Men and Women are from Earth, but only Women give birth

January 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

Despite my overall agreement with the themes discussed by Barnett and Rivers in “Men and Women are from Earth”, for the sake of spirited intellectual debate, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate and air a few possible criticisms, or at least a few points they either downplay or omit entirely.

1. Socialized gender roles aside, there are distinct and generalizable physiological differences between males and females, some of which have the potential to dramatically alter the life experiences and perceptions of each.  Giving birth is one example.  Having a period.  Having sensitive external genitalia.  Having or not having a beard.  Having or not having a certain size, stature, or musculature.  Having breasts.  Having a specific amount of estrogen or testosterone in one’s brain at any given time.  Not everyone of either sex possesses all of the generalizable experiences of their group but the tendencies are such that, for the sake of expediency and an acknowledgment that most people have neither the time nor the inclination to think deeply about such subjects, generalizations are often made which have some truth to them.

2. Gender roles served an evolutionary purpose at one time, and in specific living situations.  It was advantageous to have a certain division of labor when survival was much less certain and so much was contingent upon having a large family, a bountiful harvest, and perhaps a successful hunt.  Gendered roles also offered a certain societal stability.  Despite a relative lack of freedom, people knew what was expected of them.  Social relations were, to a certain extent, scripted.  What I wonder is whether the persisting social script is truly outdated, or whether it still offers some benefit to society and to individuals?  Barnett and Rivers bring up many valid points about the damaging effects of relational gender-scripts, but have the possible benefits of gender and gender scripts in a modern society been explored as well?

3. Barnett and Rivers’ article omits, or was written before, some studies which might potentially weaken their argument.  In 2006, a study led by Tania Singer found that women tend to extend empathy more broadly than do men, with men tending not to be as empathetic towards those they feel deserve whatever pain or punishment they are receiving.  Whether this is a reaction contingent upon socially gendered expectations which gradually shape one’s ability to empathize with others, or whether it is an innate emotional and neurophysiological difference, cannot yet be conclusively determined.   There are even studies which enumerate the discernable differences between men and women, such as their expectations and perceptions within relationships (see:  How much of this is contingent upon upbringing?  It is, I believe, a bit misleading to depict all of the differences between men and women as cultural, or social, or “nurtured” rather than “natured”.


Those are a few of my criticisms on an (overall quite enjoyable) article.  I’m curious to see what others have to say.


§ One Response to Men and Women are from Earth, but only Women give birth

  • There are a few ideas I tend to side with, in response to this post:

    1) While gender roles may have been one way of organizing society, within the context of modern life it becomes outdated. Gender roles do not take into account evolution of society through technology. Birth control and tampons are examples of technology that help improve the lives of women.

    2) Change can be very slow within society, due to several issues; habit, policy, finances, etc. Thus we have gender roles that are no longer needed.

    3) The way we perceive gender is influence by our social “programming”. A viscous cycle occurs when we “do gender”, reinforcing notions that it must be “inherent”.

    4) Men have the ability to breastfeed, and it would be really interesting if men had breasts and women didn’t. I think if we lived in a world where this was the case, this would blend divisions of child-rearing.

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