What is the biggest myth about men
Ten gender myths in a fact check
1. Man and woman are fundamentally different
If you look back on gender studies of the past centuries, you can't help but notice that science has done a lot of injustice to women. This is hardly surprising, as women have been excluded from academic activities for centuries. For example, there is the long-celebrated finding that the brain of women is on average five ounces, about 140 grams (see 9) lighter than that of men, from which the natural female inferiority was derived. But there are still widespread public myths that women are better at multitasking, while men are better at orientating themselves. Or that men have a stronger sex drive and women strive for loyalty (see 3.). And of course that there are general gender differences in behavior and cognition - after all, men are from Mars and women from Venus, as the psychological advisory literature preaches.
Even if none of these myths stand up to scientific scrutiny by today's standards, they have inscribed themselves in the collective consciousness and still shape the view of how men and women differ to this day.
In the recent past, however, there have also been scientific findings with strong emancipatory potential. For example, research on both premenstrual syndrome (see 8.) and menopause (see 7.) has shown that the question of whether women perceive themselves and their bodies positively or negatively depends on how they perceive themselves and their bodies Society in general and science in particular. Gender research is therefore not just an uninvolved entity that determines differences between men and women. In essential respects, it influences the public image of men and women, political and economic decisions and, last but not least, our respective self-image.
Even today's results of gender research are not conclusive truths. A trend that runs through many scientific findings in recent years is that the supposedly great biological differences between the representatives of different planets are not as great as one thought.
2. Hunting is a men's business
Hardly any other scientific knowledge has been so impressed on the collective memory as that that women in archaic societies were responsible for collecting and men for hunting. In order to achieve hunting success, it required cooperation and organization among the men. It was through this that tools, language and politics developed that made men the founders of human culture. In women-at-the-stove-policy, the science of hunters and gatherers fitted into the argumentation scheme only too well. But the theory has a catch: As scientists have now discovered, it is not really correct.
At first, contrary to earlier assumptions, it has meanwhile turned out that the division of tasks in early hunter-gatherer societies was less pronounced than was originally thought. Back then, people were all-rounders to a far greater extent than we are in our highly specialized societies today. Everyone learned everything, and women did hard work too when it came to survival. Evidence of female hunters was found in many cultures.
The theories about the contribution that the sexes made to the supply of a tribe also had to be gradually revised. For a long time it was assumed that the hunting men provided most of the food supply. As is now known, the share that men in hunter-gatherer societies had and still have in the supply varies greatly depending on social factors and the environment.
As for the origin of language, there are now indications that it was not the hunt that advanced human communication, but the complex interactions between children and the people who raised them. Women would therefore be more at the center of language development than men.
While earlier generations of scientists characterized our female ancestors as helpless beings whose survival depended on men's hunting success, tools and communication skills, science now paints a much more nuanced picture of our ancestors.
3. Women want loyalty, men want sex
The founder of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin, already put forward theses on the different sexual behavior of women and men. Men have a stronger sexual drive, women are inherently monogamous, was the narrative that has fallen through generations of researchers.
When it comes to the sexual behavior of men and women, the essential scientific reference is a study that was carried out in the 1970s by psychologists Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield on the Florida State University campus and published in 1989. The setting for the field study was simple: students were given the task of approaching people on campus and offering them one of three suggestions: go on a date, come to their apartment or have sex with them. The result: women and men were equally willing to go on a date. On the other hand, not a single woman agreed to have sex with a stranger, although three quarters of men did. It seemed scientifically proven what everyone thought they knew anyway: Men have a stronger sexual desire.
In 2013, Andreas Baranowski and Heiko Hecht repeated the experiment on a campus in Germany. They wanted to find out what the women's reaction would be in a more natural setting like a cocktail bar or a safe place. The result: In their study, too, more men were willing to have sex, but the gender difference was much smaller than in the Florida experiment. It also showed that the differences almost disappeared when the offer was made in a safe place. It was not for Baranowski and Hecht to demonstrate that the earlier study was wrong. The aim was to reveal that the behavior of men and women when it comes to sexual offers is not predetermined, but depends heavily on the environment and culture.
In the course of history and to this day, enormous efforts have been made in many societies to prevent the sexual desire of women - this ranges from the mutilation of the genitals during circumcision to the tying off of body parts to the murder of sexually active women. With reference to these practices, author Angela Saini in her book "Inferior" asks: "Could it be that women and their evolutionary ancestors were not naturally the passive and monogamous beings with low sex drive, as Charles Darwin and others believed Could it not be instead that women have been forced by men to behave more modestly for millennia? "
4. Men are more brilliant
Sit back for a moment, close your eyes and think of a genius.
When faced with this task, most of us would think of a man rather than a woman. This should not come as a surprise - for centuries, scientific and artistic professions were reserved for men, and in many areas there is still no equal opportunity.
In 2005, then-President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, caused a stir when, in search of an explanation why there are fewer female professors than professors, he claimed that men are superior to women in mathematics and the sciences, and that it is for it biological reasons. In other words: women are simply too stupid by nature for top academic jobs.
Of course, there is no empirical evidence for Summers' claims. On the contrary: Numerous psychological tests with girls and boys have shown that there are hardly any cognitive differences between the sexes and that the few that can be determined are mainly cultural, but not biological.
It is now considered certain that on average there are no differences between men and women in terms of general intelligence. However, it is still often claimed that there is greater variability in intelligence in men than in women. In other words, there are both more male geniuses and more male idiots. Could Summer's statement have contained a glimmer of truth after all? Not really, because this thesis has only been partially substantiated by scientific studies.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Edinburgh carried out a study based on data from a Scotland-wide intelligence test among 11 year olds. They actually found a greater variability in intelligence in boys than in girls. The differences were smaller than in previous studies, but still significant.
At the same time, the researchers pointed out that in men the larger deviations from the mean value were particularly noticeable in the lower range. "Extremes can be seen especially below because there are more developmental disorders in boys," says neuroscientist Melissa Hines. "In the upper spectrum, there is not much difference between the sexes." In any case, the researchers were able to show that the gender differences in the intelligence tests are not sufficiently pronounced to explain the massive underrepresentation of women in math and science subjects. One reason for this could be that a man with special intelligence is more likely to be encouraged than a woman, according to Hines - due to our cultural background that we tend to associate geniuses with men.
5. Women are more social
The differences between men and women are easy to characterize when one looks at the world through the lens of the theories of the British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen.
According to Baron-Cohen, there are empathic people and systematic people. The empathic have the need and ability to recognize and respond to the thoughts and feelings of others. The systematic, in turn, tend towards analysis, exploration and the construction of systems. And what does that have to do with the sexes? In Baron-Cohen's presentation, the female brain is the biological hardware for the empathic, while the male brain is geared towards the systematic.
In order to back up his theory with data, Baron-Cohen created his own measurement methods for empathy and systematization: The empathizing quotient (EQ) and the systemizing quotient (SQ) are determined using a self-assessment questionnaire. And how nice: Baron-Cohen's theory of empathic female brains and systematic male brains could thus be confirmed. However, Baron-Cohen himself provided his theory with an essential disclaimer: According to his diction, not all women have female brains, not all men have male brains.
Differences in cognitive abilities and social behavior have been tested again and again. It has been shown that only minimal differences between men and women can be detected. In any case, the amount of overlap between men and women is far too great for it to be possible or sensible to infer a person's ability to empathize based on gender alone.
6. Men are the stronger sex
For millennia, men have legitimized their claim to leadership over women by saying that they are ultimately bigger and stronger and should therefore naturally be in charge.
It is also true that men are on average six inches taller than women. On average, they also have a more muscular physique. But a person's strength can be defined in many different ways. If you don't focus solely on muscle strength, women present themselves as the stronger sex in many ways - for example when it comes to very rudimentary survival strategies.
These differences exist from the moment babies are born. The largest global analysis of child mortality, conducted by British researcher Joy Lawn, shows that one million babies die on the day they are born every year.
In the first month of life, Lawn's analyzes show that boys have a ten percent higher risk of death than girls. Because of this early gender gap in mortality rates, researchers believe this difference is largely, if not entirely, biological.
But there are also exceptions that oppose the global trend, such as in South Asia. Boys and girls there are at a similarly high risk of dying when they are babies. "If the survival rates are balanced, it means that you don't care for the girls to the same extent," Lawn is quoted in the book "Inferior" by Angela Saini. "Boys have a higher biological risk of dying, girls a higher social risk," says Lawn.
There are gender differences in mortality not only in childhood. Numerous studies have shown that women seem to have better chances of survival than their male peers at any age. The exact reasons for this are still unclear. But because the trend is so clear, some scientists assume that the answers to the question of why women are better survivors could also provide valuable insights into longevity research.
7. Menopause makes women useless
1966 was a good year for the US gynecologist Robert Wilson and the initial spark of a dangerous development for women. Wilson published the book "Feminine Forever" on menopause that year. In his account, it is a "serious, painful and debilitating disease" - a plague for menopausal women as well as their husbands. His message was: women no longer need to fear aging, science has found the solution for them - hormone therapy.
With an appropriate dose of estrogen, "the breasts and genital organs would not shrink. The woman will be more comfortable to live with and she will not become bland and unattractive," wrote Wilson. As it turned out after his death, his book had been funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which was profiting from the boom in hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy had already appeared in the 1930s, and after the publication of Feminine Forever at the latest, taking estrogen pills became routine in some parts of the world when women reached a certain age. The menopause was medically viewed in much the same way as the deficiency of a certain vitamin and was "treated" analogously with the prescription of pills.
Numerous deaths ultimately led to the drastic realization that hormone therapy is not an adequate answer to aging. Scientists have now been able to demonstrate a connection between long-term use of hormones and an increased risk of uterine cancer, breast cancer, heart attacks or strokes.
But are there biological reasons that women lose fertility at a certain age? Menopause poses a riddle to evolutionary biologists: Why does nature make women sterile when they are still fully alive?
Renowned evolutionary biologist George Williams suggested a solution. His thesis, now known as the "grandmother hypothesis", is that menopause was created to protect older women from the risks associated with childbirth. This enables them to grow old enough to care for their grandchildren, which increases their chances of survival.
In the light of the grandmother's hypothesis, menopause no longer appears as a disease, but on the contrary as an ingenious invention of nature.
8. Your days are a plague
Of course, the female cycle has also fascinated many researchers. For example, a popular research topic is studying behavioral changes during the female cycle. Throughout history, the data obtained have been used time and again to argue why women should not be given power or responsibility - the danger would be too great if the hormones were to run away with them again. In 1970, for example, Edgar Berman, a member of the Democrats in the USA, put on record that women were unsuitable for management positions because of their "raging hormonal fluctuations".
As early as 1931, the gynecologist Robert Frank described women as slaves to their hormones. He suggested that there was a connection between the then recently discovered hormones and side effects of premenstrual syndrome, according to which his patients would display "stupid and rash behavior" before menstruation.
The premenstrual syndrome is still a largely accepted phenomenon in Western cultures and is associated with an outbreak of negative emotions, poor performance in school or at work, and a reduction in cognitive abilities.
The World Health Organization points out that premenstrual syndrome is associated with very different symptoms depending on culture. Emotional changes are mostly noticed in Western Europe, Australia, and North America. Women in Asia, on the other hand, are more likely to complain of physiological symptoms such as water retention. In total, more than a hundred symptoms are attributed to premenstrual syndrome. These include drowsiness, pain, forgetfulness as well as bursts of energy and well-being. According to neurologist Gina Rippon, premenstrual syndrome is therefore a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy for establishing a connection between biology and behavior: it is so vaguely defined that almost everything can be interpreted into it.
9. Women think differently
The idea that gender can be read on a person's brain goes back to the 18th century. Generations of brain researchers have dedicated themselves to the task of finding out what distinguishes men's from women's brains and how the differences affect the respective abilities of the sexes. The more persistently researchers deal with the gender differences, the clearer it becomes: They apparently don't even exist.
For centuries, the female brain had to put up with being described as small, underdeveloped, poorly organized or generally defective, as the neuroscientist Gina Rippon describes in the book "The Gendered Brain" (Bodley Head, 2019).
One of the most popular arguments in the 200-year-old debate has been that women are inferior because their brain weighs, on average, five ounces less than the average male brain. Of course, this argument has obvious weaknesses: What about elephants, for example - it has been known for many years that their brains weigh much more than ours. Would we also conclude here that we are naturally inferior to them?
With new forms of brain imaging, it has been possible since the end of the 20th century to determine whether there really are differences between the brains of women and men. It has been shown time and again that the differences are smaller than assumed for a long time. Some myths like the one that male brains are better at orienting themselves and female brains are better at multitasking persists - despite a lack of scientific evidence.
10. Of Mars men and Venus women
What science teaches us about the sexes can have far-reaching social and political implications. It shapes how others think of us and how we see ourselves.
It doesn't matter what skill or disposition it is about: the history of science has shown time and again that the differences between the sexes are much smaller than was originally thought.
Even small biological differences can be magnified by culture and society to such an extent that they appear like insurmountable hurdles: If the differences were indeed as great as if the men came from Mars and the women from Venus, how should they then without gender struggles on earth can live together?
After centuries of exploring the differences between women and men, psychologists and neurologists in the 21st century are beginning to question the question. "Have we made all the effort to examine two groups that are not all that different?" Is how neuroscientist Gina Rippon describes the current discourse.
In the case of biological sex, it has long been known that not all individuals with XX chromosomes have a vagina and all XY individuals have a penis. For a long time, intersex people were seen as an exception. Now you know that they exist more often than you thought. When it comes to gender, too, the boundaries are fluid. If we are all queer in one way or another, what else do we care about what there is to know about men and women? (Tanja Traxler, August 22, 2019)
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