Is There a Universal Male and Female Nature?

By Glenn Stanton
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Why is the human male and female nature constant across time and cultures?

If you want to be in the mainstream of elite thought today on the nature of the sexes, you will adopt the position that, beyond the bathroom and bedroom, male and female are essentially the same. However, if you want to be in the mainstream of decades of cutting-edge medical and social science research, you know there are significant and meaningful differences. It’s quite obvious.

Unfortunately, it is assumed by many that if we say men and women are different, it means we are saying men and women are not equal. This is not the case. “Different” doesn’t mean superior or inferior. When we say sushi is different than Italian food, no one asks why we think one is better than the other. Both have their own unique and desirable strengths in their differences, and this makes them all the more valuable. It is the same with male and female.

How are male and female different, beyond body shape and reproductive plumbing? The best research on this is both interesting and surprising.

The Case from Neurobiology

In their groundbreaking book Brain Sex, the British team of geneticist Anne Moir and science journalist David Jessel look at how sex difference is apparent in the unmistakable brain and neural wiring of the human person. There is a male and a female brain just as sure as there are male and female genetalia. Scientist can easily determine a person’s sex with a brain scan. Based on their own work and that of others, Moir and Jessel explain with equal parts boldness, clarity, and sureness:

… The truth is that virtually every professional scientist and researcher into the subject has concluded that the brains of men and women are different. … [T]he nature and cause of brain differences are now known beyond speculation, beyond prejudice, and beyond reasonable doubt. … There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes—that men and women have the same brain—and what sciences knows—that they do not.

Professor Alice Eagly is a feminist scholar emeritus from Northwestern University and major contributor to the field of the social psychology of gender difference. Like Moir and Jessel, Eagly, writing in the journal Feminism and Psychology, distinguishes between elite assumptions and the findings of hard science.

… [T]he majority of [studies] have conformed in a general way to people’s ideas about the sexes. … [T]his evidence suggests that lay people, once maligned in much feminist writing as misguided holders of gender stereotypes, may be fairly sophisticated observers of female and male behaviour.

Of course, these distinctions do not confine themselves to the brain. The brain being what it is, their differences contribute to wide-ranging variances for the whole person. Leading neuropsychiatrist Louanne Brizendine, working from the University of California-San Francisco, explains in her bestselling book The Female Brain, that while male and female, as human beings, are certainly more similar than dissimilar, our seemingly small neurological and genetic differences have large consequences throughout our being:

Out of the thirty thousand genes in the human genome, the less than one percent variation between the sexes is small. But that percentage difference influences every single cell in our bodies—from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, outlines a great many important and primary distinctions between the female and male mind in his deeply researched book The Essential Difference. Right out of the gate, Baron-Cohen is frank with his reader:

The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is:

The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.

Men tend to like to build things. Women tend to make things. The seemingly subtle differences between these are generally understood by men and women. While the customer populations at Home Depot and Hobby Lobby are certainly not gender segregated, they certainly are heavily gender weighted, driven only by the sheer self-determined interests of their customers. Consider this hypothetical: Some friends invite you over to help out at their house this weekend. Two different jobs: Constructing a new backyard shed or planting the Spring flowers. You are offered to help with either job. Which is a guy more likely to pick? A woman? Is this based on gender stereotypes? No. A man is more inclined to choose to build things. He even enjoys demolishing things. Women like to make things beautiful. This is largely true where ever you find men and women.

Is There a Male or Female Personality? The Anthropological Psychology Record

Do male and female demonstrate different personalities in how they live, structure their lives, and interact with others? Even evolutionary biologists have examined this question across more than fifty different cultures and determined that many gender-distinct qualities and characteristics are largely universal from culture to culture.

One group of scholars, describing their findings as “robust and surprising,” explain: “gender differences are modest in magnitude” but “consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures.” Feminist scholars Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly find that the tasks and activities performed interchangeably by male and female across all distinct human cultures range from only 0 to 35 percent of domestic human activity. The rest of the routine daily tasks in the family and community are consistently gender distinct. They are commonly so in the same ways across cultures. For instance, in only one percent of societies are the tasks of gathering the necessary resources of subsistence performed more often by the woman than the man. Males usually tend to the exterior upkeep of the home dwelling, women to the interior. Is that how it is in your community? No “traditional” gender ideal forced this upon all cultures in all locales on the earth.

Yale’s Alan Feingold is one of the early scholars to survey and summarize the growing body of research on gender-distinct personality differences across diverse cultures. He explains that these differences have remained largely consistent both through generations and across nations, indicating “a strong biological basis” for these gender-distinct personality traits. If gender differences are indeed merely socially constructed, as most elites assume, someone went to all cultures across the world and “constructed” the same things in males and females. The only one with such reach and influence is God. There might be something here in this truth.

When Genders Are Free to Be

Similar research is also uncovering fascinating information that is counterintuitive to the twenty-first-century mind. It appears that when a community enjoys greater freedom — financially, politically and culturally — the men become more stereotypically masculine and women more stereotypically feminine. This is most true for women.

The New York Times summarized the findings of personality tests in more than 60 different countries and cultures:

It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States.

This research was led by David P. Schmitt, director of the International Sexuality Description Project. He observes that as wealthy modern nations remove various barriers between men and women, it appears that “some ancient internal differences are being revived.” Gender differences in personalities were greater across the more gender-equitable North America and Europe than across the less gender-equitable Asia and Africa. Earlier research in 2001 and as early as 1990 arrived at essentially the same conclusion: In more developed, individualistic, progressive, and egalitarian countries, gender differences don’t shrink. They become conspicuously magnified. Professor Schmitt concludes: “An accumulating body of evidence, including the current data, provides reason to question social role explanations of gender and personality development.”

Conclusion

If one is going to hold to a gender-construction theory of gender difference, or that male and female are only different in the bedroom or bathroom, it must be done either in ignorance or denial of a mountain of impressive anthropological, psychological, and neurological scientific research that reveals the opposite.

It is actually personal and social androgyny that is the social construct, for it only exists within the rickety ideological scaffolding of gender studies theory. It must be built and sustained with great intention, ideological force, and political power.

As shown in another paper in this series, Why Manhood Doesn’t Happen Naturally,” these inherent differences between male and female are why every society must intentionally invest in the effort of building boys into good men, encouraging them to become good, faithful husbands and fathers. Doing so makes for better men, and it provides for the better provisioning and protection of women and children.

To deny there are significant and consequential differences in male and female is to deny the basic nature of humanity and how we fashion our common life together. This is true in both the family and the larger community. To pretend otherwise is to live in a make-believe world. To demand others live in it as well is deluded tyranny.

  • © 2017 Focus on the Family.

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    About the Author

    Glenn Stanton

    Glenn T. Stanton is the director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world. Stanton also served the George W. Bush administration for many years as a consultant on increasing fatherhood involvement in the Head Start program. …

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