The Male/Female Brain

genders.jpgTalk to the most happily married couples or to the best of friends and they will tell you that sometimes they do not “understand each other,” “he does not listen to me,” or “I just do not understand her.”

If this sounds familiar do not fret as it is to be expected and even normal. The female and male brain is different and the two brains process information differently. The good news is that with some conscious effort communication can be enhanced between the brains and frustrations lowered.

In general, female brains tend to employ both sides of their brain to process information while male brains tend to rely primarily on their dominant or language side to process. As the dominant hemisphere tends to be analytic, problem solving, task oriented, detailed, and verbal this helps to explain male behavior. A female brain can also process in this manner, but the non-dominant hemisphere that can process emotion, meaning without words, empathy, tone, and disposition is also engaged by the female.

Perhaps this helps to explain why females enjoy shopping while most men view it as a chore, women vote differently than males, men and women struggle communicating with each other, and men do not understand psychotherapy. Men tend to be more isolative, less talkative, and focused on solution. Women tend to be more group oriented, more talkative, and focused on the means and not necessarily the ends. This gets played out in the U.S. at this time as women and men tend to view the same debate between candidates differently (men tend to focus on content and women both content and style).

A great question from a male brain to a female brain is “what do you mean” or Am I correct in hearing this…” Female brains can enhance communication from and to the male brain by being explicit in language as male brains may have some difficulty “reading between the lines” or appreciating emotion if it is not declared explicitly.

Once again the good news is that each brain can benefit from the other if we try!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

63 thoughts on “The Male/Female Brain”

  1. medical examiner Slate Magazine
    The Sex Difference Evangelists
    The next best-seller.
    By Amanda Schaffer
    Updated Monday, July 7, 2008, at 10:10 AM ET

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: Meet the Believers
    Posted Tuesday, July 1, 2008, at 7:50 AM ET

    If there’s one question we never tire of, it’s whether men and women speak or feel or think in fundamentally different ways. Do women talk more than men? Are their brains hard-wired for empathy? Can innate differences explain men’s and women’s career choices? This is today’s iteration of Mars and Venus, and it’s everywhere.

    Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon examine the science behind claims about sex difference and the brain.

    The preoccupation plays out in marketing to women and tips on dating, like products designed to “attract women by GETTING THEM TO TRUST YOU.” It infiltrates magazine stories, TV, and radio. Grounding the trend and giving it traction are a handful of scientists and clinicians who have made themselves over into sex-difference evangelists. Two women in particular exemplify this move, and as self-described feminists, their work is often accorded special credence. Louann Brizendine, a psychiatrist at U.C.-San Francisco, hit the best-seller list in 2006 with The Female Brain, a book that could “change the conversation at any social gathering,” as New York Times columnist David Brooks put it. Brizendine argues that “outstanding verbal agility” and “a nearly psychic capacity to read faces and tone of voice for emotions and states of mind” are “hardwired into the brains of women.” Canadian psychologist Susan Pinker drove home similar claims this spring with The Sexual Paradox, which argues that innate psychological differences between men and women are vitally important and too often underestimated. These writers cast themselves as reluctant truth-tellers: “I have chosen to emphasize scientific truth over political correctness,” Brizendine writes.

    But are she and Pinker, in fact, fearlessly revealing? Do they show us a deep mental chasm between the sexes?

    The bottom line from the science should really be this: Some differences between the minds of men and women exist. But in most areas, they are small and dwarfed by the variability within each gender. To be fair, Brizendine and Pinker intermittently acknowledge this point, and they translate complex material for a wide audience, which necessarily involves simplification. They get credit for trying.

    But in the end they don’t leave their readers with the correct, if unsensational, impression, which is that men and women’s minds are highly similar.

    Both authors push the science further than it really goes, often brushing past uncertainties or making confused evidence appear clear-cut. Even on the most hotly contested questions—like whether women have better verbal skills, or are hard-wired for empathy, or have cognitive differences that limit their advancement in math and science—the case for large, innate disparities is messy and, for the most part, underwhelming. This is especially true when it comes to neural and hormonal claims, which tend to be controversial. These writers offer canny caveats about culture and its role in gender difference. But they tend to imply that if a difference has innate roots, it’s likely to be relatively fixed. And that’s not necessarily so. In crucial ways, the mind is malleable. Ultimately, the evangelists aren’t really daring to be politically incorrect. They’re peddling one-sidedness, sprinkled with scientific hyperbole.

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: Pick a Little, Talk a Little
    Posted Tuesday, July 1, 2008, at 7:50 AM ET

    In analyzing the sex-difference claims of authors Susan Pinker and Louann Brizendine, let’s start with language. Who hasn’t heard that women are naturally more verbal than men—better at expressing themselves, better at reading and writing, chattier? These clichés crop up in various forms. In her book, for instance, Pinker emphasizes that girls speak earlier, outperform boys on various measures of verbal skill when they’re young, and are less likely to be dyslexic. She notes that women have an advantage in verbal fluency. And in an interview, she told me that “huge differences in literacy” exist between college-age men and women. Meanwhile, Brizendine casts women as virtual talkaholics. The hardcover edition of her book asserts that “girls speak faster on average—250 words per minute versus 125 for typical males.” It also claims that females use an average of 20,000 words per day compared to males’ 7,000.

    What is the scientific basis for these claims? Well-established literature suggests that girls tend to acquire language earlier than boys and are less likely to develop dyslexia (though the sex difference in dyslexia is less striking than some older research would suggest). But while adolescent girls may perform better on some tests of verbal ability, the gender gap is not large, according to meta-analyses assessed here. In the past couple of years, scores on the critical reading section of the SAT essentially show a dead heat for boys and girls: In 2007, they averaged 504 and 502, respectively. The new writing test on the SAT shows an advantage for girls, but it’s small: In 2007, those male and female averages were 489 and 500. Sex differences on reading comprehension and vocabulary tests also appear to be small or close to zero, when all ages are taken into account. To some degree, differences in verbal ability in children or adolescents may reflect different paces of development that even out later on.

    Some differences—for instance, on tests of verbal fluency—do appear in adults. (A typical verbal fluency test might ask people to list as many words as possible beginning, say, with the letter B.) But the differences between average men and women are small compared with the variation within each gender. For instance, if we take an average measure of verbal fluency for men, about 50 percent of men will score higher that that mark, and about 60 percent of women will. Which means that you’d do pretty badly if you tried to predict a person’s gender from his or her verbal fluency score. What’s more, these tests may have little to do with real-life communication. “When does any conversation call upon you to produce as many words as you can think of starting with B?” asks Deborah Cameron, a professor of language and communication at Oxford and author of The Myth of Mars and Venus. People may assume that “verbal fluency” means that women are more articulate or can find the words to express themselves better, she says, but that leap has not been substantiated.

    Meanwhile, Brizendine’s claim that women talk faster than men is unfounded, as linguist Mark Liberman has pointed out. Brizendine told me she omitted the two-to-one speed ratio from her paperback edition because she discovered that no primary sources verified it. Similarly, her assertion that women utter more words a day than men is bunk. Thanks in part to Liberman’s provocation, last year University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl conducted a new analysis of daily word budgets. He and his colleagues sampled speech from male and female college students, who wore recording devices that turned on every 12½ minutes throughout the day. The findings, published in Science, show that on average women use about 16,000 words per day. And so do men. (Brizendine says that this study convinced her to drop the 20,000-to-7,000-words-per-day claim. But her paperback still says that “on average girls speak two to three times more words per day than boys”—an assertion that is just as flimsy. Here’s her explanation, and a critical response from the scientist she relies on.)

    What makes the claims of a stark male-female split sexy, of course, is the appeal to neuroscience. Pinker, for instance, highlights a study of brain cell density, which suggests that female brains are more densely packed with neurons in an area called the posterior temporal cortex, which is associated with language. This “might explain the general female advantage in language fluency and spelling,” among other things, she writes. Brizendine cites the same paper, asserting that in the “brain centers for language and hearing … women have eleven percent more neurons than men.” But this paper looked at four men and five women—hardly a sample size to inspire grand claims. Neither Brizendine nor Pinker mentions this crucial caveat. And even if a difference in neuron density for that area were to be established, it’s not at all clear what that would mean, if anything, given the complex circuitry that language involves.

    These writers also home in on the structure that connects the brain’s left and right hemispheres. Some research suggests that part of this structure, which is called the corpus callosum, is thicker in women than in men. This could mean that women have a “faster superhighway for neural messages” (Pinker) and therefore an advantage when it comes to language (as well as emotional processing). But that claim is tricky to make, and the significance of any purported size difference is deeply unclear.

    Finally, Pinker argues that men “are simply less versatile when it comes to language.” At first she seems to mean that they are more vulnerable to language-related problems like dyslexia, but in the paragraphs that follow, she slips from dyslexia to general measures like language fluency (and then back to dyslexia). So “less versatile” becomes a broader comment on ability, too. She suggests that men may rely more heavily on one brain hemisphere—the left—while women are more likely to use both. In particular, Pinker cites a 1995 study that asked men and women to answer questions about words and nonsense words, like whether they belonged to the same category or rhymed. Using fMRI images of the subjects’ brains, the researchers found that men and women both relied on areas of the left hemisphere when answering questions. But women also used areas of the right hemisphere while men tended not to. According to Pinker, this means that if a problem occurred in the left hemisphere, “women would simply access the right hemisphere instead. Under normal circumstances sex differences would be subtle, but when things went wrong, sex differences would be extreme.”

    But since 1995 and the study that Pinker cites, a more complex picture has emerged, with some researchers finding that women are more likely to draw on both sides of the brain for certain language tasks, and others finding no sex difference. Maybe that’s because of the types of tasks involved, but Pinker doesn’t really discuss the controversy. Also, even if, on average, men and women used different neural strategies for playing certain word games, that doesn’t necessarily mean one sex will perform better overall. This study, for instance, which asked subjects to put real and nonsense verbs in the past tense, found that women did tend to rely more on both brain hemispheres while men tended to rely more asymmetrically on the left hemisphere. But it made no difference in how quickly or accurately they performed.

    Subtle differences could turn out to matter for men and women with specific clinical conditions. Pinker likes to say that the extremes tell us something about the rest of us. But the relevance is hard to see. (And, as it turns out, the connection between these gender-related brain findings and dyslexia is not well-established, either, however logical the connection seems.) All told, what’s striking about the evidence on language is not so much a profound gap between the sexes, but the large gaps in our understanding of the brain.

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: Empathy Queens
    Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008, at 6:27 AM ET

    In an over-the-top riff on womanly feeling in her book on sex differences, psychiatrist Louann Brizendine introduces Sarah, an icon of female empathy: “Maneuvering like an F-15, Sarah’s female brain is a high-performance emotion machine—geared to tracking, moment by moment, the nonverbal signals of the innermost feeling of others.” In sussing out emotion, Sarah is “just doing what the female brain is expert at,” Brizendine concludes.

    Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon discuss the science of empathy.

    (Watch yesterday’s video here.)

    This is a core tenet of sex-difference evangelism. In 2003, British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen made the case that “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.” Brizendine has run with that assertion, and author and psychologist Susan Pinker has jumped on the F-15 bandwagon as well, arguing that women have a powerful “empathy advantage.” Culture may modify or amplify it, but this edge, these authors claim, is rooted in innate difference.

    Take a closer look and you find that indeed some studies, which ask men and women about empathy, find higher-on-average scores for women (albeit with plenty of overlap between the sexes). But other research complicates the picture. To claim that any differences are innate is to descend into a rabbit hole of partial, flickering findings on infants and twins, hormones, and neural mechanisms. Brizendine and Pinker tend to downplay the complications. This makes the case that women are innately more empathetic than men seem stronger than it really is.

    The simplest way to gather data on empathy is to get men and women to fill out questionnaires. Baron-Cohen’s asks respondents whether they agree or disagree with statements like “I can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation”; “I really enjoy caring for other people”; “When I was a child, I enjoyed cutting up worms to see what would happen.” Baron-Cohen finds that women give themselves higher marks for empathizing. Further evidence comes from work by psychologist Alan Feingold, whose cross-cultural research Pinker cites. In the 1990s, Feingold reported that women in countries including the United States, Canada, Poland, Russia, and Germany (but not China) scored higher on average than men on questionnaires designed to measure how tender-minded and nurturing people are.

    These studies get us only so far. Baron-Cohen calls the empathizing brain type E, or “the female brain,” and contrasts it with systematizing brain type S, or “the male brain.” But only 44 percent of women are type E—not even a majority. Which makes the labeling seem odd. When I asked him about this, Baron-Cohen admitted that he’s thought twice about his male brain/female brain terminology, but he didn’t disavow it.

    What’s most striking about Feingold’s work, for its part, are the dates of the U.S. studies. When it comes to tender-mindedness, the largest differences between males and females come from work published between 1958 and 1962 and in 1968. The smallest differences appear in the most recent research listed, from 1985 and 1987. And the sex differences in the later studies are indeed small—the ones from 1987 are comparable to the difference in average height between 15- and 16-year-old girls.

    Why did the gap narrow so dramatically? Feingold says that the later studies tended to omit items that were found to be ” ‘biased’ against women.” That might make comparisons among the studies tricky, but it also might mean that the recent numbers are more revealing. It’s also worth noting that the male-female difference shrank over the very years in which second-wave feminism pushed for changes in traditional roles—and men began to spend more time with their children. Tender-mindedness, it would seem, is malleable.

    Of course, what people say about themselves on questionnaires tells a limited story in any case. Psychologist Nancy Eisenberg made this point most dramatically in the 1980s, when she demonstrated that the empathy gap, which appeared in studies that relied on self-reporting, all but vanished when other measures like physiological responses or changes in facial expression were considered. Men and women differ in “how empathetic they would like to appear to others (and, perhaps, to themselves),” she wrote—and that’s not the same thing as real underlying sex differences in empathy.

    In the years since, the picture has only gotten cloudier. Some research finds associations between self-reporting and other measures, and other research suggests divergence, Eisenberg says. Other studies look at how well men and women discern emotion in photographs of faces or eyes. Sometimes they find a female advantage, and sometimes they don’t, as Baron-Cohen told me.

    But reading Brizendine and Pinker, you’d never know how muddled this literature is. And that’s a problem, because the mess is central to the story.

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: Mars, Venus, Babies, and Hormones
    Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008, at 7:05 AM ET

    According to sex-difference evangelist Louann Brizendine, women are like emotion-seeking F-15’s, deciphering and responding to other people’s feelings and needs. By contrast, it’s “only when men actually see tears that they realize, viscerally, that something’s wrong,” she writes. Brizendine and Susan Pinker not only argue that women are more empathetic than men, a claim that is dicey to begin with. They also say that the gap springs from innate difference.

    Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon discuss the science of empathy.

    To make that case, these authors look to studies of infants, children, and twins. Pinker writes that girls not only “show more empathy toward friends and family” but “remarkably, demonstrate signs of these skills from early infancy, well before any cultural expectations about women as nurturers can be absorbed.” Newborn girls “respond more to the cries of another baby—and to human faces—than do boys,” Brizendine says. Pinker also argues that newborn girls show greater interest in looking at faces. And she hangs her hat on twin research, writing: “Studies of twins show that the ability to understand social situations—which requires empathy—is largely inherited, and that there are large differences between boys and girls that are most noticeable when children are young.”

    What’s at play here are leaps between early rudimentary behavior and complex behavior later on. It’s true, for instance, that girls tend to make more eye contact and cry more easily in response to another infant’s cry, according to some research. But why is it particularly clear that these measures are relevant to empathy, which emerges later in development and involves a far more sophisticated set of responses? If baby girls are, in fact, more strongly drawn to some displays of faces than to objects, is that because they have a categorical preference for people versus objects, asks Harvard psychologist Elizabeth Spelke? Or because they’re responding to some other contrast between the two presentations, like “their rate of motion or distribution or color or contrast”? These data can be hard to interpret. In an interview, even Simon Baron-Cohen, another doyen of sex-difference claims, offered up some caution.

    Caveats are also in order for the length of time infant girls gaze at faces and what to conclude from that. In one of his more controversial studies, Baron-Cohen found that 1-day-old girls were more inclined to look at a human face, while 1-day-old boys were more inclined to look at a mechanical mobile. But that work has not been replicated. Brizendine cites psychologist Erin McClure, but this reference is also problematic, as McClure herself pointed out to me. Meanwhile, an older body of research suggests that “male and female infants are equally interested in people and objects,” as Spelke puts it.

    Pinker tops the slippery charts when she buttresses the case for innate difference with twin research. She cites a study that looks at twins and suggests a difference between boys’ and girls’ social understandings—which includes, say, the ability to pick up on body language or not to interrupt when other people are talking. Contrary to her explicit claim of “large differences,” when I calculated the gap between average measures for boys and girls, it turned out to be small—comparable, again, to the difference in average height between 15- and 16-year-old girls. Also, while the twin study Pinker likes does find that social cognition, or the ability to infer what others are feeling, is largely inherited (as Pinker correctly claims), its authors conclude that the disparity they observe between boys and girls cannot be attributed to genetic difference. Pinker, amazingly, fails to mention that the authors on whom she’s relying for proof of relevant genetic difference disavow that explanation of their findings. This is precisely the sort of selective reporting that makes her book misleading.

    To shore up their claims that sex difference is innate, Pinker and Brizendine also fetishize hormones like testosterone and oxytocin, which they say may underlie crucial sex differences in empathy. For instance, they rely on Baron-Cohen’s argument that higher levels of prenatal testosterone diminish boys’ drives to empathize later on. His team is tracking a group of children born around Cambridge, England, some from birth through early childhood, and writes that, in general, fetal testosterone “predicts how sociable a child will be,” with higher levels of the hormone linked to lower scores on social measures.

    But the evidence for that should be qualified. Baron-Cohen finds that at age 1, boys with higher levels of fetal testosterone appear to make less eye contact with their parents (usually their mothers). The ranges for boys and girls, however, overlapped significantly. (In the course of 20 minutes, the boys looked at the parent’s face between 3.0 and 46.2 times, the girls between 3.8 and 55 times.) At age 4, children with higher testosterone tended to have lower “quality of social relationships,” according to questionnaires their parents filled out. But that was only true when data for boys and girls were pooled. No relationship between fetal testosterone and the quality of social relationships was found among boys as a separate group. And none was found among girls, either.

    For children between the ages of 6 and 8, the links between fetal testosterone and two measures of empathy were somewhat more convincing. Children with higher testosterone tended to score lower on a questionnaire and on a test in which they tried to discern emotion from pictures of eyes. And this association held when boys were considered alone. But, confusingly, on the eye-reading test, there was no overall difference in how well the boys and the girls performed. This work has not been replicated, either. Since Baron-Cohen’s results come from a nonrepresentative sample from one geographic area, his findings should not be treated as the final word.

    Then there is oxytocin, which Susan Pinker calls “the hormone that greases the wheels of attachment” and “a feel-good, nurturing drug that happens to be homegrown.” Brizendine describes it rhapsodically in her “cast of neuro-hormone characters” as “fluffy, purring kitty; cuddly, nurturing, earth mother; the good witch Glinda in The Wizard of Oz; finds pleasure in helping and serving.”

    Here’s what we actually know about oxytocin: The hormone is important to childbirth and lactation. It may also contribute to mother-child bonding and possibly to feelings of calm in breast-feeding mothers. Yet it is also linked to feelings of social distress. One theory is that the body releases oxytocin to promote social connection, and if that connection is positive, the hormone may help to reduce stress. If it’s negative, however, oxytocin may actually make stress worse. In other words, the hormone’s effects are apparently paradoxical—it is not simply a “feel-good” drug.

    At the moment, research that includes a control group (and is therefore more rigorous) doesn’t tell us much about empathy and gender. Pinker emphasizes two studies: One finds that subjects who received intranasal puffs of the hormone were more trusting of other players in an investment game; the other shows that those who got oxytocin were better able to discern emotions in photographs of faces. Crucially, though, both these studies were conducted in men, as Pinker acknowledges. So far, for the most part, women haven’t been in the research pool, according to social psychologist Jennifer Bartz of Mount Sinai. This is starting to change, but the bottom line for now, she says, is that “we can’t say oxytocin makes women more empathetic.”

    Finally, Brizendine and Pinker lean on neuroimaging studies, which compare male and female responses to stimuli like pictures of sad and happy faces or other imagery. But this kind of data is notoriously hard to interpret. Consider this meta-anlysis by psychologist Tor Wager, who looked at 65 functional MRI and PET studies of gender and emotion. Wager found some differences in the brain activity patterns of men and women in response, say, to films or pictures meant to elicit emotion. The differences were subtle, however, compared to the similarities.

    And the kicker is that these studies don’t tell us whether differences are innate. Brizendine moves seamlessly from references to fMRI studies to phrases like “distinct female and male brain operating systems.” (She also jumps off the deep end with a claim about male and female mirror neurons.) Pinker suggests that fMRI studies can show how women’s “neural hardware” gives them an edge in discerning emotion. But our brains change in response to how we use them—what we think, see, feel, and practice doing over a lifetime. This is the plasticity of the brain, demonstrated most colorfully in this famous study of London cabbies. With its potential connection to a person’s response to the culture he or she lives in, plasticity could explain much—or potentially all—of the difference between brain scans of men and women responding to emotional stimuli. Pinker knows this and says she does not suggest otherwise. “You can’t look at a brain scan and say therefore we know the cause,” she told me. But because she and Brizendine largely devote their books to excavating innate difference, they should write that caveat in red.

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: The Ghost of Larry Summers
    Posted Friday, July 4, 2008, at 7:18 AM ET

    No discussion of how men and women think can avoid a mention of Harvard’s ex-president Larry Summers. When he speculated in 2005 that intrinsic cognitive differences might partly account for women’s underrepresentation in the top tiers of math and science, Summers fanned a national debate that continues to fuel sex-difference evangelism.

    Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon discuss men’s and women’s differences in variability and spatial reasoning.

    Susan Pinker treads lightly in Summersville, casting herself as a baffled bystander who couldn’t understand the fuss. Still, she describes Summers’ critics with subtle condescension. One of Summers’ most ardent defenders was Steven Pinker, Susan’s brother, who championed the case that intrinsic sex differences in aptitude and motivation may play a role in women’s lesser representation. In a “showdown of the sexes” at the school’s Science Center, Harvard psychologist Elizabeth Spelke bested Steven Pinker, in my view, with the case that social and cultural forces are the crucial ones. Still, Susan Pinker reprises several of the arguments that swirled in the Spelke-Steven Pinker debate, and these are worth revisiting because they still linger.

    Summers argued, in part, that men vary more on cognitive measures than women—they’re more likely to be at the high and low points on the relevant graphs or charts. He suggested this means that more men fall at the very high end of cognitive ability, from which top researchers are likely drawn. Steven Pinker defended this argument. And Susan Pinker takes it as a given: “Males are simply more variable,” she writes. And: “The bell curve simply looks different for males, with more men at the tail ends of the distribution.”

    But that is not the whole story. In much of the pertinent research, male scores on cognitive measures do appear to spread more than female ones. But there are counterexamples. For instance, this cross-cultural analysis from 1994 suggests that in some countries, males’ math scores are more variable, while in other countries, women’s are. Strikingly, a new analysis of math data from 22 countries (not yet published but presented at several conferences) finds men with the expected spread in scores in many countries—but not in Lithuania, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, or Denmark. In these places, female variability is either greater, or there’s little difference between the sexes.

    This analysis has statistical advantages over some older work, which makes it tough to dismiss, according to psychologist Steve Ceci, who has done an exhaustive review of the literature. Differences among countries shout out the role of social and cultural forces. These vary from place to place and seem to matter a lot in terms of shaping variability in math scores. Another recent analysis, in Science, also suggests that the math gap tends to narrow, or even disappear, in countries with more equality between men and women. This is true both for average scores and top-tier ones. More evidence for the importance of culture.

    In the United States, much of the debate over whether boys have a high-end edge has focused on math SAT scores. For instance, widely cited research on mathematically precocious students found that more boys than girls tended to score in the very top tiers on the math SAT. But as Spelke points out, SAT scores may underpredict girls’ academic math performance later on and should be viewed more critically than Steven Pinker and others do. Girls’ academic success should not be discounted, either.

    Susan Pinker also revisits the claim that males tend to perform better on certain tests of spatial reasoning. But even if that were so, a growing body of evidence suggests that spatial reasoning skills are malleable: the plasticity point again.

    Spatial advantage is often cast as the smoking gun of cognitive sex difference. It’s true that men tend to perform better on some tests, including those on which they must mentally rotate one object in space to see whether it resembles another. This is an area with a sizeable gender gap (though, if I need to say it, plenty of women excel at mental rotation, and women tend to perform better on some tests of spatial memory). Spelke suggests that men and women tend to approach certain spatial questions in subtly different ways, meaning that differences in strategy, rather than overall aptitude, may be what’s really at play.

    Some evidence suggests that innate factors like testosterone levels could help explain spatial reasoning differences. But the key point is that for both men and women, these skills can improve a lot with training. Researchers from the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, which brings together scientists from several universities, conducted a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies that have examined the effects on men and women’s spatial-reasoning scores of everything from a few hours with a spatially oriented video game to weeks or months in a classroom to projects like dressmaking. Crunching numbers across the studies, the group found that training was associated with a substantial gain in spatial reasoning—comparable in size to almost a 10-point boost in IQ, according to Northwestern University researcher David Uttal.

    These are not just weedy lab results—the gains may boost some women’s careers. Consider a program at Michigan Tech University. Since the 1990s, incoming engineering students have taken a test of spatial reasoning during freshman orientation. Students who score poorly are encouraged to attend sessions and do sample exercises to prepare them for an introductory graphics class in which they must visualize and mentally rotate objects. According to a longitudinal study, men and women who received the extra training got better grades in graphics compared with classmates who also did badly on the diagnostic test but did not get further help. What’s more, women who got the extra teaching and encouragement were more likely to remain engineering majors: more than 75 percent, compared with less than 50 percent for women who didn’t do the training. (For men, for some reason, the extra teaching didn’t have this retention yield.)

    Of course, when it comes to the diverse precincts of high-level science, spatial reasoning only gets you so far. Rock-star academics don’t necessarily spend their days turning geometric figures around in their minds. Subfields of biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering vary in terms of the skills they require. And plenty of hard problems can be solved in multiple ways. Ultimately, no one really knows what makes a successful scientist. “Sure, mathematical and spatial ability may play a role, but so may creativity, diligence, communication skills, and intellectual risk-taking,” says Ceci. Teaching spatial reasoning is a good thing. But overplaying its importance sells a lot of great scientists short.

    From: Amanda Schaffer
    Subject: The Next Best-Seller
    Posted Monday, July 7, 2008, at 10:10 AM ET

    In talking about sex differences, it’s easy to assume that what you see is what you get—on average, women are better listeners, men are better navigators, and those patterns of thinking and motivation are relatively fixed. But this isn’t necessarily so.

    Consider this famous example from the 1990s: Before taking a math exam, some women were told that the results had “shown gender differences in the past.” These women performed worse on the test than other women with comparable math backgrounds. This is the famous concept of stereotype threat, introduced by psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aaronson and studied by scores of others. In one case, watching a set of TV ads, including one with a woman ” ‘drooling’ with anticipation to try a new brownie mix,” seemed to affect how female students answered questions about their educational and career interests. Women who saw the caricaturing ads were less likely to express interest in quantitative pursuits. The ads didn’t seem to affect men, presumably because they didn’t feel subtly associated with the shallow brownie maven. On the other hand, stereotype threat may kick some men in the teeth when it comes to social sensitivity—an area in which they’re widely stereotyped as dolts.

    Amanda Schaffer and Emily Bazelon discuss the myth of Mars and Venus:

    The point is that playing up sex differences can be subtly toxic. At its worst, it risks turning stereotypes into self-fulfilling prophecies. The better news is that stereotype threat can be disarmed. One striking example is a 2007 study of a top-track calculus class, designed for science and engineering majors, at the University of Texas. This is a pool from which top math and science professionals would be drawn—”the group Larry Summers was talking about,” as Aronson puts it. At the beginning of a calculus exam, he gave some of the women in the class a statement that the test had “not shown any gender differences in performance or mathematical ability.” These women scored substantially higher on average than their female classmates. They also performed better on average than their male classmates.

    Despite such striking findings, stereotype threat is simply missing from Susan Pinker’s picture. She acknowledges that discrimination held women back in the past but thinks we’ve gotten largely beyond this. After “four decades of trying to stamp out gender differences,” today’s male prevalence among top scientists largely reflects essentialist sex differences, she thinks—in abilities and also, especially, in men and women’s interests and motivations. She believes we’d be happier if we just accepted our differing tendencies and moved on. Pinker wants us to give traditionally female fields more respect. (She also sensibly urges that a “vanilla male” model of work—long hours, heavy travel, little time with family—isn’t necessarily right for women. I won’t tackle those structural questions here, except to say that the “male vanilla” model isn’t necessarily great for men, either.) More problematically, Pinker takes unfair aim at programs to attract women to math and science, arguing that they “reinforce the cachet of fields that appeal more to men.”

    But how much sense does it make to downplay current discrimination to the point of sweeping by it altogether? The evidence tells us of the effects of disparities in how boys and girls are perceived and in the pressures they face throughout their lives. We can’t know whether biological differences steer fewer women to the top of math and science unless we first address the myriad factors that hold them back. As Spelke puts it: “We should allow all of the evidence that men and women have equal cognitive capacity to permeate through society. We should allow people to evaluate children in relation to their actual capacities.” Then we would see whether boys and girls are drawn in different directions.

    Maybe they would be. Maybe Pinker has jumped the gun, and the evidence will someday bear her out. And yet if history is any guide, today’s gender breakdowns are likely to keep changing. What’s so magical, after all, about the current numbers? A few decades ago, most biology and math majors were men. So were most doctors. Now math undergraduate majors split close to 50/50. In 1976, only 8 percent of Ph.D.s in biology went to women; by 2004, 44 percent did. Today, half of M.D.s go to women. Even in engineering, physics, chemistry, and math, the number of women receiving doctorates tripled or quadrupled between 1976 and 2001. Why assume that we have just now reached some natural limit?

    Brizendine and Pinker both avoid saying that biology is destiny, and in an interview, Pinker was adamant that she should not be read this way. She is too sophisticated to argue that cognitive differences are entirely intrinsic—she knows the old nature-versus-nurture dichotomy is dead. But her book’s emphasis on developmental evidence and hormones—and her one-sided treatment of key areas of research—steers readers to the conclusion that innate differences, perhaps modified or amplified by culture, are vitally important. And to a large extent, intractable. Brizendine manipulates readers in the same way, less subtly (and to the tune of higher sales).

    Why does the evangelists’ vision of polarized and relatively fixed sex difference have so much traction right now? Why are they the crowd pleasers? As Deborah Cameron points out in The Myth of Mars and Venus, which reads as a helpful antidote to the evangelists: “No group of men and women in history have ever been less different, or less at the mercy of their biology, than those living in Western society today.” And maybe, paradoxically, this explains the evangelists’ tenacious hold. Having more women in the workplace and more men involved in child care and household work has produced a lot of friction and enormous cultural anxiety. Mars-and-Venus-style books can be hugely reassuring, telling people that their struggles and doubts are rooted in age-old biology. Cameron adds dryly: “I would argue that they displace the anxieties rather than having anything very useful to say about them.”

    Useful, however, isn’t the only measure of success. Brizendine’s book has now been translated into 21 languages. Surely that was not lost on Susan Pinker, who came next. Other writers will surely follow them. But we don’t have to fall for what they’re selling. It’s time to stop buying the line that it’s radical to speculate about innate differences. And to stop accepting, when the evidence is thin, that innate difference is the unrelenting cause of gender gaps in ability or potential or the courses our lives take. Look closely at the science, and what becomes clear is that the question worth a raft of best-sellers is not how we could be limited by traditional assumptions. It’s how we could not.

    Pinker also writes that “the data reveal a handful of different catalysts for people’s choices—many with neurological or hormonal roots, and others that reflect workplaces designed to fit the male standard—that mesh to create the real gender gap.” Brizendine suggests that women “have been fighting to adapt to a man’s world—after all, women’s brains are wired to be good at changing.”

    Brizendine explains: “It has been my observation that, in a social setting, girls speak two or three times more words per day than boys.” This observation is also “echoed,” she says, by a study that found “young girls speak earlier and by the age of 20 months have double or triple the number of words in their vocabularies” compared with boys. But that study, by psychologist Janet Hyde, looks at a different age group and a different measure. “Brizendine is not careful about the scientific data,” Hyde told me. A larger vocabulary at an early age could reflect an earlier maturation for girls. The evidence does not suggest that adult women have double the vocabulary of adult men, says Hyde. Rather, the data show that differences in adults are small.

    A part of the corpus callosum may be thicker in women. But it also may not be, depending on how the comparison is done. (For more on the tortuous distinctions that land scientists on either side of this fence, see here.)

    She does note that “there has long been resistance to the idea that … sex differences in the brain are meaningful” but doesn’t explain that there has been conflicting, messy evidence on lateralization.

    Baron-Cohen told me that he thought infant eye contact might be a precursor to empathy because clues found in peoples’ faces, especially in the area around the eyes, could help to decode another person’s emotions. But he also offered a qualification: “I think it could be too simplistic to say that the more eye contact you make the better your empathy. … If you stare at somebody that’s not necessarily very empathic.” As for the crying, he thought it might be evidence of girls’ “higher sensitivity to another person’s emotions,” but he was “not 100 percent convinced that just because one baby starts another baby crying that that’s necessarily anything to do with empathy.”

    In claiming that newborn girls respond more to human faces, Brizendine cites a meta-analysis by psychologist Erin McClure, which finds that female infants and toddlers tend to gaze longer than boys at faces showing emotional expressions. Brizendine “cited my work for a statement that girls are compelled from an early age to attend to faces, and there’s just nothing in my study that points to that,” McClure told me. She also objected to Brizendine’s hyperbolic conclusions: “I’ve been misinterpreted to imply that there are huge differences in facial processing between males and females, and that’s definitely not something you can draw from this.”

    The effect size, which relates the difference between male and female means to standard deviations, is -0.175. This falls in the “small” range, according to a standard classification discussed here.

    “Mirroring” is about reading and experiencing another person’s emotions as if they were her own, Brizendine says, allowing a woman to become “a human emotion detector.” “Although most of the studies on this topic have been done in primates,” she writes, “scientists speculate that there may be more mirror neurons in the human female brain than in the human male brain.” Our old F-15 friend Sarah’s brain, for instance, “will begin stimulating its own circuits as if her husband’s brain were her own.” The implication is that extra mirror neurons make women like Sarah innately more empathetic than their hapless husbands.

    But megacaveats are in order here. For one thing, the role of mirror neurons in humans is not well-established. Some very smart people maintain that they are largely a nice metaphor or myth. Beyond that, Brizendine offers virtually no evidence for the claim that women have more mirror neurons than men do. Since her book’s publication, a small amount of work has suggested some difference in mirror neuron activity in men and women. But that work is preliminary. (Click here and scroll down for details.)

    Pinker writes that numerous researchers have observed and written about greater male variability, but “in Summers’ case it caused a furious uproar that wouldn’t abate. ‘I felt I was going to be sick,’ said MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, who reported that Summers’ comments upset her so much that ‘my heart was pounding and my breath was shallow.’ Summers went on to talk about a third factor—socialization and continuing discrimination—but few listened.”

    Spelke is exploring whether some disparities on spatial tests reflect differences in men and women’s preferred cognitive strategies. For instance, when asked to compare two figures in space, boys may be more apt to rotate one mentally until it resembles another. Girls may be more likely to compare features of the two objects point by point. “This difference in strategies gives men an advantage on tasks in which feature-comparison strategies are ineffective and gives women an advantage on tasks in which they are critical,” she writes. This is still a working hypothesis, but a good reminder that test score differences are worth unpacking.


    Return to article


    For instance, Pinker discusses studies of girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a genetic disorder that leads girls to overproduce testosterone and other male sex hormones. These girls may perform better on average than their female peers on some spatial tests. But in his debate with Spelke, Steven Pinker conceded that research on CAH girls’ spatial ability “is inconclusive.” He continued, “I cannot honestly say that there are replicable demonstrations that CAH women have male-typical patterns of spatial cognition.”

    Amanda Schaffer is a science and medical columnist for Slate.

    Article URL:

    Copyright 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

  2. What Do We Mean by “Male-Female Complementarity”?

    A Review of Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca M. Groothuis, and Gordon D. Fee, eds.,

    Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy

    (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004)

    Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

    Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, Eastern University, St. Davids PA

    Discovering Biblical Equality is a voluminous (500-page) contribution to an exegetical debate that has been going on at least since the 1989 between the followers of two organizations: The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). The basic contours of this debate – at least as it is represented on paper – are by now fairly well-known. CBMW deplores “the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism” and asserts that “Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the fall, and was not a result of sin.” Although affirming that “both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons,” and that “in the church, redemption given by Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation,” CBMW’s founders assert that “nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men.”1

    Christians for Biblical Equality has taken a different exegetical stance. In its reading of the Bible, women and men were created for full and equal partnership. Further, Adam’s rule over Eve occurred only as a result of the fall, and “through faith in Jesus Christ we all become children of God … heirs to the blessings of salvation without reference to racial, social or gender distinctives.” Consequently, for the adherents of CBE, in marriage “neither spouse is to seek to dominate the other, but each is to act as a servant of the other … [sharing] responsibilities of leadership and the basis of gifts, expertise and availability.” And in the church, “spiritual gifts of women and men are to be recognized, developed and used … at all levels of involvement.”2

    Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE) is a response to an earlier (and equally weighty) edited volume by adherents to CBMW titled Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW) which is itself subtitled A Response to Evangelical Feminism.3 The two volumes are organized in rather similar fashion, which underlines the fact that both sides agree as to what are the crucial issues in the debate. RBMW had twenty-six chapters divided into five sections: “Vision and Overview,” (two chapters); “Exegetical and Theological Studies,” (seventeen chapters); “Studies from Related Disciplines,” (five chapters); “Applications and Implications” (six chapters); and “Conclusion and Prospect” (one chapter). DBE has twenty-nine chapters divided into five sections covering roughly the same disciplinary territory: “Setting the Stage: The Historical Background” (three chapters); “Looking at Scripture: The Biblical Texts” (ten chapters); “Thinking It Through: Logical and Theological Perspectives” (six chapters); “Addressing the Issues: Hermeneutical and Cultural Perspectives” (five chapters); and “Living It out” Practical Applications” (five chapters).

    The contributors to Discovering Biblical Equality have done a thorough job on the issues represented by the second part of the book’s subtitle – namely, the historical, exegetical, hermeneutical and theological arguments as to why gender relations in home and church should be “without hierarchy.” They represent an international group of evangelical scholars with a high view of all Scripture as God’s word, and academic qualifications that are impressive. The tone of their arguments is mostly irenic. Like their counterparts in CBMW, the adherents of CBE recognize that the issue of male headship vs. gender equality is not a confessional issue – that is, one which can be used as a litmus test to separate orthodox from heterodox Christians – and that they must recognize, in the words of CBMW’s founding statement, “the genuine evangelical standing of many who do not agree with all of [their] convictions.”4

    The editors of DBE have included two chapters explicitly challenging the assumption that biblical egalitarians are on a slippery slope towards ‘soft androgyny’ – the view that virtually no differences exist (or should exist) between males and females other than the most obvious anatomical and physiological ones.5 Thus in Ch. 23 (“Gender Equality and Homosexuality”) William Webb shows that while the redemptive-historical flow of the NT passages on gender relations goes in a less restrictive direction than the customs of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture, those on homosexuality point in an emphatically more restrictive direction. This undercuts the accusation that that gender egalitarian arguments are likely to lead to the condoning of same-sex marriage via soft androgyny. Webb writes that

    Paul appeals [in Rom l] to God’s intention for male-female sexuality as something that is clearly revealed in nature and thus, by specific inference, within the complementary gender design for men and women … The Romans I ideal that God’s revelation is clear in the created world around us verifies that the core biblical issue is sexuality that accords with God’s creation of male and female. [Three important texts: Lev 18:22, Deut 22:5 and Rom l:18-32] show that the biblical problem with homosexuality is not really about equality or a lack of equality of sexual partners. The deepest issue for the biblical authors is a breaking of sexual boundaries that violates obvious components of male-female creation design.6

    Secondly, in Ch. 24 (“Feminism and Abortion”) Sulia and Karen Mason document the inconsistency of proabortion feminists’ insistence on rights for themselves that they are not willing to accord to either their unborn children or to the fathers who might like to see those children born. These authors also deny that biblical egalitarianism necessarily leads to an endorsement of androgyny, let alone to the automatic support of abortion on demand. “Traditional society,” they write, “made the mistake of treating women as women without granting them their human rights. A proabortion society turns the tables, treating the woman as a human being without recognizing her womanhood. Prolife feminists finally get it right: ‘In opposing abortion we stand against society’s devaluation of women as mothers and commit ourselves to giving women the support they need to bear children with dignity.’”7 This is not the stuff of liberal feminist androgyny: it sounds more like the ‘domestic feminism’ in which many American evangelicals were involved in wake of their participation in the anti-slavery movement. The 19th century domestic feminists of both sexes argued for women’s expanded participation in church and the rest of the public sphere more on the basis of their supposed differences from men (such as their greater nurturing qualities and sexual purity) rather than on their similarities (such as their capacity for rationality and autonomy).8

    However, on both sides of this debate, the discussion of those so-called complementary differences is nothing if not bewildering. I have already said that I believe DBE’s contributing biblical scholars, theologians and historians have made a cogent case against gender hierarchy in church and family – as much as I am able to judge their arguments as a non-expert in their disciplines. So since I am first and foremost a social scientist, I have chosen to focus most of my attention not on the ‘Without Hierarchy’ aspects of the book’s subtitle, but rather on the vexed issue of the meaning of gender ‘Complementarity’ (the other key term in the book’s subtitle). It’s pretty clear that the authors of DBE agree as to what gender complementarity isn’t: it’s not permanent male headship in church or family, and it’s not the androgynous notion that women and men are actually or ideally interchangeable, except for sexed body parts and functions. But the authors are hardly of one mind as to what gender complementarity actually is. And if you peruse RBMW and its updates on the website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, you will find that, aside from a formal insistence on male headship in church and family, these ‘hierarchical complementarians’ are also pretty vague about the actual content of gender complementarity in terms of differentially-gendered traits and behaviors, actual or ideal. Masochist that I am, I did a fine-grained analysis of all the contexts in which the term ‘complementarity’ (of the ‘without hierarchy’ sort) is used in DBE, which turned out to be about forty times – not to mention numerous other places where the idea appears to be under discussion, but without the actual use of the term.

    A representative sample of the diversity that I found is included in Appendix C of this paper.

    What it shows, in sum, is that we have authors in DBE variously suggesting that complementarity means: 1) Women and men do have different but equally beneficial psychological traits, and that is one reason for making sure both sexes are included in church and home leadership roles; 2) Male-female personality and behavioral differences (e.g. in aggression, in relational skills) are ‘general’ or average differences only, not absolute differences, but this still counts as gender complementarity. This means not only that each sex can bring its ‘average’ strengths to church and family tasks9 in a non-hierarchical way, but each sex can teach the other sex some of those strengths, so that both can more fully carry out the cultural mandates of sociability and dominion. 3) It is impossible to separate the natural from the cultural in order to get at the essential traits of masculinity and femininity, either in an absolute or general way. Men and women do in some sense complete each other, though not in a way that predetermines hierarchical or any other gender roles or traits (other than reproductive ones) for all times, people, and places; 3) Whether women and men have differing, beneficial traits is irrelevant to leadership in home and church, which should be assigned on the basis of gifts, not on the basis of either gender or some principle of proportional gender representation; 4) In creation, women and men were different in ways that were both physically and psychologically positive, and not ordered hierarchically. But after the fall, male hierarchy and female subordination emerged as a negative kind of complementarity, which the redemptive trajectory of Scripture calls us to correct; 5) The trinitarian God is our model for optimal gender relations: just as there is equality of being but differentiation of task within the Godhead, so too the heterosexual complementarity and mutual respect called for in creation, and made possible again in Christ, can be a witness to the world as to the nature of God and a signpost pointing toward the full justice and reconciliation that will be completed by God in the new creation; 6) Sexuality is irrelevant to the image of God in persons: it is simply one of the God-given functions which humans share with plants and animals, and thus testifies to our creaturehood. But it is in women’s and men’s call to subdue the earth that they jointly image God and transcend their sexed creaturehood.

    This diversity of definitions of gender complementarity, while arguably signaling some confusion on the part of DBE authors, also testifies to the complexity of the issue. From a theological standpoint, if, like all other human activities, gender relations reflect a mix of good creation and tragic falleness, then it’s not likely to be any easier sorting out what’s creational and what’s fallen about them than it is in our discussions of politics, economics, the arts, or any other sphere of life. Moreover, if gender complementarity somehow mirrors the relationship of members of the Trinity as they work together in creation and redemption (a point on which both sides in the debate seem to agree) then it is probably not going to be any easier to nail down than our understanding of the Trinity. And as Judy Brown reminds readers in ch. 17 of DBE, “[A]fter we make every attempt to better understand the Trinity, it remains one of the greatest mysteries among Christian doctrines” (p. 299).

    However, as unwitting children of the Enlightenment, we seem to have a Tower of Babel-like craving for absolute certainty. And so both sides in the debate recruit biologists and social scientists as latter-day natural theologians who are supposed to help close the theological gaps by telling us, from a ‘scientific’ perspective, what gender complementarity ‘really is.’ Thus, RBMW has chapters on biology, psychology and sociology, and DBE has chapters written or co-written by therapists, a sociologist, and an academic psychologist.10 But as an academic psychologist and gender studies scholar who did not contribute to either volume, I am now going to try to explain (not for the first time)11 why this is a misguided exercise. My basic points are these:

    Research in neither the biological nor the social sciences can resolve the nature/nurture debate regarding gendered psychological traits or behaviors in humans, let alone pronounce on whether any of these should be retained or rejected. In a fallen world – however good it remains creationally — we cannot move from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ on the basis of science alone.
    There are very few consistent sex differences in psychological traits and behaviors. When these are found, they are always average – not absolute– differences, and for the vast majority of them the small, average – and often decreasing — difference between the sexes is greatly exceeded by the amount of variability on that trait within members of each sex. Most of the ‘bell curves’ for women and men (graphing the distribution of a given psychological trait or behavior) overlap almost completely. So it is naïve at best – and deceptive at worst — to make essentialist (or even generalist) pronouncements about the psychology of either sex when there is much more variability within than between the sexes on most of the trait and behavior measures for which we have abundant data.
    To adapt one of Freud’s famous dictums, we cannot assume that anatomy is destiny until we have controlled for opportunity. Thus, even when appeals are made to large cross-cultural studies that have found ‘consistent’ behavioral and/or attitudinal sex differences, we cannot assume universality for those conclusions until we have controlled for the existence of differing opportunities by gender across the various cultures.
    Let me now address these three points in more detail, after which I will make some modest proposals about how the social sciences might more reasonably be expected to be helpful to both sides in the egalitarian/hierarchicalist debate.

    Research in neither the biological nor the social sciences can resolve the nature/nurture controversy regarding gendered psychological traits and behaviors in humans:
    The crucial terms here are the words ‘human’ and ‘psychological traits and behaviors.’ First of all, we should not be surprised that, given our creational overlap with all other living organisms (strikingly shown in the various genome projects that are underway) much can be learned about the structure, function, and healing of the human body from animal research models. But without doubt the most salient biological feature of human beings is the plasticity of their brains. The legacy of a large cerebral cortex puts us on a much looser behavioral leash than other animals, with the result that, more than any other species, we are created for continuous learning – for passing on what we have produced culturally, not just what we have been programmed to do genetically. We are, as it were, hard-wired for behavioral flexibility.12 Indeed, how could we carry out the cultural mandate to “subdue the earth” (Gen 1:28) as God’s accountable regents if this were not so? And at the other end of the biblical drama, how could we “bring the honor and glory of nations” – however suitably cleansed – before God (Rev 21:26) if all the people of all the nations had no more freedom within their common biological form than that which exists in even our closest primate neighbors? And in between, what would be the point of reading and taking to heart Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-20)?

    Ah yes, some will say, but the biological and social sciences have shown us that men and women have clearly different talents, and that these are rooted in biology. Really? Well, let us ask what we have to be able to do in order to conclude that biological sex clearly causes even a small, average behavioral or psychological difference between human males and females. First, we would have to be able to manipulate sex as an independent, experimental variable – that is, randomly assign people to be born with an XX or an XY pair of chromosomes apart from all the other genetic baggage they come with. Clearly we cannot do this: babies come to us as genetic ‘package deals’ – who, we should remember, have also had non-random environments for nine months prior to birth. Well then, perhaps we could take advantage of that marvelous natural experiment known as identical twins, each pair of whom have the same genes, have shared the same uterus, and have been shown to stay pretty similar on many behavioral and psychological measures even when raised in different environments. Surely that says something about the power of biology? Yes, it does – although not as much as you might think13 – but it explains nothing about the origins of gender differences, because identical twins are always of the same sex.

    Well then, perhaps we could randomly assign members of a mixed-sex group of infants to be raised as boys or as girls after they’re born, and see just how much they remain stubbornly ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ despite being raised as members of the other sex. But aside from the fact that this comes close to the sort of science that was done in Nazi Germany, but repudiated in our own society, it wouldn’t even begin to approximate a double-blind experiment — of the sort we use, for example, to test the effectiveness of new medicines — because the cat would be out of the bag (so to speak) as soon as the babies’ caretakers began changing their diapers.14 And even if we could unambiguously ascertain that boys (for example) are hard-wired to be aggressive, or girls are hard-wired to gossip a lot, this would tell us nothing about the desirability of either state of affairs. In a fallen world, we cannot automatically assume that what seems ‘natural’ is thereby desirable by the standards of God’s kingdom. This is a point repeatedly and cogently made by psychologist Cynthia Neal Kimble in ch. 27 of DBE.

    So it is impossible to disentangle biological sex from the other genetic and environmental forces in which it always remains embedded, and with which it constantly interacts. This means that the two essential conditions for inferring cause and effect – the manipulation of one factor (sex) and the control of other (biological and environmental) factors – cannot be met. Consequently, “all data on sex differences, no matter what research method is use, are correlational data,”15 and as every introductory social science student learns, you cannot draw conclusions about causality from merely correlational data. “[I]n that sense, it is more accurate to speak of ‘sex-related’ differences than of sex [caused] differences.”16 So let us be very clear: when we read about a study – experimental or correlational — that describes an obtained, average sex difference of such-and-such a magnitude, that’s all it is: a description of the results of a study done in one particular place and time with a particular sample of persons, but unable (even experimentally) to disentangle nature from nurture. It is a description — not an explanation about the origins of any obtained sex differences.17

    On almost all behavioral and psychological measures that have been studied, the distributions (‘bell curves’) for women and men overlap almost completely:
    Ah yes, some will say, but look how large and consistent those sex differences are – in aggression, nurturance, verbal skills, spatial abilities and so on. Surely this strongly suggests (even if it can’t absolutely prove) that women and men have innately- different talents – “beneficial differences” in the language of both CMBW and (some) CBE adherents. Everybody knows that men are from Mars and women are from Venus – at least on average. Really? Just how large and consistent are such differences, after a century of measuring them in domains such as aggression, nurturance, verbal skills and so on? In other words, just how much do (or don’t) those ‘bell curves’ overlap for women and men? Because there is so much bad science journalism floating around about these matters (written by people of every political and religious stripe), some more comments on social science methodology are in order.

    I begin with what is known among social scientists as the “file drawer effect.” Since the time that psychology journals began publishing over a century ago, there has been a heavy bias against accepting studies on males and females that find no statistically-significant sex differences. In this kind of research, it appears that no news is bad news for your career, because studies finding no effect for sex are likely to remain unpublished (thus ending up in the author’s file drawer). You can see what this means: even when we do a literature review of many sex-comparative studies (concerning any of the usual suspects: verbal or spatial skills, aggression, empathy, activity levels, etc.) done over many years, our conclusions – at least by the reigning statistical criteria — will be selectively tilted towards finding more, rather than fewer, sex differences because of the publishing bias I have just described.18

    My second – and more important — point has to do with the misunderstanding that continues to surround the term ‘statistically significant.’ Another basic methodological caveat is this: a research result that is statistically significant is not necessarily of practical significance. According to the most common tests of significance, if an obtained, average difference between two groups (e.g., women and men doing a math test, volunteer subjects taking an experimental drug versus those taking a placebo, etc.) could have occurred fewer than five times out of a hundred ‘by chance’ then it is deemed a ‘significant’ difference. However, with large enough samples and a small enough variability among scores, even a tiny average difference between two groups –i.e., groups whose bell-curve scores overlap almost completely — may be ‘significant’ in this statistical sense – whereas (because of the file drawer effect) a much larger average difference that ‘just misses’ being statistically significant will not likely see publication, even though its potentially practical significance may be much greater.19

    As a result of such criticisms, a statistical technique called meta-analysis was developed in the 1970s, for use in all areas of psychological science, including research on gender.20 As its name implies, this refers to a ‘super-analysis’: one that can combine the results of many (e.g., several dozen – sometimes over a hundred) studies on sex differences in a given domain: aggression, verbal ability, or whatever. This technique differs from earlier ways of reviewing the literature, which simply gave equal weight to all studies examined, did a tally of how many did or did not show statistically significant sex differences, and came to an ‘eyeball’ or intuitive judgment as to whether reliable sex differences existed in a given domain.21 Instead, meta-analysis converts the findings of a large sample of studies into a common metric known as the average effect size across those studies. This is done not just by ‘averaging all the average sex differences’ across the studies, but also by taking into account the size of each sample and the variability of the scores found in each.22 Meta-analysis allows us to ask, across many studies of sex differences of a certain trait or behavior, just how large that difference (known as “d”) is, or how far apart the tops of the two bell curves are, — the tops representing the place where the male and female mean scores are.23 In other words, across many such studies, just how much do the male and female bell curves (or ‘distributions of scores’) overlap?24

    As you can see from Appendix A, even when an average effect size (or d) is 1.00 (as was found, for example, in a meta-analysis of studies comparing self-reported empathy in men and women)25 the range of scores within each sex is much greater than the average difference between the sexes. But in the many meta-analyses of gender differences that have been done since the 1970s, an effect size (d) even as large as 1.00 is almost unheard of. Most are in the range from 0.0 (no detectable difference) to .35 (a small difference) — and even the latter means that less than 5% of the variability of ALL the scores can be accounted for by the sex of the participants.26 This underlines my previous assertion: it is naive at best, and deceptive at worst, to make essentialist pronouncements about either sex when the range of scores within each sex is, for almost all traits and behaviors measured, much greater than the difference between the sexes. (See Appendix B for some representative meta-analytic results of studies of behavioral and psychological sex differences).

    It gets worse, folks: meta-analysis is full of embarrassments for gender essentialists, but also for ‘gender influentialists’ who think that even small average sex differences are pregnant with interpersonal, ecclesiastical, and policy implications.27 For example, as previously noted, the meta-analytic d for women’s versus men’s “empathy” scores based on self-report measures is around 1.00, in the direction of women being more empathetic than men. But when based on unobtrusive measures (i.e., studies where people do not know they are being measured for empathy), the meta-analytic d shrinks to about .05. You don’t have to be a professional social scientist to know what that contrast suggests. Meta-analyses can also be divided according to the particular era in which the studies were done. For example, a meta-analysis of studies of gender differences in verbal fluency done prior to 1973 (when gender roles were more rigidly dichotomized) found an overall, small effect size (d) of .23, in the direction of women scoring higher than men. A similar meta-analysis of studies done after 1973 found an effect size of .11, less than half the size of the earlier one. You do not have to be a professional social scientist to know that sudden genetic mutations in men and/or women since 1973 are unlikely to have caused such a shift. Genes in humans just don’t mutate and spread that fast.

    Attempts to Evade These Findings: What do convinced gender essentialists (along with careless science journalists and trendy Mars-Venus advice book writers) do with such findings? The most common strategy is simply to ignore or distort them: to pretend that small, shifting tendencies are absolute gender dichotomies, or something close to it, or to assume that statistical significance is always the same as practical significance. All too many people yearn for simple black-and-white explanations of complex relations, including those involving men and women. (As one of my students memorably observed, “Tendencies don’t sell books.”) A less-common strategy nowadays is to pathologize the findings: to claim that, however much those gendered bell curves do – or can – overlap, we have to pull them apart as far as possible, in order to approximate God’s — or nature’s or optimal society’s — ‘true’ purposes for males and females. This was the approach taken by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his 18th century educational treatise Emile. Rousseau was convinced that ‘rational, active man’ and ‘emotional, passive woman’ were perfect complements for each other. Thus, though he freely conceded that men’s and women’s natural traits were not rigidly dichotomous, he insisted that if they were not trained to become ‘opposite sexes’ there was no way they would be attracted to each other and be able to pair-bond for life.28 Two centuries later, this kind of theory was embodied in sociological functionalism, whose adherents maintained that a division of labor by sex – whether or not the corresponding tendencies were enshrined in the genes – was ‘functional’ for the preservation of societies, both past and present, and so should be tampered with only cautiously, if at all.29

    It is not unheard of for theologians to have taken a similar stance. Abraham Kuyper did so in the early 20th century, claiming (quite ahistorically and with no clear exegetical warrant) that however much men’s and women’s capacities ‘naturally’ overlapped, God had ordained, once and for all, that women’s activities be limited almost completely to the domestic sphere, and men’s to the public arenas of the academy, the church, the marketplace and the political forum.30 “The woman can lend herself to study [of medicine and law] as well as the man,” Kuyper conceded in 1914. But, he added, because women’s (not men’s) ‘position of honor’ was by divine definition in the home, “whoever has man take his place at the cradle and woman at the lectern makes life unnatural.”31 So far, the doctrine of separate spheres is not an official affirmation of CBMW’s gender hierarchicalists, aside from its application to certain church offices. But to the extent that gender-hierarchicalist rhetoric overlaps with romantic Mars-Venus rhetoric, as it does on the shelves of many Christian bookstores, it is a force to be reckoned with in many evangelical churches.32 And to the extent that the doctrine of separate spheres, combined with the doctrine of male headship, results in the social and economic disempowerment of women (as it has in both preindustrial and industrialized cultures) it does not comport well with biblical notions of justice.33

    This points to a third strategy, one more frequently invoked in the recent past. Some gender essentialists have reluctantly recognized that neither the Bible nor the natural or social sciences can come definitively to their rescue. Consequently, they take refuge in biblically and empirically questionable Jungian gender archetypes, and their precursors in Greek mythology and Eastern religions.34 For example, Elisabeth Elliot, in her 1982 book Let Me Be a Woman warned female Christian readers that Eve, in taking the initiative to eat the apple, was trying to be like the ‘ultimately-masculine’ God – as if God were somehow metaphysically gendered. She also appealed to the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang to buttress her ‘Christian’ argument for gender essentialism and gender hierarchy.35 Her brother Thomas Howard, in a 1978 article titled “A Note From Antiquity on the Question of Women’s Ordination,” frankly acknowledged that the Bible does not supply enough resources to justify talking about God or humans in terms of metaphysical, eternal gender archetypes. Undeterred by this, he invited his readers to consider the abundance of sexual imagery in pagan myths, and came to the conclusion that “a Christian would tend to attach some weight to this.” Really? Why?36

    Joan Burgess Winfrey is thus right, in ch. 25 of DBE, to express concern that “the church may once again opt for a Venus-Mars gender rubbish in the interest of cementing roles and putting up divider walls.”37 Even if Mars-Venus rhetoric is used only to cement different gender styles rather than roles38 it gets virtually no support from the meta-analytic literature which, as we have seen, show almost complete overlap in the gendered distribution of traits such as nurturance, empathy, verbal skills, spatial skills, and aggressiveness. The romanticizing and/or rank-ordering of gender archetypes is biblically questionable whether it is done by gender-role traditionalists, by cultural feminists who reverse the hierarchy by valorizing the stereotypically feminine, or by evangelical writers who baptize the trendy Mars-Venus rhetoric with a thin, Christian-sounding veneer. More in keeping with both the biblical creation accounts of humankind and the overall findings of the social sciences is the bumper sticker which reads “Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth: Get used to it!”

    Perhaps the most cautious way of responding to the meta-analytic literature on gender comes from behavioral biologists, who (arguing largely from animal research) suggest that both sexes are capable of the full range of human behaviors, but that the thresholds for various behaviors may vary by gender.39 This would mean, for example, that men and women are both capable of (even violent) aggression, but men would tend to yield to such impulses more readily than women. This might help explain why meta-analyzed gender differences tend to be smaller for laboratory studies than for ones done out in the real world. Laboratory settings are deliberately shielded from a host of real-world influences, and so may allow for ‘possible’ behaviors to trump more or less ‘probable’ ones in both sexes. But in the end, this distinction about thresholds doesn’t help gender essentialists much, because even in the animal research on which it is based, the thresholds themselves are variable within male and female subject groups, and the resulting distributions overlap, just as they do for actual behaviors. Moreover, as I noted previously, it is always risky to generalize from animal to human behavior, because human brains are structured for much more behavioral flexibility than those of even their closest primate neighbors.

    3. We cannot assume that anatomy is destiny until we have controlled for opportunity:

    In a final attempt to rescue gender essentialism some scholars claim that if a certain gender difference holds up cross-culturally – that is, across many different learning environments – we can more safely conclude that it is ‘natural’ and ‘fixed.’ But this conclusion is also too simple. For example, in ch. 27 (p. 469) of DBE Cynthia Neal Kimble cites (and seems to accept as accurate) cross-cultural studies showing that men “are more oriented toward promiscuity and finding a younger and attractive female partner” while women are “more concerned with finding older men who have attained financial resources and social status.” Although she does not reference any of the relevant research, the most-quoted study of this sort is a 37-nation survey of mate-selection standards by Texas psychologist David Buss. Buss suggested his findings meant that men everywhere are genetically predisposed for reproductive reasons to look for youth and beauty in a prospective mate, while women are more predisposed to look for ambition and wealth in the men they seek to marry.40 But his study made no attempt to control for the differing opportunities that face women and men in many cultures. That powerful, older men marry gorgeous younger women more than the opposite scenario is certainly tthe case. But as New York Times science journalist Natalie Angier wryly observed, “If some women continue to worry that they need a man’s money because the playing field remains about as level as Mars – or Venus if you prefer – then we can’t conclude anything about innate preferences.”41

    More recently, social psychologists Alice Eagly and Wendy Wood did control for changing opportunities by sex.42 They took the 37 countries of Buss’ study and rank-ordered them according to two indices of gender equality devised by the United Nations Development Program. One is the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI), which rates each nation on the degree to which its female citizens do not equal their male counterparts in life span, education, and basic income (which is still the case, though to varying degrees, in all nations). The other is the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), which rates nations on the degree to which women, in comparison to men, have entered the public arena as local and national politicians, and as technicians, professionals and managers.43 Using these two measures, they found that as gender equality in Buss’ 37-nation list increased, the tendency for either sex to choose mates according to Buss’ so-called evolutionary sex-selection criteria decreased. Eagly and Wood concluded from this that sex differences in mate-selection criteria are less the result of evolved biological strategies than of the historically-constructed sexual division of labor, which makes women dependent on men’s material wealth, and men dependent on women’s domestic skills. As this wall of separation breaks down — a process nicely traced by the two U.N. measures — both sexes revert to more generically human (and might we add, biblical?) criteria to judge potential mates, criteria such as kindness, dependability and a pleasant personality.44

    Making Relationships the Unit of Analysis: How the Social Sciences Can Help: So far I have tried to show that the odds are not good for using social science research to define the content of gender complementarity – if by that we mean showing how men and women essentially, or even generally, differ for all times and places. Nor should that surprise us. A responsible reading of Scripture indicates that God has built a lot of flexibility into what we call gender – which is why I always prefer to talk about gender relations rather than using the more static term gender roles. As Richard Hess noted in his treatment of Gen 1 (ch. 3 of DBE) sex is something we share with other, lower creatures. But gender is a part of the cultural mandate.45 If we compare Gen 1:20-22, with Gen 1:26-28, we see that God first speaks to both animals and humans in exactly the same terms: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill [the seas, the earth].” What differs is that the primal human pair are given an additional mandate: to subdue the earth. Reformed theologians have taken this to mean that humans beings – whether or not they acknowledge the divine source of this mandate – are called to unfold the potential in creation in ways that flexibly express the image of God, yet stay within the limits of God’s creation norms. What Christians have too often done instead, under the influence of Pagan and Greek thought and the doctrine of separate spheres is to assign men to subdue the earth while telling women to be fruitful and multiply.

    This seems to me to get it quite backward. While the cultural mandate does not require a blanket endorsement of androgyny (another example of rigid, ahistoric thinking) it does suggests that any construction of gender relations requiring an exaggerated, permanent separation of activities and/or virtues by sex is eventually going to run into trouble (as it has within the last half century) because such exaggeration is creationally distorted and thus potentially unjust toward both sexes. Sexual dimorphism is indeed part of our creational framework, but gender is something to be responsibly structured and re-negotiated throughout the successive acts of the biblical drama – not a mystical, rigid, archetypal given. Thus we need to think of gender as much in terms of a verb as a noun: ‘doing gender’ is a responsible cultural activity whose mixed outcomes need to be critically examined in the context of the continuing biblical drama in which we are all actors. For people with a low tolerance for ambiguity, this can be very upsetting. Many of us would rather be like the “wicked and lazy servant” in the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), keeping our assets buried in the cold ground of gender stereotypes and a fall-based gender hierarchy, instead of flexibly multiplying them in the service of God and neighbor.

    In Ch. 26 of DBE, Jack and Judith Balswick – a sociologist and marriage and family therapist – have perceptively developed a relational approach to gender in the service of just and flourishing marriages. In such marriages, “The locus of authority is placed in the relationship, not in one spouse or the other,” and both independence and interdependence are crucial:

    Behind the ‘two are better than one’ Scripture is the idea that two independent persons have unique strengths to offer each other and the relationship. Without two separate identities, interdependence is not possible. Some hold to the notion that dependency or fusion is the ideal … [but] two overly dependent persons, hanging on to each other for dear life, have no solid ground on which to stand when things get difficult or an unexpected stress hits (p. 454-55).

    At the other, hierarchicalist extreme, they note, “[t]he dilemma of unequal partnership is that husbands carry the burden of having to know everything and always be right, while wives pretend not to know or suppress what they know is right” (p. 461). In contrast to both these distortions, the Balswicks’ four marital relationship principles – covenant, grace, mutual empowerment and intimacy – focus less on prescribed roles (which are seen to be flexible and negotiable throughout the family life cycle) and more on processes needed for the ongoing flourishing of couples and families. These include that “partners hold equal status; accommodation in the relationship is mutual; attention to the other in the relationship is mutual; and there is mutual well-being of the partners” (p. 454).

    Does it matter for these processes that the ‘partners’ are male and female, or does this relations-without-roles model lead to ‘soft androgyny’ and thence to the endorsement of non-heterosexual unions? Clearly not for the Balswicks, since they have included a thoughtful section in their chapter on the demonstrated benefits, for both sons and daughters, of coparenting by fathers and mothers. However, even these gendered and generational dynamics are not as simple as was once thought. Freudian and functionalist theorists believed that boys, for example, needed to have lots of interaction with their fathers in order to learn ‘correct’ masculine attitudes, behaviors and roles. But there is a wealth of research – both in industrialized and pre-industrial cultures – showing that the more nurturantly involved fathers are with their sons, the more secure those sons are in their gender identity (which is simply the sense of being happy and adequate as a male). At the same time, nurturantly-fathered sons are less likely to engage in stereotypical ‘hypermasculine’ behavior, such as antisocial aggression, the sexual exploitation of girls, or misogynist attitudes and actions.46

    Similar benefits accrue to nurturantly-fathered girls, who are more likely to show independent achievement and less likely to engage in premature sexual and reproductive activity. Why is this so? In cultures and subcultures where fathers are absent or uninvolved, boys tend to define themselves in opposition to their mothers and other female caretakers, and to engage in misogynist, hypermasculine behaviors as a way to shore up a fragile gender identity.47 And girls who are not sufficiently affirmed as persons by available and nurturing fathers are at risk of becoming developmentally ‘stuck’ in a mindset that sees sexuality and reproductive potential as the only criteria of feminine success.48 The bottom line appears to be this: children of both sexes need to grow up with stable, nurturant, and appropriately-authoritative role-models of both sexes to help develop a secure gender identity. But strong coparenting also allows growing children to relate to each other primarily as human beings, rather than as reduced, gender-role caricatures. Paradoxical as it may seem, those who are most concerned to display rigidly-stereotypical masculinity and femininity are apt to have the least secure gender identities.

    Clearly this does not require that children’s role-models always and only be their biological parents.49 But it strongly suggests there are limits to the diversity of family forms we should encourage around a core norm of heterosexual, role-flexible coparenting, as described by the Balswicks in their DBE chapter. As Genesis l reminds us, sex is indeed something that we share with the lower animals, and as such it is irrelevant to the image of God in humans. At the same time, lifelong cooperation between the sexes is part and parcel — indeed the climax — of the Genesis 2 creation account, in a way that is not required of other animals: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Sociologist David Fraser notes that this verse holds in tension three essential aspects of marriage: public wedlock (‘leaving’), sexual union (‘one flesh’) and lifelong covenant (‘cleaving’). Yet, he significantly notes, “In this passage the couple is complete without children.”50 Thus heterosexual pair-bonding is not simply a convenient way to have children – although children are indeed part of Gods’ promised blessing in creation. It is based on the deeper creational truth that women and men are both created in the image of God, derive equal dignity and respect from that image, and are called to be God’s earthly regents – not separately, nor hierarchically, nor in competition with each other, but cooperatively. This does not mean that all men and women must marry: the New Testament is very clear on the value of singleness. But it does suggest that attempts to form single-sex communities (or to impose a rigid doctrine of separate spheres within families and/or churches) as a way of avoiding the challenges of heterosexual cooperation and gender justice are something less than creationally normative, and will eventually be shown to be so by their results.

    An Agenda for the Immediate Future: It somewhat ironic that neither of the two books (DBMW and DBE) central to the debate about male headship vs. gender mutuality says much about an area of social science research that is vital to this discussion. I refer to the 40-year accumulation of data on the steady rise of divorce and its effects on both children and their parents. America is (at least according to surveys of church membership and attendance) the most Christian of the western industrialized democracies. It also has the highest percentage of people (35%) who have been divorced, and born-again Christians are no less likely to divorce than are non-Christians. A slight majority of born-again American respondents in George Barna’s 2004 national poll even denied that divorce in the absence of adultery should be considered a sin.51 Regardless of one’s take Matt 19:8-9,52 it is obvious that Scripture pays clear and frequent attention to the importance of the marriage covenant, in contrast to less-frequent and less-clear pronouncements about headship in church and family. This being the case, it would seem that many Christians in the gender-hierarchicalist camp are straining at gnats and swallowing camels. The social science consensus on the negative effects of divorce – and the positive possibilities of well-validated marriage education and enrichment programs — cuts across all religious and political allegiances.53 Yet many Christians in the gender-hierarchicalist camp are ambivalent about any programs based on ‘secular’ social science, preferring to believe that the main experts on marriage are conservative male pastors, theologians and biblical scholars.54

    Persons and groups on both sides of this debate would thus do well to follow the lead of evangelical journalist Michael McManus, who for the past twenty years has been promoting ‘Community Marriage Policies’ (CMPs) whereby all clergy in a given area agree than none of them will marry any couple who has not gone through a several-month period of marriage preparation using a research-based training program, combined with a mentoring relationship with a more experienced married couple who have also been trained for their mentoring tasks. Since the first such policy was adopted by Modesto, California pastors in 1986, almost 200 communities in forty American states (as well in Canada and England) have followed suit. And although the divorce rate is starting to decline somewhat in the U.S.A. as a whole, a recent study has shown that the rate over the past seven years has fallen twice as fast in CMP counties (almost 18%) than in non-CMP counties (only 9%), even when county pairs are matched on demographic indices such as population density, poverty, and rural vs. urban location.55 It should be uncontroversial to those on both sides of this debate that prevention is better than cure when it comes to dealing with the high rate of divorce in evangelical churches. And it should be uncontroversial that, through common grace, God can get God’s work done through whomever God wishes, including careful and concerned social scientists of whatever (or even no) religious affiliation. As Abraham Kuyper wryly observed, sometimes the world does better than expected, and the church does worse.56

    Finally, a few words are in order regarding another topic little dealt with in either RBMW or DBE: the possible contribution of male headship ideology to domestic violence and other forms of religious abuse, such as male church leaders sexually exploiting women and children over whom they exercise authority. CBE has sponsored conferences and books on the topic of abuse in the church,57 and CBMW is clearly anxious to show that headship and submission (as they define these terms) do not contribute to “the epidemic of wife abuse.”58 But to properly test such a hypothesis, we would need to do what George Barna did to show the relationship between conservative religiosity and divorce – that is, mount a large, representative survey of the entire nation that included very specific questions about both the respondents’ religious practices and beliefs – including those having to do with gender relations — and their experiences with various forms of abuse within church and family settings, both as survivors and perpetrators. To my knowledge such a comprehensive study has yet to be done, though there is one random-sample survey of adults in a conservative denomination (one which did not ordain women at the time of the survey) showing that prevalence rates of physical, sexual and emotional abuse were no lower – but also no higher — within the denomination than in the American population at large.59

    Sociologist Bradford Wilcox has shown that conservative Protestant fathers are more likely to report using corporal punishment than other groups – but also (in keeping with a ‘soft patriarchal’ ideology) more likely to praise and hug their children and less likely to yell at them than other groups, both churched and unaffiliated. He concludes that

    Conservative Protestant fathers’ neotraditional parenting style seems to be closer to the authoritative style – characterized by moderately high levels of parental control and high

    levels of parental supportiveness – that has been linked to positive outcomes among children

    and adolescents. In any case, the accusations about authoritarian and abusive parenting

    by conservative Protestants appear overdrawn. The findings paint a more complex portrait of conservative Protestant fathering that reveals a hybrid of strict, puritanical and progressive,

    child-centered approaches to child rearing –all in keeping with the logic of ‘expressive traditionalism’ guiding this subculture.60

    Using data from the National Survey of Families and Households (1992-1994) Wilcox also found that a little conservative religion – like a little knowledge – is a dangerous thing. “Some of the worst fathers and husbands are men who are nominal evangelicals. These are men who have, say, a Southern Baptist affiliation, but who rarely darken the door of a church. They have … the highest rates of domestic violence of any group in the United States. They also have high divorce rates. But evangelical and mainline Protestant men who attend church regularly are … much less likely to divorce than married men who do not attend church regularly.”61 And conservative Protestant husbands and fathers (including those who espouse, among other things, a traditionalist ideology of gender relations) are – provided they attend church regularly – the group that is actually least likely to commit domestic violence.62

    The upshot is that we have no evidence so far that a gender-traditionalist ideology – at least of the soft patriarchal variety – is a strong predictor of domestic physical abuse at this time. About its relationship to various forms of abuse (sexual, emotional or physical) in Protestant church settings, we know even less. Does this then suggest that, on issues such as combating domestic violence and lowering divorce rates, groups such as CBE and CBMW might be able to forge strategic bonds of cooperation? In theory, yes, but for other reasons I am skeptical. For one thing, I have rediscovered in the course of doing this review how depressingly anti-intellectual the vanguard of CBMW is. There is much casuistry and hair-splitting about questions of gender as they relate to biblical exegesis, but very little responsible appropriation of best practices and findings in either social science research or its applications. It’s as if these folks really don’t believe in common grace. Moreover, as Gordon Fee notes in Ch. 21 of DBE,

    In order to uphold male rule in today’s households [and churches] patriarchalists are regularly faced with the necessity of fine-tuning various rules and restrictions regarding ‘biblical gender roles.’ In the end, the gospel of grace and Spirit is turned into a form of the law, which gives rise to the pharasaic problem of needing to put a hedge around the law, deciding what is or is not ‘allowable’ within its framework.

    Peter’s very pharisaic question, ‘How many times must I forgive?’ is now turned into ‘What constitutes [womanly] submission?’ … One wonders whether Paul would laugh or cry. The gospel of grace and gifting leads to a different set of questions: How does one best serve the interest of the other? How does one encourage [not predefine] the Spirit’s gifting in the other? Questions like these cross all gender boundaries.63

    For these reasons, in spite of affirming that this debate is not about a confessional issue, and that each side must continue to affirm the genuine evangelical standing of those on the other side who disagree, I conclude that we will – and should — continue to go our separate ways.

    Appendix B

    Appendix C
    Representative Uses of the Term ‘Complementarity’ in
    Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy

    Many have argued that women should participate equally with men precisely because they bring complementary gender qualities to marriage, ministry and society. [But] the most recent [use of the] term has often been employed by those who have held the opposite view [i.e., that gender differences are an argument for restricting, not enlarging women’s activities]. (Introduction, p.17).

    The concept of ‘complementarity’ carries with it a wide range of connotations. It sometimes simply conveys [for egalitarians] the idea of ‘beneficial difference’ (without implying male authority) … at other times it is used as a euphemism for a very traditional view of male authority, and yet in other writings it represents a significantly softened male-leadership role that is quite similar in practice to an egalitarian model. (Ronald W. Pierce, ch. 2, “Contemporary Evangelicals for Gender Equality, p. 62, note 26).

    [Van Leeuwen’s book Gender and Grace] contended that regarding ‘genes, hormones and hemispheres … the differences [between male and female], when they occur, are both smaller and more complex that we thought. In most cases they are impossible to separate from the effects of learning.’ In short, her book argued that God-given ‘complementarity,’ to the extent that it can be objectively defined, does not necessarily predetermine ‘gender roles.’ (Pierce, ch. 2, p. 70).

    [A]rguing in an egalitarian yet ‘complementary’ fashion, [Ruth Haley Barton, in her 1998 book, Equal to the Task] asserted that God created men and women for life together, ‘a mutuality in teamwork’ that enables them to work together in the office and in marriage, parenting and friendship. (Pierce, ch. 2, p. 73).

    Since I was raised in a home and church where gifting took precedence over roles, I find the present debate over equality, complementarity and hierarchy to be something of a retrogression …There is no biblical culture (in the sociological sense) that belongs to all human societies. And to give continuing significance to a male-authority viewpoint for men and women, whether at home or in church, is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world …[Yet] I for one have as much resistance to the notion that women ought to be in leadership along with men as to the notion that only males are gifted to lead. The former notion also assumes a gender-based, not gift-based, model for leadership; and both Scripture and common experience give lie to the second notion. (Gordon D. Fee, ch. 10, “Male and Female in the New Creation: Gal 3:26-29,” p. 172, and ch. 14, “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry,” p. 249).

    Phyllis Bird argues that gender distinction [complementarity] does not belong to the image of God, or to dominion, but to the theme of fertility that is found in the first chapter of Genesis. Fruitfulness and reproduction are part of the plant and animal world (Gen 1:12 & 22-25) and thus are not unique to the image of God in ‘adam. Whereas … Genesis I emphasizes the role all of humanity has in dominion over creation. (Richard S. Hess, ch. 3, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” p. 81)

    The point of Genesis 2:24 about a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife … is to observe that marriage achieves a reunion of what God had divided in the creation of the woman … Thus the woman was taken from the man’s body when God created and the man reunites the two when he joins her in marriage. This certainly involved more than physical union, for Hebrew concepts of the person do not recognize a distinction between the physical and the spiritual before sin and death, but it says nothing about a hierarchy between man and woman … [But in Gen 3] a relationship that was once equally shared in a uniquely complementary design would become burdened with a struggle for authority from which the man would emerge the ruler. (Hess, p. 88).

    [In the creation account, the first male describes the first female] as ‘woman,’ reflecting unity in personhood and diversity in their gender [Hebrew ‘ish and ‘ishah] … Later he names her Eve, describing the function she would have in bearing children as the ‘mother of all living’ (hence one could speak of a ‘procreation order’ that counterbalances the creation order, cf. I Cor 11:1`2) … The term complementarity is an appropriate description of their created relationship. However, there is neither explicit nor implicit mention of any authority or leadership role of the man over the woman, except as the sad result of their sin in the fall and ensuing judgments. Even the, such hierarchy is not presented as an ideal, but rather as a reality of human history like that of weeds that spring from the earth. (Hess, ch. 3, p. 94).

    If it is true that the fellowship between Adam and Eve, and consequently between men and women in general, is a means through which God’s image its to be visible in humanity … then [h]uman sexuality would be at the very center of the Christian doctrine of ‘man.’ Ideally, the equality and dignity of each member of the triune God and the complementarity and unity within the Godhead would be reflected in human male-female relationships. There should be no attempt – by either a man or a woman – to disregard one’s own sexuality or to devalue or degrade the other’s sexuality … In light of these considerations, it become quite clear that homosexuality is a blatant denial of the very means through which an individual is rightly to reflect God’s image. Likewise, the male chauvinism that has been a blight on society since antiquity and the radical feminist that answers back with equal venom are both diametrically opposed to the will of God. Each so disrespects the other sex as to negate any possibility of men and women’s reflecting the harmony that exists within the Godhead. (Judy L. Brown, ch. 17, “God, Gender and Metaphor, p. 298).

    ‘Complementary egalitarianism’ takes the redemptive movement in Scripture to complete male-female equality and so seeks out contemporary forms that express mutual deference and honor. There are no leadership or role restrictions within the home or church …. (William J. Webb, ch. 23, “Gender Equality and Homosexuality,” p. 400, note 23).

    [T]he egalitarian claim that status differences between men and women are a cultural construct and not inherent in the sexual distinction hardly constitutes a move toward wholesale rejection of male-female complementarity … God’s creation design … includes not only undisputed differences in sexual and reproductive function … but also the general psychological differences that can be discerned in studies comparing groups of men and groups of women. One might well argue that the best way to celebrate these general differences is the inclusion of women in leadership position, since women can bring a focus that complements that of men. In an integrative sense, egalitarians are stronger advocates of complementarity than are hierarchical complementarians! (Webb, p. 402, note 1).

    A [further] reason underlying [the Bible’s] homosexual prohibitions is the benefit of raising children by a father and a mother who can provide different yet complementary role models for their sons and daughters … a natural kinship setting in which each can derive modeling from and relationship with a parent of their own gender. To this consideration one might add the benefits of having a relationship with and opposite-sex parent, as well as the benefits that different-gender spouses bring to a home through their providing gender-complementary (not monolithic) perspectives and ways of doing things. This latter benefit would extend also to a home consisting of a heterosexual couple without children.” (Webb, p. 413).

    The physiological differences [between women and men] are clear. Social differences include level of aggression, language styles and same-sex aggression. It is clear from the cross-cultural and genetic studies that God has fashioned men and women with certain differences. And yet both bear his image … What this suggests is that to appreciate gender complementarity in the church, and in all relationships, is to recognize these differences in a way that will help men and women encourage each other toward the health of both and against the abuse of either. Not all men are aggressive rather than relational. Not all women are relational and not aggressive. Many differences reside within each gender as well. Perhaps true complementarity is marked by an acknowledgement of difference and encouragement for those wanting to grow in both appropriate dominion and sociability [cf. Gen 1:26-28]. (Cynthia Neal Kimball, ch. 27, “Nature, Culture and Gender Complementarity,” pp. 471, 472, 473).

    1 Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2825

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    Men and Women: No Big Difference
    Studies show that one’s sex has little or no bearing on personality, cognition and leadership

    The Truth about Gender “Differences”

    Mars-Venus sex differences appear to be as mythical as the Man in the Moon. A 2005 analysis of 46 meta-analyses that were conducted during the last two decades of the 20th century underscores that men and women are basically alike in terms of personality, cognitive ability and leadership. Psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, discovered that males and females from childhood to adulthood are more alike than different on most psychological variables, resulting in what she calls a gender similarities hypothesis. Using meta-analytical techniques that revolutionized the study of gender differences starting in the 1980s, she analyzed how prior research assessed the impact of gender on many psychological traits and abilities, including cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, aggression, leadership, self-esteem, moral reasoning and motor behaviors.

    Hyde observed that across the dozens of studies, consistent with the gender similarities hypothesis, gender differences had either no or a very small effect on most of the psychological variables examined. Only a few main differences appeared: Compared with women, men could throw farther, were more physically aggressive, masturbated more, and held more positive attitudes about sex in uncommitted relationships.

    Furthermore, Hyde found that gender differences seem to depend on the context in which they were measured. In studies designed to eliminate gender norms, researchers demonstrated that gender roles and social context strongly determined a person’s actions. For example, after participants in one experiment were told that they would not be identified as male or female, nor did they wear any identification, none conformed to stereotypes about their sex when given the chance to be aggressive. In fact, they did the opposite of what would be expected – women were more aggressive and men were more passive.

    Finally, Hyde’s 2005 report looked into the developmental course of possible gender differences – how any apparent gap may open or close over time. The analysis presented evidence that gender differences fluctuate with age, growing smaller or larger at different times in the life span. This fluctuation indicates again that any differences are not stable.

    Learning Gender-Difference Myths

    Media depictions of men and women as fundamentally “different” appear to perpetuate misconceptions – despite the lack of evidence. The resulting “urban legends” of gender difference can affect men and women at work and at home, as parents and as partners. As an example, workplace studies show that women who go against the caring, nurturing feminine stereotype may pay dearly for it when being hired or evaluated. And when it comes to personal relationships, best-selling books and popular magazines often claim that women and men don’t get along because they communicate too differently. Hyde suggests instead that men and women stop talking prematurely because they have been led to believe that they can’t change supposedly “innate” sex-based traits.

    Hyde has observed that children also suffer the consequences of exaggerated claims of gender difference — for example, the widespread belief that boys are better than girls in math. However, according to her meta-analysis, boys and girls perform equally well in math until high school, at which point boys do gain a small advantage. That may not reflect biology as much as social expectations, many psychologists believe. For example, the original Teen Talk Barbie ™, before she was pulled from the market after consumer protest, said, “Math class is tough.”

    As a result of stereotyped thinking, mathematically talented elementary-school girls may be overlooked by parents who have lower expectations for a daughter’s success in math. Hyde cites prior research showing that parents’ expectations of their children’s success in math relate strongly to the children’s self-confidence and performance.

    Moving Past Myth

    Hyde and her colleagues hope that people use the consistent evidence that males and females are basically alike to alleviate misunderstanding and correct unequal treatment. Hyde is far from alone in her observation that the clear misrepresentation of sex differences, given the lack of evidence, harms men and women of all ages. In a September 2005 press release on her research issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), she said, “The claims [of gender difference] can hurt women’s opportunities in the workplace, dissuade couples from trying to resolve conflict and communication problems and cause unnecessary obstacles that hurt children and adolescents’ self-esteem.”

    Psychologist Diane Halpern, PhD, a professor at Claremont College and past-president (2005) of the American Psychological Association, points out that even where there are patterns of cognitive differences between males and females, “differences are not deficiencies.” She continues, “Even when differences are found, we cannot conclude that they are immutable because the continuous interplay of biological and environmental influences can change the size and direction of the effects some time in the future.”

    The differences that are supported by the evidence cause concern, she believes, because they are sometimes used to support prejudicial beliefs and discriminatory actions against girls and women. She suggests that anyone reading about gender differences consider whether the size of the differences are large enough to be meaningful, recognize that biological and environmental variables interact and influence one other, and remember that the conclusions that we accept today could change in the future.

    Sources & Further Reading

    Archer, J. (2004). Sex differences in aggression in real-world settings: A meta-analytic review. Review of General Psychology, 8, 291-322.

    Barnett, R. & Rivers, C. (2004). Same difference: How gender myths are hurting our relationships, our children, and our jobs. New York: Basic Books.

    Eaton, W. O., & Enns, L. R. (1986). Sex differences in human motor activity level. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 19-28.

    Feingold, A. (1994). Gender differences in personality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 429-456.

    Halpern, D. F. (2000). Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities (3rd Edition). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, Associates, Inc. Publishers.

    Halpern, D. F. (2004). A cognitive-process taxonomy for sex differences in cognitive abilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13 (4), 135-139.

    Hyde, J. S., Fennema, E., & Lamon, S. (1990). Gender differences in mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 139-155.

    Hyde, J. S. (2005). The Gender Similarities Hypothesis. American Psychologist, Vol. 60, No. 6.

    Leaper, C. & Smith, T. E. (2004). A meta-analytic review of gender variations in children’s language use: Talkativeness, affiliative speech, and assertive speech. Developmental Psychology, 40, 993-1027.

    Oliver, M. B. & Hyde, J. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 29-51.

    Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M. & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

    Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P., (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 250-270.

    American Psychological Association, October 20, 2005

    For more on GENDER ISSUES, click here.

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    Think Again: Men and Women Share Cognitive Skills
    Research debunks myths about cognitive difference

    What the Research Shows

    Are boys better at math? Are girls better at language? If fewer women than men work as scientists and engineers, is that aptitude or culture? Psychologists have gathered solid evidence that boys and girls or men and women differ in very few significant ways — differences that would matter in school or at work — in how, and how well, they think.

    At the University of Wisconsin, Janet Shibley Hyde has compiled meta-analytical studies on this topic for more than 10 years. By using this approach, which aggregates research findings from many studies, Hyde has boiled down hundreds of inquiries into one simple conclusion: The sexes are more the same than they are different.

    In a 2005 report, Hyde compiled meta-analyses on sex differences not only in cognition but also communication style, social or personality variables, motor behaviors and moral reasoning. In half the studies, sex differences were small; in another third they were almost non-existent. Thus, 78 percent of gender differences are small or close to zero. What’s more, most of the analyses addressed differences that were presumed to be reliable, as in math or verbal ability.

    At the end of 2005, Harvard University’s Elizabeth Spelke reviewed 111 studies and papers and found that most suggest that men’s and women’s abilities for math and science have a genetic basis in cognitive systems that emerge in early childhood but give men and women on the whole equal aptitude for math and science. In fact, boy and girl infants were found to perform equally well as young as six months on tasks such as addition and subtraction (babies can do this, but not with pencil and paper!).

    The evidence has piled up for years. In 1990, Hyde and her colleagues published a groundbreaking meta-analysis of 100 studies of math performance. Synthesizing data collected on more than three million participants between 1967 and 1987, researchers found no large, overall differences between boys and girls in math performance. Girls were slightly better at computation in elementary and middle school; in high school only, boys showed a slight edge in problem solving, perhaps because they took more science, which stresses problem solving. Boys and girls understood math concepts equally well and any gender differences narrowed over the years, belying the notion of a fixed or biological differentiating factor.

    As for verbal ability, in 1988, Hyde and two colleagues reported that data from 165 studies revealed a female superiority so slight as to be meaningless, despite previous assertions that “girls are better verbally.” What’s more, the authors found no evidence of substantial gender differences in any component of verbal processing. There were even no changes with age.

    What the Research Means

    The research shows not that males and females are – cognitively speaking — separate but equal, but rather suggests that social and cultural factors influence perceived or actual performance differences. For example, in 1990, Hyde et al. concluded that there is little support for saying boys are better at math, instead revealing complex patterns in math performance that defy easy generalization. The researchers said that to explain why fewer women take college-level math courses and work in math-related occupations, “We must look to other factors, such as internalized belief systems about mathematics, external factors such as sex discrimination in education and in employment, and the mathematics curriculum at the precollege level.”

    Where the sexes have differed on tests, researchers believe social context plays a role. Spelke believes that later-developing differences in career choices are due not to differing abilities but rather cultural factors, such as subtle but pervasive gender expectations that really kick in during high school and college.

    In a 1999 study, Steven Spencer and colleagues reported that merely telling women that a math test usually shows gender differences hurt their performance. This phenomenon of “stereotype threat” occurs when people believe they will be evaluated based on societal stereotypes about their particular group. In the study, the researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. Women who expected gender differences did significantly worse than men. Those who were told there was no gender disparity performed equally to men. What’s more, the experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in math.

    Because “stereotype threat” affected women even when the researchers said the test showed no gender differences – still flagging the possibility — Spencer et al. believe that people may be sensitized even when a stereotype is mentioned in a benign context.

    How We Use the Research

    If males and females are truly understood to be very much the same, things might change in schools, colleges and universities, industry and the workplace in general. As Hyde and her colleagues noted in 1990, “Where gender differences do exist, they are in critical areas. Problem solving is critical for success in many mathematics-related fields, such as engineering and physics.” They believe that well before high school, children should be taught essential problem-solving skills in conjunction with computation. They also refer to boys having more access to problem-solving experiences outside math class. The researchers also point to the quantitative portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which may tap problem-solving skills that favor boys; resulting scores are used in college admissions and scholarship decisions. Hyde is concerned about the costs of scientifically unsound gender stereotyping to individuals and to society as a whole.

    Sources & Further Reading

    Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (1988). Gender differences in verbal ability: A meta- analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 53-69.

    Hyde, J.S., Fennema, E., & Lamon, S. (1990). Gender differences in mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 107, 139-155.

    Hyde, J.S. (2005) The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60(6), 581-592.

    Spelke, Elizabeth S. (2005). Sex differences in intrinsic aptitude for mathematics and science?: A critical review. American Psychologist, 60(9), 950-958.

    Spencer, S.J., Steele, C.M., & Quinn, D.M. (1999) Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 4-28.

    American Psychological Association, January 18, 2006

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  5. Readers of this essay may well ask what an academic psychologist is doing invading territory normally reserved for scholars closer to C. S. Lewis’s own field of literary criticism or for theologians
    and philosophers. The short answer to that question is that Lewis had a lot to say over his lifetime about three topics of interest to me: science, social science, and gender. The longer answer to that question is more autobiographical.
    In my Canadian Protestant childhood—as in C. S. Lewis’s, a generation earlier in Protestant Belfast—church was still a vehicle of respectability and upward mobility, perhaps especially for my parents,
    who were schoolteachers and first-generation urban transplants from humble rural backgrounds. In such a setting, it was expected that teenagers would be confirmed in the church, but it never was made very clear how seriously—other than as a rite of social passage—they should take the professions of faith they were urged to make. Predictably, this led to resistance and accusations of hypocrisy from some adolescents, including myself, as I vacillated between thinking that church membership would demand too much of me and suspecting that it would demand too little.

    But in the end, like the adolescent
    C. S. Lewis, “I allowed myself to be prepared for confirmation, and to make my first Communion… eating and drinking to my own condemnation” (Lewis 1955, 130), metaphorically crossing my fingers behind my back while going through the motions of professing faith.
    You will not be surprised to learn that such superficial churchianity did not survive—either intellectually
    or morally—my transition from high school to an elite public university. I had wanted to study psychology ever since my middle-school days, but by the time I entered university in the early 1960s, academic psychology was suffering from what might be called a bad case of physics envy. In its eagerness to be accepted as a legitimate “science” it had embraced what philosophers call the Unity of Science thesis—namely, that there is only one method that all genuine sciences employ, and that method consists of giving causal, deterministic explanations that are empirically testable. By this standard, if psychology aspired to be a “real” science it would have to become as much like experimental physics as possible. As a methodological corrective to certain past, ill-supported pronouncements about human behavior and mental life (including many from Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis) this was not an entirely bad move, but methodological correctives seldom stay within their original limits. They more often become full-blown—but usually unacknowledged—metaphysical world views, especially in times of great social change when older belief systems are being unreflectively marginalized in the name of progress.

    This is in fact what was happening during my undergraduate days. We were being taught as apprentice logical positivists to regard “facts” and “values” as quite distinct. Facts—based on input

    Trinity 2007

    Opposite Sexes or Neighboring Sexes?

    C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and
    the Psychology of Gender
    Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

    And in that volume Lewis made both an Aristotelian and a Freudian argument for male headship in marriage.

    Both Aristotle and Freud held that women were driven more by emotion and less by reason than men. For Aristotle (and his later Thomistic followers in medieval Christendom) all things exist in a hierarchical

    scala naturae, or “ladder of nature,” beginning with inanimate matter and proceeding through plants, animals, humans, and ultimately the “unmoved mover” that gives all objects their purpose. But on the human part of the ladder, women occupied a lower rung: in relation to men they were deemed less rational, unequal, and passive. For Freud also, “anatomy is destiny.” He saw women even in adulthood
    as having less-developed superegos than men, and hence less capable

    A Residual Platonism

    Years later, when I returned to Lewis’s works as a young Christian academic, I confirmed that for much of his life he did indeed promote both an essentialist and a hierarchical view of gender. He regarded stereotypical masculinity and femininity as timeless, metaphysical archetypes, deeper even than biological sex and apparently more significant for the right organization of social life than any “mere humanity” shared by women and men. Moreover, especially in his Preface to Paradise Lost (1942) and in Perelandra (1942) and That Hideous Strength (1945), the second and third novels respectively
    of his space trilogy, he portrayed God as representing the highest ideal, or form, of masculinity. For the Lewis of the 1940s, humans were so inescapably gendered—in their creation, their fallenness, and the implications of their redemption—that man and woman were almost different species. They were metaphysically opposite sexes, not the “neighboring sexes” that his contemporary, Dorothy L. Sayers, proposed in one of her own essays in the 1940s (Sayers 1975, 37).
    Thus in his 1945 science fiction novel, That Hideous Strength, Lewis (speaking through the trilogy’s

    hero, Elwyn Ransom) asserted that:
    Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others. Masculine and feminine meet us on a plane of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine
    (Lewis 1945, 314–315).

    Lewis’s residual Platonism is very evident here. He regarded the eternal, metaphysical “forms” of masculinity and femininity as higher spiritual realities of which material maleness and femaleness are mere “shadows,” a Platonic term Lewis used often to describe the earthly in comparison to the heavenly.
    And for the younger Lewis, these polarized forms were not merely Platonic opposites; they were also hierarchically ordered.

    In his 1948 essay arguing against opening the Anglican priesthood to women, Lewis wrote that a woman can be a competent pastoral visitor, church administrator, or even a preacher. It is not the case that she is “necessarily or even probably stupider than a man” (Lewis 1970a, 235). What she cannot do, wearing the “feminine uniform,” is sacramentally represent the people of God at the Eucharistic altar, because God represents ultimate masculinity, beside whom everything and everyone is less masculine and more feminine by contrast. Lewis wrote:

    To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant… This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality… the kind of equality which implies that equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in the church we turn our backs on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize for us the hidden things of God… [Thus] only one wearing the masculine uniform can… represent the Lord to the Church; for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. (Lewis 1970a, 237–38)

    Escaping the Sword between the Sexes

    Even more, “the misogyny of some of Lewis’s earlier works seems to be reversed in this novel told from a woman’s perspective” (Hannay 216). Its story is a recasting of the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche which, in Lewis’s adaptation, focuses on the strong woman ruler of a small nation. She is a person struggling against idolatry and toward belief in a way that parallels Lewis’s own faith journey and the resentment it inspired in some of his colleagues and family members.
    This period also coincided with Lewis’s work on The Discarded Image (1964), an introduction to medieval and Renaissance literature. It is an engaging, detailed portrait of the medieval worldview and one that clearly illustrates its hierarchical cosmology, but with one significant difference. In a volume where one would expect Lewis, given his earlier writings, to include an exposition of gender hierarchy

    in the Aristotelian ladder of nature and its descendent, the medieval “great chain of being,” there is not a word on this topic. Indeed, his only explicit mention of gender relations was a leveling one, when he challenged the modern illusion that medieval persons of both sexes led static lives. On the contrary, Lewis wrote, “Kings, armies, prelates, diplomats, merchants and wandering scholars were continually on the move. Thanks to the popularity of pilgrimages, even women, and women of the middle class, went far afield; witness the Wife of Bath [in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales] and Margery Kempe” (Lewis 1964, 143). Kempe was a fifteenth-century religious mystic who was also married and the mother of fourteen children.

    Most telling is his reflection on his wife’s death, A Grief Observed (1961). It was written when Joy Davidman—an award-winning American poet and writer—died of cancer in 1960 after just four years of marriage to Lewis. The start of Lewis’s friendship with Davidman (in the early days of which he once referred to her as “our queer, Jewish, ex-Communist American convert…” In Lewis 2007, 450) coincided with his 1954 move from Oxford to a professorial chair at Cambridge. This move coincided with his first serious bout of writer’s block. It was due largely to Joy Davidman’s help and inspiration that he eventually wrote Till We Have Faces, which he then dedicated to her. Lewis’s biographer and former student, George Sayer, who knew them both well, noted that “[h]er part in the book, and there is so much that she can almost be called its joint author, put him very much in her debt. She stimulated and helped him to such an extent that he began to feel that he could hardly write without her” (Sayer 220).

    “There is,” Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed, “hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them” (Lewis 1961, 40). In a pointed rejection of his earlier insistence that gender, as a spiritual ideal, is a more fundamental reality than sex, Lewis concluded:
    It is arrogance in us [men] to call frankness, fairness and chivalry “masculine” when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them [women] to describe a man’s sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as “feminine.” But also what poor, warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible. Marriage heals this. Jointly the two become fully human. “In the image of God created he them.” Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes. (Lewis 1961, 40–41).
    As he struggled with his grief and reflected on what he had learned from his short-lived marriage, Lewis also reversed his earlier assumptions about gender hierarchy as well as his view that women and men could not be both friends and lovers at the same time:

    A good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was [Joy] not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding these all in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow soldier. My mistress, but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have had good ones) has ever been to me… Solomon calls his bride Sister. Could a woman be a complete wife unless, for a moment, in one particular mood, a man felt almost inclined to call her Brother?

    (Lewis 1961, 39–40)

    Clearly Lewis’s marriage in his mid-fifties to a gifted and feisty woman helped to advance changes in his thinking about gender relations. And, in fact, Lewis was always a better man than his theories in his actual relationships with women, especially those who, like himself, were intellectuals and serious Christians. I note in passing his long association with Stella Aldwickle, pastoral advisor to the women students of Somerville College. He also corresponded for twenty-five years with an Anglo-Catholic nun, the theologian Sister Penelope Lawson (whom he referred to as his “elder sister” in the faith), and for the last fifteen years of his life had a mutually-mentoring relationship with the celebrated and much-honored English poet Ruth Pitter.

    The Cresset

    C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers

    But Lewis had an equally long relationship with a woman colleague who was even closer to him in terms of age, background, education, intellectual interests, and Christian writing projects. That woman was Dorothy Leigh Sayers, whom Lewis once described as “the first person of importance who ever wrote me a fan-letter” (Lewis 2007, 1400). Sayers, like Lewis, grew up in the shadow of an Anglican rectory. By the time of their first correspondence in 1942 she was, like Lewis, an Oxford MA. Both had won scholarships to Oxford as undergraduates: Sayers to Somerville College in 1912, and Lewis to University College in 1916. She was also, like Lewis, a published poet, author of several novels in a popular new genre (detective novels in her case, science fiction in Lewis’s), and a BBC broadcaster recruited to help strengthen Christian faith in the dark days of World War Two (doing radio drama in her case, popular theological talks in Lewis’s). Sayers also had written and directed two plays for the Canterbury Cathedral arts festival, published essays on Christian doctrine and creativity, and was soon to become a distinguished translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy from Italian into English verse.

    Though most of their correspondence was of a scholarly, literary-critical nature, some of it also concerned gender relations. For example, in 1948, when Lewis became exercised about the possible ordination of women in the Anglican church, he tried to persuade Sayers—a well-known Christian author of longer standing than he—to join him in protest (Lewis 2004b, 860). However, Lewis’s attempt to co-opt this famous woman writer backfired. Though Sayers was, if anything, even more Anglo-Catholic in her leanings than Lewis, she politely declined to “give tongue” in the debate over women’s ordination. She agreed that it might “erect a new and totally unnecessary barrier between [Anglicans] and the rest of Catholic Christendom,” but she pointed out that it would also decrease differences with those Protestant free churches that emphasized preaching more than the sacrament of communion (Sayers quoted in Reynolds 359).

    In some ways it would be too simple to call Sayers a feminist. Like Lewis, she had too robust a view of the human capacity for sin to romanticize any class or gender group just because it had a history of marginalization. But unlike the Lewis of the 1940s, she believed gender was an incidental, not an essential trait, and that women and men’s common humanity was more fundamental than any differences
    between them. Moreover, despite sharing a common background with Lewis in terms of class and intellectual brilliance, Sayers went through a species of baptism by fire at Oxford that Lewis, as a privileged male student and later an Oxford don, was quite incapable of understanding at the time. It was only two years before Sayers went to Oxford in 1912 that the university officially had recognized the presence of women in its midst. When Sayers arrived in 1912, women still could not receive Oxford degrees, even after meeting all the qualifications and (not infrequently) outperforming men in the same programs. Only in 1920, when Oxford degrees were retrospectively opened up to females, did Dorothy Sayers and several hundred other women return to the university to receive their long-denied degrees.
    In 1927 the faculty and administrators at Oxford voted to limit indefinitely the number of women students who could be admitted and to prohibit the establishment of any more women’s colleges. Lewis supported this proposal (Lewis 2004a, 702–3). Though Lewis and Sayers did not know each other at this time, her reaction to Oxford’s retrograde move was pretty clear. Her most complex detective novel (and her own favorite) was Gaudy Night, which she set in a fictitious Oxford women’s college in the mid-1930s. The plot of the novel turns on the resentment that tradition-bound male academics—and their female supporters—harbor towards women scholars whose commitment to intellectual integrity will not be compromised by submission to social norms about women’s “natural calling” to support and defer to men, no matter what they do (Sayers 1935). Later, in her 1946 essay “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” she mocked the view (going as far back as Aristotle) that women are not complete persons:

    [People believe women] lie when they say they have human needs: warm and decent clothing; comfort on the bus; interests directed immediately to God and his universe, not intermediately

    through any child of man. They are [either] far above man to inspire him, far beneath him to corrupt him; they have feminine minds and feminine natures, but their mind is not one with their nature like the minds of men; they have no human mind and no human nature… They are “the opposite sex”—(though why “opposite” I do not know; what is the “neighbouring sex”?). (Sayers 1975, 32)

    “I do not know what women as women want,” Sayers declared in a 1938 lecture. “But as human beings they want, my good man, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet. What form the occupation, the pleasures,
    the emotional outlet may take depends entirely on the individual. You know that this is so with yourselves—why will you not believe that it is so with us?” (Sayers 1975, 17–36, quotation 32).

    Gender and Modern Social Science

    C. S. Lewis was no fan of the emerging social sciences. He saw practitioners of the social sciences mainly as lackeys of technologically-minded natural scientists, bent on reducing individual freedom and moral accountability to mere epiphenomena of natural processes (See Lewis 1943 and 1970 b). And not surprisingly (given his passion for gender-essentialist archetypes), aside from a qualified appreciation
    of some aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis (See Lewis 1952 (Book III, Chapter 4) and 1969). “Carl Jung was the only philosopher [sic] of the Viennese school for whose work [Lewis] had much respect” (Sayer 102).

    But the social sciences concerned with the psychology of gender have since shown that Sayers was right, and Lewis and Jung were wrong: women and men are not opposite sexes but neighboring sexes—and very close neighbors indeed. There are, it turns out, virtually no large, consistent sex differences in any psychological traits and behaviors, even when we consider the usual stereotypical suspects: that men are more aggressive, or just, or rational than women, and women are more empathic, verbal, or nurturing than men. When differences are found, they are always average—not absolute—differences. And in virtually all cases the small, average—and often decreasing—difference between the sexes is greatly exceeded by the amount of variability on that trait within members of each sex. Most of the “bell curves” for women and men (showing the distribution of a given psychological trait or behavior) overlap almost completely. So it is naïve at best (and deceptive at worst) to make even average—let alone absolute—pronouncements about essential archetypes in either sex when there is much more variability within than between the sexes on all the trait and behavior measures for which we have abundant data.

    This criticism applies as much to C. S. Lewis and Carl Jung as it does to their currently most visible descendent, John Gray, who continues to claim (with no systematic empirical warrant) that men are from Mars and women are from Venus (Gray 1992).

    And what about Lewis’s claims about the overriding masculinity of God? Even the late Carl Henry (a theologian with impeccable credentials as a conservative evangelical) noted a quarter of a century ago that:

    Masculine and feminine elements are excluded from both the Old Testament and New Testament doctrine of deity. The God of the Bible is a sexless God. When Scripture speaks of God as “he” the pronoun is primarily personal (generic) rather than masculine (specific); it emphasizes God’s personal nature—and, in turn, that of the Father, Son and Spirit as Trinitarian distinctions in contrast to impersonal entities… Biblical religion is quite uninterested in any discussion of God’s masculinity or femininity… Scripture does not depict God either as ontologically
    masculine or feminine. (Henry 1982, 159–60)
    However well-intentioned, attempts to read a kind of mystical gendering into God—whether stereotypically
    masculine, feminine, or both—reflect not so much careful biblical theology as “the long

    arm of Paganism” (Martin 11). For it is pagan worldviews, the Jewish commentator Nahum Sarna reminds us, that are “unable to conceive of any primal creative force other than in terms of sex… [In Paganism] the sex element existed before the cosmos came into being and all the gods themselves were creatures of sex. On the other hand, the Creator in Genesis is uniquely without any female counterpart, and the very association of sex with God is utterly alien to the religion of the Bible” (Sarna 76).

    And if the God of creation does not privilege maleness or stereotypical masculinity, neither did the Lord of redemption. Sayers’s response to the cultural assumption that women were human-not-quite-human has become rightly famous:
    Perhaps it is no wonder that women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being
    female; who had no axe to grind or no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is not act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel which borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about women’s nature. (Sayers 1975, 46)
    It is quite likely that Lewis’s changing views on gender owed something to the intellectual and Christian ties that he forged with Dorothy L. Sayers. And indeed, in 1955—two years before her death, Lewis confessed to Sayers that he had only “dimly realised that the old-fashioned way… of talking to all young women was v[ery] like an adult way of talking to young boys. It explains,” he wrote, “not only why some women grew up vapid, but also why others grew us (if we may coin the word) viricidal [i.e., wanting to kill men]” (Lewis 2007, 676; Lewis’s emphasis). The Lewis who in his younger years so adamantly had defended the doctrine of gender essentialism was beginning to acknowledge the extent to which gendered behavior is socially conditioned. In another letter that same year, he expressed a concern to Sayers that some of the first illustrations for the Narnia Chronicles were a bit too effeminate. “I don’t like either the ultra feminine or the ultra masculine,” he added. “I prefer people” (Lewis 2007, 639; Lewis’s emphasis).

    Dorothy Sayers surely must have rejoiced to read this declaration. Many of Lewis’s later readers, including myself, wish that his shift on this issue had occurred earlier and found its way into his better-selling apologetic works and his novels for children and adults. But better late than never. And it would be better still if those who keep trying to turn C. S. Lewis into an icon for traditionalist views on gender essentialism and gender hierarchy would stop mining his earlier works for isolated proof-texts and instead read what he wrote at every stage of his life. A
    Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen is Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
    This essay originally was presented as the Tenth Annual Warren Rubel Lecture on Christianity and Higher Learning at Valparaiso University on 1 February 2007.
    The Cresset
    Evans, C. Stephen. Wisdom and Humanness in Psychology: Prospects for a Christian Approach. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989.
    Gray, John. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
    Hannay, Margaret. C. S. Lewis. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981.
    Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation, and Authority. Vol. V. Waco, Texas: Word, 1982.
    Lewis, C. S. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III. Walter Hooper, ed. San Francisco:
    HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.
    _____. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1964.
    _____. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. I: 1905–1931. Walter Hooper, ed. San Francisco:
    HarperSanFrancisco, 2004a.
    _____. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. II: 1931–1949. Walter Hooper, ed. San Francisco:
    HarperSanFrancisco, 2004b.
    _____. “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,”[1952] Reprinted in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, ed., Walter Hooper, 22–34. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
    _____. “Priestesses in the Church?” [1948]. Reprinted in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, 234–39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970a.
    _____. “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,”[1954]. Reprinted in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, 287–300. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970b.
    _____. “Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism,”[1942]. Reprinted in Selected Literary Essays, ed. Walter Hooper, 286–300. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1969.
    _____. [N. W. Clerk, pseudo.] A Grief Observed. London: Faber and Faber, 1961.
    _____. The Four Loves. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960.
    _____. Till We Have Faces. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956.
    _____. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Collins, 1955.
    _____. Mere Christianity. London: Collins, 1952.
    _____. That Hideous Strength. London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1945.
    _____. The Abolition of Man. Oxford: Oxford University, 1943.
    _____. A Preface to Paradise Lost. Oxford: Oxford University, 1942.
    The Cresset
    _____. Perelandra. London: The Bodley Head, 1942.
    Martin, Faith. “Mystical Masculinity: The New Question Facing Women,” Priscilla Papers, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Winter 1998), 6–12.
    Reynolds, Barbara. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. New York: St. Martins, 1993.
    Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken, 1966.
    Sayer, George. Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
    Sayers, Dorothy L. “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,”[1946]. Reprinted in Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women
    Human?, 37–47. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1975.
    Sayers, Dorothy L. Gaudy Night. London: Victor Gollancz, 1935.
    Sterk, Helen. “Gender and Relations and Narrative in a Reformed Church Setting.” In After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation, ed., Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, 184–221. Grand Rapids:

    Eerdmans, 1993.
    Copyright © 2007 Valparaiso University Press

  6. Below is an email I recently wrote to Oxford University Gender communication’s professor Deborah Cameron author of the great important book , The Myth Of Mars and Venus Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?

    Dear Deborah,

    I recently read your great important book, The Myth Of Mars & Venus. I read a bad review of the book, The Female Brain on US by psychologist David H.Perterzell.

    I also thought you would want to know that John Gray got his “Ph.D” from Columbia Pacific University which was closed down in March 2001 by the California Attorney General’s Office because he called it a diploma mill and a phony operation offering totally worthless degrees!

    Also there is a Christian gender and psychology scholar and author psychology professor Dr. Mary Stewart Van Leewuen who teaches the psychology and Philosophy of Gender at the Christian College Eastern College here in Pa. She has several online presentations that were done at different colleges from 2005- the present debunking the Mars & Venus myth.

    One is called , Opposite Sexes Or Neighboring Sexes and sometimes adds, Beyond The Mars/Venus Rhetoric in which she explains that all of the large amount of research evidence from the social and behavorial sciences shows that the sexes are very close neighbors and that there are only small average differences between them many of which have gotten even smaller over the last several decades which she says happened after 1973 when gender roles were less rigid and that genetic differences can’t shrink like this and in such a short period of time, and that most large differences that are found are between individual people and that for almost every trait and behavior there is a large overlap between them and she said so it is naive at best and deceptive at worst to make claims about natural sex differences. etc.

    She says he claims Men are From Mars & Women are From Venus with no emperical warrant and that his claim gets virtually no support from the large amount of psychological and behavioral sciences and that in keeping in line with the Christian Ethic and with what a bumper sticker she saw said and evidence from the behavioral and social sciences is , Men Are From,Earth ,Women Are From Earth Get Used To It. Comedian George Carlin said this too!

    She also said that such dichotomous views of the sexes are apparently popular because people like simple answers to complex issues including relationships between men and women. She should have said especially relationships between them.

    Sociologist Dr.Michael Kimmel writes and talks about this also including in his Media Education Foundation educational video. And he explains that all of the evidence from the psychological and behavioral sciences indicates that women and men are far more alike than different.

    You also quoted Mark Liberman the language professor of University of Penn as recognizing this but on his language log he quotes biological determinists such as Michael Gurian, the author of The Female Brain and Leonard Sax Why Gender Matters and even though he criticizes and debunks some of what they say as false and pseudo science he says that some of their claims about innate brain differences are right and he says that what they say about how we should treat girls and boys and men and women differently at home, at school and in the workplace accordingly is probably true.

    He also admits that there is a popular trend recently of using some pseudo science claims, exaggerating some real differences and claiming that it’s all hard wiring and attributing the way the sexes, hear,see, think, feel, act etc to neurological differences. But he says now there are psychological, and neurological differences between the sexes sometimes big ones but some of this just seems to made up.

    Yet Dr.Mary Stewart Van Leewuen says that there are no consistent large psychological sex differences found.

    I have an excellent book from 1979 written by 2 parent child development psychologists Dr. Wendy Schemp Matthews and award winning psychologist from Columbia University, Dr.Jeane Brooks-Gunn, called He & She How Children Develop Their Sex Role Idenity.

    They thoroughly demonstrate with tons of great studies and experiments by parent child psychologists that girl and boy babies are actually born more alike than different with very few differences but they are still perceived and treated systematically very different from the moment of birth on by parents and other adult care givers. They go up to the teen years.

    I once spoke with Dr.Brooks-Gunn in 1994 and I asked her how she could explain all of these great studies that show that girl and boy babies are actually born more alike with few differences but are still perceived and treated so differently anyway, and she said that’s due to socialization and she said there is no question, that socialization plays a very big part.

    I know that many scientists know that the brain is plastic and can be shaped and changed by different life experiences and different enviornments too and Dr.Mary Stewart Van Leewuen told this to me too when I spoke to her 10 years ago.

    Also there are 2 great online rebuttals of the Mars & Venus myth by Susan Hamson called, The Rebuttal From Uranus and Out Of The Cave: Exploring Gray’s Anatomy by Kathleen Trigiani.

    Also have you read the excellent book by social psychologist Dr.Gary Wood at The University of Birmingham called, Sex Lies & Stereotypes:Challenging Views Of Women, Men & Relationships? He clearly demonstrates with all of the research studies from psychology what Dr.Mary Stewart Van Leewuen does, and he debunks The Mars & Venus myth and shows that the sexes are biologically and psychologically more alike than different and how gender roles and differences are mostly socially created.

    Anyway, if you could write back when you have a chance I would really appreciate it.

    Thank You.

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  8. Read a book called “Brain Storm” it is found on debunks notions such as women are more empathetic,verbal,multtasked and men are more spatial,math oriented and logical.These myths have harmed our society to the point that people act out these myths to feel part of their gender,I have seen this happen.I know women that refused to take higher math in college simply because they felt their gender isn’t good at math.Also ideas about sexuality are way off base.Women are far more sexual than thought and men are far more emotionally connected to a relationship than thought.It depends on the individual not the gender in sexuality.These myths must go to the wayside if this society is to progress toward equality and supporting individual wants and needs.

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