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January 19, 2006

Comments

Arjet
And too often we label our differences as inevitable and intrinsic and part of the divine order without stopping to consider just how many of those "differences" are actually built and reinforced by human institutions. .... We can, in other words, celebrate that we are created both male and female while denying that those two categories impose any meaningful limitations on our lives.
Hell, yes. I've gone off on this at length before, but the short version is as Hugo said--while biological differences may exist, they are trivial compared to the cultural differences we have erected in imitation of them.

My favorite example is the fact that the average 30 year-old American woman is somewhere around 40 lbs and 4" shorter than the average male. That difference is constantly trotted out to explain why women need men's protection, why they are continually victimized, why their behavior needs to be circumscribed "for their own good," etc.

But while I am about 5' 10" and 185 when in shape, lightweight boxers weigh in around 135 lbs. And there's probably not a lightweight boxer on the planet who couldn't kick my ass. The 50 lbs and the couple of inches that I have on my side (the inborn biological difference) would mean diddly-squat compared to his (or her) training, conditioning, and experience (the cultural difference). And "but God created us different" would mean nothing while they were scraping me off the mat.

So I think it's pointless to fight the battle over whether there are biological differences. What makes a hell of a lot of sense is to point out that those differences are not only trivial compared to the cultural ones we've created, but are generally used as excuses for continuing to act as if the cultural ones were inherent, immutable, or even "ordained by God."

Lucky

I agree with your second to last paragraph but I don't think the idea that gender(differences) are socially constructed rules out recognizing biological factors though. We just read an article today that argued that biological differences get interpretted and constructed through culture to take on the meaning they have for us today. So I don't think it's an either/or type of deal.

Barbara Preuninger

Thanks for pointing this out. Difference does not equal complementary! And why should it? My favorite analogy for this is maple tree vs. oak tree. Yes, they're different. But no, they don't complement each other. They are not opposites. Same goes for men and women, IMHO. Why is there that insistence that we're SO different? (Esp. among religious groups?)

Mr. Bad

While I agree that biological and social factors are likely at play vis-a-vis gender differences, I don't accept the thesis that biological differences are minimal relative to social factors. Taking the boxer example, let's say we put a man and a woman of equal height and weight in the ring and let them duke it out, removing the relevant social factors from the picture (e.g., ingrained male chivalry, the tendency of men to go light on women, etc.). Now you might think differently, but I'd be willing to bet dollars against dimes that the man would prevail. This is but one example of the basic biological differences between men and women, and while one can spend all day denying such things are highly significant, it won't change reality.

Antigone

Mr. Bad, how much do you weigh? I'm willing to take that challenge.

Honestly, when I did Tae Kwon Do, and the instructor wanted to "teach the lesson of humility" to a young student, he'd bring up smiley: a little 4 foot nothing, blonde, blue-eyed- wafishly thin 12 year old.

He figured as the student was getting scraped off the mat, s/he'd realize to not put too much pride in her/his own ability.

Antigone

Mr. Bad, how much do you weigh? I'm willing to take that challenge.

Honestly, when I did Tae Kwon Do, and the instructor wanted to "teach the lesson of humility" to a young student, he'd bring up smiley: a little 4 foot nothing, blonde, blue-eyed- wafishly thin 12 year old.

He figured as the student was getting scraped off the mat, s/he'd realize to not put too much pride in her/his own ability.

Antigone

Sorry, double post. Yo siento.

The Happy Feminist

Right, I don't think that denying obvious biological differences is the way to go. And it's a fact there is a pretty significant average difference between men and women when it comes to not only size but upper body strength.

Where feminists and anti-feminists often differ is in analyzing the implications of those biological differences for men and women's roles in society. Just because most men my age and height can probably beat me up doesn't really affect how I live my life. Obviously, it does come into play with regard to specific issues like domestic violence, crime against women, and women seeking positions in the armed forces.

zuzu

Recognizing biological differences as such does not mean approving of the cultural weight given to those biological differences.

Lucky

But don't discount biological differences but those biological differences get interpretted and constructed THROUGH A CULTURAL LENS.

Mr. Bad

Antigone, you keep missing the point (deliberately?). How much do you weigh? Let me know, and then let me pick a man who has the same weight as you and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do - then I'll bet you dollars to dimes. The idea is to match a comparable man and a woman.

It's one thing to pit a female against a male who doesn't know as much of the relevant material, in your example, martial arts, but quite another when the other person is just as well-trained. Your example is like having an untrained 20-something young man compete against Michelle Kwan in a figure skating contest. Not exactly a fair match. The idea is to remove all factors that contribute to the task at hand except sex in order to measure the effect of sex alone.

But then, you feminists have never had much stomach for a truly fair contest, have you?

Hugo

Careful, Mr. Bad -- the last remark wanders close to "banning" territory.

I think I was fairly clear that biology is ONE factor in our sexual condition. We make a mistake, however, when we give it primacy of placeor use it to excuse and justify our refusal to embrace our full potential as human beings: loving, strong, brave, sensitive, nurturing, lustful, ambitious and gentle. Having a uterus, or a Y chromosome, does not prevent any of us from living fully into our humanity.

Mr. Bad

Lucky, I agree with you on this. I think where we get into trouble is when we put a cultural 'spin' on the biological differences. We see this in many areas, e.g., domestic violence, where the current tactic is to no longer hold the primary aggressor - i.e., the person who actually started the fight - responsible (because this would mean holding the female half of primary aggressors responsible). Rather, feminists are now pushing to hold the person who inflicts the most injury responsible, regardless of self-defense issues. And since on-average men are bigger and stronger than women, the feminists are essentially using the 'injury criteria' as a proxy for male gender in their 'blame the man and excuse the woman' approach to DV.

Keri

I hate how these conversations always get bogged down in endless arguments about size/weight/height differences-- whether there is a difference or not, whether that possible difference is significant or not, none of it has much to do with gender roles. And it always seems like a bit of a trap, frankly, an easy way for essentialists to claim they've won the argument. Get the feminists to concede that on average women are smaller than men and you've gotten them to accept the greater thesis that Women And Men Are Different, which of course means they also must accept the mental/emotional/personality stereotypes of your choice-- if not, they're denying that Women And Men Are Different, and everyone knows that's just stupid!

What I took from Hugo's post was that whatever biological differences exist, they don't justify insisting that men and women should stay in separate spheres, and they don't create a necessity for strictly-enforced "complementary" roles for men and women. Acknowledging that our bodies are different doesn't have to mean placing artificial limitations on anyone, nor does it have to mean concluding that we're different species who will never understand each other. In general, we can accomplish the same things, and we should all have the same range of interests, goals, dreams, priorities, virtues, and flaws available to us. In light of that point, a few inches' height difference and a few pounds' weight difference are really irrelevant.

Hugo

Bingo, Keri. You and I so often disagree, but here we are on the same page...

carlaviii

>There's nothing in Genesis about "true masculinity" and "true femininity" that reinforces the radical difference between the Creator's intention for men and his intention for women.

I can't help thinking that no solid definition of masculine and feminine roles was given for the very reason that people need to figure it out for themselves based on where, when and who they are - and then find their own "complement".

My dad knits and cooks. My mom's a PhD scientist. It's worked for them for 35 years.

Uzzah

I hate how these conversations always get bogged down in endless arguments about size/weight/height differences-- whether there is a difference or not, whether that possible difference is significant or not, none of it has much to do with gender roles.

The problem is that many traditional gender roles have their roots in these biological differences. Perhaps it doesn’t count for as much in modern society as it did in the past, but I think you could argue that patriarchal attitudes and power differentials of the past were the direct result of these “biological differences.”

Civilization today places less value on physical strength and aggression, and passes statutes that limit the privilege gained from it. While that further levels the playing field for women, it hardly makes those differences “irrelevant”.

Keri

Civilization today places less value on physical strength and aggression, and passes statutes that limit the privilege gained from it. While that further levels the playing field for women, it hardly makes those differences “irrelevant”.

I didn't necessarily say they were irrelevant in general; I said they were irrelevant to the point Hugo was making in his original post. He's talking about the mental/emotional/behavioral gender roles imposed upon men and women in modern society, and how although it can be tempting for people (particularly Christians) to buy into them, it's ultimately harmful and limiting for everyone. That point has very little to do with who's taller or who weighs more or who would win in a fight. I'm sure people have used physical differences to justify behavioral stereotypes (you do it yourself when you equate "physical strength" with the psychological trait "aggression," thus implying that both are equally inherent to men and biologically caused), but that doesn't make it right.

Do you believe that because women and men have different bodies, women should stay home with children and men should go out and earn all the money for the family? Do you believe that physical sex differences mean that men should be ridiculed for liking to cook, or that it's not proper for women to enjoy sports? If not, there's nothing for us to argue about-- all I'm saying is that differences in size between men and women do not refute (or affect in any way) Hugo's claim that neither men nor women should be limited in their mental/emotional/behavioral expression by the roles that society has deemed appropriate for their gender.

Arjet

Mr. Bad:

Antigone got the point I was trying to make with the boxing example. The counter-example is certainly accurate ("let me pick a man who has the same weight as you and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do"), but only on the condition that you point out--that the man and woman are not only biologically matched (height/weight), but also culturally matched (black belt, conditioning, experience, competitiveness, etc.).

That's the point I was trying to make--that while the biological differences are real, they're also generally trivial compared to the cultural differences.

David Thompson

"While it is true that it is not good for a man to be alone,"

Interesting that no one had a problem with this wild presumption. Is it also true for women?

Hugo

Well, David, given that God said that before woman was created, I choose to believe our Lord meant it inclusively -- that we are all meant to live in community with each other rather than in isolation. I don't think God necessarily meant men need women more than women need men, or that heterosexual marriage is the only way of "not being alone".

SingingOwl

Hooray for Hugo! Cheering and posting a link asap!

mythago

removing the relevant social factors from the picture

How do we do that?

It's pretty clear that much human behavior has biological roots--aggression, social bonding, power structures--but it's truly amazing how desperate modern humans are to tag every little thing onto evolution. Anybody else remember the 'women's love of chocolate is biological' embarassment?

NancyP

"While liberal essentialists may acknowledge women's intellectual equality with men, they still fiercely defend the notion that at the end of the day, most women are more nurturing and less sexual than most men. "

Sexuality and reproduction have higher physical costs for women than for men, in the natural state (pre-contraceptive era). D'oh. Currently, reproduction has higher social costs for women, in that they are frequently defaulted on by their mates and by society (left with the kids, no adequate daycare, and generally worse job prospects and worse wages for similar jobs). This has got to put a crimp in sexuality. Tube-tying notoriously beefs up women's willingness for sex. Maybe men are oversexual because they know that they won't have to deal with the consequences?

Are women more nurturing, or are men emotionally stunted by their upbringing? Men are schooled not to nurture by society, which holds up the killer, the soldier, the Tough Guy as the epitome of masculinity.

Why are men the standard and women the variant (often seen as the defective, in this conformist culture)?

The Gonzman

Honestly, when I did Tae Kwon Do, and the instructor wanted to "teach the lesson of humility" to a young student, he'd bring up smiley: a little 4 foot nothing, blonde, blue-eyed- wafishly thin 12 year old.

He figured as the student was getting scraped off the mat, s/he'd realize to not put too much pride in her/his own ability.

When I was learning Krav Maga, the instructor there would often call myself or another of the large men over when someone got cocky, "went Yoda," and decided that size meant nothing. After that lesson, the upstart was usually eager to learn the special techniques for dealing with someone larger and/or stronger than oneself. Special techniques developed because size does mean something.

And alwasy with the caveat that many of those techniques were effective under the presumption that you weren't dealing with a trained fighter who had learned the counters to them.

Of course, then again, Taekwondo is primarily a sport, where Krav Maga is used in real life.

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