When it was revealed that scientific studies published in the new book “The Female Brain” demonstrate that women talk more than men, many of us responded with a collective shrug. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with a member of the opposite sex—whether romantic, familial or friendly—knows that women talk more than men. A lot more.
“The Female Brain” indicates that not only do women talk three times as much as men, but they also get a chemical rush in their brains from hearing their own voices. This may explain why women describe “feeling better” after talking about problems or issues in their lives, beyond the mere relief of getting it off their chest.
But what is most fascinating about the book is the background of its author. A neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the head of a female mood and hormone clinic in San Francisco, Dr. Louann Brizendine is also a self-described feminist. In putting forward the results of clinical work and scientific analysis, Brizendine was forced to concede that everything she had been taught about gender was wrong. That is, men and women really are different. As she put it, “I know it is not politically correct to say this but I’ve been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. I believe women actually perceive the world differently from men.”
None of this will come as a surprise to those already attuned to the politically incorrect reality of gender differentiation, but for those indoctrinated in the feminist school of gender uniformity, Brizendine’s words are heresy. While correctly focusing on egalitarianism between the sexes, the post-1960s feminist movement has all too often confused gender equality with gender sameness. Consequently, at a time when college students can graduate with degrees in Gender Studies, there seems to be a marked lack of acknowledgment about the differences between men and women.
The attempts by the burgeoning transgender movement to prove that gender itself is meaningless add to the confusion. Rather than a fixed notion, they see gender as something fluid. This works well to the advantage of those who do feel, whether for medical or psychological reasons, that they inhabit some gender nether zone. The problem is, with the exception of cases of physically hermaphroditic children, one’s sex is biologically determined at birth.
Granted, we all have feminine and masculine traits and there are always exceptions to the rule. But any parent who has given dolls to little boys only to see their heads torn off or fire trucks to little girls only to see the vehicles tucked into bed at night knows that gender uniformity can’t be enforced. These differences come naturally.
Gender variance exists even among same-sex couples. It’s not uncommon to see one partner taking on a more feminine role and the other a more masculine one. Whether it be “butch-femme” lesbian couples or a “bear” with a “nelly” on the male side of the equation, male and female roles often come into play. It seems that even when gender differences are not a factor, human beings find a way to adopt them.
The entertainment industry is big on pushing the gender envelope. Whether consciously or not, the progenitors of pop culture help to perpetuate a kind of gender role reversal. Women have become tough and controlling, while men are seen as weak and indecisive.
Since the influence of martial arts films on U.S. markets began, audiences have been treated to countless film and television scenes of petite lasses duking it out with big bruisers. The TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was a case in point. But at least Buffy’s bad-guy butt-kicking was explained through her having supernatural powers. It has now become far more commonplace to see mere mortal female characters punching people in the face on a moment’s notice, beating up or overpowering men and taking the romantic or sexual lead. Far from empowering women in reality, these fantasy scenarios put forward unrealistic expectations and a false sense of security.
The gravity-defying female fighters of the “Charlie’s Angels” films, the demure Southern belle Daisy Duke whose high heel ends up lodged in a man’s throat in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the cold, cruel Taser-wielding blonde on the TV show “Smith” and the perennially bed-hopping Samantha character in “Sex and the City” are all examples of this trend. Even Hermione, the smart young heroine of the “Harry Potter” film series, slugs the annoying Malfoy in the face in the third installment.
In other words, the leading lady has become the leading man, and a not terribly charming one at that.
In contrast, too many of today’s leading men—if they can be called that—are content to let women take the reins. TV shows are populated with male characters—usually police officers or detectives—who stand meekly by as their much more confident and assured female counterparts (who often happen to be their bosses) lead them by the hand. An episode from the first season of “Heroes” featured one such male character, with superpowers no less. Still, he was content to tag along in the rear as his aggressive female partner charged into a violent suspect’s home instead of calling for backup. The fact that she and other such female characters typically weigh only 90 pounds and have more intimidating hairdos than they do physical prowess seems to make little difference.
When male characters do exhibit masculine traits on TV, they are often made to look like fools in the process. Sitcoms such as “According to Jim” and “King of Queens”—featuring overweight, average-looking husbands married to gorgeous, skinny wives—are a prime culprit. The man is usually portrayed as a complete schlub who couldn’t find his ear from his elbow without the guidance of his far intellectually superior wife.
The emergence of metrosexuality, or straight men exhibiting the traits of gay men, can be blamed in part for the decline of masculinity. All around San Francisco, one can see evidence of the trend. From men getting manicures, pedicures and waxings to wearing outfits that are just a touch too matching to fawning over small fluffy dogs, the metros appear to be taking over. And TV shows such as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” are not helping. While no one can deny that many straight men need assistance in the fashion department, it has traditionally been a woman’s role to provide it. But now we have gay men doing the honors and, if you ask me, overdoing it. Even a makeover must acknowledge the reality of male clothing and toiletry habits. The stylish fellows on “Queer Eye” may school allegedly clueless straight men in the joys of astringent and pink ties, but any woman knows those items will be dispensed with at the first opportunity.
While gay men are welcome to be as in touch with their feminine side as they like, straight men would do well to ignore it. For what woman would want a man who cannot go a week without buying beauty products, let alone guard hearth and home? Those who acknowledge the reality of gender differences know this instinctively, while those who pretend they are meaningless are affronted when one dares speak the truth. But most women, on a biological and often conscious level, are looking for a provider and protector in a man, among other things. Yet the metrosexual revolution would have us believe that women are yearning for nothing more in a man than another girlfriend.
Another disturbing offshoot of this trend is the public preponderance of men hugging, telling other men they “love” them and crying on a moment’s notice. Anyone who has witnessed the unseemly weeping of certain male politicians in recent years (former President George Bush and Ohio Sen. George Voinovich come to mind) knows that men crying in public is not a good thing. Whatever happened to the strong silent type? The male movie stars of yesteryear provided some good examples. Men with the quiet strength of Gary Cooper, the warmth and humility of Jimmy Stewart or the laconic toughness of Robert Mitchum were the real deal. Hold the tears.
But there are some it seems who would like to do away with the notion of masculinity altogether. Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, wrote as much in an October column, “Men Being Men Is a Bad Deal: Guys Should Evolve Beyond Masculinity.” Jensen’s column provoked an avalanche of laughter and scorn on talk radio and the blogosphere. Not only did Jensen come across as, well, a wimp, but his demonizing of manhood missed the mark. In equating masculinity with all things violent, Jensen underestimates his own sex. For masculinity is not only about being a warrior. The manly virtues include character, confidence, honor, inner strength, pride, responsibility, loyalty, generosity, industry and dignity. To eliminate masculinity would be to eliminate the positive along with the negative.
Similarly, the natural and instinctive traits that constitute womanhood need not be exclusive of adaptations to modern life. Women should not have to apologize for their femininity, just as men should not have to apologize for their masculinity.
As a society, we would do better to accept our differences instead of turning men and women into bland imitations of each other. For it is the very dissimilarities between the genders that make them complementary—the veritable yin and yang. Not only do we balance each other out, in the best of circumstances, but learning to adapt to our more challenging variations strengthens us as human beings. And it certainly makes life a lot more interesting.
Vive la différence!