This week, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed what seems to be a no-brainer: The brains of men and women really are different. Why then, if so seemingly obvious, are these findings such a big deal? Because they fly in the face of pervasive feminist philosophy that gender is a social construct.
According to Simone de Beauvoir, author of feminist manifesto, Le Deuxième Sexe, gender is merely an accident of birth, as one is not born a woman but rather becomes a woman as she is shaped by society. "Social discrimination," said de Beauvoir, "produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature."
Au contraire. Despite feminism's reluctance to associate biological differences with social and psychological ones, this new study indicates that these differences are intimately related. Indeed, to insist otherwise is not only scientifically unfounded, but socially and psychologically destructive.
In her book, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, Danielle Crittenden examines sex, love, marriage, motherhood, aging and even politics to highlight the dangers in disregarding natural differences between men and women.
"While we now recognize that women are human, we blind ourselves to the fact that we are also women," says Crittenden. "If we feel stunted and oppressed when denied the chance to realize our human potential, we suffer every bit as much when cut off from those aspects of life that are distinctly and uniquely female."
Recently, the tide seems to be turning, with more people acknowledging that -- though women are naturally and inevitably different than men -- their uniquely feminine qualities are equally valuable. This is particularly true in the political realm. As Congress finds itself gripped again and again by partisan gridlock, female policymakers are lauded for their collaborative efforts.
"The [female Senators] are hardly in lock step politically," noted a recent New York Times editorial. "But their practice of meeting regularly and working on smaller bills together, even in a highly polarized Congress, set the stage for more significant legislation."
Another article, appearing in the National Journal, wondered "do women make better senators than men?":
Some of the strongest bipartisan relationships are among the women themselves. Ayotte says she has "a very good working relationship on behalf of our state" with Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. And Gillibrand remembers the support she received from three Republican women- - as well as Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu -- when she was trying to help 9/11 first responders who had inhaled toxins at Ground Zero and now were ill and even dying. Landrieu, drawing from her Hurricane Katrina experience, advised Gillibrand on how to get other senators to care about the issue. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe worked with the New Yorker on how to cover the cost. Snowe, Collins, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski went into the GOP caucus every week, Gillibrand says, and asked, "Why aren't we standing with first responders?" She credits their advocacy and advice with getting the bill passed.
Unfortunately, this constant comparing and contrasting of women and men has fueled a perverse gender competition. And so, now, instead of championing feminine traits together with masculine traits, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that masculine virtues are cast in a more negative light, if not entirely cast off.
New York Times columnist, David Brooks, lamented this radical pendulum swing in his article Honor Code. Brooks cautions that the "education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging of a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don't fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling. Far from all, but many of the people who don't fit in are boys."
Feminist author and fellow New York Times columnist, Christina Hoff Sommers, worries the same in her article, The Boys at the Back, which explores why females are doing so well in school while boys are consistently underachieving.
To be true, women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three-to-two. Consequently, there are more college-educated women in the workforce than men and young 20-something women out-earn their male peers. Not to mention, with women representing a growth market bigger than China and India combined, the fairer sex now also drives the global economy.
These advancements are wonderful for women in particular, and society in general. However, as we begin to acknowledge and appreciate uniquely female traits, the advancement of women need not also result in the utter reduction of men. Realizing our full human potential is not a zero sum game wherein a win for women is a loss for men. Neither gender is an island.