Gender differences go deep.
Even the most aloof spectator of current culture cannot miss that the nature of gender and sex difference  are white-hot issues today. They have been for some time, actually, starting with the super hip 1970s parental conviction that so-called “gender-neutral” toys would create more sensitive, compassionate, non-judgemental children.
How did that work out? These parents were aghast to see Suzy feed her dump truck its bottle, wrap it up nice and cosy, and put it down for its nap. Johnny turned his kitchen set’s broom and mop into swords and rifles with which to vanquish the bad guys. Such actions baffled these freethinking parents, because they knew they did not teach these things to their kids, and also knew they did not learn them at the homes of their friends or at their Montessori schools.
Totally confounded, these parents saw such stereotypes emerge from their sweet children’s own nature as boys or girls. This tempered some of their ideological conviction that gender difference is taught, merely a cultural construct: remove the stereotypes, and you free your children from the gendered behaviour. These parents came to realise that some stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. But that realisation has not kept new generations of parents from trying the same thing with their kids.
As the revolution against the acceptance of an inherent and intrinsic human male and female nature continues to this day, it ironically does so against the tide not only of basic human experience, but an impressive and growing body of sophisticated emerging science as well. These facts reveal that the prevailing “cultural construct” theory of gender is more rooted in ideology than reality.
We will ask and seek to answer two questions in this examination: First, is there an objective and humanly/culturally universal male and female nature? And second, how do we know?
The answer to the first question: there most certainly is. We know this because of the breakthroughs in two fields of scientific inquiry: one is the hard science of neurobiology and the other is the softer science of cultural anthropology and evolutionary psychology. Let us first examine the findings of neurobiology from the last two decades or so.
The case from neurobiology
Two of the earliest experts to write on this issue were the British team of geneticist Anne Moir and science journalist David Jessel in their groundbreaking book, Brain Sex, which looks at how sex difference is not just seen in clothing fashion choices or sex organs, but in the very brain and neural wiring of the human person. Based on their own work and that of others, Moir and Jessel explain with equal parts boldness, clarity, and sureness:
“The truth is that virtually every professional scientist and researcher into the subject has concluded that the brains of men and women are different. … The nature and cause of brain differences are now known beyond speculation, beyond prejudice, and beyond reasonable doubt.”
The result: “There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes – that men and women have the same brain – and what sciences knows: that they do not.” So, they proclaim: “It is time to cease the vain contention that men and women are created the same. They were not and no amount of idealism or utopian fantasy can alter that fact.”
Professor Alice Eagly from Northwestern University, a major contributor to the field of the social psychology of gender difference, also distinguishes between elite assumption and scientific findings:
“The majority of [studies] have conformed in a general way to people’s ideas about the sexes. … this evidence suggests that laypeople, once maligned in much feminist writing as misguided holders of gender stereotypes, may be fairly sophisticated observers of female and male behaviour.”
To be clear, Eagly is referring supportively to our grandmothers, who never went in for the new-fangled ideas of today.
Of course, the nature of male and female brain differences have wide-ranging consequences for the whole person. Leading neuropsychiatrist Louanne Brizendine, working from the University of California San Francisco, explains that while male and female, as human beings, are certainly more similar than they are unlike – we share a common and equal humanity of course – our seemingly small neurological and genetic differences create substantial differences between the two sexes:
“More than 99 per cent of male and female genetic coding is exactly the same. Out of the thirty thousand genes in the human genome, the less than 1 per cent variation between the sexes is small. But that percentage difference influences every single cell in our bodies – from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings and emotions. (emphasis added)
Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, outlines a great many important and primary contrasts between the female and male mind in his deeply researched book, The Essential Difference.
From his first lines, Baron-Cohen is frank with his reader: “The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is: The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”
Anthropology and evolutionary psychology speak
It is not only the physiological, neural, and hormonal aspects of the human being that demonstrate clear and indisputable gender differences. Being rooted in the minutest parts of our physical make-up, these things work themselves out in the ways males and females act, carry and conduct themselves in daily life, their general personalities as well as their preferences in mate selection and sexual mores.
This has become well documented in a growing body of multicultural anthropological investigations, largely by evolutionary psychologists.
First, scientists find that the tasks and activities performed interchangeably by male and female across all distinct human cultures range generally from zero to 35 per cent of general human activity. The rest of the general daily tasks in the family and community or village are gender distinct. While some of this division of labour is indeed different from culture to culture, there are also consistent universal similarities as well.
Two leading scholars on this topic explain: “The cross-cultural literature provides strong evidence of the universality of a sex-typed division of labour. … Although few activities [such as trapping, hunting, metal, stone and wood working, fowling, care for the exterior of the home, etc. and primary child care, care for the inside of the home, gathering vegetable foods, dairy production, spinning and clothes care, cooking and water supply, etc] are assigned exclusively to one sex or the other when considered across cultures, the division of labour is evident in that, within societies, most activities were performed primarily by one sex [or the other].”
In only 1 per cent of societies are the tasks of gathering the necessary resources of subsistence performed more by the woman than the man.
These scholars favour the evolutionary biosocial theory in understanding these distinctions, explaining “that biology, social structure, and the environment interact reciprocally to produce the sex-typed roles” of men and women in the home and community.
Social structure certainly plays a role in shaping sex and gender-distinct differences between male and female according to these scholars, but only a part. It does not, by itself, shape social roles nor create additional genders.
Another universal feature of sex- specific social organisation across cultures is found in the ways parents and extended family guide both boys and girls in “sex-appropriate” play and behaviour as they grow in their personal and social development. The universal commonalities we find here are what allow even an unobservant or uneducated member of one culture to go anywhere in the world and easily discern which members of that community are the women and girls and which are the men and the boys, apart from body shape.
To be sure, across cultures, girls generally resemble the women in hundreds of different ways as the boys resemble the men. No male or female (young or adult) possesses or demonstrates all the same types and mix of masculine or feminine characteristics and qualities, but there is a universal essence that is undeniable.
Evolutionary psychologists have observed sex differences in sexual interests, mate selection, and romantic desires in more than 60 different cultures. The answers to the following questions should be fairly obviously. Which gender is more likely to report feelings of guilt and being used following casual sex with different partners, even when reporting they weren’t mistreated or lied to in the experience? Who shows more approval of, and interest in, casual sex? Regarding early sexual fantasies, who is far more likely to say their fantasies were initiated “in response to visual stimulus”? Who is far more likely to report their fantasies developed or occurred in the context of “a real or imagined romantic relationship”? Forty-five per cent of which gender (compared with six per cent of the other) reported they had sexual fantasies “many times a day”? Thirty-five per cent of which gender said they had such fantasies “only once a week” (compared with only 8 per cent of the other)?
Which gender’s fantasies were more sexually explicit, focused on body parts and numerous partners? Which gender’s fantasies were more focused on “commitment and romance”? Who finds infidelity more hurtful and gets more jealous of perceived outside romantic interests? Who has a sex-drive that is more consistent from week to week? Who is more interested in mating with someone older? Who is more interested in mating with someone younger?
If men and women are essentially the same, this little quiz might be tricky for you. But it wasn’t, was it? The correct answer to each question, according to the research, is precisely what you most likely guessed. In fact, there is only one question where male and female are essentially the same across cultures; and that has to do with jealousy and hurt feelings related to the infidelity of their partner. Men and women are the same in this regard, but markedly different in all the others.
Male and female personalities?
Do male and female demonstrate differences in how they live, view their lives, and interact with others? If so, how distinct are these differences? And how reliable is the research? The answers to these questions, in order, are: “absolutely”; “considerable”; and “quite”.
A handful of teams for various universities have studied what they call the “Big Five Personality Traits” across more than 50 different cultures and determined gender-distinct qualities and characteristics that are largely universal from culture to culture. One group of scholars explains: “gender differences are modest in magnitude” but “consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures”.
Some examples are:
- Universally, men rank substantially higher in assertiveness and women much higher in nurturance.
- Women are more likely to exhibit fearful emotions and anxious concern as well as desires to improve family situations and conditions.
- Men are typically more adventurous, excited, and willing to take risks and move out into new areas. They are also more overtly influential in terms of leadership.
- Women are consistently more affectionate and sentimental.
- Women are most interested and concerned about life events and situations in closer proximity to them.
- Men are more likely to be interested and concerned with events and situations beyond the village.
- Where women see danger and concern, men see challenges.
In addition, the personality inventories reveal that men work more in the mental arena of ideas and women more in the emotional arena of feelings and intuition. Both are essential.
Professor Alan Feingold, working from Yale and one of the early scholars to survey and summarise the growing body of research on gender-distinct personality differences across diverse cultures, explains that these differences have remained largely consistent both through generations and across nations.
His findings indicate “a strong biological basis” for these gender-distinct personality traits. While social influences are certainly active in creating gender differences, science finds there is a natural and universal male and female nature that drives such differences as well.
In addition, there are strong and consistent findings pertaining to vocational interests: men are more likely engaged in investigative, explorative, and building interests; while women rank higher in a variety of artistic, care-giving, and relational interests. Men tend to like to build things. Women tend to like to make things.
The seemingly subtle differences between these are generally understood by men and women. While the customer populations at Bunnings and Spotlight are certainly not gender segregated, they certainly are heavily gender weighted. One way of being is no more important than the other. Human culture requires both.
Another study in this body of literature took an interesting turn. In collecting data throughout 50 cultures on six continents, some researchers decided to go beyond what the data-collectors found in their fieldwork. They wanted to examine how these scientific and methodical male and female data-collectors themselves differed in their judgements and interpretations of findings from their subjects.
Even though there was an objectiveness and form to the data being collected, these investigators found that their female data-collectors were less critical than were the men of their subjects and more likely to describe them in positive ways. The women focused and reported more on positive personality qualities such as gregariousness, warmth, trustworthiness, and altruism. These, according to theory, reflect a greater relational interest among women. The men were more focused on the facts of things – the task at hand – with very little intuitive perception about the people being interviewed.
Following are soe of the curious, more esoteric, and lesser known male/female differences documented across cultures in this research literature:
- Women tend to smile more often than men.
- Both men and women prefer to look at female bodies rather than male bodies.
- Women tend to be more positive in their assessments of other people than are men.
- Females make up more than 90 per cent of all anorexia and bulimia sufferers.
- Men have stronger self-confidence about their appearance regardless of what others think of the way they look.
- Men’s ideal female body shape is heavier than what women assume it is.
- Females attempt suicide more often than males.
- Males succeed at suicide far more often than females, and their suicides are more violent.
- Boys tend to have higher athletic confidence and self-esteem than girls.
- Generally, girls tend to perform better academically and get better grades than boys, but their academic self-esteem is similar.
- Men are generally more assertive, more inclined to take chances, and more open to ideas.
- Women are more tender-minded, agreeable, warm, and open to feelings.
- Women tend to show higher life-satisfaction than men.
Some of these measures were double for one gender than for the other.
Glenn T. Stanton is director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa, Ontario. He has written many books on marriage and family. This essay is adapted from a presentation given at the World Congress of Families IX, October 27-30, 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Endnotes The author realises that many gender theorists make a distinction between what sex and gender are. He rejects the notion that this distinction is based on any objective discovery or reality, but is rather theory recently developed out of ideology.  Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Male and Female, New York: Dell Publishing, 1991, pp8, 9, 11.  Alice Eagly, “On Comparing Men and Women”, Feminism and Psychology 4 (1994): pp513-22.  Louanne Brizendine, The Female Brain, New York: Broadway Books, 2006, p1.  Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference, New York: Basic Books, 2003, p1.  Wendy Wood and Alice Eagly, “A cross-cultural analysis of the behavior of women and men: Implications for the origins of sex difference”, Psychological Bulletin 128 (2002): pp699–727, at p705.  Ibid, p705.  Ibid, p718.  Todd Shackelford, David P. Schmitt, and David M. Buss, “Universal dimensions of human mate preference”, Personality and Individual Differences 39 (2005): pp447–58; Paul Okami and Todd K. Shackelford, “Human differences in sexual psychology and behavior”, Annual Review of Sex Research 12 (2001): pp186–241; David P. Schmitt, “Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48-nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating”, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (2005): pp247–311; David P. Schmitt (and 118 members of the International Sexuality Description Project), “Universal sex differences in the desire for sexual variety: Tests From 52 nations, 6 continents, and 13 islands”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85 (2003): pp85–104; Emily Stone, et al., “Sex differences and similarities in preferred mating arrangements”, Sexualities, Evolution and Gender 7 (2005): pp269–276.  Both men and women show the same levels of jealousy in response to a partner’s infidelity, but exhibit this in different ways and for different situations. Women’s anger and jealousy increases if the relationship is emotionally strong, rather than merely physical. For men, there is no difference between emotional and non-emotional infidelity.  Paul Costa, Antonio Terracciano, and Robert R. McCrae, “Gender differences in personality traits across cultures: Robust and surprising findings”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (2001): pp322–31, at p328.  Alan Feingold, “Gender differences in personality: A meta-analysis”, Psychological Bulletin 116 (1994): pp429–46, at p449, p430.  Robert McCrae, Antonio Terracciano and 78 members of the Personality Profiles in Culture Project, “Universal features of personality traits from the observer’s perspective: Data from 50 cultures”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88 (2005): pp547–61.  David P. Schmitt et al., “Why can’t a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in big five personality traits across 55 cultures”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94 (2008): pp168-82; Brittany Gentile et al., “Gender differences in domain-specific self-esteem: A meta-analysis”, Review of General Psychology 13 (2009): pp34–45.  Gentile, et al., “Gender differences in domain-specific self-esteem”.