Thursday, April 16, 2015

Difference between men and women?

I was asked a question by a poster whose tag is 21st Century Scholastic
Dear Jules,
According to you, are there real differences between men and women? What are they?
Perhaps you've already written something about it?

I have written about it but have never answered the question directly. The following is my first take and may be stupid for all I know. This is what I believe.

I have three kinds of answers to your question: a metaphysical answer, an empirical answer and an ethical answer. The first and, especially, the last are controversial.

The metaphysical answer

Platonism had a huge influence on Catholic thinking but there are some crucial differences. The most important difference is in regard to the relationship between the soul and the body. Platonists conceive of souls having an independent existence prior to the body. The body is, in fact, relatively unimportant to them. The Catholic view is that our complete self is male or female soul in a male or female body and both are created to go together. For the Platonist, the soul is the real you and it is still the real you when detached from the body. For the Catholic, you are your body and any sort of afterlife is your soul in a body, although it may be a perfected body.

Okay, what has that to do with anything? I reject strong dualism. I don't think you could, on purely physical terms, take a male body and transplant it into a female body. And I don't mean by that that it is currently not medically possible. The nervous system is the whole body and not a control centre that just happens to be attached to this body. Everything about a man is  male and everything about a woman is female.

Back in the 1980s, a feminist friend of mine used to say to me, "That's your body talking and not your brain." Or they'd say, "You're thinking with your [penis]." My answer to that is, "Of course I am, my male body isn't just a part of me, it is me."

The empirical answer

This is the least controversial and yet the hardest to explain. Least controversial because everyone uses the terms man and woman or boy and girl without difficulty almost all of the time. There is gender theory and all but no rational person denies sex differences and no one has any difficulty using and understanding the words. But it gets tricky, as Wittgenstein would say, when we try and point at objects to justify our definitions.

For example, it is true that men tend to be taller than women. That said, there are seven-foot-tall women and there are four-foot-tall men. Any description of differences will consist of tendencies and will have to allow for exceptions. Men are more aggressive than women and, therefore, more likely, on average, to commit acts of violence but there are some women who commit staggering acts of violence. Men seem to like maths and sciences more than women but there are some brilliant female physicists.

My list of differences, if I were to make one, would probably line up with common cultural expectations. There'd be some differences: for example, our culture believes women to have more sexual self control than men and I think that's a polite fiction at best.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that any puppy and any new born baby will very quickly figure out who the men are and who the women are and will treat people different based on that difference.

The ethical answer

This is the most controversial aspect of all. There are, whether we like to admit it or not, norms that go with these tendencies. We expect women to be more emotionally attuned to others than we expect men to be even though we know there are exceptions on both sides of the line.

I think that the differences between men and women require different treatment. Sometimes I wake up in a bad mood for no good reason but it doesn't happen often. When it does, I expect myself to snap out of it because men aren't supposed to be like that. I am much more tolerant when women I know do.

I expect men to be physically strong in ways I don't expect of women.

I expect women to be better at interpreting my feelings than I expect other men to be.

I expect women to be better at dealing with physical illness than men are.

At the same time, I expect men to have fewer physical ailments than women.

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