A fascinating essay (speech) by Roy Baumeister - Prof. of Psych at Florida State University - discusses gender differences and suggests that we are, perhaps, more equal than anyone ever stopped to think about.. equal in very different ways. It is entitled Is There Anything Good About Men?
and is worth the somewhat lengthy read:
“How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.
Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.
The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.
He goes on to discuss that, while there may be more men with extremely high IQs, there are also higher numbers of mentally retarded men than women.
The central ideas that he espouses are as follows:
- Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.
- In terms of the biological competition to produce offspring men outnumber(ed) women both among the losers and among the biggest winners.
- There are two different ways of being social.
It is that last point that is the heaviest hitter. It posits that females tend toward smaller, more intimate, communal relationships (sharing, one-on-one interaction, etc) - which is the sort of relationships emphasized in psychology discussions - whereas men favour larger and less nurturing group relationships. These are the sorts of relationships - networks, really - which comprise corporations, governments, war parties, and the like.
Culture, then, is not about an direct male-female competition against one another. The old feminist argument for a conspiracy theory in which men keep women down doesn't fit here either. Perhaps, Baumeister says, culture - and the men and women that live in it - developed organically based on our genetic dispositions for different kind of work.
It is a shame we can't all think with such diversity, removing ourselves from the predispositions and false notions we've developed over the centuries. Perhaps a lot of what he says is conjecture at best, but I think it is worthwhile to consider things from different angles - if not to attack the status quo, than at least to consider possibilities we haven't before.Update
: Not surprisingly, there is lively debate