Scientific Support for Gender Distinctions

Is there any scientific support for gender distinctions? Within my circle of friends, the subject has often led to some pretty spirited and controversial discussions. Those who disagree with my perspective – namely, that men and women are different in some very basic and important ways – call me "sexist" and argue that my views are based on outdated social and cultural "constructs." They assert that there is no scientific basis whatsoever for the differences I perceive between males and females. Are they right about this?

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Your friends seem to be as confident about their views as they are wrong. The best, most reputable, and most cutting – edge studies coming to the fore in such widely disparate fields as physiology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and neurobiology consistently demonstrate significant differences between men and women in terms of almost every relevant standard of measurement. These differences are anything but mere “cultural constructs.” On the contrary, they’ve been documented across scores of diverse cultures on at least six different continents, and they show every sign of being universally human.

To cite a few examples: it’s been demonstrated in several research projects that the range of tasks and activities performed interchangeably by males and females in a broad sampling of distinct social groups is actually fairly narrow – from 0 percent to only 35 percent. These figures have proven to be remarkably consistent from culture to culture. Equally universal is the practice of raising and guiding both boys and girls in “sex appropriate” ways. That’s not to mention that men and women everywhere in the world tend to look for the same qualities in potential mates. Most men – 85 percent – put physical attractiveness at the top of their list of desirable attributes, whereas only 10 percent of women place such a high priority on good looks. By way of contrast, a sizeable majority of women (80 percent) are in the market for a husband who knows how to work hard, promises to be a good provider, and respects his partner’s abilities and achievements.

The authors of a 2001 study surveying two decades’ worth of the most important scientific literature on sex typing (the way gender differences are understood and exhibited) made the following report:

Taken overall, a substantial body of research reveals a very clear picture: in spite of widespread expectations and desires, the various aspects of gender differentiation are not disappearing, if anything there is an increase in sex – typing, especially with the pattern most expected to decline, the femininity of females.
[1]

A 2008 study conducted across fifty – five different cultures posits the same principle in even stronger terms:

These findings strongly refute the social role model approach in which greater gender equality within a society should lead to smaller sex differences. In fact, the opposite has now been documented across multiple samples – increasing gender equality in a society results in larger sex differences in personality traits.
[2]

Particularly impressive is the evidence coming from the field of neurobiology. Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine has written two excellent books on gender and brain science, The Female Brain and The Male Brain. In these books, Dr. Brizendine explains that male and female brains are noticeably different even before birth. Among other noteworthy facts, she points out that the male brain is two and a half times larger and more vital than the female in the center devoted to aggression and action, and that the amygdala, the part of the brain that registers threat and aggression response, is much bigger in the male. Two other highly respected authors, Dr. Anne Moir and David Jessel, tells us that there is virtually no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the contention that men and women are created the same:

The truth is that virtually every professional scientist and researcher into the subject has concluded that the brains of men and women are different. There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes – that men and women have the same brain – and what science knows – that they do not.
[3]

A great deal more could be said, but we’ll conclude with the thought that gender and sex, at least as we use the terms, are essentially the same thing. It has become popular to assert that “gender is different from sex” – in other words, that sex is biological in nature whereas gender is taught and learned within a particular cultural context. This notion, which is purely ideological and has no basis in science, gained a great deal of traction among early “gender theorists” as a result of its being promoted in the writings of John Money, a researcher associated with Johns Hopkins University. Money’s work has since been largely discredited. The fact of the matter is that there is a strong core of male – female gender distinction that is physiologically determined and common to human societies around the world. These differences are firmly rooted in human nature and entirely independent of cultural influences.

[1]Lloyd B. Lueptow, Lori Garovich – Szabo, and Margaret B. Lueptow, “Social Change and the Persistence of Sex Typing: 1974 – 1997,” Social Forces 80, no. 1 (September 2001): 16.

[2]David P. Schmitt and others, “Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? Sex Differences in Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, no. 1 (January 2008): 176.

[3]Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women (New York: Carol, 1991), 8, 9.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity & Femininity

What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible

Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences

Nurturing a Healthy Gender Identity in Your Child

Copyright © 2015, Focus on the Family.

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