Archive for the gender stereotypes Category

Controversial manliness

Posted in gender stereotypes, Harvey Mansfield, masculinity, Naomi Wolf on October 26, 2008 by Steve

I haven’t read it, but Harvey Mansfield‘s book, Manliness, seems to have created quite a stir. From what I saw in a 10-minute excerpt of an ABC News debate with Naomi Wolf in 2006, Mansfield is unembarrassed about talking about the differences between men and women, and promoting the “quaint and obsolete” concept of manliness.

In the interview, Mansfield speaks about male and female differences in a direct and honest way. He’s not embarrassed that men are stronger than women and more interested in competition (also politics and sports, which are examples of manly competition).

These differences, of course, are generalisations, but they are true generalisations. Though some women are stronger than some men, and some women take more risks than some men, the generalisation that women are weaker and less risk-taking are still true.

Naomi Wolf, of course, reacts in shocked disbelief and reproach. With all her political prowess and intellectual strength, she understandably feels demeaned. At the end of the day, however, neither she nor any woman can escape having a female body (or brain). This is the tragedy of today’s gender-neutral society, in which, according to Mansfield, “women are trying to imitate men, but men are not trying to imitate women“.

Perhaps Mansfield’s most piercing (and controversial) statement is that women are:

…of course the weaker sex. I think it’s quite important that women are physically less strong than men. It means that they can’t exercise the same authority as men with the same easy grace and so they have to try a little harder. So the way they get around this is to either persuade with more seductive tones, or to make a scene.

Ultimately, being bigger and stronger does help one’s sense of authority. You can’t really escape the body, hormones and brain structure you were given. Nonetheless, being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be authoritative, but having the body of a man makes it easier than having a woman’s body. I suspect there are complex socio-cultural factors enmeshed in all of this too.

Does all this mean that women shouldn’t be fire-fighters or members of parliament? My, and I think Mansfield’s, answer would be ‘No’. Biblically speaking, the endless number of specific roles are not spelled out, but the Bible writers made it clear that, ultimately, women’s roles will centre around the home and children much more than men’s (Titus 2:4-5). There may be some female individuals who are stronger and more competitive than most men, but the vast majority will not fit this mould.

Nor do I think all this means that men can’t be soft, nurturing and non-competitive. There may be manly ways to wash up, drive the car, relate at work (Mansfield would define this by a man’s competitiveness in how he does these things). There are therefore also womanly ways to do these tasks.

How to do these things, though, is not a matter of prescription. We should expect trends according to gender, just as we do according to generational difference and country of origin difference. Therefore, Mansfield’s reiteration of the age-old advice is necessary for our age: “we have a gender-neutral society, but we don’t have gender-neutral individuals, we have men and women. Different sexes… those differences need to be understood and respected.” Pretty obvious, but obviously not all that obvious.

Finally, I ask myself why it is that so many people want to minimise or ignore the observable differences betweens the genders? Is is because they will feel abnormal if they do not fit the stereotype? I suspect that debate over these issues of gender differences relates more often than we would like to admit to personal insecurity. Just a thought.


Women are like spaghetti

Posted in gender stereotypes on October 24, 2008 by Steve

I recently heard it suggested that “Women are like spaghetti, men are like…. lasagne”, meaning that a woman’s emotional connections go everywhere, everything related to every other part of her world. Men on the other hand are more sectioned-off, compartmentalised, less emotionally-enmeshed. Like all generalisations (which are true of much, but never all, of the population), this one seems to have a ring of truth, and I would like to reflect on it briefly.

Now, of course, observable male/female generalisations are just that: generalisations. Regardless of the vast majority who display a certain trait, there are always plenty of men who demonstrate the stereotypical “female” trait, and vice-verse.

I have heard this generalisation in other forms, such as: “Women are like handbags (everything touches everything else), men are like a chest of drawers (everything is in distinct departments)”. It would also fit well with the old one: “Women are like an iron (takes a long time to get them warmed up), men are like a light bulb (you can turn them on in an instant).”

Such differences seem to reflect traditional male-hunter, female-gatherer views. They would fit with the female as nurturer, male as protector well too. More significantly, to me such a difference aligns itself with the Biblical teaching of the husband’s headship in marriage. Being emotionally-less-enmeshed might make the assumption of rational, clear-headed responsibility easier. It would appear to be a strength (as well as a  weakness) in man’s tendency to be less emotionally encumbered.

I do not think that a man’s lasagne-like-ness need imply that he is cold or emotionally disconnected from others. Though being emotionally cold might be perceived as more masculine, even heroic and leader-like, it would be a mistake to approve of poor relating in the name of “important” things like leadership, strength and manliness.

In the end, whatever the degree of (“male”) compartmentalisation or (“female”) entanglement, there is always the sauce which binds the pasta, adding coherence, clarity and softness to the whole.