Gender is based on human heterosexual reproduction; but not determined by biology. (We interpret and act upon our biology in many diverse ways.)
Many cultural interpretations of biology attribute causation to correlation. From a scientific point of view they are wrong; but they are powerful cultural myths (stories with powerful social consequences).
Human sexual biology has important consequences for gender. But simplistic biological reductionism meets our need for simple explanations (and myth-making) rather than providing robust explanations of complex gender systems. (People treat simple answers as ‘true’ merely because they understand them; even with scant logic or evidence.)
Asexual (non-sexual) reproduction relies on mutation to create variety.
Sexual reproduction creates new combinations of DNA every time .
Variety: Speeds up evolution, allows for more rapid adaptation, allows for emergence of more complex organisms
Asexual Reproduction (Example: Hydra) (Note: This Hydra, a Mythical Greek Beast, is not what I’m talking about!) Hydra grow “buds” that drop off, grow large, and grow their own buds. Hydra are biologically immortal (they don’t age!). Hydra are small creatures that live in water.
Sexual Reproduction (1): Sequential and Simultaneous Hermaphrodites Clown Fish: Male to Female Sex Change (Nemo’s deep dark secret?) Wrasse: Female to Male Sex Change Hamlet Fish: Simultaneous Hermaphrodites (Take turns during extended, multiple mating sessions, lasting several days) Banana Slug: Simultaneous Prefers to mate with partner, but self-fertilizes if necessary.
Sexual Reproduction(2): Heterosexuals Homo sapiens sapiens Hoverflies Rabbits
Most individuals are substantially “heterosexed”; they follow a standard developmental sequence (they are “normal” – in a statisical sense)
Even then, discounting ALL the many unusual cases. There is tremendous overlap in almost every respect between individuals who follow a standard female developmental sequence (i.e. women) and those who follow a male developmental sequence (i.e. men).
Why are we obsessed with Biological Sex Differences?
They seem (are) more easy to observe – so they seem more “real” than socialization or culture.
They give us the comfortable illusion of permanence.
So, we look obsessively for biological sex differences, for example . . .
Studies are repeatedly used to claim “men and women are different”
Average differences are always cited.
But, the range is almost never cited; without that, the meaningfulness of the “average” is useless.
“ Even when scientists themselves are cautious… popular renditions of new scientific findings dispense with linguistic subtlety” (Fausto-Sterling pg.236)
FEMALES MALES 80% 20% 80% In US Army physical tests: top 20% of women had the same average as bottom 20% for men. (These statistics then get used both for and against women in the military) How big is the difference? Example of a test of physical ability; emphasizing upper body strength.*
How much can you lift? Udomporn Polsak (Female, Thailand, Height 150 cm, Weight 53 kg): Lifted 125 kg* Tang Gonghong (Female, China, Height 172 cm, Weight 120 kg): Lifted 182.5 kg Halil Mutlu (Male, Turkey, Height 150 cm, Weight 56 kg): Lifted 160 kg Hossein Reza Zadeh (Male, Iran, Height 185 cm, Weight 160 kg): Lifted 262.5 kg *All results for “Clean & Jerk” 2004 Olympics
Physical strength, especially upper-body strength is the most significant known difference between human males and females (aside from childbearing).
Most other differences have much greater overlap.
The science of averages is often turned into absolutes in popular discourse (which in turn guides public policy)… “Science” as myth-making… in modern societies, when we call something “scientific” it gains credibility.
In almost every case, the abilities of woman and men overlap.
3. Sex Differences that Matter in (Some) Social Contexts *Sexual Dimorphism *Reproductive Strategies *Sexual Competition *Hormones
Both men and women have testosterone and are affected by it.
Testosterone levels are affected by environment.
Levels of testosterone rise during competition (e.g. sports) – among participants and fans. The members and fans of a winning team have spike in testosterone after the game; testosterone levels in losing teams and fans drop.
Men’s testosterone levels fall after marriage and rise after divorce.
Boys have spikes in testosterone at various stages of childhood and adolescence.
Testosterone affects the body and emotional responses.