thing go, anyway? Some feminists insist that there are no intrinsic differences between men and women, or, if there are, they should be done away with. Others believe that women are fundamentally superior to men. Still others believe that men and women each have physiologically-determined characteristics unique to their sex which may or may not determine their behavior. I tend to fall into the latter category, with qualifications.

One is that generalizations are dangerous. There are always exceptions to the rule. (For one thing there are other gender issues that that complicate such generalizations, such as homosexual and transgender cases.) So it is important to see each person on the basis of her or his personality. A person’s gender has more to do with where s(he) sits on the spectrum of sexuality than with the genitalia s(he) was born with. No one can deny that there are masculine females and feminine males. There are also people who are best described as androgynous.

Another qualification is that much of what is considered to be biologically determined is actually socialized into us. And researchers and experts are not entirely sure which is which. Are women more passive because it is their nature or have they been socialized to be that way? Is a man aggressive because of testosterone or because he has been trained to be aggressive? And how do we make sense of the fact that within some cultures, and species, the roles are reversed?

I think it’s safe to say that within the framework of a given society there are male and female characteristics which each individual exhibits to varying degrees. That gives a nod to socialization without ruling out biological influences. Women may tend to be nurturing because of the fact that they bear and breastfeed children, but in some cultures even within our society, that behavior is reinforced to the point where women are considered to be the only ones suited to raising children.

This kind of generalization is what feminists are working to dissolve. Women are not automatically the primary caretakers just because they bear children. Men are not automatically the primary protectors just because they are larger. Some women don’t have children, some men are not larger. Nor do women and men automatically feel comfortable fulfilling the gender roles that have been assigned to them. All feminists are saying is that we need to consider each person on a case-by-case basis.

If your son likes sports, then fine–he shouldn’t be forced to play with dolls. If your daughter likes to play house, she shouldn’t be forced to participate in sports. But, by the same token, if your son wants to play house and your daughter loves sports, they should not be made to feel that they are freaks. They should be seen as being themselves.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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