The original post I wrote received positive comments from people I respect and also some constructive criticism, mainly that I played the person not the ball which distracted from the points being made.
I accept the criticism and all I can do is learn from it. Don’t write a blog when angry, or if I do, don’t publish it until I have had a chance to sleep on it. At the time I thought if I alluded to the posts Sue wrote, it would be taken as personal regardless so I may as well say what I thought. With hindsight,, I think its fair to say I could have made the points without making any references to intentions, motivations or assumed reasons for why she wrote her blogs.
The people who made the criticism in good faith, here it is. I’ve had the chance to refine some of the arguments also and provide more links and evidence. I have split it over two posts so that it is not overwhelmingly long!! Also, all new additions are included in blue for clarity between the original post and this one.
To those that didn’t – well it makes no difference, either way, I gifted you the previous blog and no doubt it will be used endlessly to character assassinate but let’s face it, if that’s what you’re after you will find something whatever I had written. This isn’t a blog for you.
Sue Cowley wrote a trilogy of blogs, they can be found (here, here and here). Her main points are that men and women differ biologically and this is reflected in a set of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. The former is being pushed at the expense of the latter within the current education system. This includes the narrative of grit, resilience, no excuses, as well as a knowledge based curriculum as opposed to a more progressive one favoured by the author of the original blog.
It’s the biological differences, stupid!
(Venus and Mars by Botticelli (Wikipedia Commons))
Sue clearly believes that there are masculine and feminine traits are biologically determined. She supports her argument with an opinion piece which states that it is highly unlikely that men and women have evolved to have the same traits. I am not a biologist or geneticist so am basing this solely on my knowledge and research of the field as a lay person.
Are men and women exactly the same? No because we would be unisex and we have different body parts to prove we are not.
What do these genetic differences mean?
The World Health Organisation gives the following explanation of sex which is biologically determined as opposed to gender which it states is ‘socially constructed’. (See part two of this blog for further discussion.
Sex: “Humans are born with 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. The X and Y chromosomes determine a person’s sex. Most women are 46XX and most men are 46XY”
It also states: “The process of biological sex differentiation (development of a given sex) involves many genetically regulated, hierarchical developmental steps. More than 95% of the Y chromosome is male-specific”
1.8% of male DNA is different to female DNA and the Y chromosome consists of 78 genes, which as stated, 95% are male specific. While the differences in percentage of DNA and number of genes may be small, there are nonetheless significant in the variation they cause between men and women.
Does this mean there are biologically determined masculine and feminine traits which are genetic?
In the near past, many scientists believed they would find a gene for everything but further research and analysis has shown this is not actually the case. Few genes are specific. Take eye colour – there are three different genes involved not one for each of the different colours which you either have or don’t have.
There is no evidence I can find that there are masculine and feminine traits that are purely genetically determined for which a gene, or a set of genes interacting with each other, has been identified.
Of course testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone.
While these have been labelled male and female hormones, there are present in both men and women. While the focus has commonly been the effect of these hormones on men (testosterone) or women (oestrogen and progesterone) it belies the fact that while there are difference in levels between men and women, there are also differences between men and between women.
It is not clear if hormones produce certain behaviours, are produced when certain behaviours are exhibited or indeed are produced as a result of exhibiting certain behaviours.
Any behaviours that may caused by the production of these hormones will result in variation of exhibition of those behaviours. This precludes them being the basis of traits that are masculine or feminine which are natural. Instead the levels will simply indicate how likely you are to exhibit the behaviour.
This presents two interesting counterpoints to Sue’s argument:
1) If testosterone causes aggression then it is ‘natural’ and should displays of this behaviour be stopped?
2) Equally, it may account for what Sue sees as women exhibiting ‘masculine traits’. Funnily enough rather than ‘aping’ behaviour to survive in a male-dominated society, they are behaving ‘naturally’ based on the hormones they are producing.
While the body can produce high or low levels of these hormones, there is nothing unnatural about their production even if the effects of these hormones are seen to be – e.g. aggression.
The idea that biological factors, such as genes and hormones, cause traits which can be considered exclusively masculine or feminine traits, is not supported. If there is evidence that biology causes behaviours which are natural only to men or to women, which they can copy but are not ‘natural’ to them then I would be glad to be pointed to it. I am also happy to be corrected on any of the above but I really couldn’t find any evidence that gender, as opposed to sex, is biologically determined or behaviour for that matter.
I will focus on gender in the second part of this blog.