Battle of the Sexes

Voice Card  -  Volume 2  -  John Card Number 34  -  Fri, Nov 18, 1988 8:54 PM

This is ONE OF 3 responses to volume 2, Dionne Card Number 1 ("Gender Gap")...


This is a HOT topic and as long as we all keep our gloves on I say FULL SPEED AHEAD! Before launching any new columns, however, I propose that we get a good free-wheeling voice card conversation started first and let that expand for a few issues. I only wish there were more women in our group (it's hard to find women with SE's). Perhaps a few of our married members can (carefully) solicit opinions from their wives.

I have always been keenly interested in this issue of male/female differences. I spent my first quarter as a graduate student as the only man in a Virginia Woolf Seminar and we spent most of the course talking about the differences between male and female writers (and readers). When I taught composition I forced my nippers to write essays on the theme of "Complaints About The Opposite Sex;" I still have all these essays and can perhaps drag them out if it seems relevant. I have also had long and intimate conversations on this topic with at least a dozen women and as a former Psychology student, I try to keep abreast of the latest research.

I am still very much in the dark about just how different we really are. Until recently I subscribed to the idea that men and women are like two circles which almost entirely overlap; the only differences appear as thin crescents which represent the distinctions which arise from our opposing biological hardware. That is, women can get pregnant and men can't and that certainly effects our outlooks on life and our approach to relationships. But for the most part, I thought, men and women are both just people and deep down people are pretty much the same.

I still tend toward that way of looking at things, but I have been impressed by recent research that shows intriguing anatomical differences between male and female brains and that some vital aspects of brain development are controlled by the sex hormones (which leads to further differentiation after puberty). Maybe Larry and Diane can share some of what they know about this stuff.

It's frustrating to try to get at just what the differences are, because we are usually forced to express ourselves in vague generalities, and I find that in my own experience, these generalities are completely swamped by vast individual differences. Every man is different. Every woman is different. Every relationship is different and has different rules. Every time I try to formulate a rule about how the sexes differ, a striking exception comes to mind.

Another problem arises when you start to describe some qualities as female, some as male, and then place each person at some point along a continuous scale. This scheme often leads to circular arguments and more confusion.

OK, enough waffling. I'll at least try to react to Dionne's assertions. I am familiar with this words-and-feelings / sex-and-action dichotomy, and I sense there's a grain of truth in it, but I am still somewhat uneasy about it. The women I've met seem to like sex just as much as men and frequently express intimacy by "doing things" for their men, and I assure you that men have feelings too and are quite able and willing to talk about those feelings. Anyone who has sat through 34 of my voice cards will not acuse me of being afraid to talk.

Of course, Dionne was talking about tendancies and preferences. Clearly, this is not a black and white issue. But there has been an attempt in the last decade or so, primarily by women psychologists, to paint women as insightful and compassionate and men as insensitive brutes. This is a very subtle but occasionally hostile campaign. It may well be a backlash from the teachings of what is still a male dominated profession. After all, it was not so long ago that men like Sigmund Freud came together and solemnly proclaimed that all women are crazy. This attitude is very much alive today among some male psychologists.

My point here is not that male psychologists know any more or less than female psychologists, but that there is more politics than science involved in much of the available "research." None of us should be over-awed by the proclamations of "scientists."

Dionne's plea for "unsystematic personal research" is a good idea. I think our personal observations are as likely as any to shed some light on this enduring mystery and are bound to be interesting.

One thing I've noticed is that it seems to be harder for me to find intellectual friends who are women. Most of my male friends enjoy talking about politics or philosophy or computers or literature or relationships or whatever, but few women, even women who are engineers or politicians or scientists, seem to really enjoy these kinds of conversations. I am very grateful for the few exceptions I have found but for the most part the best conversations I have are with men. This may well have more to do with our culture than with any biological differences, but it seems to me to be a very real (and frustrating) phenomena.

Is it just me, or is there a difference between what men like to talk about and what women like to talk about?