Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gender: What does this mean?

Earlier I wrote about the battle of the sexes due to differences between men and women. Although there are differences there are far more similarities between us biologically and socially. However, our cultural attitudes pressure us to believe that we are similar and different regardless of our biology.

There are those that believe that we are similar, such as feminists, and that we are capable of developing the same way depending on how we are raised and our interactions within and between groups. The only difference is that we have different genitalia which makes us look physically different from each other. Others believe that we are so different because of our roles in society and because of our physical nature, a notion that has been formed by the men for the purpose of oppressing women for their own personal gain.

The problem with these notions is that they do not include a biological perspective which really weakens these arguments. Also, although humans live in groups and societies this does not mean that particular groups reflect how individuals develop biologically. The environment does have an influence on the development of human beings, both female and male, but so does our evolutionary history and we cannot disregard this fact when we are discussing gender and equality. We are human beings whether female or male and we do have physical, developmental and chemical differences but that does not mean that our capabilities are so different.

The Y chromosome is in fact not quite different from what it was for tens of millenia. Because males are quite competitive in their behaviour when females or resources or revenge is a concern many of them were not able to prolong their genetic line (Y chromosome) compared to others that were more successful such as Genghis Khan from the Mongolian region. Some men had many descendants and others had none leaving us with a small number of distinct Y chromosomes. On the other hand, a larger number of women had a more evenly distributed number of descendants, since there was less competition and instead chose the best-quality males, leaving us with a larger number of distinct mitochondrial genomes (Pinker, The Blank Slate, pg. 347). This evidence illustrates one of many biological differences between men and women.

The real underlying issue though is that the minds of men and women are thought of to be so different that both sexes are incapable of being successful at the same things. Some people believe that men think more about justice and rights while females are more compassionate, nurturing, and empathetic to others. I beg to differ. Men are not from Mars nor are women from Venus. They are from Africa where they evolved together as one species. Men and women have all the same genes except for a small number on the Y chromosome and their brains are so similar. They have the same general levels of intelligence which help them to experience the physical and living world in the same way and they both experience similar basic emotions.

But of course there are differences which can be noticed by the opposite sex but are also manipulated into being major differences by society which make people think that we are much different than we actually are. Men have a stronger preference for having multiple partners and they are more likely to compete aggressively over stakes great or small. Men are taller than women on average and men are better at mentally rotating maps and objects. Men also have a greater tolerance for pain and a willingness to risk life for status and attention. In contrast, women are better at remembering landmarks and the positions of objects. They are more dexterous and have better depth perception. They are better at reading facial expressions and body language and have a better memory for verbal material. They also experience basic emotions more intensely, except anger, have more intimate social relationships, and are more empathetic toward their friends, though not towards strangers (Pinker, The Blank Slate).

Putting aside these differences it is important to understand that men and women are very much alike in our genetic make-up and it is our biology which governs how we develop as men and women. We do not have to put ourselves in different categories to identify our strengths and weaknesses and our differences. Instead, we need to embrace these minor differences in order to accept and compromise with one another. We should not let our differences overpower what we truly want in our lives which is the satisfaction of our emotions and desires. Rather than hinder each others strengths, we should help each other harness them because that is how we have evolved. Men do not only need to be the hunters and women gatherers but rather we are both capable of achieving these tasks, especially in Western culture. We are not so different and we should not let anyone lead us to believe otherwise.

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