The important question about gender differences is not whether they’re real. It’s whether they matter.
First of all, when we talk about gender, we have to be clear what it is we mean, because the topic of sex and gender is much more nuanced than our day-to-day language yet conveys.
Most often, “gender differences” seems to refer to a binary understanding of gender: “People born with a penis are male. People born with a vagina are female. This is both their sex and their gender; this is the natural way of things that is necessarily the case.”
So for a minute, let’s pretend that’s true. Let’s ignore the incidence of intersex people and transgender people and the millions who, like me, identify as gender queer. Even though it’s as misguided as claiming an absolute boundary between races and ignoring the existence of mixed race people, let’s claim that genetics or biology determines that there are Males and Females and, to an extent, the characteristics of each category, which differ in key ways.
Even if all that were true, in today’s society, where binary gender norms are enforced, whether they have some real basis simply doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether, say, hormone levels control people’s predilections and abilities. Trying to pinpoint such differences is like doing a study in which all blue-eyed children are taught to speak only Chinese and all brown-eyed children are taught to speak only Italian, and then the linguistic differences between eye colors are analyzed. Any “natural differences” are canceled out by the ones we create.
If we assume that there are “natural” gender differences, there shouldn’t be a need to police them. Women shouldn’t need to be brought up to be a certain kind of woman, or men a certain kind of man. Given total gender freedom and equality, we’ll find that they gravitate toward certain clothing, certain fields of work, certain relationships, all on their own. It would still be in everyone’s best interest to create an absolutely gender neutral society so that these differences could freely flourish.
Using the supposed existence of the gender binary as an excuse to raise, educate and treat people differently shows disingenuousness– an insecurity about the scientific fundamentals of the theory, covered up with a desperate attempt to rationalize a belief ingrained since birth. I challenge people who honestly believe there are Men and Women who are Different to have the courage to work for real equality in the hope that, on a fair playing field, their ideas will prove accurate. Anything less isn’t science or even theory, it’s dogma.
When it comes down to it, binary gender theory isn’t about acknowledging differences. It’s about enforcing similarities.