Friday, November 18, 2011

Myth of Mars and Venus

Via Ally Fogg in The Guardian:

"In a recent meta-analysis, Petersen and Hyde pooled 834 studies from 87 countries and seven national data sets to give them over a million subjects. While hundreds of gender differences were found, almost all were marginal – only a handful could be described as persistent and pronounced. Importantly, the more gender-equal societies become, the more those differences diminish. Forget Mars and Venus: it's more like Men are from Manchester, Women are from Salford.

On topics of sexual behaviour and sexual politics, we can argue all day about what is moral, what is sensible, what is practical, what is just. Let's not get distracted by what is natural. There is really no such thing."

Popular "common sense" narratives about gender posit that, compared to women, Men Are Dirty Pigs Who Are Obsessed With Sex, and that this sex difference is biological or innate. Based on this stereotype, some further argue that (a) it is women's role in heterosexual relationships to tame men and that (b) marriage is the vehicle through which men's sexual urges are channeled into one person.

Other narratives say that Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus, suggesting that men and women are so different that they are almost alien species to one another. Some religious narratives claim that men and women are "complementary" to one another, not only sexually, but personality-wise as well.

The meta-analysis, available at the embedded link above (in PDF form), is an interesting read for those interested in gender issues and differences. A snippet:

"The gender similarities hypothesis suggests that men and women are very similar for most, but not all, psychological variables. Evidence from numerous meta-analyses supports this hypothesis by indicating that gender differences are small or close to zero in areas such as cognitive abilities, psychological well being, and self-esteem (Hyde, 2005).....

This meta-analysis indicated that gender differences in sexual behaviors and attitudes may not be as large as popular opinion suggests. In support of the gender similarities hypothesis, small gender differences for the majority of sexual behaviors and attitudes suggest that men and women are more similar than they are different in terms of sexuality."

I wonder, how might popular narratives about men and sexuality be unfair to men (and women)? How might the message, sometimes implicit and other times explicit, that marriage exists to entrap men and control their sexualities be a bad PR campaign for marriage?

[Cross-posted at Family Scholars Blog. It might be interesting to see if and how non-feminists and anti-feminists react to this "revelation."]

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