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It's Time to Discuss Real Male-Female Differences

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Second wave feminism and political correctness have erased talk of real differences between males and females, says Michele Takei in her book "She-Q." In this excerpt she explores why this could be harmful.



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Credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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(WOMENSENEWS)--The second wave of feminism learned from the first that if they adopted a stance that women are essentially different from men, those qualities would be used against women. Their only option was to drop any focus on difference. Further, in the 1970s and '80s, much of the research focused on the importance of the environment and supported the concept that much of gender roles are learned.

Susan, a bright woman in her 50s, told me late one evening as we discussed the different feminist positions, "I know we had to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but adopting the anti-essentialist position that there is no difference between males and females was the only way to ensure success." She sat back and seemed to be remembering how hard the intellectual struggle had been. She took a deep breath and started again.

"There were actually two sides to this problem. It wasn't just recognizing what had tried and failed in the past for women. The other side of the problem was recognizing the enormity of the male machine. Males had a history of being in charge of everything. All the traditions, all the bottom lines and even the basis of knowledge are male-based. Males have been in charge for at least 2,000 years. Do you think they were going to sit back and welcome us? Do you think they were going to be happy when we took jobs from them or worked alongside them? The problem was that the whole structure of culture was male-based and males were and still are heavily invested in making sure it doesn't change. Males have created a culture that works for them and have zero need or desire to change it," she said, her voice getting just a little shaky.

Making Concessions

She stirred her tea, took a drink and continued, "Fortunately, we also had postmodernism in our favor. Countless traditions were being questioned anyway. Truth and meaning were being deconstructed, and other minorities besides women began saying, "Hey, that's not my truth." We used this to our advantage. We knew we had to make some concessions to be allowed in and dropping the focus on difference just seemed like the best solution."

I took a deep breath and tried to understand. I guess I had never realized how deeply the culture was based on values that were entirely masculine.

The veneer of political correctness that seemed to begin in the 1990s appears to be very well timed for males because just below the surface of this band-aid equality is a wealth of information that women today should know. Since then, it appears that any focus on women's strengths or differences has basically been ignored. The "difference" issue, however, has not gone away. Some women still argue that focusing on women's differences will perpetuate the stereotype of women as the weaker, more emotional sex. Others fear that women will again be viewed as the caretakers of society and will be stuck in the home and the old roles. Further, feminists argue that women will be prevented from holding positions of power. Others worry that even suggesting that women are more nurturing will continue to justify patriarchal values and views.

Another side of this complex issue is that compassion and caring do not belong only to women. Men have these qualities too. And further, at the other end of the spectrum, some believe women can be just as ruthless and aggressive as men. Perhaps political correctness reigns because the issues are so complex. For whatever reason, the current accepted position appears to be that it is equal. Women should be happy that things have changed. Don't talk about it.

Unequal, Uneasy Truce

Why, then, does it not feel truly equal to women? It is easy to point to the facts that women continue to earn less than men do and are still under-represented in medical research, but those areas are only the tip of the iceberg. Even without fully understanding the problem, women can sense that something is still very wrong with a culture that spends a trillion dollars on war, while cutting spending on social welfare, schools and women's reproductive rights.

Females have been let into the male–based world of education and work, but other than being allowed to play the male game, little else has changed. After years of angry feminism, it appears that we have settled into an uneasy and still unequal truce. Further, a climate of political correctness has insured that we don't research, explore or even talk about any real differences between males and females.

Women are trying to live in a strange world of mirrors where it appears to be equal but really isn't. It is a wonder that more women aren't crazy. We still have a culture and world where males have denigrated the feminine principle and women were forced to do the same thing. And, unfortunately, the best qualities of humankind--caring, empathy, compassion and other qualities long associated with the feminine - have almost been vilified by both women and men.

But above and beyond IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) there is SHE-Q -- a wisdom and intelligence that is unique to women. Although it is among the highest and best human qualities, few men recognize it and few women honor it. Women, the more whole-brained and intelligent sex, should be in charge of our country, our future and the world.

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Ignoring or avoiding difference was never a viable nor an effective strategy. Earlier feminists, both in Europe and America and elsewhere in the world, argued strongly for centuries for a strategy of equality-in-difference, a strategy that highlighted women's special contributions as embodied female individuals. This approach lay at the heart of "feminism" as it developed over many decades. The 1970s liberationists scorned this approach, to be sure, but they were short-sighted and had not learned their history. This new book validates the earlier approach. On all this, see Karen Offen, "Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach (Signs, 1988).

My response to this article is a plea to the author to question and clarify some of her assumptions. First, we have to be careful that we do not 'buy into' the language of feminist critics. The author discusses "angry feminists" and "political correctness" as though these are valid facts and clear definitions. Some of us would argue they are not. Second, in discussing the ubiquity of the male machine we should also know that the history of women, when explored, reveals far more diversity, activism, creativity, and accomplishments than are typically recognized (and we have Gerda Lerner who died yesterday, among others to thank for that perspective) Women have not necessarily been "let in", they have overcome barriers and succeeded in gaining entry.
Third, we have to distinguish what types of similarities/differences we are discussing: male/female psychological traits and whether they are mutable or not? Sociological circumstances and the roles women (are expected to)play? or the socioeconomic and political institutions that create expectations and circumscribe opportunities? I suggest that the writer's expertise is in the area of traits...where there is a long and interesting debate on ways of knowing..... and communicating...

Dear user 11963,
I certainly understand and see the validity of all three points that you make, and further, appreciate that you took the time to respond so fairly. I am not sure if you read the book or just the excerpt. The bottomline in the book is that our epistemological basis is still skewed toward valuing the masculine concept/quality/trait over the faminine almost 100% of the time. Within this recognition, my purpose was to consciously overcorrect into the primacy of the feminine. Given the "male machine" and "long and interesting debate," I felt the need to draw an epistemological line that helped create a heightened awareness of the wisdom of women.
Michele Takei

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