Are gender roles a marker of true equality? | FACTUAL FEMINIST

Men and women, taken as groups, are different in important respects. The differences appear to be based on some combination of biological and cultural forces. But is gender role differentiation a sign of well-being and freedom? Christina Hoff Sommers explains how prosperity and equality may bring greater opportunities for self-actualization.

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Partial transcript:
In January 2015, I spoke at Yale University. I was the guest of the Buckley program. I had a wonderful time and was dazzled by a group of students who joined me for dinner. But a few days later the Yale Women’s Center issued an “official statement” about my lecture. What did it say? That’s coming up next on the Factual Feminist. The morning after my talk, the Women’s Center held a special event to evaluate my presentation. I would have been happy to attend but was not invited. In their “official statement” they say, “As an organization we took issue with several of Dr. Sommers’ key tenets. Sommers describes gender roles as biologically innate, rather than also constructed through culture and socialization.” They deemed my position “potentially dangerous” and even “xenophobic.” Dangerous? Xenophobic—Moi? As if. So here is the Factual Feminist’s “official reply.” Men and women, taken as groups, are different in important respects. And the differences appear to be based on some yet to be understood combination of biological and cultural forces. I know of no one who denies the role of culture—but many campus feminists seem to want to rule biology out of order. I said in my lecture that we have to be vigilant about expanding gender roles and allowing people to defect from the conventions of masculinity or femininity—on the other hand, I said we should also be tolerant of those who embody them. A few years ago I came across an academic study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about differences between men and women that I think the Yale Women’s Center should take seriously. The researchers looked at gender and personality norms across 55 nations. Throughout the world, women tend to be more nurturing, risk averse, and emotionally expressive, while men are tend to be more competitive, risk taking, and emotionally flat—(oh dear, that sounds pejorative—I prefer to say stoical.) But the most fascinating finding is this: They found that personality differences between men and women are the largest and most robust in the more prosperous, advanced industrial societies—like the US, Canada, and France. According to the authors, nations with high social development—long life expectancy, high levels of literacy, education, and income—are likely to have the largest sex differences in personality. Why should that be? The authors hypothesize that prosperity and equality bring greater opportunities for self-actualization—men and women are empowered to be who they most truly are. For example, it is conspicuously the case that gay liberation is a feature of advanced, prosperous societies: such societies afford almost everyone on the gender spectrum more opportunities to embrace their gender identities. This cross-cultural research is far from conclusive, but it is intriguing. Just think: What if gender differentiation can be a sign not of oppression but of well-being—of freedom and genuine equality? Let me give an example. I recently saw an article on the Wharton School website that laments the dearth of women engineers and holds up China and Russia as superior examples of equity. More women in those countries are engineers than in the US, and the author blames this on workplace biases and stereotypes. But perhaps American women earn fewer degrees in engineering because, compared to their Russian and Chinese counterparts, they have more opportunities to pursue careers that interest them more. It appears that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women take somewhat different paths. The Yale Women’s center critics seem to think this view is reactionary and harmful to women.

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