Everyone knows that men and women are really different. We think differently and act differently because we are wired differently. I mean look at our brains and genitals: they are just plain different. Right?
What if many of the things we assume about the biology of difference are not so different at all? What if it is not our "wiring" but the ways in which our bodies and minds develop and play out in society that makes us seem so unalike? Could it be that men and women are more similar than we think?
Yes, women give birth and lactate and men do not. And yes, men are, on average, slightly larger than women and usually have greater upper body strength.There are these basic biological differences between the sexes and they are important... but why always focus on the differences and not the biological, and behavioral, similarities? Ahh, that would be because of gender.
Gender is a powerful reality; it is the perception and expectation of differences between males and females and it shapes both our bodies and our society. Gender differences are real and important, but they are not hard wired or even static. There is no biological or evolutionary mandate that only women really care for babies and show emotions, or that males are the best at economics and politics and prefer beers and skirt-chasing to domestic bliss. These are patterns of gender roles and expectations that shape the ways we look at our biology and behavior. They influence the way we expect the world to be. It is the strength of the societal myths about sex that fool us into thinking that men and women are so different by nature.
So let's bust some of those myths.
Agustin Fuentes is the author of Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature [University of California Press, $27.50].