Gender Equality

Musings on the primal dichotomy

The most basic and fundamental classification that we humans make among ourselves is based on our gender. The first thing everyone notices when we're born is what kind of genitalia we have. From day one, we're classified with different pronouns and (in most cultures) different sets of names for those of us with homozygous sex chromosomes and those of us with heterozygous sex chromosomes (or, at least, with the external appearance of such). While those of us in the most extreme and xenophobic or isolated societies may never see members of another ethnic group, or even know they exist, we can't help but interact with the other gender in some way. Note that I don't say opposite, but other. To say opposite is to imply that males and females are somehow opposed or different poles of some well-defined continuum. We are not; we are just different. Aside from the obvious external physical differences, primarily related to the continuation of the species, there's more subtle things. None of us can deny that we have stereotypes about how men and women behave in a given situation. Why is that? Are we fundamentally different, or is it just society that has convinced us so, and thus we have assumed the roles we are conditioned to take? Certainly, from a biological viewpoint, there's hormonal and structural differences in the average design of male and female brains. In other species, there's often great differences between males and females. Relatively speaking, we humans are fairly homogenous. Males are only a bit larger than females on average, and there's many exceptions on both sides. Females live a bit longer under advanced medical care in industrialized societies, but a large amount of that is because males are far more apt at killing themselves and engaging in dangerous behavior; biologically, it's between 6 months and two years, and that's not much when we're talking a 76+ year life span. So, there's clearly something there that makes us different, but we exacerbate it a lot by giving our children different toys to play with, encouraging them to take up some professions and discouraging them from others, dressing them differently--and endless other differences. Sex is often treated as a taboo subject, yet few other topics could be as intricately bound up with our own concepts of gender identity. While modern societies are far more equitable than earlier times have been, there's still a long way to go. Gender stereotypes won't become insignificant until we make them so. If we want men and women to be truly treated equally, we must do in all places at all times, or else the differences in one place will leak across our mental barriers and perpetuate the situation today. Equality won't be around until we've abolished separate clothing sections, separate bathrooms, and even separate pronouns. How's that for a change, eh?

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