“Women are from Venus and men from Mars” is one of the most typical phrases to explain that both genders are very different. “They are more rational, and they are more emotional”, “they are stronger and they are more delicate”, “they are more noble and they are more hypocritical”, “they are more brute and they are more careful” … The supposed difference in character between men and women is one of the most widespread ideas about human behavior, and from it we generate expectations and stereotypes as to how one and the other should behave . However, are these differences real? Up to what point? What are the causes? Do we have a different brain?

Throughout history, from thought and science, it was widely believed that men and women were essentially different, that is, by nature. In the beginning, and until very recently, women were not even considered as part of citizenship , they were not attributed the same rights as men because they were below them on a human biological level. Furthermore, Rousseau, in his famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, explicitly excluded women. However, there have always been thinkers who did not consider these differences as “natural”, from the sophists of Ancient Greece, or the philosopher Poulain de la Barre, in the seventeenth century, or Mary Wollstonecraft, of the eighteenth century. For these authors,the differences between men and women were due to the way in which they were educated .

In Psychology, one of the constant debates around behavior revolves around how much is biological and how much environmental and social in its origins. The same thing happens in the behavior of the sexes and genders, and here biology plays a much lesser role than is believed, and we are experiencing the great influence that our contact with the world has when shaping our behavior. Therefore, our relationships with others, the way in which we learn to interact with the environment, the events that we experience daily, the social discourses to which we are exposed (television, magazines, culture …), etc., are shaping who we are. Thus, the way in which we are brought up and educated is not simply what kind of upbringing we have in the home, but that the whole of society intervenes in it.

Hormones, the brain … how much do they explain?

Beyond our anatomy, the differences in the body , the differences between men and women are often associated with issues such as hormones or what each brain is like. Hormones such as estrogens have been traditionally associated with women, and testosterone with men, as if they were also the main causes of our behavior. But actually both hormones are found in all bodies, although their concentration varies to influence different physiological processes, but we all need them. It also happens with the brain, the only difference found between the brain of men and women is that the first has more neurons and the second has more neuronal connections, eventually both working in a similar way.

The brain is very plastic , that is, it changes its structure and its way of functioning throughout life, and based on our learning and interaction with the environment. Thus, on many occasions the brain differences found may not be as natural as they are environmental. Thus, if in most women a greater activation is observed than in men in some areas when it comes to engaging in empathic behavior, it is not so much because of what the brain is like, but how our education to be more empathetic has been reflected in the structure of it.

Non-binary genders and sexes

There is still a long way to go in the investigation of gender identity and in the conformation of different types of sexes. Philosophers such as Judith Butler question whether the world is divided into women and men, from a gender perspective (all the behaviors associated with what a man and a woman are) and sex (gender identity is not always associated with some genitalia, also intersex people or people with chromosomal characteristics different from the binomial XX and XY should not be considered as biologically non-normal). The trans identities , for example, do not always conform to the all – male or all – female body. How does behavior, hormones or body influence here?

From the investigation it is not so easy to find the answers to all the questions that exist. When conducting scientific studies, the perspective from which we work will determine the results and our interpretation. Thus, there are scientific positions that consider binaryism (the existence of only men and women, although there are interchanged gender identities), and others that there are more sexes and / or more genders.

The consequences of assuming natural differences between men and women

Assuming that men are naturally and naturally one way and women another, gives rise to gender roles, stereotypes and prejudices that greatly limit our freedom of behavior. Even these social differences influence our mental health , and that is why women have higher rates of disorders such as depression or anxiety, or consume a greater amount of psychotropic drugs.

People who do not comply with these preconceptions are often discriminated against, which is reflected in the labor differences between men and women, the unequal distribution of home care, the lack of expectations regarding their performance, contempt (for example, promiscuity in men it is well seen, and in women it is not ), the justification and avoidance of responsibility for antisocial behavior (for example, considering that girls should take care not to be sexually harassed because they “cannot control it “), or even changes in the way we behave with others according to their sex or gender (we think that women have to be less serious and kinder and if they are not, we think they are bitter). It all adds to the discrimination of trans people, also called transphobia , who are considered out of the ordinary. There is also a homophobic component, whereby not fulfilling gender roles is confused with possible homosexuality , which in many cases is considered negative .

In short , people with our individual behavior, such as society as a whole, the messages that are sent implicitly in culture, television advertisements, celebrities, social structure, etc., are influencing our behavior in a very intense way as men and as women. But then, our way of being and acting is not a question of “we are like that by nature” , but rather it is socially constructed: there is a pattern, but its origin is social and educational. That it is built does not mean that it is unreal, but it does mean that it can be modified. For this reason, many sectors of society are trying to change, step by step, those ways of educating ourselves, in order to be freer. 

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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