men biologically inferior to women in social communication

Men’s biological inferiority to women in social communication is well-documented and relatively uncontroversial.  A neuropsychiatrist who’s an expert on male and female brains explained:

Males’ and females’ brains are different by nature.  Think about this.  What if the communication center is bigger in one brain than in the other?  What if the emotional memory center is bigger in one than in the other?  What if one brain develops a greater ability to read cues in people than does the other?  In this case, you would have a person whose reality dictated that communication, connection, emotional sensitivity, and responsiveness were the primary values. This person would prize these qualities above all others and be baffled by a person with a brain that didn’t grasp the importance of these qualities.  In essence, you would have someone with a female brain. [1]

A leading psychologist also found significant gender differences in brains:

The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy.  The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems. [2]

This biological sex difference is not merely defined by nature, genes, or sex chromosomes, as a crude biological determinist would believe.  The environment plays a crucial role in gender development:

Until eight weeks old, every fetal brain looks female – female is nature’s default gender setting.  If you were to watch a female and a male brain developing via time-lapse photography, you would see their circuit diagrams being laid down according to the blueprint drafted by both genes and sex hormones.  A huge testosterone surge beginning in the eighth week will turn this unisex {female} brain male by killing off some cells in the communication centers and growing more cells in the sex and aggression centers.  If the testosterone surge doesn’t happen, the female brain continues to grow unperturbed.  The fetal girl’s brain cells spout more connections in the communication centers and areas that process emotion. [3]

The criminalization of males is based on biological processes that begin before males are born.

men biologically inferior to women

Although the female brain has developmental priority, genetic sex differences are significant.  Males have only a Y chromosome, rather than a double dose of the larger X chromosome that women have.  This difference has communicative implications.  A male geneticist on the faculty at a leading British university explained:

The chromosome unique to men {Y} is a microscopic metaphor of those who bear it, for – in spite of determined attempts to retain its identity – it is the most decayed, redundant, and parasitic of the lot. [4]

This scholar also revealed that the Y chromosome is associated with lack of useful information, baldness, and bad temperament:

Masculine decadence is such that on the Y, a mere one part in thousands contains useful information. … To half the human race it is the prince of chromosomes, for it commands the testes. That in turn directs those who bear it to their bald, bibulous, and bad-tempered destiny. [5]

Another prominent scientist has supported that finding:

I have a genetic abnormality generally considered to be associated with high rates of certain socially abhorrent behaviors: I am male. Thanks to an array of genes that produce some hormone-synthesizing enzymes, my testes churn out a corrosive chemical and dump the stuff into my bloodstream, and this probably has behavioral consequences. We males account for less than 50 percent of the population, yet we generate a huge proportion of the violence. [6]

However, the problem is not simply male genetics or male hormones:

“Testosterone equals aggression” is inadequate for those who would offer a simple biological solution to the violent male. And “testosterone equals aggression” is certainly inadequate for those who would offer the simple excuse that boys will be boys. Violence is more complex than a single hormone, and it is supremely rare that any of our behaviors can be reduced to genetic destiny. [7]

Life undoubtedly is complex.  By age 45, this scholar had become a high-ranking male in the academic dominance hierarchy.  His ethical guidance for men is remarkably simple and sex-typed:

What’s clear to me now at 45 is, screw the alpha male stuff. Go for an alternative strategy. Go for the social affiliation, build relationships with females, don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to be the most adept socially cagy male-male competitor. Amazingly enough that’s not what pays off in that system. Go for the affiliative stuff and bypass the male crap. I could not have said that when I was 25. [8]

Men’s recognition of their biological nature can help to motivate them to try to act like women.

But biological knowledge should not be sought without first considering the effects of that knowledge on women.  The leading neuropsychiatrist’s book on the female brain promised on its book jacket:

Women will come away from this book knowing that they have a lean, mean communicating machine.  Men will develop a serious case of brain envy. [9]

Nonetheless, a popular weekly U.S. news magazine reported cause for concern about this book’s effect on women.  It reported that a Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at a large mid-western university stated:

she’s disgusted by scientists, writers and publishers who exploit trivial differences between the genders.  Books like this “are bad for my blood pressure,” she says. [10]

The news magazine also quoted another psychiatrist who’s a neuroimaging expert at a large mid-western medical school.  According to the news magazine, she declared:

Nurture plays such a huge role in human behavior that focusing on biology is next to meaningless.  “Whatever measurable differences exist in the brain,” {she says}, “are used to oppress and suppress women.” [11]

A leading biological anthropologist recognized this sort of risk over two decades ago.  She noted:

Biology, it is sometimes thought, has worked against women.  Assumptions about the biological nature of men and women have frequently been used to justify submissive and inferior female roles and a double standard in sexual morality. [12]

Insinuations of inferiority and double standards hurt women, including hurting their self-esteem and discouraging them from seeking high-powered scholarly careers.  Nonetheless, this influential scholar argued that refusing to talk about biology is a mistake:

by refusing to talk about biology, we effectively hide the fact that there are important ways in which human females are in a worse position than are females in other species. [13]

Despite concern about the risks to women, talk about biology has flourished.  Moreover, women have been leaders in talking about biology.

An important book entitled The First Sex documents areas of women’s biological superiority to men.  This book, published in 1999, was authored by a well-regarded woman anthropology professor.  A review of the book in BusinessWeek gushed:

In the past two months, four books have appeared extolling the evolutionary and biological underpinnings that make women equal – nay, superior – to men. … the best of the bunch is The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They are Changing the World. [14]

Over 300 news articles have cited The First Sex since its publication in 1999.

The First Sex made shocking claims.  It declared:

discrimination is only one of the reasons why women are not achieving parity with men at the highest-ranking jobs of the traditional corporate world.  I suspect there is a biological component to this complex situation: as testosterone and other male hormones contribute to men’s drive to reach the top of the business ladder, estrogen most likely contributes to women’s drive to take time out to rear their children – undermining their ability to achieve high-status jobs.

But this author is not a biological determinist.  She also identifies different tradeoffs that males and females make in the social circumstances that shape career success:

Unquestionably, many, many women are ambitious. …

But as a rule, women are not as willing as men to stay late in the office, travel constantly, skip school events, entertain clients in the evening, or relocate, sacrificing their family lives and their personal interests for their careers.

These social circumstances reveal the relative value of women’s and men’s lives, at least from a women’s perspective:

So I am not convinced that women will ever reach parity with men in the highest echelons of the traditional corporate world.  Not because women lack the education or the intelligence.  Not because women fear failure.  Not because men will monopolize these trophy jobs.  But because fewer women are willing to work long hours, take job risks, transfer to other cities, and jeopardize their family and personal lives in other ways to gain the summit.  They feel they have something more important to do. [15]

The expression of such views may hurt women’s self-esteem, discourage them from elite scholarly careers, and contribute to women’s oppression and the perpetuation of patriarchy.  Even if not causing physical harm to women, such as high-blood pressure or nausea, expression of such views might be considered to be verbal violence.  A professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine has declared:

In my view, when faculty tell their students that they are innately inferior based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, they are crossing a line that should not be crossed – the line that divides free speech from verbal violence – and it should not be tolerated at Harvard or anywhere else. [16]

The First Sex doesn’t state that women are innately inferior.  It declares that women’s under-representation at the top of corporations is because women “feel they have something more important to do.”  The author probably isn’t guilty of verbal violence against women and thus shouldn’t be arrested.

The First Sex describes numerous, communication-related biological advantages of women.  Important points include:

  • At talking, women have the edge.
  • Women are, on average, more articulate at saying what they say.
  • Specific genes may also enable some women {about 50%} to speak more effectively than men
  • Women’s voices are more variable, more musical, and more expressive than men’s – traits shared with other female primates.  Female apes and monkeys produce a larger array of whimpers, coos, barks and other middle-range “social” calls, while male primates have a more restricted repertoire of growls and roars, aggressive strident sounds. [17]

Both nature and environment are important in determining the differences between females and males.  The author explains that the structure of men’s brains favors (small) “step thinking,” while the structure of women’s brains favors “web thinking”:

women, on average, take a broader perspective than men do – on any issue.  Women think contextually, holistically.  They also display more mental flexibility, apply more intuitive and imaginative judgments, and have a greater tendency to plan long term – other aspects of the contextual perspective. [18]

The web, meaning the Internet-based global mesh of information and communication technologies, is becoming hugely important.  This environmental change naturally favors women, since they have an innate advantage in “web thinking.”

Scholars have also documented that women have additional innate communication advantages.   Under-appreciated communication industry analysis suggests that sense of presence, working across all sensory modalities, is an important source of value in communication.  Compared to men, women have biologically superior sense:

  • Women are, on average, more sensitive to touch.
  • Women, on average, also have superior hearing.
  • Women, on average, can taste sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors in lower concentrations {than can men}.
  • Women are generally superior at noticing and remembering physical contexts.
  • In the dark woman have superior eyesight.  Women adjust their vision faster to the dark and see more accurately in the dead of night.
  • Women also have keener peripheral vision. …Women literally see the “bigger picture.”
  • women usually distinguish colors, particularly the various shades of red and green, more accurately {than men}. … This feminine talent for perceiving shades of red and green is genetically determined.  The genes for red/green color vision and all combinations of these colors lie on the X chromosome.
  • Women can also remember shades, tones, and color values more accurately than men. [19]

It should come as no surprise to learn that women “live in a richer olfactory world” than men.  Despite some evidence to the contrary, scientific studies also indicate that women “recognize odors more accurately than men.”[20]

Women also have documented superiority in interpersonal sensitivity.  Having a sense for the response of an imaginary reader, listener, viewer, or dialogue partner is important for success in many forms of communication.  Women’s innate advantages encompass that sense:

  • Touch, hearing, smell, taste, night vision, peripheral vision, color vision: women’s sensory acuities give them a remarkable advantage in any occupation where understanding and getting along with people is required.  Yet women have even more arrows in their social quiver.  They have an outstanding ability to read facial expressions.
  • Women are also more skilled at reading all of the nonfacial bodily clues that we unthinkingly transmit.
  • Dozens of psychological tests show that women are, on average, more skilled at what psychologists call interpersonal sensitivity. [21]

Overall, the innate sensory advantages of women foster “an uncanny ability to read your mind, then tell you what you want to hear.”[22]

The innate advantages of women fundamentally affect public communication.  Women’s innate communicative superiority was predicted to make women dominant in communication and education industries:

  • As we move further into the Information Age, it seems likely that women will have an innate advantage in any career that depends on words – particularly in the communications industries and in all of our educational fields.
  • I contend that women will come to dominate many sectors of the communications and education fields. [23]

Echoing such claims, a popular weekly news magazine published an article headlined “La difference: How women won the sex war;  Larry Summers may well have been right, but men are done for anyway.”  The news article explained:

Technology and globalization are undermining the usefulness of male skills.  … Modern professional life is dominated by emotional intelligence, empathy and communication. … It’s a girlie man’s world [24]

The dominance of women in communication and education industries is already obvious.  That’s especially true in public discussion of sex differences and sexism.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Brizendine (2006) p. 13.  Louann Brizendine is a medical doctor and practicing clinician at the University of California, San Francisco. She founded and directs the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic. Brizendine is a graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine and has been on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.

[2] Baron-Cohen (2003) p. 1.  Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.  Some of the responses to his work have been funny.  His cousin is Sacha Baron Cohen.

[3] Brizendine (2006) p. 14.  Brizendine and Baron-Cohen’s work is criticized in Fine (2010).  Fine describes her book thus:

The main message of the Delusions of Gender is that our comforting beliefs about gender – that everything’s fair now, that sex inequality can be blamed on ‘hardwired’ differences between the sexes, and that our failure to rear unisex children just points the same way – just don’t bear up to scrutiny.

Men imprisoned for doing nothing more than having consensual sex, or men facing acute sex discrimination in child custody awards, surely don’t believe that everything’s fair now.  As for rearing unisex children, parents can run their own tests.  But of course, like communism, rearing unisex children is never actually tried and get never gets a true test.

[4] Jones (2003) p. 4.  Steve Jones is a professor of genetics at University College, London.  In 1996, he won the Michael Faraday Prize for “wide ranging contributions to the public understanding of science.”

[5] Id. pp. 4-5.

[6] Sapolsky (1997).  Robert Sapolsky is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University and a MacArthur Fellow.

[7] Id.

[8] Sapolsky (2003). Urging men to act like women is also a policy direction that has emerged from a scholarly study recognizing that men’s violence-related death rate is about four times that of women’s. However, a sophisticated interpretation of this alpha-male’s advice to young betas is that he’s seeking to forestall them from challenging him for his position at the top of the academic dominance hierarchy.

[9] Brizendine (2006).

[10] Tyre (2006), quoting Janet Hyde, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

[11] Tyre (2006), quoting Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen of the University of Iowa Medical School.

[12] Hrdy (1981) p. 1.

[13] Id. p. 8.

[14] Arnst, Catherine, “Will the 21’st Century Be a Woman’s World?BusinessWeek, June 14, 1999.

[15] Fisher (1999) pp. 47-9 (previous three quotes).

[16] Barres (2006) p. 135.  Ben Barres is a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine.  On Jan. 14, 2005, Harvard University President Larry Summer gave remarks at an NBER conference on diversifying the science & engineering workforce.  The Boston Globe reported:

The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, sparked an uproar at an academic conference Friday when he said that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Summers also questioned how much of a role discrimination plays in the dearth of female professors in science and engineering at elite universities.

Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, walked out on Summers’ talk, saying later that if she hadn’t left, “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.” Five other participants reached by the Globe, including Denice D. Denton, chancellor designate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, also said they were deeply offended, while four other attendees said they were not.

The above quote is the first two paragraphs in Marcella Bombardieri, “Summers’ remarks on women draw fire,” Boston Globe, Jan. 17, 2005.

[17] Fisher (1999) pp. 58, 62, 64 (bullet points are textually separate quotes).  In a comment in Genome Biology, Petsko (2005), p. 105.2, noted the importance of voice tone:

It’s a pity there isn’t a recording of his speech {Larry Summer’s remarks made to a National Bureau of Economics Research conference}, because tone of voice can make a big difference in matters like this.

Fisher’s findings on the strongly gendered importance of voice tone is consistent with that claim.

[18] Fisher (1999) p. 4. Id., p. 94, reports:

{Employers} will also hire women if they need employees who can use the Net effectively. This feminine edge was demonstrated recently by managers at the {now defunct} telecommunications company MCI. Using its own Web site, MCI asked tens of thousands of male and female computer users to answer five “general interest” questions about the Net. Women, they discovered, use the Web faster and more efficiently than men do.

[19] Id. pp. 85, 86, 89, 94, 90-1 (bullet points are textually separate quotes).

[20] Id. p. 88.

[21] Id. pp. 91, 93, 96 (bullet points are textually separate quotes). Brizendine (2006) Ch. 6 makes similar claims.

[22] Fisher (1999) p. 102.

[23] Id. pp. 65, 57 (bullet points are textually separate quotes). Id. p. 288 declares:

We are inching toward a truly collaborative society, a global culture in which the merits of both sexes are understood, valued, and employed.

Fisher’s The First Sex was not the first book with that title.  Elizabeth Gould Davis in 1971 wrote a book entitled The First Sex.  Like Fisher, Davis presented an optimistic vision of the future:

The ages of masculism are now drawing to a close. Their dying days are lit up by a final flare of universal violence and despair such as the world has seldom before seen. …

In the new science of the twenty-first century, not physical force but spiritual force will lead the way. Mental and spiritual gifts will be more in demand than gifts of a physical nature. Extrasensory perception will take precedence over sensory perception. And in this sphere women will again predominate.

Davis (1971) p. 339.

[24] “La difference: How women won the sex war; Larry Summers may well have been right, but men are done for anyway,” The Economist, Aug. 3, 2006.

[image] Sugar cane workers resting at the noon hour, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, in Dec. 1941.  From Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs.  Thanks to the Library of Congress.

References:

Baron-Cohen, Simon. 2004. The essential difference: male and female brains and the truth about autism. New York, Basic Books.

Barres, Ben A. (2006). “Does gender matter?” Nature 442: 133-136.

Brizendine, Louann. 2006. The female brain. New York: Morgan Road Books.

Davis, Elizabeth Gould. 1971. The first sex. New York: Putnam.

Fine, Cordelia. 2010. Delusions of gender: how our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference. New York: W. W. Norton.

Fisher, Helen. 1999. The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They are Changing the World. New York: Random House.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1981. The woman that never evolved. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Jones, Steve. 2003. Y: the descent of men. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sapolsky, Robert. 1997. “Testosterone Rules.” Discover 18(3).

Sapolsky, Robert. 2003. “A Bozo of a Baboon: A Talk with Robert Sapolsky.” The Third Culture. Edge Foundation.

Tyre, Peg and Julie Scelfo. 2006. “Why Girls Will Be Girls.” Newsweek, July 31.

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