Men, Women and the Unbridgeable Divide
Taking Sex Differences Seriously
by Steven E. Rhoads
Encounter Books, 2004
374 pages, $27.95
Something of a list in search of a thesis, but a convincing list, Steven Rhoads’ Taking Sex Differences Seriously lays out current scientific evidence that women and men are different in big and important ways. Feminist-inspired efforts to socially engineer differences away will surely fail, says Rhoads, a public-policy professor at the University of Virginia. But they will not fail to wreak havoc.
Against the keystone feminist belief that “femininity and masculinity and the gender roles that flow from them are socially constructed,” Rhoads cites many studies that show the differences are biological.
Now gender researchers like Alice Eagly report the traditional gender stereotypes are “fairly accurate” — that women are, in her words, “more socially sensitive, friendly and concerned with others’ welfare” than men. Other researchers find differences present from birth. Moreover, the differences are growing despite the movement of women into the workforce.
Rhoads isn’t arguing against equality. But policies assuming gender sameness create problems. For example, many universities provide paternity leave equal to maternity leave; they assume men can rear newborns, or should, as well as women. But what the men on leave actually do is write papers, advancing their careers while a sitter or an overworked wife tends the kid.
The differences are hormonal, says Rhoads. Women with higher levels of testosterone than average display a more “masculine” interest in casual sex, along with other male attitudes. Rhoads’ assessment seems amoral: It is certainly entirely secular. But, for him, it is just a realistic foundation for policy. And, indeed, one can find equally frank assessments of the male sexual nature in the writings of the Church fathers and in presentations by contemporary evangelical-Protestant youth leaders. And, ultimately, one finds the same conclusion: Marriage is the institution in which these differences make sense and bear social and personal benefits.
While women overwhelmingly desire marriage, want children and take more satisfaction from them than from work, men don’t particularly want marriage, says Rhoads — but they’re happier when they end up married. And children are infinitely better off being raised in a two-parent family. The male appetite for aggression and dominance can be channeled and satisfied by the opportunity marriage provides for them to lead, protect and serve.
Moreover, a benign illusion seems to envelop marriage, says Rhoads. Both men and women in happy marriages think the man has more decision-making power than he actually has. Rhoads recommends that government and society do no more to erode either the male’s real power differential.
“If we took sex differences seriously,” Rhoads concludes, “we would not be looking for new ways to weaken the historic role of men in the family. [By doing so], modernity has reduced the number of men to whom marriage seems desirable.”
Steve Weatherbe writes from
Victoria, British Columbia.
- February 20-26, 2005