Men, Women not from Mars, Venus

Men-Are-From-Mars-Women-Are-From-VenusMen and women aren’t so different, after all.

They have similar levels of interest in sex with multiple partners, willingness to have sex outside of a relationship, closeness with a best friend and interest in science, for instance.

What a surprise!

Harry Reis, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester, and Bobbi Carothers, a senior data analyst at Washington University used their own and others’ research to study the characteristics of 13,301 men and women.

They looked at a range of things like physical strength, sexual attitudes, empathy, science inclination, extroversion, relationship interdependence, intimacy, mate selection criteria and personality traits in an attempt to find out which characteristics could reliably predict whether someone was male or female.

Turns out, women and men are much more alike than different.

And even differences may not be biologically based. Stereotypes tend to create social patterns. Boys are told “boys don’t cry,” so they end up repressing their emotions. Or, they get kudos for acting tough. So they are more likely to grow up to be tough guys. Girls, on the other hand, are free to cry and show weakness, and so they are more likely to do both. That’s a social pattern, not a biological one.

But even with socialization, you still get a continuum of behavior. Some guys are sweet and some girls are tough.

The researchers found that the biggest differences were physical, with men being taller and physically stronger. But psychologically, there’s a lot of overlap.

Below, you can find graphs of physical strength and assertiveness. Men are a bit more assertive, but take a look at the overlap.
men and women

A variety of other traits show a pattern similar to the bottom graph, like desire for non-committed sex (so much for evolutionary psychology), fear of success, levels of empathy, and how much feeling men and women have for their friends.

Amanda Marcotte points out that,

What’s remarkable about all this is not that men and women have so much in common but that these commonalities persist despite relentless gender policing that usually involves quite a bit of shame.

Men face ridicule if they’re perceived as having female-like levels of empathy and concern for their friends, and yet, according to the study, they overcome it. Women are routinely told there’s something wrong with them if they have “masculine” attitudes towards sex and men are emasculated if they aren’t horny all the time or if they desire intimacy alongside their sexual adventures, and yet both genders tend to have a mix of adventurousness and tenderness when it comes to sex.

Good to know that the humanity within usually wins out.

Simplistic frameworks like the pop psychology book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus can even be harmful in some ways. In relationships, says Reis,

When something goes wrong between partners, people often blame the other partner’s gender immediately. Having gender stereotypes hinders people from looking at their partner as an individual. (Yet) gay and lesbian couples have much the same problems relating to each other that heterosexual couples do. Clearly, it’s not so much sex, but human character that causes difficulties.

Rigid frames can also discourage people from pursuing goals that they think are for the other sex.

If men aren’t really from Mars, nor women from Venus, that gives us all a whole lot of freedom.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on February 27, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Interesting and informative post. I have a feeling I’ll use this a lot.

  2. “Good to know that the humanity within usually wins out.” Wonderful :)

    There’s an old saying, I can’t recall the exact words or where I read it, which goes something like “the best of men have embraced their inner women and the best of women have embraced their inner men”. It has a very Eastern zen-like quality of using the steoreotype’s strength against you: looking for all those masculine / feminine qualities inside, surprise, surprise, you find them :)

  3. It seems that people often try to find differences in gender, race, ethnicity, etc. just to have a reason to treat others differently. I think society would benefit from dropping the “us versus them” mentality that has been prevalent and instead focus on our similarities as humans. I believe we would find that, more often than not, we all have a lot in common with one another, regardless of the various superficial categories in which we place ourselves.That’s not to say that our differences should be ignored; rather, we should celebrate what makes us each unique as individuals instead of chastise people for not falling into preconceived notions of “right” and “wrong” according to socially prescribed roles.

    I also appreciated your quote, “Good to know that the humanity within usually wins out.” Perfectly phrased!

  4. Interesting post! Our culture assumes that men and women are inherently different and then use that assumption to justify different treatment (usually to the detriment of women).

  5. I am happy to know that Harry Reis from University of Rochester, and Bobbi Carothers from Washington University did their study of characteristics of 13,301 men and women and found that men and women have things in common. For instance, sex desire, women want to be adventurous and men want to be tender, and vice versa.
    I agree with Mister Reis, that “gender stereotypes hinders people from looking at their partner as an individual”. I think that in individuality gets lost behind the social standards, which influence on gender self-esteem, in both women and men lives.
    Social frames definitely discourage people to grow, to pursue your own goals.

  6. This is funny because I have noticed that if a girl acts a certain way out of “woman character” it immediately affects how my friends judge them. They mostly use descriptions like “crazy”. And they love to argue with me that women are more similar to us than naught. Thanks for the post. :)

  7. This is personally very intriguing because I thought that men and women are inherently different in many ways. It shows that, although men and women are quite similar, they behave differently because they are considerably influenced socially to suppress themselves from behaving in ways that are against gender norms. If they were not socially pressured, would there be many more competitive women and emotional men? Would there be many more women in the audience at a UFC fight and men who wanted to be cheerleaders for football teams? I think that the answer is yes. I think that I would be able to cry more easily if, as I grew up, I were not continually influenced socially to think that I should not cry because it is not what a real man does. Why do I try to stop myself from crying hard when tears started to form? Why is it ridiculous for a man to cry? Gender norms are so messed up. I might be a totally different person if I were not socially influenced to adhere to gender norms.

  8. On a different note, what did those poor commas ever do to you that you should treat them so unfairly? “Men, Women not from Mars, Venus” is not remotely acceptable English! Use conjunctions!.

    Vivienne, (Hon. Fellow of the Royal College of Punctuation and Linguistic Pedantry).

    • Oh gosh, thanks for letting me know. I never would’ve realized if you hadn’t said something.

      American headlines would drive you crazy. What some will do to get a title to fit on one line!!

  9. women are naturally bisexual and men are not bisexual at all. That’s a big gender difference.

    • The study found that overall men and women are more similar than different, that there were very few things that could predict gender. They never said that nothing was predictive. For instance, men are much more likely to be muscularly stronger. So there are some differences but it’s not like men and women are from completely different planets.

  10. I am reading “the Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine.
    Fantastic book, there are many things about how the female brain works that I couldn’t even possibly imagine. I think any parent who has a daughter should read it. It would help them avoid many conflicts.

    • Yes, I’ve read the book. I’ve also read “the male brain” by the same author.

      While she is right about the differences she doesn’t get into how our culture/social experience structures the brain, which is important because you don’t find the same patterns of behavior in every culture, or even sub-culture. 2nd generation American women often differ from 1st generation. But given the culture we have, the brain shows up largely the way she describes it. There is always a bell curve so I don’t fit everything she describes as being female. “Who we are” is a mix of biology, our culture, and our social experiences. The brain is shaped by both nature and nurture.

  11. Just because people have exaggerated sexual differences in the past it doesn’t mean that they can not exist. And what’s wrong with being “different” ? Different is not inequality.
    If we all were the same, that would be a boring world.

    • Just don’t know how different we are. And stereotypes tend to create social patterns of “should” that people adhere to. Some other cultures suggest there’s more similarity. Less repression among women. Less men begging for sex… That’s good.

      • Well men and women are different. We need to celebrate and respect those differences and not “ignore” them.
        The problems between genders exist because we are ignoring those differences and we are trying to treat everyone as if we all are the same.
        Equal, YES.
        The same, NO. We all are different.

        If men and women were the same, what’s the point then in having two different genders?

      • But one problem is assuming that men and women are much more different than they are. If things hadn’t changed then I would be spending my life at home taking care of kids and doing nothing else. That may be a-okay as far as you are concerned, but it’s not where my interest lies.

        When women are confined to the home we lose out on their talents in medicine, the arts, academia, the law, business. If you look at social research before women were involved in psychology you get some really weird stuff that looks at differences in men and women and assumes that men are always better, for instance. When women weren’t allowed to be attorneys and judges it was assumed that the reason rape was bad was that it hurt men — they couldn’t marry a virgin. I could go on and on with all of the problems it creates to assume that men and women are different and exclude women from so much of life.

        So it’s important to figure out what the real sex differences are (biological differences) so that we don’t limit people unnecessarily because we believe that gender differences (what cultures make up) are real when they are not.

        Maybe you haven’t had to live in a world that told you that you can’t do certain things that you wanted to do and that you enjoyed just because you are a man. I grew up in a very conservative religion that told me that I could not do many things — that it was against my nature as a woman — when I knew full well what I enjoyed and what I wanted to do and what my talents and capacities were — and that all those things were very different from what the patriarchal men were telling me.

        Why do we have gender differences? Well, anyone who wants to maintain privilege over another group will want to maintain a sense that there is a difference between the two groups in order to justify the privileges of the higher-status group. Otherwise, it makes no sense to maintain that privilege.

      • Just to add to the exchange between Jean Claude and BroadBlogs has said, the moment you admit differences, you also admit inequality from a certain point of view (even though, as you say, from a legal & political & civil human rights point of view there is always 100% equality). For example, if someone proved, hypothetically, that a greater % of men are more muscular than women, then it is rational to focus your recruiting for a task requiring muscle on men. But that’s discrimination (though not the same discrimination as that of prejudice and ignorance). So one of the trickiest things about admitting differences is that while we may forbid rational discrimination, it is costly – who’s going to pay up that extra cost? Big corporations? Sure. Small and medium business? They can’t afford to. This creates all sorts of problems of its own. Imagine that a certain race was shown to disproportionately be criminal (not biologically, statistically). Then it’s rational to use tax payer dollars wisely and monitor suspects of that race more closely until that statistic is no longer true. But it’s still discrimination. That’s why differences, once proven by science & statistics, are going to create havoc.

      • Actually, I disagree on a couple of points.

        While inequality requires difference, difference does not have to create inequality. For instance, in early egalitarian or matriarchal cultures (experts disagree on how to classify them) men and women have different roles because of their physical sex differences, yet the two sexes are socially equal, or women slightly advantaged. See this for instance:http://broadblogs.com/2011/01/24/is-sexism-men’s-fault/

        So in these cultures men tended to be the hunters and warriors because men have more physical strength, and because it’s more important to both the tribes and mother nature that women survive – you can create a lot more babies with one man and 10 women than with 10 men and one woman, so both mother nature and human societies tend to protect women more.

        So my feeling is that people should be hired based on how well they can do a job. I don’t believe that the armed forces or firefighters, for instance, should lower their standards so that women can be hired to do a particular job. Given the sort of work that Navy SEALs do, it would be crazy to lower your standards. At the same time, when Police Departments began hiring women they found that women often policed better in many ways because they were less physically strong, and were socialized differently. For instance, women tend to do better with the sort of policing that involves making friends with a troubled neighborhood and encouraging people to go on the right track – helping them gain resources like tutoring, job leads and things like that. Women were also less trigger-happy and better at diffusing situations.

        So you shouldn’t refuse to hire women in the police department just because they don’t have the same physical strength. They may have other, surprising advantages.

        I only believe that people are discriminated against when they could do the job equally well but only one sex is given an opportunity.

        So my concern is to know what is real and what isn’t. And to experiment because you might be surprised that what appears to be a weakness is actually a strength.

        And, it has been my experience that we tend to make assumptions that there are more differences between women and men than there are, or that these differences work differently than they do. AND these assumptions tend to work against women having opportunities, which in turn, harms us all.

      • I agree that women can do and are doing now days all the “jobs” that men are doing.
        Except from dating. When it comes to dating, even feminists the prefer the man to make the first move. I have actually read and heard comments from women who claim to be feminist saying something like “when it comes to dating I am more traditional, the man should go after woman and not the other way round”.
        I know there are some women that they do sometimes the first move but they are still the minority and their first move is less assertive than the man’s approach.

      • This is true. I’ve actually written something on this but I’m waiting until spring quarter to post because I have a couple of classes I’d like to have read it. It’s called “How Sex Creates Gender” and it will be part of a larger series of interconnected posts (not sure I’m labeling it a series, though).

      • @reinter

        do you think that that anyone can play to the NBA and earn millions?
        I can do what they are doing.
        Do you think that anyone could win the Nobel prize?
        I don’t see myself winning the Noble prize or getting an Oscar in the near future and most likely never.

        Does that mean that we the average people aren’t equal with those “rare” persons, scientists, artists, athletes, etc.?
        Of course not. We are all equal, we all have the same rights. But we all are different.

      • @ Jean Claude I did emphasize that social & legal & civic equality are not compromised by difference. I agree: different doesn’t mean unequal.

        But it does mean that we can rationally discriminate, if we find any real differences, for certain roles. And that’s illegal at the moment, though everyone does it. I’m not taking a stance about whether it is right or wrong. I’m just saying that it’s tricky to resolve.

        And Jean Claude, your oscar or nobel prize examples are not what I am talking about. Because all genders are equally likely to win an Oscar or a nobel prize (or at least, I’m not aware of research that shows that there is a biological reason, rather than a social or cultural one, why any gender might have an advantage or disadvantage). So that’s not a situation of rational discrimination.

        Rational discrimination occurs when you know of a real difference. Say you’re recruiting for a role and you know some innate difference makes women better at it. Then you’d focus on women. But there are men who can do it just as well, so it is discriminatory at the level of individual men. today it’s not legal to restrict your recruiting efforts by gender. But implicitly it happens all the time. Is it right or wrong? It’s way more costly to interview all genders impartially – more time consuming, more effort. This is the ‘cost’ I referred to.

      • @broadblogs

        so you believe that women should be encourage to take more initiative in dating and be more proactive instead of just waiting men to do all the work?

  12. I wonder, have you ever asked your students on this subject?
    if women should be more proactive in dating or do they prefer to be more “traditional” ?
    If you have, please share what you have came up with

    • I haven’t asked them, but they’ve brought it up themselves. Asked the guys in the class how they felt about it. The guys said they would like it.

      Otherwise, I’ll have to say that when I was single there were times when I felt really powerless, when I would have liked to have asked a guy out but felt like I couldn’t. I also grew up in a very conservative religion and dated mostly conservative religious guys who were very into patriarchy. (It’s this conservative religion that turned me into a feminist more than anything.) The one time I did ask a guy out–when it wasn’t for something like a Sadie Hawkins dance–he turned me down. I figured he was turned off by my switching the roles (since I hadn’t been turned down in the socially approved scenarios).

      • How about the female students, what they thought about that?

      • At the time they asked I assumed they did so because they would like to be able to ask men out. But I actually don’t know what was going on in their heads. I do know that I wanted to be able to ask men out, So maybe that is why I interpreted it that way. I mean, why bother to bring it up otherwise?

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