Why it matters that men and women are different

****This is a guest post by Chrissie Dhanagom.****

Scientists recently made another not-so-ground-breaking discovery. Maybe you’ve seen the headline kicking around on facebook. It turns out that the difference between men and women extends beyond a few basic biological facts about their reproductive functions. They think differently, and as a result, behave differently.

If you’re like me, you had little more interest in clicking on that link than on something titled “Scientists discover that water is moist.” But then I decided to write a blog post about it, so I did actually read it.

Researchers mapped the neural circuitry of the brains of 428 males and 521 females. They found that connections in the male brain were stronger within hemispheres, whereas they are stronger between hemispheres for females.

Researcher Ragini Verma was “surprised” that the implications of these findings were consistent with “old stereotypes.” But as Scientific American notes, the findings are consistent with multiple previous studies on the topic. In fact, I’m pretty sure the number of studies contradicting these “stereotypes” numbers exactly zero.

I think it is time to acknowledge that studies on this topic are a serious waste of the finite resources of the scientific community. This is old news, guys. And I don’t just mean old news as in, “we’ve known these things from the dawn of time” kind of old news. I mean old news as in, we as a society have conclusively re-discovered these things even post sexual revolution.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the 1960’s, you’re probably aware that the question now dividing factions in the gender wars is not, “are men and women different?” but rather, “do the obvious and scientifically verifiable differences between men and women actually matter?” Do these differences have ethical implications for the roles that men and women should fulfill in the family and in society?

How you answer that question depends on how you answer a more basic one: do differences between things make a moral difference at all? In other words, do we make ethical distinctions based on nature? I propose that you cannot really have a coherent moral code unless you answer “yes” to that question. And since most of us abide by what we consider some kind of moral code, I suggest that most of us do, in fact, make moral distinctions based on natures.

Let’s start with this: a deer and a human being are intrinsically different kinds of things, and this fact has moral implications for how we interact with them.

Think you don’t agree? Let me ask you this: if your children were starving and there was a deer in your backyard, would you shoot it and feed it to them? If you think you wouldn’t, you are probably not a parent. If you are a parent and you think you wouldn’t, then these thoughts are not addressed to you. God help you, because I cannot. Of the remaining 99% of the human race, I ask: what if your children were starving and there was a random stranger in your backyard? Would you shoot a human being and feed him to your children?

Maybe, when it comes down to it, some of us would. But at a minimum, I think most of us can agree, the very thought makes our skin crawl. If we shot a deer in that situation, we would jubilantly gather our starving children around the carcass and thank whatever God we believe in. If we shot a human being, we would know we had done something unspeakable. We would be traumatized for life and would probably lie to our children about it. Some might call it excusable. Does anyone call it good?

It perhaps says something about the deep divide in our culture on moral issues that in search of an almost universal consensus on something, I must raise a case so dark and terrible. If I could think of something less disgusting to talk about, I would. But in a country where the governing majority thinks it permissible to murder children in their mother’s wombs, you have to reach pretty far for consensus. And I do try to avoid talking about Nazis. It’s so cliché.

In any case, the important thing to notice here is that we all make a fundamental moral distinction based on natures. We look at other human beings and notice that they are completely different kinds of things from brute animals. And, in the situation I have proposed, this observation is the basis for a moral judgment. I would call this difference between human beings and animals rationality. You can call it something else if you like. The important thing for the argument I am making right now is that it is there, and its being there is the basis for moral judgment.

The implications here are vast, and extend well beyond the gender question, which, you may remember, was what this post was supposedly about. Granted, of course, that there is a much greater difference between human beings and deer than there is between men and women, and this is why there is not nearly the same ethical divide in how we treat them. A deer is not the kind of thing that can possess a capacity for rational thought. Regardless of differences in brain structure or even actual ability to function rationally, all human beings are the kind of thing that can possess a capacity for rational thought.

But if human experience and a vast body of scientific literature consistently tell us that there is a fundamental difference in the way men and women think and act, does it seem reasonable to hold that this makes ABSOLUTELY NO ETHICAL DIFFERENCE AT ALL? Should we completely disregard these facts when considering whether to send women to the front lines of a war, or asking whether children need both a mother and a father for a healthy, happy childhood?

I would suggest that denying any ethical import to these facts leaves us without any credible basis for formulating moral statements of any kind. And it is, moreover, a formula for unhappiness. It seems a rather obvious thing. When we treat things in accord with the way they are, the universe runs more smoothly. Which, if we gave it a try, might turn out to be a greater good than “equal opportunity.”

-Chrissie Dhanagom

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231 Responses to Why it matters that men and women are different

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