When the women’s movement spoke up for the value of women it rebelled against the traditional gender stereotypes and proclaimed equality between the sexes. It quite rightly opposed any idea of male superiority and female subservience.
Some fear that any talk of gender is only a short step from women being different to being inferior – thus justifying discrimination. After all, women’s pay still usually lags behind men’s despite a sea-change in social attitudes regarding sexism. And so feminists continue to advocate seeing people as individuals regardless of gender and the term ‘gender’ is rejected as a concept constructed socially to reinforce the power of men.
Gender and science
Scientists argue about whether gender roles are biologically based or come about through social learning. But those like the well known researcher Steven Pinker have discovered quite a bit of research data regarding infants, children and adult behaviour which supports some differences between male and female and how the two sexes can complement each other.
“Research conducted throughout the world shows gender balance in top positions contributes to improved competitiveness and better business performance.” (Beth Brooke, top business professional)
Another example of this is to do with amiability.
“Studies have been done showing that there really are gender differences, that women do bring more congeniality and compromise to the table.” (Kitty Kelley, investigative biographer)
Anyone writing about gender in terms of personal experience can only do so from his or her own perspective as a man or woman. I happen to be a man and so am understandably open to the criticism of being biased. But if I were a woman the same criticism might also be applied.
“Only the creator understands both sexes. The rest of us are one or the other. We know only our own. Few writers are bold enough to attempt to define the differences succinctly” (Alan Grange, Christian clergyman)
The question that interests me is whether we should try to ignore gender as if it were of no relevance. Are there no deeper distinctions between men and women other than their physical make up?
Brain gender difference
There is a growing amount of research finding that brains of men and women do differ. Brain activity is more diffuse for women and more specific for men in relation to vocabulary, visio-spatial perception and emotion.
In their book ‘Brain Sex: The real difference between men and women’ Anne Moir and David Jessel point out that research has shown that the two halves of the brain have a different neurological pattern in men than in women. The connection between the left and right brain in men is less marked than in women, leading to a greater distinction between the two halves and their respective functions.
Men, then, tend to keep information distinct from emotion. In women, the connection between the two halves is greater, tending to lead women to see / feel things with more co-ordination and with less distinction. A woman generally works with her whole brain; a man with one or other part of his brain.” (Anne Moir and David Jessel.)
Working with one’s whole brain ties in with a common stereotype. This is that the women perceive in a holistic intuitive way. Also that men are more liable to think logically.
Gender related values and interests
I do get the impression that the two sexes have some different preferences and concerns.
I am not sure gender ever won’t be an issue in comedy, because I think that women do have different priorities in some respects.( Jenny Éclair, British comedian)
Is it not a mistake to confuse inequality of value to society of men and women with inequality of gender-related interests?
Any difference in inclination or make up between the two sexes is no argument for them having unequal value or unequal opportunity.
Many women become troubled at any suggestion that their main strengths are heart-centred. It feels as if this were in some way of lesser value. In one sense they are right. The world does value power and the acquisition of money over the nurturing of people and expression of care.
“ In so many occupations, it is principally the head or the intellectual, understanding side of us which has an intrinsic monetary value, whilst the affections of the heart … attracts only compliments.” (Bruce Jarvis, Swedenborgian writer)
Gender difference in disposition
According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, both sexes are capable of intelligent thought and warmth of feeling. At the same time he says feelings of loving concern tend to stay longer in good women. In addition, a good man finds it easier to think longer in rational light. With men the mind is elevated into superior light, with women into superior heat. The male is said to be concerned that his actions are directed by the sensible thoughts of the head — or if they are not, he wants them to appear so.
These days such opinions are often heard as sexist. Women sound to be more emotional and men more clever. But this is exactly not what Swedenborg is saying. A similar range of intelligence and emotional reactivity is found in both men and women. He says the difference is in perception.
“It is masculine to perceive from the understanding and feminine to perceive from love. The understanding perceives things which are above the body and beyond the world, but love does not go beyond what it feels. (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems