Sunday, July 19, 2009

Science and Gender

Heaven knows why it is still an issue, but we have recently spent considerable time and energy debating whether gender difference are hard wired into the human brain or whether they are merely social constructs.

This week Time magazine reports that recent studies using brain imaging show a distinct and decided gender difference. Link here.

As Time defines it, girls are wired to have best friends and boys are wired to have teammates. Girls are wired to relate one-to-one while boys are wired to join teams and to compete against other teams.

This might show why there are many more male teams than female teams. And it may explain why men often seem to be at a loss when conducting interpersonal relationships.

I hope that this does not come as news. It should not be news for those who accept scientific fact. Those few remaining zealots who insist that gender is a distinction that does not make a difference can be left to their superstitions.

What are the implications of these facts?

Certainly, they would seem to discredit that notion of a fundamental human bisexuality. If you insist that men get in touch with their feminine sides and that women become fierce competitors you are simply teaching each gender to repress something that is natural.

The more salient implications refer to what happens when the two genders mix and mingle. When you have one person who is wired to be the perfect soul mate connecting with another who is a natural-born teammate... you are going to have problems.

Ask yourself this. Does a woman look for a man who will be her perfect soul mate? For the most part, she will not. Does a man want to marry a woman who will be a perfect teammate? I doubt that the quality even shows up on a man's list of desirable qualities in a woman.

Under normal conditions neither men nor women choose their mates according to narcissistic criteria. Freud notwithstanding, people do not choose to marry replicas of themselves. And this is a good thing.

Clearly there are forces in the culture that tell women, in particular, that they should marry their soul mates, but those are, in my view, aberrant.

The mature woman will always know the difference between the real thing and a fake. When a man is making an extravagant show of his feminine-- aka spiritual-- side, any woman will understand that he is posturing. She should be offended and suspicious.

Similarly, a mature man will understand that a woman who wants to be one of the guys is doing something that is not natural. He might find it amusing; he might find it charming; he will not put her name on his dance card.

A rational man will seek out a woman who has qualities that complement his own. And vice versa. Both man and woman will make good choices by engaging their rational faculties.

By this I mean that, for example, no man really understands why women love to receive gifts of flowers and jewelry. He will not discover this basic truth by consulting his emotional core.

When he buys her a gift that she will enjoy, he is being rational. He will be happy that she is happy, but he will never really understand why those flowers are making her so happy.

Nor will a woman understand why a group of men can spend an afternoon shooting hoops or shooting deer and feel that they have bonded. And yet, most women understand that such needs should be respected and accommodated, regardless of whether they make emotional sense.

If gender is a distinction that makes a difference this means that marriage is an alliance of two individuals who are not involved in the same kind of relationship.

The same applies to sex. I hope that no one really believes that when a man and a woman are engaged in sexual congress they are engaging in the exact same action or act. Manifestly, they are not.

A woman sees marriage in terms of the quality of the interpersonal relationships. A man sees the family as a team, competing with other teams.

Can it be both at the same time? It had better be.

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