Whatever Happened To The Gender Wars?

It has become a modern article of faith that all differences between men and women are socially constructed. This secularist creed of the Church of Political Correctness brooks no dissent or disagreement. So Professor Steven Rhoads’ heretical book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, amounts to 95 theses tacked on the door of a modern Wittenberg Cathedral.

The first dogma Dr. Rhoads tackles is the one that says mothers and fathers are interchangeable. “Maternal instinct” is a fiction. Distinct roles for mothers and fathers are relics of a superstitious age. There is only generic “parenting” which either parent of either sex can do equally well.

Dr. Rhoads committed the sin of actually gathering data on this question. He chose a sample of new parents most likely to support the ideal of androgynous parenting: university professors having their first baby. Virtually all the men and women professors assented to the Dogma of Androgynous Parenting. Many of their universities offered generic Parental Leave Policies, equally open to mothers and fathers. Guess what? Mothers took the Parental Leave far more often than did fathers. And those few fathers who took the leave used it differently than did the mothers. The women used the Parental Leave to take care of their new babies; the men used it as a sabbatical. They got more articles written; they advanced their careers, while their wives took care of the babies. So much for equality.

Dr. Rhoads found another astonishing fact. The mothers enjoyed taking care of the babies far more than did the fathers. For virtually every child care activity, from changing diapers to feeding to playing with the baby, the mothers reported more enjoyment than did fathers. The mothers’ attitudes toward most aspects of child care ranged from indifference to great enjoyment. The one task that men liked to do more than women was “managing the division of labor of parenting tasks.” Except for getting up at night to care for the child, this was the task women liked least. Dr. Rhoads speculates that women might dislike managing the division of labor because taking on this duty led to arguments with their husbands.

One possible reason that women enjoy child care more than their husbands, is that babies respond more favorably to their mothers. Dr. Rhoads asked the academic couples whether their babies seemed to have any preference for mothers or fathers. The parents reported that the infants had an overwhelming preference for being comforted by their mothers. It is easy to imagine that parents respond to their baby’s feelings. Even the most egalitarian father would eventually be reduced to saying, “Here honey, you take the baby; he wants you.”

Women are setting themselves up for failure and disappointment if they accept the cultural expectation that their husbands ought to share all household responsibilities equally. Men and women have different perceptions about what needs to be done. Men and women do not equally enjoy various household task, from child care to roof repair. Defining equality as a tit-for-tat, symmetry of chores requires men and women alike to suppress their natural inclinations, ignore their natural strengths and overlook their partner’s contributions.

A more sensible approach to equality would acknowledge the natural gender differences in preferences, abilities and sensibilities. A more humane understanding of equality would be that each partner is equally committed to making the marriage work. Instead of asking, “what’s in it for me?” they could ask, “how can I help?” Instead of keeping score and aiming for a fifty-fifty division of labor, they could aim for giving one hundred percent of themselves. Equality could mean, “I do all I can for him, and he does all he can for me,” knowing full well that we aren’t each going to do the exact same thing for each other.

The modern feminist movement drew its appeal from the ingrained American sense of fairplay and sympathy with the underdog. But that movement always had wide streaks of irrationality. The feminist mainstream treats every debatable proposition, every testable hypothesis as if they were assumptions. Now someone has debated those propositions and tested those hypotheses. The facts are in. Men and women are different in socially important ways. It takes a lot of faith to believe that all differences between men and women are socially constructed. It is time for our laws and culture to Take Sex Differences Seriously, without apology.