The same but different (part 2)

Yesterday I posted a longer article about the challenges contemporary society has in even being able to answer the questions ‘what is a man?’ and ‘what is a woman?’ I also found a very similar article I had in draft form, but had never published. It is similar but offers different examples and links. Here it is:

In our secular age the church mostly makes the news when it is out of step with the dominant progressive agenda in the West. This has played out in a number of obvious areas of public life such as abortion, gender and sexuality. Where the church is aligned with the values of the West it is largely ignored. This is, in part, due to our collective love of spectacle and controversy which the news feeds us in ample portions. It’s just the way it is.

You may be forgiven then, for thinking that it is just the misogynist conservative evangelical types that think that men and women are different. As it turns out, the cultural consensus is not nearly so uniform. Indeed there are significant numbers of women and men (feminist, scientist, conservative) who argue that men and women are different and we’d all be better off if we realised that. Consider the following examples:

  • There are wide differences of opinion about whether differences are innate in our brains. As this BBC article (and related programme asked) Is your brain male of female? Is it nature or nurture? The science, for what it’s worth seems to offer evidence that it is in fact both. We are shaped by our biology, hormones, chromosomes and shaped by the environment in which we grow. Which, honestly shouldn’t be all that surprising. For an interesting reflection on this programme, read this post by Ian Paul
  • Consider this fascinating TED talk by Paula Johnson who argues that at the very basic level of our cells, men and women are different and that to ensure that women are treated equally when it comes to healthcare requires treating them differently. This is nature. 
  • Of course for every fascinating TED talk there is an opposing view (sound familiar?) Listen to this by Alice Dreger who argues that “we have to admit nature doesn’t draw the line for us between male and female, or between male and intersex and female and intersex; we actually draw that line on nature.” Interestingly this liberal progressive also wonders if in our brains men are hardwired to protect and women are hardwired to care/nurture. Pick your science, make your choice or vice versa. Both nature and culture 
  • Or listen to this Freakonomics podcast helpfully called ‘Women are not men’ (transcript) that points out any number of differences. Culture not nature.

Then it is worth thinking about how the world actually works – there are stereotypes and caricatures about what men should be or how woman should behave, but it’s worth remembering that stereotypes and caricatures don’t just appear in a vacuum. They come from real people behaving in a given way. Get a group of parents in a room and there will be some who confess that their child conforms to some kind of stereotype whether encouraged to or not by their environment. ‘My daughter is so girlie, she loves all things pink’; ‘My son, just loves trucks and hitting things with sticks’ etc…which is not to say the son never picks up a doll or the girl doesn’t pick up sticks.

Businesses do no treat us equally – there are massive industries that thrive on the fact that we are different (just think of advertising in cars, fashion, beauty, DIY, sports, hygiene, home furnishings). We may not like it but it almost never stops us from buying into it. My basic point is that on a level of everyday experience, that most people would answer the question ‘are men and women the same?’ with a ‘NO’.  Which is not the same as, ‘should men and women be treated equally?’ to which they may well answer, ‘YES’.

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