Are men and women equal or are they the same? These days too many people think that equal means same, thus, that men and women are not just equals, but that they are the same.
It flies in the face of science, but ideologues do not answer to facts.
Larry Cahill opens his excellent article on the science of gender with a simple observation. When science tests a drug like Ambien only on men and if it assumes that men and women are the same, it advises physicians to prescribe the same dosages for men and women.
In 2013, however, the FDA discovered that, biochemistry being what it is, the correct dosage for a female should be half the dosage given to a male. Thus, Cahill explains: “despite extensive testing prior to the drug's release on the market, millions of women had been overdosing on Ambien for 20 years.”
Cahill’s article deserves a close reading. Using the latest scientific research he definitively refutes the aberrant notion that men and women are really the same. Persuasively, he rejects the arguments that gender is a social construct.
Crucially, animal research clearly demonstrates that mammalian brains in particular are filled with sex influences that cannot be explained by human culture. Thus animal research proves that the human mammalian brain must contain all manner of biologically based sex influences-from small to large-that cannot be explained simply by human culture (even though there are certainly cultural contributions in many cases). Animal research has torpedoed the "it's all human culture" ship that ruled the academic seas since the 1970s when it came to sex differences.
In terms of brain function, the differences are clear:
One recent landmark study came from investigators from the University of Pennsylvania. They used a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) called diffusion tensor imaging (a way to measure the brain's white matter, or axons by which neurons connect) in a large sample of men and women (428 males and 521 females, ages 8 to 22 years).9 Across a number of different analytic approaches, they found a striking and consistent result: The brains of women exhibit significantly stronger patterns of interconnectivity across brain regions-including across the hemispheres-than do the brains of men, which conversely exhibit significantly greater average connectivity within local brain regions (what the authors refer to as modularity).
Where the social constructionists argue that the brain is plastic, and thus susceptible to cultural influence, Cahill responds:
First, it is false to conclude that because a particular behavior starts small in children and grows, that behavior has little or no biological basis. One has only to think of handedness, walking, and language to see the point. Second, this argument presupposes that human "cultural" influences are somehow formed independent of the existing biological predispositions of the human brain. But third, and most important, is the key fallacy in the plasticity argument: the implication that the brain is perfectly plastic. It is not. The brain is plastic only within the limits set by biology.
The idea that we should use the brain's plasticity to work against inborn masculine or feminine predispositions in the brains of children is as ill conceived as the idea that we should encourage left-handed children to use their right hand.
… It is decidedly not the case that environmental experience can turn anything into anything, and equally easily, in the brain. The specious plasticity argument invoked by anti-sex difference authors appears to be just a modern incarnation of the long-debunked "blank slate" view of human brain function, the idea that all people's brains start out as blank slates, thus are equally mold-able to become anything through experience.
Cahill also argues against those who conflate equality with sameness:
At the root of the resistance to sex-influences research, especially regarding the human brain, is a deeply ingrained, implicit, false assumption that if men and women are equal, then men and women must be the same. This is false. The truth is that of course men and women are equal (all human beings are equal), but this does not mean that they are, on average, the same. 2 + 3 = 10 - 5, but these expressions are not the same. And, in fact, if two groups really are different on average in some respect, but they are being treated the same, then they are not being treated equally on average.
Here, one might question Cahill’s use of the concept of equality. Unless I missed something, human beings are born with certain innate capacities and dispositions, and these, alas, are not distributed equally.
If equal treatment means treating all people fairly, those who treat women as though they were men, and vice versa, are treating them unequally.
In his words: