We need to change the gendered value system

By Jen Thorpe

Are men and women different? If so, are those differences significant today?

Recently I’ve had two discussions with men about the differences between men and women. Each time, after a long drawn out debate, it has come down to this:

“But men and women are different. If they’re not, how come men and women don’t compete in sport?”

Or the slightly different version:

“You can’t think men and women can be equal in all working conditions. What about physical labour?”

It is generally at this point in the conversation when I feel a sense of deep exhaustion and despair coming over me. I feel the need to seek out the bottle store, climb to the bottom of a bottle of wine and go to sleep. So now, having done the aforementioned and recovered suitably, I will attempt to restore some dignity to the debate about women and men’s differences.

First, most differences between men and women are socially programmed. In fact, we have equal numbers of muscles in our body in nearly all the same places, which means that we can physically use those muscles as needed. Part of the historical explanation for women’s supposed inability to beat men at sport (though they have done so before) is because they are not encouraged to live in their bodies in a powerful way but are instead encouraged to be small (see crossing legs rather than sitting with them open and throwing like a girl) and to move in small movements. In essence, our historical proclivity to being ladylike has left us less physically able in many cases. When women are physically able, or too physically able for our social norms, we question whether they are in fact women.

Second, explanations of a system of difference based on extreme physical examples (e.g. sprinters, rugby players, etc) is not really useful. Put the average man in a race against Usain Bolt and he will be beaten. Put the average man in a race against Caster Semenya, and I bet you he will still be beaten. Perhaps pitting Caster Semenya against Usain Bolt would have a different result, but see the first explanation for possible causes. If that doesn’t work for you, try to see them as two incredibly fast individuals, one of whom is faster.

Third, how valuable is intense physical strength in our modern world? It is 2012. The world is ruled by technology and capitalism. Our world is run by people (mostly men sadly) who look like this, not like this. In short, physical strength ceased to be relevant in most professions a very long time ago. This is no longer a prehistoric world where our ability to construct things with our hands and biceps is essentially valuable. It’s a world where our brains and wealth are more important.

Being head of state, head of school, a doctor or the head of NASA does not require big guns, but sadly men are still leading many of these professions. Why?

Because history is relevant. The particular traits in a person (determination, strength, courage, fearlessness) that we value in today’s world are a throwback from centuries where you had to be an aggressive individual to survive. Times were tough, and you needed to be a cold bastard to survive them. The fact that we value these traits in people over traits like compassion, empathy and a connection to their emotions is not a-historical. The fact that patriarchy nurtured the first set of traits in men and the second in women is not a-historical. Our differences are not a-historical. These differences let down men and women. 

Our social differences are not permanent, and we have to work on changing the value system so that we can appreciate deep and complicated individuals instead of caricatures of men and women. If we are able to do this, then we can begin to celebrate differences between us as differences between individuals, rather than an a-historical reason to have a man in a job that a woman is equally capable of doing.



2 thoughts on “We need to change the gendered value system”

  1. i can do as much physical labour, if not more, than most men i know. i can swing a pick-axe. mix dagga. chop a tree down. mow the lawn. and i do. since i live on my own, i maintain my own garden and home.

    and i can cook, and sew if i have to. i have long nails. wear girly skirts. and i wear skirts because they are cool, and because i can. i used to date a dude that wore caftans. that rocked. he could not dig a hole. and no, he wasnt gay.
    even my very macho, ex, who have done like a hundred comrades, could not keep a veggie garden alive. (or our marriage for that matter).

    sadly, i think a lot of women prefer to be the fragile little birds. because if they are pathetic, and stupid, then men do everything for them. make all the decisions for them. but then also, they make the men feel macho, and more gets done as a whole.

    while manipulation like that might work for some, i am too goddamn stubborn for that.

    i also blame gender roles on religion. doesnt the bible say at some point, that the wife must be like a happy slave to her husband? bitch please! at that i walked out of the church (at 16), and have never been back.

    men are threatened by women’s natural problem solving smarts.

    evolution made us how we are.

    back in the day, a pregnant female could not join in the hunt, thus, she did less physical things, like gathering roots and tending kids. the species evolved in such a manner as to make it prosperous. if the female insisted on remaining highly physical, fetus would abort, and born babies would be neglected. the species would fail. but, times have changed. we no longer live in a cave. we no longer have to chase down a mammoth for dinner. we order online.

    but eons of male superiority (in their own minds), have depleted female strength. scores of women were burnt as witches, because men wanted control over medicine. male doctors forced women to give birth on their backs, as opposed to crouching. do you take a dump lying on your back? it’s not natural.

    men still make decisions about female bodies. every day.

    but the male species is becoming unneeded as a protector and breadwinner. women are earning megabucks. raising kids on their own. putting up their own shelves. and the males are freaking out. because their niche in society, is not needed anymore.

    i can waffle on about this for days. but i will rest with this: a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.


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