It might seem odd to have to pen a book like this, but we live in odd times. Throughout history people have known that men and women are different. But recently we have been told that men and women are not different after all. Perceived differences are due to society, not biology, and sex and gender differences are both interchangeable and malleable.
In this view, gender is a social construction. Moreover, one can change one's gender like one changes one's clothes. Male today, female tomorrow, bisexual one day, homosexual the next. This is the brave new world of the gender benders.
The thesis Rhoads offers is simple: men and women are different, and these differences are basic, profound and rooted in our very nature. With a wealth of documentation and research, Rhoads sets the record straight, informing us of the clear scientific and biological case for male-female differences.
Hormones and other chemical/biological determinants cannot be dismissed when assessing gender. Their very presence means that nature has hotwired the human species into two clearly different sexes, and these differences cannot be wished away by social engineers.
And these changes can be found from our earliest moments, refuting the notion that social or environmental factors are the sole explanations for such differences. For example, day-old infants will cry when they hear a recording of another infant crying, but girls will cry longer than boys.
Women tend to be more communitarian, more nurturing and less aggressive than men. Researchers have found that there are universal constants running throughout every known human society, including division of labour by sex, women being the primary child carers, and the dominance of men in the public sphere.
Now if sex differences were due to socialization, and not biology (nurture, nor nature) then we would expect to see these differences quickly fading, at least in western cultures, where sex role changes have been most dramatic. But this has not been the case.
These differences, in other words are enduring and they are significant. No amount of social reconstruction will make them disappear. If so, argues Rhoads, we are doing great damage to men, women and society when we act as if they do not exist. Forcing little Johnny to play with dolls and compelling little Jennie to play with toy soldiers, in other words, is counterproductive, and may simply make things worse.
Those who seek 50/50 marriages, for example, and attempt a complete equality of roles and jobs usually come to frustration. Conflicts tend to be higher in such households, and child rearing also suffers as a result. And role-reversal families tend to be short-lived, with most reverting to more traditional patterns.
Those who seek to turn their children into androgynous role models find they only come to grief in their attempts. Children cannot be taught to change what they are by nature.
Rhoads also notes that those researchers who seek to demonstrate the biological and physiological fixity of the sexes have real trouble getting funding and publicity, because of the stranglehold of political correctness and feminist orthodoxy. And the majority of these sex difference researchers happen to be women.
And he shows that if sex differences are indeed true, then there are implications for what sort of family structures we promote. He details the now familiar evidence of how children, and especially boys, suffer in fatherless households. A mother just cannot replicate what a father provides in a home, just as a dad cannot take the place of a mother.
And children need a biological father living in the home, says Rhoads. Step-dads, boyfriends, male role-models, just do not cut it. Children need both sexes: they need a biological mother and a father, not a committee, not an alternative lifestyle arrangement.
Career options too need to be reassessed. We need to rethink the wisdom of putting career first and children last. Mums can do certain things dads cannot, and it is not just breastfeeding. Women are the nurturers and child carers throughout the world, not because of male chauvinism, but because of their very natures.
And whole nations need a rethink. Social engineers, like the Swedes and the Israeli kibbutzim, have tried long and hard to eradicate stereotypical sex roles and to enforce androgyny. But both experiments have failed miserably.
And feminism must be rethought. Women are losing their choices, not expanding them, when they follow the feminist script. Women in fact tend to like having babies and raising children - it is part of who they are. So it does no good for feminists to say to women that they should deny these instincts and seek instead careers.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be adversely affected by high-powered careers. The harm of stress impacts not just the mum, but is transferred to the baby in the womb as well. The vital importance of breastfeeding is also jeopardised by careers. Thus we are selling women short, as well as the next generation, when we insist that women can have it all. They can, but not necessarily at the same time.
The debate over day care also arises here. If mothers are best equipped by nature to care for and nurture the young, then we should stop the rush to let strangers raise our children. The benefits to children of being looked after by mom for the first few years are clearly documented. So whose interests do we put first in this regard?
In sum, this is a great book. Feminists will hate it. Social engineers will detest it. And slaves to political correctness will wretch over it. But ordinary men and women will find it a breath of fresh air. And in the stagnant stench of modern ideologies, fresh air is just what we need.
Stephen A. Haines
We should all applaud the generation of feminist rhetoric and bombast we've endured. The repeated charge that "patriarchal" society has kept women in a subdued role has led to a wealth of studies investigating that assertion's validity. The result has been the generation of a string of books granting us enlightenment. We are beginning to find out just who we are as a species. Rhoads' fine book is an assemblage of many of these studies, organised and presented with clarity and verve. The message is: men and women aren't "the same" and that the differences go deeper than mere plumbing. We need to understand what distinguishes men and women. We then need to apply that knowledge realistically.
The difference in brain functions between men and women have long been known. Rhoads shows that those distinctions are expressed in behaviour patterns. Men don't act the same as women, nor should they be expected to. The approach to sex and relationships, no matter how much women have tried to feminise men, are by very diverse routes. The male genetically-urged drive to spread their genes is fundamental. To deny or disparage this, as many feminist writers have done, is self-defeating. It has led to grave misunderstandings and worse judgements. Rhoads wants this outlook rectified - which can be accomplished by "taking sex differences seriously" through a more scientific approach. Ironically, the thrust of this research has been done by women wishing to confirm the feminist rhetoric, which they found refuted by empirical data.
Rhoads outlines the many findings of behavioural differences among men and women across many cultures. Although little in human behaviour is firmly "hard-wired" into our genetic definition, there clearly are patterns manifested from our evolutionary past. Mate selection is, of course, the most visible of these traits. While men are concerned about youth, symmetry and "beauty", these aren't cultural artefacts or "constructs", but signals of health. Women are naturally concerned with sustained resources to support family needs. The "powerful" man not only represents physical strength, but likely social status as well. In many societies, that means economic security and family stability for the woman, Rhoads notes.
The key evidence in many of the studies Rhoads cites is the emergence of different behaviour traits in children. No matter how many parents or teachers of primary grades attempt to feminise boy children, the male preferences will emerge whenever allowed. Young boys will play together, roughhouse, and express aggressive tendencies while little girls will gather and converse. These traits emerge at far too young an age to be the product of "patriarchal culturalism", Rhoads notes. A young boy, deprived of toy guns, demands one as a gift at the first opportunity. Rhoads reminds us, if we needed it, that the "culture wars" are about women's roles, not men's.
This "battle of the sexes" is far from over, Rhoads contends. The battleground remains in the worst possible location - the classroom. While he briefly notes that public school attempts to feminise boys has "backfired", his real concern is with collegiate athletics. For the past thirty years publicly funded education has struggled to end "sexual discrimination" in university sports. Known as "Title IX", the provisions of these regulations have led to the dismantling of a significant portion of these competitive activities. What has replaced them is a "women's athletics" programme which is fully funded, under-utilised version of "equality". These programmes simply ignore the distinctions between men and women on competitive activities, whether sports, business or other fields. Women, of course, are better where competition isn't the measure of success, as the number of women executives abandoning office for home indicates, Rhoads notes. The law and educational regulators have failed to note these "serious differences", or unthinkingly dismiss them.
All this said, Rhoads makes clear he doesn't make simple distinctions between males and females. In fact, he postulates the notion of a general description for males, but females are divided into two basic types. The division is mediated by long-term evolutionary unfolding of hormone secretion - chiefly testosterone, estrogen and oxytocin. These chemicals influence a wide range of behaviour traits, from aggression to nursing. Vigorous testing programmes have shown which of these neurohormones are present in varying conditions. Subject reactions even show feedback loops in which initial activities lead to greater expression of the hormones to intensify the activity. Women may become masculinised by enhanced levels of some hormones, but the loss of it doesn't "feminise" men. The key is in the level of aggression exhibited.
It's simple, if not simple-minded, to criticise works such as Rhoads' as "just-so" stories or "soft science". The accumulating evidence suggests this view is merely special pleading. The studies Rhoads sites are from across cultures and through the ranks from blue-collar workers to corporate executives. The bibliography alone is sufficient indication of the scope and depth of studies Rhoads relied on. This book is required reading for a wide range of people - from parents and teachers to regulators and enforcers. There is much to be learned and acted on. A fine starting point for change. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Luckily, on the occasions when we find ourselves under fire for our own personal choices or the choices of our ancestors, which is what political correctness demands from anyone born male, blasphemers like myself can find sanctuary in Steven E. Rhoads's delightful new book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Upon finishing Rhoads's work, many readers will discover that they have renewed respect for the nature of women, and, perhaps, unexpected esteem for the nature of men.
I should warn that Taking Sex Differences Seriously is not a chatty, self-help book. It is a highly erudite work in which the author examines study after study and author after author, yet, at the same time, it is very accessible (just as was the case with Why Men Don't Iron). It was written with the average person in mind even though it voluminously surveys contemporary scholarship. There is less focus here on statistics and experimental procedure than there is in works like The New Science of Intimate Relationships, The Mating Mind, or The Red Queen.
The study of sex difference can be quite precarious for the academic, and it is with some relief that I noted that Rhoads already has put in thirty years of service at the University of Virginia. For those without tenure, such a book could spell unemployment. The author cites the opinions of heavyweights like Gloria Steinem and Gloria Allred on the topic of sex research. They believe that making inquiries into the discrepancies between men and women is downright dangerous to all women and anti-American in spirit [!]. Yet, one could make a strong case that unearthing what others purposefully ignore is intrinsic to what it means to be an American.
The real question that most people have is not that differences are present but for what purpose do these variations exist? Central to Rhoads's work, and central to evolutionary psychology in general, is the fact that the biological drives of humans were formed long ago in a time known as the "environment of evolutionary adaptation." This period embodied "99 percent of hominid existence." Back then there were no hotels, no indoor plumbing, no antibiotics, no birth control pills or abortions, and certainly no cushy jobs which involved clacking away at keyboards. Survival was precarious and most of our current preferences evolved from our ancestors adapting to life in a brutal and unsavory setting.
Only in today's world have we reached the levels of luxury and comfort where we can mistakenly assert that men and women want identical outcomes from love, sex, and life. This false assumption is a cause for considerable unhappiness in our interpersonal relations.
Where Rhoads succeeds is through his presentation of all views and his relentless attempts to explain human behavior. He ignores nothing and shares with the reader many a citation which does not support his case. One would be wise to remember that the goal of evolutionary psychology is to illuminate the basis for human behavior and not to excuse or condone such behaviors. To describe is not to advocate. We embrace fantasy over fact if we deny that gender exerts an influence on the way we act, but, unfortunately, that is exactly what many universities around the country have done through their creation of women's studies programs and their never-ending fetish for describing the world as they want it to be rather than how it actually is.
As a biologist who regularly teaches a course on human sexuality from an evolutionary perspective, I highly commend Rhoads for writing this excellent book on sex differences. He has distilled a large body of information into an easily usable format. I have already used sections of it during my course this summer. I plan to use more of the book in the future.
I have another good anecdote that relates directly to observations that women find men who act in "manly" ways sexy (described on pp. 67-68). A couple of years ago, my then 17 year-old daughter and her friends watched the movie "Black Hawk Down" on video. After the movie was over, my daughter's best friend remarked, "Is it just me, or were all of those guys "hot?" As Shavaun's comment attests: women find warriors "hot." Indeed, one of the few times I have been really intimidated by other men in a purely social setting was when my family and I visited by sister-in-law and her husband, who at the time was a Lt. Commander in the USN and was attending the Naval War College in Newport, RI. One night we went to the Officers' Club for dinner and were surrounded by a large group of men who had experienced combat and were fresh from victory in the first Gulf War. Surrounded by these warriors, I suddenly felt very inadequate, and to this day, like many men who have not faced combat, wonder how I would respond. Men probably also find warriors "hot," but in a very different way than do women.
I think that this book should be read, debated, and utilized by policy makers.
I listened to the First Voice interview on this and was impressed by Rhoads. The book lived up to my expectations, very detailed and organized. Last time I looked the interview was still available on [...]
It's funny that the book is so organized, cause in the interview, Rhoads sounded a bit disorganized. Interesting things to say, though.