Gender equality

is hard to come by. With an emphasis on “equality”, which I would define as being equal, or the same. In the literal sense, of course male and female cannot be the same, nor is it desirable for male and female to be the same. Gynecomastia, virilization, hirsutism, etc. are symptoms for men and women whose hormone balances tip towards the opposite sex.

Ok, enough tongue-in-cheek. No one means “equality” in its literal sense when they discuss the topic of gender equality. So, what do they really mean?

There is no specialty for which the gender ratio is 50:50. There are more male orthopods, and there are more female ob/gyns. There are more female medical students and general practitioners today, which is a shift from the previous era. Is that inequality? Is it unfair that, under the current admission standard, more female medical students are selected over male ones? Should it be tweaked so that we have a 50:50 split every year?

It turns out that equality is a very difficult notion to define. Perhaps it means that men and women are given equal opportunities, responsibilities, reward, and respect. That is all fine in words but complicated in practice, because men and women are biologically and therefore fundamentally different. The average men have higher water and lean mass content than the average women (actually the medical literature defines “typical men” as white males in their 25-35s or something like that but it works for our argument). The average men have higher testosterone than the average woman. This biological difference results in some phenotypical differences that are fundamental to each gender and therefore difficult to change. Such things include: greater physical strength and higher rate of aggression in the average male, and greater social skills and higher rates of depression in the average female. Note that I have deliberately used the “average” male and female because there are of course variability in each population, and we need to focus our discussion on the populations to avoid “but there are some women who are twice as strong as your skinny ass” type of rebuttal. 

But the fundamental difference between the genders end pretty quickly after basic biology and perhaps some psychology. Beyond that, as we move further away from the XX vs XY end of the divide and closer towards the Office vs Kitchen stereotypes, biology plays a smaller and smaller role. If the average women spend more time in the kitchen than the average men, I’d argue that has to do more with society than with biology. And I’d further argue that since society change as people change, there is no reason why the average women have to spend more time in the kitchen than men. Same goes to earning money. Becoming good doctors. And winning presidential elections.

In other words, I think that differences between men and women are due to two factors: biology and society/environment. (Good old multifactorial, nature vs nurture explanation.) Some differences between genders are more due to biology than society, and some the other way around.

So the issue becomes, what kind of societal pressures is in place to keep men and women live life differently? And which of these pressures are desirable and which are not? For one clear case of societal pressure as example: the guy usually buys the diamond ring and proposes to the girl. Is it a desirable societally-pressured inequality? Should we strive for equality and start a movement where girls propose to guys (with awesome computer gadgets, perhaps)? Another societal and historically based inequality: the baby usually takes on the dad’s last name. Does it have to be that way? Should we make the “family name” the mom’s name or the dad’s name based on a coin toss?

Nah probably not. Either proposal would be kinda weird. But any shifting of paradigm in society would be kinda weird at first, so it being weird doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. On a societal level, what gender inequalities should be kept and which ones should be fought needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as our culture evolves.

On an individual basis, though, the above argument does not apply. As I mentioned, people are different and probably follow a normal distribution for aggressiveness, emotionality, assertiveness, chivalry, etc. This means there are probably many women more aggressive than many men, many men more emotional than many women, and so on. How a couple could work out the balance will be unique to that couple, and it may very well carry a wide range of normal.

So when someone say: “men should get their balls back and be manly” or “women should be nicer and more girly” in a relationship, I would say: depends on who you are talking about, what their relationship is like, and on what circumstances you are basing your critique. If you are critiquing on the society as a whole, then I would say: good on ya, trying to shape our culture one facebook comment at a time!

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One thought on “Gender equality

  1. i totally agree that it depends on the couple and how they work together..
    mmmmm..gynecomastia ❤ that was my fav big word i learned in nursing skool..

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