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Innate Differences Between the Sexes: Fact, Not Fantasy (Part 3)

By Lisa J. Lehr

What we can learn from observing animals.

The limitations of using animal studies to prove theories about humans are obvious"humans have numerous distinct differences from other animals. But what it does do is boil down behavior to its biological component, since non-human animals are unencumbered by the complex social, cultural, and political issues that humans struggle with.

(Interestingly, the people who argue that there are no inherent differences between males and females tent to be the very same people who insist that humans differ from other animals only in our degree of evolution.)

With that in mind, let's see if we can learn something from our "close relatives"monkeys. It turns out that monkey toy preferences have been consistent along gender lines with those of human children. In a study of vervet monkeys by Gerianne Alexander and Melissa Hines, boy monkeys chose the car and the ball, while girl monkeys preferred the doll and the pot. Both genders of monkey children seemed equally comfortable with a picture book and a stuffed dog.

What makes a particular toy a "boy toy or a "girl toy"? Boy toys are ones with the ability to be used actively and propelled through space; girl toys are ones that invite contact. Boys and girls toy preferences seem to be biologically pre-wired, and this biological pre-wiring is the "cause to the "effect of gender-stereotyping of toys"not the other way around.

In another monkey study, the males typically fought, while the females groomed and nurtured the young. Females injected with testosterone in utero, though, fought and behaved like males.

Why do we all have to be the same?

Some people think that everyone has to be the same in order to have the same value. But differences can be acknowledged and celebrated without challenging the fact that we as humans can each make a valuable contribution to society.

Consider this: Men and women are equally good at problem solving, but use different methods. For example, in giving and following directions, men tend to use distance and direction, while women use landmarks. They both find their destinations with equal speed and ease.

Think of all the ways we can categorize people"gender, age, race, nationality, religion, culture, birth order, education, occupation, marital status, lifestyle, skills, talents, abilities, physical attributes, hobbies, dreams, goals"the list is virtually endless. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that members of some groups are more gifted in sports, others in science; some in music, still others in the visual arts, the culinary arts, the performing arts.

People are made up of many different identities, combined in infinite ways, to make each of us one-of-a-kind. Humanity as a whole would be incomplete without one of these "identity classifications." Gender is our most basic, most important identity classification. It's the first thing people want to know about us!

Food for thought: most of the famous scientists, explorers, and athletes in the history of civilization have been men; so, too, artists, poets, and composers; so, too, dictators, tyrants, and mass murderers. Males have dominated nearly every aspect of society since the beginning, and chances are they will continue to do so. But "dominant doesn't necessarily mean "better."

About The Author

Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in health matters. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America's leading course on copywriting.

This article ©Lisa J. Lehr 2006.

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