Second wave feminism began in the 1960s as “The Women’s Movement,” coincident with the arrival of a new technology for the auto-control of fertility, the birth control pill, invented by male scientists. But the standard feminist narrative argues that gender is defined entirely independent of biology; gender, feminists argue, is not the result of genetics and physiology, but totally a result of “social construction.”
In other words, the feminist narrative states that male and female roles, abilities, and preferences are not significantly determined by biology, but are defined by social norms, and that individual males and females are shaped into what they are by means of socialization, social pressure, and law.
It is understandable that female liberationists would argue against the influence of nature and side entirely with the influence of nurture, because in the past restrictions on females were often justified in terms of the alleged biological inferiority of females in relation to males: for example, that females were physically weak and males strong, and so females had to be protected by males; that females were emotional and males were rational, so education and public business had to be left to males; and so on. Feminists wished to overthrow all of those justifications of male dominance, so as to gain equal opportunity in society, to expand their access to social roles and social rewards, and to attain independence.
Reality, unfortunately, is always a bit more complicated than our hopes and dreams. If one is interested in a scientific, evidence-based understanding of gender, then the facts are clear: the genetic, physiological, anatomical, and psychological differences between males and females are marked, not only among humans, but in all species with sexual reproduction.
According to Susanne Sadedin, an evolutionary biologist: “From the perspective of biology, it would be very surprising if human males and females did not have distinct, hardwired behavioral tendencies. As someone who is both a biologist and (I like to think) a feminist, this puts me at odds with much of traditional feminist theory.”
Feminist never tire of characterizing females as “strong,” undoubtedly to counter previous stereotypes of females as “weak.” But there is no doubt that males are, on average, physically larger, stronger, and faster than females. You would not think it is necessary to state that male and female bodies are not the same. Males have much higher normal levels of testosterone, which underlies physical strength. That is why there are male sports leagues and female sports leagues; top female athletes cannot compete with top male athletes.
There is about a 10% difference in times between male and females track athletes, from the 100 yard dash to the marathon, and a greater difference in the jumps. It is difficult to compare results in the weight events, because the weights males use are considerably heavier than those that females use: for example, the discus that men throw is 1.5 kilos, while the discus women throw are 1.0 kilo.
The best female basketball stars are not competitive enough to play in the NBA, nor are elite female hockey players able to succeed in the NHL. Generally, women do not play football; no woman has ever played in the NFL or CFL.
The psychology of males and females also differ systematically across cultures, thus negating the “social construction” argument. A study with a half a million respondents demonstrated that “Men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people, producing a large effect size (d = 0.93) on the Things–People dimension. Men showed stronger Realistic (d = 0.84) and Investigative (d = 0.26) interests, and women showed stronger Artistic (d = −0.35), Social (d = −0.68), and Conventional (d = −0.33) interests.” It may be for this reason that women talk more than men, although verbal loquaciousness appears to be also based in genetics, specifically the Foxp2 “language gene,” which is found more in abundance in females. It may also be for this reason that females tend to avoid the STEM science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields; while female undergraduate enrolment is far above the 50% level in the social sciences, it is far below the 50% in STEM, particularly in egalitarian societies. In other words, the male/female disparity in the STEM fields is due to differences in interests between males and females, rather than any hypothetical discrimination against females.
Differences between males and females appear in infants: “males strongly preferred toys with wheels over plush toys, whereas females found plush toys likable.” This was in a study of Rhesus monkeys! As the author states, “It would be tough to argue that the monkeys’ parents bought them sex-typed toys or that simian society encourages its male offspring to play more with trucks.” Returning the humans, “A much more recent study established that boys and girls 9 to 17 months old — an age when children show few if any signs of recognizing either their own or other children’s sex — nonetheless show marked differences in their preference for stereotypically male versus stereotypically female toys.” On a personal note, my son’s first word was “car,” but I cannot get my wife to be at all interested in our cars.
Males and females also different in cognitive skills: Diane Halpern, past president of the American Psychological Association, addressed this question on her ground-breaking book, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities. Having begun believing that male/female differences were socially constructed, her review of the research evidence convinced her she was wrong:
Women excel in several measures of verbal ability — pretty much all of them, except for verbal analogies. Women’s reading comprehension and writing ability consistently exceed that of men, on average. They outperform men in tests of fine-motor coordination and perceptual speed. They’re more adept at retrieving information from long-term memory.
Men, on average, can more easily juggle items in working memory. They have superior visuospatial skills: They’re better at visualizing what happens when a complicated two- or three-dimensional shape is rotated in space, at correctly determining angles from the horizontal, at tracking moving objects and at aiming projectiles.
Men’s superior visuospatial skills are another factor in men’s superior performance in sports.
The brains of men and women and different in many respects, probably due to the different sex-steroid hormones that flow into the brain. Many of the differences described above are reflections of differences in the brain, as are many others, such as the propensity to experience depression, greater in females, and to suffer from autism, greater in males. The differences in sex chromosomes, XX for females and XY for males, also impacts the brain.
How did these differences come about? If we think about the two million years of human evolution, and the way of life in all but the last ten thousand years, we can begin to understand how certain human traits were selected for in nature. Our ancestors lived in small hunting and gathering bands. Generally speaking, men hunted and women gathered. Women were responsible for the children and camp, and the men ventured out to hunt, and, if necessary, to defend the band. The qualities needed for women were heavily social, and for men were efficaciousness in engaging with the world beyond the encampment. Natural section thus underlies the many hardwired differences between males and females.
All of these facts run contrary to the feminist fairy story about male/female differences being the result of “social construction.” Cross-species and cross-cultural commonalities in the differences between males and females refute the socialization theory of gender. This is not to say that they are not also cultural differences, or that the male/female differences are the same in all cultures. No anthropologist would agree to that. But each culture has to work with the hardwired differences between males and females.
The feminist devotion to the “social construction” of gender was contradicted by the liberation movement of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, etc. etc., which argued that gays etc. could not be blamed for their sexual orientation, because they were born that way. Homosexuality, the argument went, was not a choice that people made, so homosexuality was not an orientation that could be set aside in aid of some social norm or other. Nor could or should homosexuals be pressured to change. Feminists had to hold their tongues and accept this “progressive” view of biologically determined, hardwired sexual orientations. So, the feminist view became, “gender is shaped by social construction, except homosexuality, which is biological.”
In the last decades, the determining factor evolved from “social construction” to identity. We are all defined now not by any facts about us, but with who or what we identify. Identitarianism arose from feminists saying that the most important thing about females is that they are female, blacks saying the most important thing about them is that they are black, Hispanics, Muslims, etc., as each category was claimed to be a victim of societal oppression and abuse. But it was not for anyone else to say which category one belonged to; each person’s identity is deemed sacrosanct, unchallengeable, undeniably true in itself. And, if someone identifies with a victim category, then that person is eligible for many special privileges and benefits. So Elizabeth Warren, now Senator and candidate for the presidency, has deemed and declared herself to be a Native American Indian, and has received special treatment throughout her education and career on that basis.
Identitarianism has become a new problem for feminists with the popularity of transsexuality. Today, biological males who “identify” as female, demand and have the legal right to enter female dressing rooms and toilets, to receive all special privileges and benefits of females, such as preferred admission, fellowships for females only, and preference for jobs, etc. And transsexual males to female demand and are allowed to compete against females in sport. Of course, male athletes have a great advantage, and, even with non-obligatory hormone treatments retain the edge in size, strength, and speed. They do very well in the competitions.
Feminists now face the ideologically uncomfortable choice of accepting male transsexuals in their spaces and their lives, or saying that biological males are males and biological females are females, and never the twain shall meet. Once the biological basis of gender is accepted, the primacy of “social construction” and “identity” can never be championed again. If transsexual females are rejected, “everything gender is malleable” can no longer be a feminist slogan.
Female athletes have come out against transfemales competing against biological female athletes. The Olympic swimmer “Sharron Davies has studied the biological differences between the sexes. ‘If a young boy goes through puberty, he has increased lung capacity, he has a higher red blood cell count, he has a different skeletal system, a smaller pelvis — which helps certainly on a bike.’… The former Olympic swimmer noted that in 17 American states, ‘young boys are allowed to compete if they identify as women, up to the age of 18 without any chemical intervention whatsoever … so those girls are at a massive disadvantage.’” According to Davies, girls are giving up sport because of the unfair competition. Others, who continue, lose their sports scholarships to transgenders. Davies says that most female athletes agree with her views, but are afraid to speak up because the trans lobby is so strong and so threatening that athletes are afraid to lose their sponsors or accreditation with sports federations.
Davies was correct about the overwhelming blowback any criticism of trans athletes would bring. World tennis champion and lesbian heroine Martina Navratilova published an op-ed in The Sunday Times of London entitled “The rules on trans athletes reward cheats and punish the innocent,” saying that “Letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around.” She had earlier tweeted, “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.” Well, she learned quickly that hell hath no fury as a transwoman scorned. Of course she was labeled transphobic, and then thrown out of the LGBT sports group Athlete Ally. The identicrats refuse to allow any facts to challenge their central principle: identity is more important than scientific facts. I am sorry to have to report that Navratilova backed down and apologized.
But some are standing their ground. Lesbian feminist Julia Beck testified before Congress against the gender identity provisions of the proposed Violence Against Women Act. She argued that, although intended to protect trans individuals, the gender identity provision would in fact be a “misogynous Trojan horse” that undermined protections for biological females. “While sex is a vital statistic, gender and identity are not. VAWA was created for women and girls, not for those who feel like or identify as female. Woman is not a gender or a feeling,” Beck declared. “Women don’t need to identify as female in order to be women. Woman means adult human female. New gender identity laws allow male people to claim womanhood.”
Beck further argued “If we cannot acknowledge biological sex or the differences of biological sex between the two sex classes, then there will be no protections for women on the basis of our biological sex.” The reaction has not been inclusive: “People on the Left have tried to silence me by using threats and other tactics of intimidation, a kind of hatred that most lesbians would expect to receive from people on the Right. I’ve been told to die in a fire, to get raped, and to choke on ‘lady c*ck’ by members of the LGBT community.” And, just to make it official, Beck was thrown off of the Baltimore Mayor’s LGBTQ Commission for maintaining that transgender women were not women. Beck explains in an articlehow she became the most hated lesbian in Baltimore and beyond.
When various self-righteous “victim” groups, such as lesbians and transfemales, come to blows over who has precedence, it tends to get ugly. It might have been predictable that radical lesbian feminists would have no time for males in any guise, and that transfemales would demand their female civil and human rights whatever their genetics, physiology, and anatomy. But some good has come out of this: the feminist conceit that gender was all social constructed, and that biology has nothing to do with it, has finally been recognized as counter-factual, counter-scientific, and counter-good sense. Female athletes and lesbians have become unexpected critics of the view that you can be whatever you say you are.
Identicrats will squawk. But after all, in most of life we expect people to be able to prove what they say they are: Doctors of Medicine, airline pilots, members of Congress, Olympic champions, and bank owners. You get to be those things by gaining the qualifications and credentials, being elected, competing in the Olympics, and actually owning banks, not by identifying as an MD or Congressperson. If someone says they are something, and can’t prove it by generally accepted criteria, they are open to charges of being fantasists, or fraudsters. Identifying as tall or handsome or beautiful does not make you so. Saying that you are an American Native Indian, or a Jew, or a woman, or a man, does not make you one. Classifying and understanding people by gender requires reference to biological facts.
This article was first published by the Frontier Center for Public Policy and is reposted here with the author’s permission.