There is a growing number of people in our nation today who think that sex (that is, maleness and femaleness) is not an objective biological reality, but rather a social construct. Accordingly, instead of “sex” they prefer to use “gender”—a word that, until late last century, referred exclusively to language (most languages apart from English assign male, female, and sometimes neuter genders to nouns). Unlike sex, gender can be manipulated to serve our cultural preferences.
Though there are a variety of ways to respond to this nonsense (how’s that for tipping my hand), in this post I would like to respond with some of the findings of modern science.
Those who reject the objectivity of sex will often say that although male and female bodies may have some differences between them, our brains are just the same. One man, who is currently raising three “genderless children,” argued, “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.”
But is the only difference between men and women “what’s between their legs”?
As it turns out, male and female brains are biologically different.
in 2004 an all-star team of fourteen neuroscientists, from the University of California, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University,published findings showing that male and female brains are genetically different.
These scientists analyzed thirty samples of human brain tissue taken from different sections of the brain and from different individuals. They were not told the sex of the individual from whom each specimen was taken, but simply by genetic analysis of the brain tissue they were able, by analyzing the expression of two different gene tissue, to correctly identify the sex of every one.
Neuroscientist Larry Cahill, in an article for Scientific American, went as far as to say that the structural, chemical, and functional differences between the brains of males and females raises the possibility of developing “sex-specific treatments” for conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
The differences between male and female brains affect many aspects of our behavior, including memory, emotion, vision and hearing, how we handle stress… and even the toys we like to play with.
Researchers (and parents) have often noted boys are more likely to play with balls and cars whereas girls tend to prefer dolls and easy-bake ovens.
Those who claim that “gender” is a social construct find this abhorrent. Earlier this year, Boots, the largest pharmacy chain in the U.K., felt compelled to take down the signs for “Boys” and “Girls” toys after shoppers took to Facebook and Twitter to accuse the retailer of “sexist behavior.” Meanwhile, in Sweden they’ve begun pushing “gender-blind” toy catalogs picturing girls shooting toy guns and boys blow-drying hair.
But although it may not be politically correct, the science strongly suggest that the reason boys and girls prefer to play with different toys has less to do with cultural conditioning than with innate brain biology.
In 2002, Melissa Hines of City University London, and Gerianne M. Alexander of Texas A&M University decided to conduct experiments on vervet monkeys, one of our closest biological cousins. They found that the monkeys showed “sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children.” The boy monkeys typically preferred playing with cars and balls, while the female monkeys preferred playing with dolls and pots. (And they didn’t have parents or toy catalogues telling them which they should prefer.)
They concluded that such “sexually dimorphic preferences” for certain features in objects are deeply embedded products of evolution, preferences related to the very nature of being male or female—preferences that human children also clearly exhibit.
All that differentiates men and women is what’s “between their legs?” Far from it.