According to Hanna Rosin (2010), boys and men are losing out to girls and women; the male advantage is declining. For example, in 2010 women became the majority of the workforce in the United States. More boys than girls fail to graduate from high school; women receive the majority of college degrees. These days, about half of doctorates in medicine and law go to women. Many wives earn higher salaries than their husbands do. Rosin pointed out that in modern societies, strength is not the important factor that it was throughout most of history. Instead, intelligence is important, and women and men are equally intelligent. In addition, women have better communication skills and a greater willingness to undergo the schooling that has become so critical for economic success. Rosin proposed that economic and societal forces have changed women’s roles to—and sometimes beyond—the point of equality: “For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point?” (Rosin, 2010, p. 56).
Is it possible that women will become dominant? Anthropologist Melvin Konner (2015) argued that they will; the end of male supremacy is near. Konner’s reasoning is similar to followers of evolutionary psychology who contend that women and men have evolved in different ways that furnish modern humans with “hard-wired” gender differences. Both take an essentialist view, which contends that some “essence,” or underlying biological component, makes men and women different. The evolutionary psychology view (Buss & Schmitt, 2011) holds that evolutionary pressures have shaped women to prioritize their role in raising children, whereas men must gather resources to attract women. These differences in priorities have created modern men who are forceful and dominant and modern women who focus on childbearing and child care.
According to most people’s views of the relationship between biology and behavior, biological differences determine behavior. Therefore, if the differences between women and men are biological, those differences are perceived as fixed and invariant (Keller, 2005). Recent changes in society should make little difference in women’s and men’s basic natures. Konner argued that the situation of boys and men losing out to girls and women is part of the recent changes in society: The evolved tendencies that have made women more cooperative, caring, practical, and patient have made them better adapted than men in modern society. This twist on an essentialist view of gender differences is not likely to calm the debate about gender.
Conflicts and questions about the roles of women and men occur in debates about gender: Which is more important, nature (biology) or nurture (culture and society)? What types of differences exist? What is the basis for these differences? What is the extent of these differences? A switch from male dominance to equality or female dominance seems inconsistent with an evolutionary view but also with many people’s views: Women and men are born with biological differences that dictate the basis for different traits and behaviors. Indeed, they are
so different that women are the “opposite sex,” suggesting that whatever men are, women are at the other end of the spectrum. Those who hold this view find the differences obvious and important. Those who emphasize social and economic factors as the driving forces in behavior see the possibility that roles are flexible. Drawing from research in psychology, sociology, biology, and anthropology, the differences between women and men seem to be a complex puzzle with many pieces (Eagly & Wood, 2013).
The battle lines have been drawn between two camps, both of which look to volumes of research for support for their view and see supporting evidence for their different views. Some people at some times have believed that differences between males and females are few, whereas others have believed that the two are virtually different species. These two positions can be described as the minimalist view
and the maximalist view
(Epstein, 1988). The minimalists perceive few important differences between women and men, whereas the maximalists believe that the two have large, fundamental differences. Many maximalists also hold an essentialist view, believing that the large differences between women and men are part of their essential biological natures. Although these views have varied over time, today both the maximalist and the minimalist views have vocal supporters. Table 1.1
summarizes the most prominent version of these two positions and the intersection between these views and the essentialist view.
This lack of agreement coupled with commitment to a position suggests controversy, which is almost too polite a term for these disagreements. Few topics are as filled with emotion as discussions of the sexes and their capabilities. These arguments occur in places as diverse as playgrounds and scientific laboratories. The questions are similar, regardless of the setting: Who is smarter, faster, healthier, sexier, more capable, and more emotional? Who makes better physicians, engineers, typists, managers, politicians, artists, teachers, parents, and friends? Who is more likely to go crazy, go to jail, commit suicide, have a traffic accident, tell lies, gossip, and commit murder? The full range of human possibilities seems to be grounds for discussion, but the issues are unquestionably important. No matter what the conclusions, at least of half the human population (and most probably all of it) is affected. Therefore, not only are questions about the sexes interesting, but also the answers are important to individuals and to society. Later chapters explore the research concerning abilities and behaviors, and an examination of this research allows an evaluation of these questions.
The Maximalist and Minimalist Views of Gender Differences
|Position ||View of Differences between the Sexes ||Differences Created through ||How Strongly Essentialist? |
|Maximalist ||Differences are large and important ||Evolutionary history and sex hormones ||Very |
|Minimalist ||Differences are small with few large enough to be important ||Stereotyping and different treatment for males and females ||Not Strongly |
Answers to these important questions about differences between women and men are not lacking. Almost everyone has answers—but not the same answers. It is easy to see how people might hold varying opinions about a controversial issue, but some consistency should exist among findings from researchers who have studied men and women. Scientists should be able to investigate the sexes and provide evidence concerning these important questions. Researchers have pursued these questions, obtained results, and published thousands of
papers. There is no shortage of investigations—or publicity—about the sexes. Unfortunately, researchers are subject to the same problems as everyone else: They do not all agree on what the results mean—or even what they are.
In addition, many research findings on men and women are not consistent with popular opinion, suggesting that popular opinion may be an exaggeration or distortion, most likely based on people’s personal experiences rather than on research. Both the past and the present are filled with examples that exaggerate differences between women and men.
People have a tendency to think in terms of opposites when considering only two examples, as with the sexes (Fausto-Sterling, 2000; Tavris, 1992). If three sexes existed, people might not have the tendency to draw comparisons of such extremes. They might be able to see the similarities as well as the differences in men and women; they might be able to approach the questions with more flexibility in their thinking. The sexual world may not actually be polarized into only two categories (as Chapter 4
explores this in more detail), but people do tend to see it that way. This perception of only two sexes influences people to think of the two sexes as polar opposites. To maintain these oppositional categories, people must exaggerate the differences between women and men, which results in stereotypes that do not correspond to real people (Bem, 1993b). Although these stereotypes are not realistic, they are powerful because they affect how women and men think about themselves and how they think about the “opposite” sex.
Speculations about the differences between men and women probably predate history, but these issues were not part of the investigations of early psychology. Indeed, questions about sex differences were not part of early psychology. Questions in early psychology were guided by its founder, Wilhelm Wundt, and revolved around the nature of human thought processes (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). Wundt wanted to establish a natural science of the mind through experimentation; he established a laboratory at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879 (although this date is subject to some controversy). Students flocked to Wundt’s lab to study the new psychology. Using chemistry as the model, they devised a psychology based on an analytical understanding of the structure of the conscious mind. This approach to psychology became known as the structuralist school of psychology.
The structuralists were interested in investigating the “generalized adult mind” (Shields, 1975a), and therefore any individual differences, including differences between the minds of women and men, were of no concern to these early psychologists. This inattention to sex differences did not mean equal treatment of women and men by these early psychologists. The generalized adult mind on which psychology’s early findings were based was a generalization drawn from data collected from and by men. Indeed, women were expressly prohibited from one of the early groups of experimental psychologists in the United States (Schultz & Schultz, 2012).
Some scholars from the ...