Are Women and Men Wired Differently?


A few days ago I came across a blog by a woman who is clearly intelligent and is a feminist in the best sense, but she seems to be resistant to the idea that men and women may be different in their minds as well as their bodies.

The writer was incensed by what she perceived as just one more attempt by males to marginalize and belittle the attributes of women by comparing them (unfavorably?) with those of men. This despite the fact that several coauthors of the study were female, and the qualities attributed to women in the article are highly valuable in our contemporary culture. This is the report that led to the angry response.

We, as human beings, need to stop being so defensive–so eager to be in denial–about scientific evidence, and particularly about biological evidence. Scientific data should be inherently value-neutral. It is we who add the value to any interpretation of scientific results. It makes no sense denying the reality of things. Is the average world temperature rising or not? Are the polar ice fields melting? Yes it is, and yes they are. Those data are supported overwhelmingly.

It’s like asking whether or not the earth is round (O.K., spherical or eliptoidal, if you wish). It is what it is. It’s certainly possible, even desirable, to ask WHY something is as it is. And if it is an unpleasant reality, it’s certainly useful to ask if and how it can be changed. Indeed, that willingness to question reality–and to address it at its core–is the source of almost all human progress.

As with other differences between human beings, mental differences are broadly distributed, and no two brains are identical in composition or wiring (no, not even in twins). Moreover, brain wiring is highly plastic and is strongly influenced by environmental experiences.  But it is becoming increasingly clear that at least a large part (maybe not a majority) of mental functions find their origins in our genes. And these mental functions are reflected in behavior. I was struck one time when I heard a cousin laugh in another room and thought it was my brother. Those two laughs were identical in pitch and cadence. They were somehow wired to sound like that, and that wiring has some genetic component, probably like bird songs.

So I responded to her commentary with a long comment of my own, which will form the substance of the next blog post.




About joannevalentinesimson

Scientist, traveler, woman, writer, spiritual explorer, mother, grandmother, fascinated with the world, appalled by deliberate human ignorance. Website and blogs include:
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10 Responses to Are Women and Men Wired Differently?

  1. Mind Margins says:

    I liked your comment to her article. I agree with everything you say. I have to wonder why she feels the science makes her “inferior.” I don’t see empathy and communication as being inferior to motor skills and perception. As you state, they are just different from each other. I have always considered myself a feminist, though many are reluctant to affiliate themselves with the term. What’s to hate about social, political, or economic equality? I am not a scientist, but it’s hard to ignore the biological differences between men and women. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior from either sex, but it does help us understand each other. That’s the beauty of value-neutral scientific data.

  2. Jo Anne, of course I agree. The recent NSF survey showing 26% of Americans (N = 2200, but I don’t know about their ages or educations) think the sun revolves around Earth was extremely discouraging! Having spent my professional life in science education, I’m not sure whether to be depressed or angry.

    Some of the antipathy toward explaining human differences in biological terms may be political. In the 1980s, when I proposed explaining some things with sociobiology, and rashly mentioned E.O. Wilson, my committee–faculty members in the school of education at a prestigious university–nearly foamed at the mouth. They felt that environment, especially that provided by education, explains all behavior. I found a less controversial topic rather than prolong my long years in school any more.

  3. Pingback: Are Men and Women Wired Differently? Part 2 | joannevalentinesimson

  4. Tricia says:

    I definitely believe that, overall, men and women, are wired differently. I don’t need a degree in neuroscience to see what I clearly see in my kids. It’s a very small control group to base my conclusion upon, but, perhaps, I’m wired to think this way, too. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your series!

    • Thanks, Tricia! You have noticed the difference in your two children. I had three girls, so I just didn’t realize how much gender difference there was in children until I had grandchildren, most of whom are boys! The boys are sweet (in their own ways) and straightforward, but by and large, they would just as soon throw something as sit quietly and play with it. So that was an eye-opener for me. And then, too, I am a biologist, so I realize that animals have gender-distinct behaviors. So I guess we just have to accept that we are truly animals. Most of our moral precepts (and religious rules) are efforts to tame that animal so we can just get along!

  5. Jane Perdue says:

    Jo Anne – you are spot on that it’s high time to quit focusing on differences. Doesn’t matter whether those differences are based in economics, sex, politics or religion. It’s time for tolerance. Time to enjoy the differences diversity brings and to respect everyone’s right to his/her own opinion. No more “I’m right/you’re wrong” stuff. A world in which we all thought, looked and acted the same would be pretty boring, pretty fast!

  6. I agree, Jane, enjoy the differences. As long as all persons are honored.

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