Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

We need to change the gendered value system

Are men and women different? If so, are those differences significant today?

Recently I’ve had two discussions with men about the differences between men and women. Each time, after a long drawn out debate, it has come down to this:

“But men and women are different. If they’re not, how come men and women don’t compete in sport?”

Or the slightly different version:

“You can’t think men and women can be equal in all working conditions. What about physical labour?”

It is generally at this point in the conversation when I feel a sense of deep exhaustion and despair coming over me. I feel the need to seek out the bottle store, climb to the bottom of a bottle of wine and go to sleep. So now, having done the aforementioned and recovered suitably, I will attempt to restore some dignity to the debate about women’s and men’s differences.

First, most differences between men and women are socially programmed. In fact, we have equal numbers of muscles in our body in nearly all the same places, which means that we can physically use those muscles as needed. Part of the historical explanation for women’s supposed inability to beat men at sport (though they have done so before) is because they are not encouraged to live in their bodies in a powerful way but are instead encouraged to be small (see crossing legs rather than sitting with them open and throwing like a girl) and to move in small movements. In essence, our historical proclivity to being ladylike has left us less physically able in many cases. When women are physically able, or too physically able for our social norms, we question whether they are in fact women.

Second, explanations of a system of difference based on extreme physical examples (e.g. sprinters, rugby players, etc) is not really useful. Put the average man in a race against Usain Bolt and he will be beaten. Put the average man in a race against Caster Semenya, and I bet you he will still be beaten. Perhaps pitting Caster Semenya against Usain Bolt would have a different result, but see the first explanation for possible causes. If that doesn’t work for you, try to see them as two incredibly fast individuals, one of whom is faster.

Third, how valuable is intense physical strength in our modern world? It is 2012. The world is ruled by technology and capitalism. Our world is run by people (mostly men, sadly) who look like this, not like this. In short, physical strength ceased to be relevant in most professions a very long time ago. This is no longer a prehistoric world where our ability to construct things with our hands and biceps is essentially valuable. It’s a world where our brains and wealth are more important.

Being head of state, head of a school, a doctor or the head of NASA does not require big guns, but sadly men are still leading many of these professions. Why?

Because history is relevant. The particular traits in a person (determination, strength, courage, fearlessness) that we value in today’s world are a throwback from centuries where you had to be an aggressive individual to survive. Times were tough, and you needed to be a cold bastard to survive them. The fact that we value these traits in people over traits like compassion, empathy and a connection to their emotions is not ahistorical. The fact that patriarchy nurtured the first set of traits in men and the second in women is not ahistorical. Our differences are not ahistorical. These differences let down men and women. 

Our social differences are not permanent, and we have to work on changing the value system so that we can appreciate deep and complicated individuals instead of caricatures of men and women. If we are able to do this, then we can begin to celebrate differences between us as differences between individuals, rather than an ahistorical reason to have a man in a job that a woman is equally capable of doing.

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    • James Grey

      @Paul- I think you need to heed your own good advice and disengage.

      The company I work for has quite an effective firewall preventing us employees from accessing adult sites and most social networks etc, but Graham, that last link of yours is the first time I’ve had access denied because

      “Reason: This category is filtered?: Racism and Hate”,

      and think that says more than enough about your ‘sources’.

    • Paul Barrett

      @Graham Johnson: perhaps you should have read that linked page ( a little better.

      From the first comment, this comment written *by the author of the article*:

      “I wrote this tongue-in-cheek”

      Even if I could take you seriously before (I couldn’t, just so you know,) I certainly can’t after reading that particular reference you’re using to support your views.

      Regarding IQ testing, I had to do an IQ test to get into the high school I attended, in South Africa. The test was very much biased toward using certain things as indicators of intelligence (primarily Mathematical and linguistic knowledge, if I recall correctly,) and not at all a real test of my intelligence (and yes, I got in, because I happened to be good at Math and English, due to finding them interesting and working hard on those subjects.)

      Considering that you quote references which don’t support your claims, and apparently can’t be bothered to do any real research, I can’t be bothered to look up the references which show that IQ tests are culturally biased, and that includes biased against people who don’t show their intelligence in the specific and narrow ways tested.

      @Paul: I know I am wasting my time on him, but sometimes it’s amusing to watch someone flailing (and failing) to justify their prejudices.

    • Ms Ann Thrope

      @Graham Johnson
      From your “Mainstram Science on Intelligence”

      “Intelligence tests are not culturally biased against American blacks or other native-born, English-speaking peoples in the U.S. Rather, IQ scores predict equally accurately for all such Americans, regardless of race and social class.”

      According to this, a kids in an ex-Model C school and a rural township school would be on an equal footing for a standard IQ test. Um. No.
      Besides, that document has been criticised since its release, including statements from a bunch of similarly qualified scientists who refused to sign.

      But what do I know, I must bow to your obviously superior white male intellect.

    • Graham Johnson

      If Nature magazine is a source of race and hate, then so be it. I can’t buck that.

    • Graham Johnson

      @Ms Ann Thrope

      Did you read the other Nature magazine extract on teenage IQ?

      What did you think of it compared to the Rhodes Univesity masters thesis I posted earlier?

    • MLH

      Jen, the budding theorist! Go out and live a little, Girl. Then live a little more.

      And come back and believe the same once you’ve had a couple of kids. Keep up a jet-set job style while breastfeeding…getting all the shopping done…keeping your partner…making all the important family decisions…

      Oh! Is that why God made two of you? So that you can share the load? And choose the roles you prefer to assume? It takes Miracle Man to do everything else while you rest up as a milch cow. Lifelong equality is not feasible or pragmatic, but carry on deluding yourself as long as you want. I can picture you as one of those pert and pretty women around the coffee pot and WW cookies while your big, strong man is off at work earning the dollars.

      And give yourself some credit. After all, you’ll probably be better at changing a nappy while stirring the soup and feeding a toddler without giving the entire family salmonella.

      @James Grey: I enjoyed the gorilla talk, but wonder what a pair of trout would think of it all. Any answers?

    • Jerome

      @Graham Johnson

      Re: the various denialists.

      These people’s very existence depends on the belief that there is no fundamental and moreover, no measurable difference between people.

      We are all, fundamentally, exactly the same, they say. They MUST believe this, or their world would disintegrate. It is at the core of their totalitarian collectivist mindsets and the cause of the disease of political correctness.

      (This does not, of course, stop them from labelling other people as profoundly different from them, and assuming for themselves the right to tell those other people to stop doing what they are doing, because they don’t like it. A feminist, for instance, cannot perceive the absurdity of claiming that men and women are fundamentally the same, and then asserting that men are evil and should stop raping women).

      The arguments they use are really very general, and apply to everything. We can use exactly the same arguments to show that there really is no discernable difference between anything. A rock is a cat is a plant is a motorbike is a noble obligation. (E.g. there are more differences between different kinds of rock than there are between a rock and a woman. A rock and a woman, therefore, is essentially the same).

      So be it. These people are the detritus of a dying civilisation, and a century or so from now the type will exist no more. The pity is that the civilisation would’ve died because of them.

    • Ms Ann Thrope

      @Graham Johnson

      The IQ changes in teenagers link is not a nature article, but a blog article on a study CITED by Nature article., just to be clear.

      Regardless, it directly contradicts one of the tenets of the “Mainstream science on Intelligence” rant, which states that “differences in IQ BELL CURVES are essentially the same when youngsters leave high school as when they enter first grade.”

      They go on to say that a 17yr old black kid is as smart as a 13 yr old white kid. Yeah, top notch stuff this.

      I give up. If you want to use pseudoscience to justify your prejudice, knock yourself out.

    • Ms Ann Thrope


      “These people’s very existence depends on the belief that there is no fundamental and moreover, no measurable difference between people.”

      That’s not true! One little discussion and I’m quite firmly convinced that I’m smarter than both you and Mr Johnson. That’s pretty specific :)

      (Yes, arrogance is a terrible vice).

    • Graham Johnson


      I wholeheartedly agree. And you said it without the insults that pepper their desperate texts.

      Like man and woman, black and white, there is no discernable differnce in their DNA (chromosomes, maybe, but not in DNA).

      Similarly, there is no discernable difference in the DNA of a wolf and a labrador retriever, but I know which one I would leave my 5 year od daughter with.

    • James Grey


      “I enjoyed the gorilla talk, but wonder what a pair of trout would think of it all. Any answers?”

      I quite honestly don’t know what you are asking. Are you making reference to something that I just don’t get?

      If your point is that the thing about gorilla’s is irrelevant, then you’re wrong. What it says is that there are very real physical differences between (human) men and women, and that those differences are as pronounced as in another species of primate that happens to have a particularly significant degree of physical difference between the male and female of that species. So gorillas only enter the picture as a comparator.

    • Ms Ann Thrope

      “Like man and woman, black and white, there is no discernable differnce in their DNA (chromosomes, maybe, but not in DNA).”

      Gah the amount of FAIL in this sentence is unbelievable. Where to start…

      As a geneticist, I’m pretty sure I could tell you the differences between a wolf and a labrador.

      Also, inviduals have unique DNA, hence the existence of genetic forensic science.

      I’m also pretty sure that most geneticists will tell you that there is no genetic delimitor for race either. (Senile ravings of James Watson notwithstanding…).

      Two questions for you Mr Johnson:

      1) Are you religious? If yes, what flavour are you?
      2) Do you subscribe to the theory of evolution?

    • Graham Johnson

      @Ms Ann Thrope

      I have no prejudices (except against fools).

      The Nature and Rhodes Univesity texts answer the questions you asked if you would just read them.

      And I agree that the Nature article contradicts some of the earlier IQ beliefs, but that is what science does, continuously updates what it knows. Unlike some.

      I am delighted that you are superior to me, it’s actually quite easy.

    • Graham Johnson

      @Ms Ann Thrope

      You ask:
      Q. 1) Are you religious? If yes, what flavour are you?
      A. I believe there are forces superior to man, but not god; and I believe in the eternity of the human soul/spirit, but again, not through a god.

      Q. 2) Do you subscribe to the theory of evolution?”
      Y. Yes

      May I ask you:
      Q1. Did you read the Rhodes master’s thesis and understand it? Did it help you reconcile the Nature magazine and Mainstream intelligence texts?
      Q2. Are you prepared to improve our SA schooling by recognising the challenges of the ranges of IQ in our schools?

    • Graham Johnson

      I also said, “Like man and woman, black and white, there is no discernable differnce in their DNA (chromosomes, maybe, but not in DNA).”

      In English, this means that, whilst there may be different genes in different places, the correlation between the DNA of two individuls of a single species is virtually 100%. We do not yet know the significance of the gene differences that we CAN identify. As Jerome says, that will come in a year or two and then the denialists will have the rug pulled out from under them.

      The latest information I have to hand uses almost the exact text I posted. A wolf, a coyote and a retriever have virtally identical DNA. In a year or two we wil be able to identidy which is which.

    • Jerome

      Two questions for you, Ms Ann Thrope:

      1) Do you actually understand statistics? Done a bit of math, and so?
      2) What level of training have you had as a geneticist?

      “I’m also pretty sure that most geneticists will tell you that there is no genetic delimitor for race either”.

      Only if you don’t want to. Geneticists need to be careful – they do not have the luxury of pursuing truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and one unguarded remark can have them hounded out of a career and a lifetime’s reputation of brilliance in this fascist world we’ve become.

      In fact, you could simply DEFINE race in terms of genetic delimitors, should you feel the need. As a geneticist, I’m pretty sure that you actually know this.

    • Ms Ann Thrope


      1) shockingly I do actually understand a fair amount of stats
      2) I have a BSc, MSc, PhD and I’m on my second post-doc. Any other qualifications you think are relevant?

      When I say there is NO race delimiter, that is precisely what I mean. If you take a bunch of African black people and a bunch of caucasian europeans and compare their DNA both between and within groups. There is more variability WITHIN groups than between groups. I would find the study and quote it, but I don’t think any amount of peer-reviewed research would satisfy you.

    • OneFlew

      See how the clunking fists come out to play…

    • Graham Johnson


      Ms Ann Thrope obviously has no answer for that. And the others appear to have retreated to their sandboxes.

      Also, and significantly, this thread shows that women, particularly in Jen’s thread, have more balls than men.

    • Graham Johnson

      @Ms Ann Thrope

      You say, “When I say there is NO race delimiter, that is precisely what I mean. If you take a bunch of African black people and a bunch of caucasian europeans and compare their DNA both between and within groups. There is more variability WITHIN groups than between groups.”

      This is PRECISELY what I have said from the start. Thank you.

      Just as if I take a pack of wolves, pack of coyotes and and a pack of retreivers ‘and compare their DNA both between and within groups. There is more variability WITHIN groups than between groups.”

      You obviously already know this: “there is less mtDNA difference between dogs, wolves, and coyotes than there is between the various ethnic groups of human beings…” (Coppinger, 1995).

      “Humans are much more genetically diverse than dogs; the observed heterozygosity for humans is 0.7, but it is only 0.4 for dogs. (John Goodwin).

      This puts you on wobbly ground Ms A.

    • MLH

      @ James Grey:

      Sorry, I was teasing. While I realised you used gorillas as a close comparison to humans, I was merely wondering whether or not similar differences run through all species.

      I am a denialist insofar I absolutely deny that the similarity between men and women is generally close. Obviously examples that buck the rule exist, but I’ve been around too many new mothers who discuss whether or not to return to work rather than stay home to raise their newest additions to ponder the point. The average women is delighted to be able to give up work and leave all that to her husband once kids are born. Since that was an option I didn’t have, I didn’t bother arguing with myself or them over my own future. I was more for conserving my own energy.

      Women can do anything they choose, but if they take four months’ maternity leave, they should understand that they lose at least six months against their male peers. If they are then not 100% focussed on the work they do, they carry additional pressure to perform every day. We don’t find it easy to discard maternal instinct at the office door.

    • Jerome

      @Ms Ann Thrope

      I am shocked. But you are the person I need to speak to.

      We already know that you are more intelligent than what I am. You told us so.
      Now, do you believe that there is some biological basis for this superiority, that your brain is simply ‘better’ than mine, or do you think that, maybe, if I grew up in the same environment as you did, had the same kind of education and training, was treated in the same kind of way, my intelligence could’ve been on a par with yours?

    • Rich

      Wow! Talk of equality – there is a lot of chest beating and talking over each other above. When roles are not clearly defined then that is what you get…chaos.

      @MLH – The Sound of Reason! Very pragmatic and a good note to nip this in the bud.

    • Graham Johnson


      Even Ms A is head down back to her studies. No answers at all.

      Well, we tried.

    • Graham Johnson

      For the sake of the subject, I read that, “a recent scientific study found that women find different male faces attractive depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle.

      For example, when a women is ovulating she will prefer a man with rugged, masculine features. However, when she is menstruating she will prefer a man doused in petrol and set on fire, with scissors stuck in his eyes and a cricket stmp shoved up his backside.” (Anon)

      They still have more balls than us.

    • Iqshan

      Wow. 1245 views and only 75 comments. You guessed it, The usual Jen followers.

      Last question. Why is it only women who look like men who seem to think their aren’t any real differences between men and women?

    • Rory Short

      Men and women are different what a pleasure. I take it as a given that we should strive to honour and respect every individual for who and what they are in themselves, whether they be male or female is actually irrelevant.

    • Rod of Sydney
    • Stelios

      It appears as tough this gender thing has been busted wide open … but. Are you willing to die for what you believe-in? That will prove the difference in gender equality!

    • Nick

      A belated afterthought on this debate. Actually, does it matter whether men and women are different? Surely it is more important to build a society where each individual, irrespective of gender, can pursue their own vision of themselves without being either helped or hampered by what other people perceive as the natural biases of their gender?