Are Women The Weaker Sex? 

The weaker sex?

The weaker sex?

Are women physically inferior to men?

I ask my students.

“Yes, isn’t it obvious?” some say.

“No,” say others. “A female bodybuilder is stronger than any guy in this room.”

“True. What if she walked into a room full of male bodybuilders?” I prod. 

In fact, one of the few things you can predict by sex is who has more muscular strength. If you guess “the guy,” you’ll probably be right. That’s because women typically have two-thirds the upper body strength of men. The difference isn’t quite as wide when it comes to lower body strength, but men have greater muscle mass all over.

That’s because of testosterone. When men eat, more calories turn to muscle. When women eat, more turn into fat. In this fat-phobic society, that sounds like a bum deal.

Testosterone also makes men taller, giving them the basketball and high-cabinet reaching advantage.

So it seems like men are physically superior to women.

But we exaggerate the difference by doing things like encouraging sports for boys. And there is more than one way to be physically superior.

There’s more than one way to be physically superior

What about survival?

Someone who survives better is physically superior. And that’s where girls rule.

Ginger did everything Fred did. Backwards and in high heels.

Ginger did everything Fred did. Backwards and in high heels.

The height advantage turns on its head if there’s a famine: shorter people need less food. And suddenly, fat is a strength, providing nourishment when food is scarce. Fat even insulates in extreme cold.

But women have another ace up their sleeves: the XX gene combo verses men’s XY.

An X chromosome has 1,098 genes. The Y? About 78 — and it pretty much just creates male genitals and an abundance of testosterone.

Apparently, women have a huge advantage. Yet one X lies mostly dormant. So not so different after all.

But if an X chromosome has a problem, females have a backup. Males don’t. So females are more likely to be born alive, and to survive throughout the lifecycle.

Looks like mother nature works harder for female survival. And no wonder. If a severe famine takes out most of a population leaving, say, only one woman and 10 men, you end up with only about eight kids who make it to adulthood. But if 10 women and one man survive, you get about 80 adults in the next generation.

Taking a cue from Mother Nature, men’s muscularity and women’s ability to make babies led early tribes to assign men more strength-bearing and dangerous tasks like hunting and warring.

Women also have better balance, flexibility and endurance. Balance and endurance might aid survival, as well. Less likely to fall down and die or break something. Plus, an ability to keep going.

Balance, flexibility and endurance also give women the advantage in some sports. Like marathon swimming and 24-hour foot races. Or gymnastics and figure skating — huge draws at the Olympics.

Turns out, neither men nor women are physically superior. Each just has different sorts of superiorities.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 17, 2015, in feminism, gender, men, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 60 Comments.

  1. Biologically men are, on average, physically stronger than women, but this is not necessarily relevant to sexual equality. Physical strength is not a majorly important skill in today’s worlds. Obviously twenty-year olds, as a statistical group, are physically stronger than forty-year olds. No society, including America, considers twenty-year olds superior for that reason. There is most likely a racial difference in physical strength as well, at the least in height. But physical strength is just one facet of us as humans. We contribute to society in several different ways and physique, psychology, emotions, intellect, and empathy all matter. When all these elements are taken as a whole there are no difference between the sexes considered as statistical groups.

    Unlike all the other groups (age-based and race-based) where too differences in physique are biological, when it comes to sex differences, society has long decided the difference matters. This has been used largely to restrict women to the private sphere, marked unfit for the sphere of public work. That women have other qualities equally important in the public sphere has been largely ignored. It is true there are biological differences between the sexes, making men better suited, say, for lifting heavy objects, but it is also true that these differences ought to matter far less than they did for most of history. By the mid twentieth century, after industrialization rendered sheer physical strength largely unnecessary, women were still blocked from actively participating in the workforce. No job should be gender segregated; it may be that in some jobs there may well be more men or more women statistically but that should be a natural outcome and not the product of cultural conditioning or bias.

    • “Biologically men are, on average, physically stronger than women, but this is not necessarily relevant to sexual equality.”

      That’s right. In a number of societies you still get the strength difference but there is still equality. The Indians along the East Coast of the Americas and Minoan Crete are a couple of examples. And actually, a lot of couples have partnership marriages even though the guys typically bigger and stronger.

      Just because you are bigger and stronger doesn’t automatically make you want to dominate.

  2. I love this fact. So many men try to act like men are superior simply because they have higher BRUTE strength. Little do they know, women are stronger in so many other ways, to the extent that women even live longer than men despite being brutely weaker.

  3. I really liked this article! As I was reading, I initially assumed that this article was going to be talking about women’s weakness and men’s strength. I’m glad to have learned about our genes. Mother nature went and gave us a back up. It’s kind of how when my mother thinks about bringing extra clothes just in case of an accident. It’s also very interesting to learn that if there was an apocalypse, women would have more strength to survive it.

    I am also tired of people believing that women are the weaker sex. Although we may not be physically superior, we can carry our own weight. I remember countless of times in high school there would be times when teachers would ask for volunteers to help carry textbooks. Many of the times, only the boys would be picked because the teacher believed the girls did not have the strength to help. In my opinion,despite our appearances we are quite strong.

  4. Before beginning to read this article, I automatically assumed that the end of the article would basically summarize that men are definitely superior to women. However, as I read the article I realized it was saying the same things I believed in. Over the years, I realized that there is no superiority in one sex but rather a difference in how much strength or what kind of strength one sex has over the other. Without much hesitation it is easier to say that the male specie are physically superior rather than women, but there are many exceptions one being child labor. I do not think any male could ever complete the delivery process no matter how much muscle or testosterone he may have. Its just not made for us. Similarly men have more of an advantage when it comes to their bones as well, they are bigger and stronger than women. This is proven by men having much lower risks of bone loss with age as well as broken hips and osteoarthritis. Yet when it comes to the heart, us men are a little more disadvantaged than women, making their hearts stronger than ours with their advantage of the female hormone estrogen. As other parts of the body and mind are compared, sometimes us men are superior and at other times the women are at an advantage.. sometimes neither of us have the advantage and other times we both have it! In its entirety, I believe both women and men are superior but at different aspects and at different points in life.

  5. Thanks for the interesting read!
    You hit the nail in the head when you end the post with the fact that neither sex is physically superior, they each have pros/cons. I like to entertain the idea that the way biology has evolved is to make make each species resistant in the pairing of its male/female form. Biologically speaking, did men evolve to have more muscle so that hunting/providing/defending their group was easier and women evolved to be able to rear young by accumulating fat so that they could feed two people at a time by surviving the long, grueling nine month journey of conception to birth?
    These two examples are very primordial though and they are not an excuse for a society that has evolved beyond hunting tribes to hark back to these days as a convenient way of propping one sex over the other.
    We each have our physical strengths and weaknesses. But it’s our society’s culture that chooses which part of the body to focus on. Because we idolize athletes, we naturally tend to think of boys as stronger because for the entire male population, turning calories to muscle fiber is an easier endeavor thanks to biology. However, even female athletes have a hard time putting on muscle compared to their male counterparts. Despite this they still achieve pretty amazing results in the Olympics and World Championships.( side note: it would be interesting to see the study of female athlete’s production of testosterone compared against the entire female population and where they would fall in the bell curve). Ultimately, we should value each sex for what they bring to the table instead of forcing them into gender roles that we have come to define as sex in society.

  6. I absolutely love this article!

    Most feminists tend to completely disagree with the statement that men are stronger than women, which is the popular belief. They do this despite physical truth and evidence because they do not want to lose against men and be seen as anything other than equal. They feel like it could be a step back in their fight for equality, but in truth, this just makes them ignorant. We should view science as science because we are human beings.

    Human beings are more than capable of thinking for ourselves and developing our own morals to follow. This has always been the case and will always be the case. So even if women are deemed weaker, it does not mean that as a society we should regard women as the lesser sex because we are more than capable of conducting our own values, morals, and thinking.

    I love that you stated women are better at some things and men are better at others. There is nothing in this article that gave me a sense of one sex being greater than the other, which is how feminism should be. Great article and thanks for the read!

  7. This article does a good job or providing an unbiased and well rounded opinion of weaknesses among men and women. Society has somehow formed an opinion since the very beginning that women are indeed the weaker sex since we can’t easily build muscle to carry heavy loads or grow taller. However, one aspect that society has never considered is how bearing children makes us mentally and physically stronger and also how our genetic makeup and physical differences help us live longer. In fact, even in present day society it is commonly known that women live longer than men. From an evolutionary perspective, its interesting how women are built to be survivors since they are the only ones who can bear children while men are built more to be protectors and hunters. For this reason, society has found a way of forming stereotypes around each gender which prevents and shames them from crossing over to the roles of the opposite gender.

  8. When I saw the title of this article, the first thing that I thought it was about how women are in generally weaker than men. Immediately, I disagreed, but after reading the article, I agree to how women and men are weaker in certain situations. When the article talks about men being stronger than women physically, I somewhat agree. A woman can work out and can end up being stronger than some men; it just takes discipline to workout consistently. I agree with the biological reasoning as to why men are normally stronger than women, which is because of testosterone. Nothing can really be done to change that; testosterone can make one taller and gain muscle easier, as what the article states. I also somewhat agree what women can survive better than women. I also agree that there is a height advantage due to needing less food. As a short female, I can complete agree with that statement; I would normally eat less than my friends who are taller than me. I really like how this article states the biological reasoning to defend their point. I think women and men are stronger at different things, but when these come together, it creates harmony and can lead to better solutions.

  9. Appreciate this. Neither is more or less. We’re equal with many differences and sameness. The world would be a much better place if more people understood this.

  10. I enjoyed this post because it looks at strength in a much more broader way. “Physical strength” doesn’t just mean muscular strength and nothing else. Physical strength encompasses a lot of different kinds of things, such as endurance, agility, stamina, etc.
    It’s easy for most people to hear the question “who is stronger, men or women?” and assume that men are automatically the superior ones. I blame that on what society tells boys and girls, starting when they’re young. Girls are told that they can’t do certain things that boys can do and separate them. Gender norms put the idea in the head of girls that they aren’t as physically strong and should stick to activities that don’t require that much strength.
    The points that you made need to be spread to the minds of girls and boys. The notion that there is only one kind of “physical strength” sets back the hope for equality between the sexes.

  11. Once again the words weak and strong are so relative as they are usually related to physical strength!…. Nevertheless, even from this point of view… you have to be strong to give birth, Am I right?….Thanks for sharing, dear Gerogia… All my best wishes. Aquileana ⭐

  12. Females are more flexible, which is agility.

    I never thought of being flexible as agility, but simply flexibility. It’s probably because I watch nba and nfl sports and always say “agility” as quickness and stopping and starting and cutting on a dime, or juking someone out of their boots or “breaking ankles”. Like in basketball when a guy does a “crossover” and gets by or the guys falls because he can’t keep up with the ball handling and agility of the quickly explosive ball handler and same with football with the receiver or runningback makijng a defense eat dust as he misses the guy who spun out of the way or side stepped him.

  13. This is my favorite blog post thus far! As a society we’re so used to judging things off face value. When asked who is the stronger sex it is easy to just make the quick conclusion based on looks that men are superior. While we’ve all experienced deviations from this- my grandpa is 5’4 and my grandma was 5’10- the general narrative is that men are larger and therefore stronger. But once you ask the greater question such as what that strength is for or how it benefits them in the grand scheme of life we start getting to a more relevant issue. Women are engineered to endure. While strength proves valuable when hunting or protecting height can actually hinder resources an individual will need to survive. Women can generally survive on less and produce children to keep the population going. Once you are able to look past appearance we find that women poses a unique set of strengths that differ from men but prove they are equal in every way.

  14. Claudia Robinson

    I agree with your entire argument. I have learned through my online Women’s and Genders Studies class the stigmas that have always been placed on women. Most women are viewed as both fragile and weak since they are child bearers. However, in your post you note that this difference is actually a positive one and that makes women “stronger” than men. Most people only think of strength as physical such as how much weight a person can hold or how much physical activities one can do. Men typically believe that since they can lift more and are perform more physical activities that they are “stronger”. It is because of this “strength” that women were believed to be weak and that they should remain within the household to take care of the family, while the men go to work. It is this supposed strength that tore women down and made them feel inferior. It is through points like the ones you have stated that women were able to grow above these stereotypes and fight for their rights through the women’s rights movement.

  15. Its funny that no matter how much scientifically proven information you have there will still be someone that will claim men are superior in any situation. I knew men were superior with physical strength and women have the upper hand in the event of a famine but I never knew about the XX chromosomes being such an advantage. After reading that part of the article I did some research and found an article from the New York Times where they were focusing on the X-chromosome and how like you stated the second X chromosome becomes dormant yet still gives women an advantage. “Females simply have access to realms of biology that males do not have,” said Huntington F. Willard who is the director if Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy. I wish there was more of an explanation why the X chromosome gives women more of an advantage but they also brought up the fact that it can lead to genetic disorders in males and can create a special risk of cancer in females. I also wonder if the dark side of the X chromosome is stronger than the side that gives an advantage or is it the other way around. It is a possibility that Mother Nature gave women this biological advantage because women are the ones that carry a child and nurture a child after birth which is something men of course men cannot do.

    • I’m certain that the reason women have a genetic advantage is because they beat children. You can simply survive with fewer men than women.

      But thanks for that addition and for your thoughts.

      • Yes, in the biological sense, men are pretty expendable and women are the one’s who need to stay alive if there’s ever an apocalypse for that reason. In the biological sense men are less valuable than women, and in the quantity sense worthless.

      • No. We just have different strengths.

  16. Your last sentence sums it up! Totally!

  17. Exactly. There is no better, just different. I am most intrigued by the difference between the genetic composition of the x and Y chromosome. Also the intriguing idea that the second X chromosome is mostly dormant. Why? There is no room in our bodies for things that have no purpose. Fascinating 🙂

  18. Loved this. The survival of the fittest theory rules..isn’t it? … 😀

  19. I read something how men’s narrow hips and pelvis is part to do with the advantage in regards to speed and why men on average are faster. It’s the only thing I can think of, as men have every reason to be slower and not as quick.

  20. The strange thing is men “in general” being faster runners than women. Yes there are many women faster than men and a girls track and field team would beat many guys. But overall, more guys are faster than women and the fastest man is faster than the fastest woman. It’s weird thought because if anything, I always though women should be faster than men in general. It’s interesting how the physiology is diffferent and what would make sense with cars doesn’t for humans. I thought women should be faster, because women are smaller and have less body mass and women’s leg strength and close to men’s. It’s like don’t sleek, smaller cars accelerate and are faster than pick up trucks? Doesn’t a car accelerate faster than a tractor trailer?

    All that mass for trucks requires more power to pick up for a resting spot. So I don’t know why men’s body mass doesn’t limit men’s speed compared to women’s. It’s kind of freaky how fast guys are for all the mass and size. In the nfl, there’s a tight end vernon davis. at 6″5′, 257 lbs and ran a 4.48 40 yard dash. That means he ran 40 yards in only 4.48 second. That’s fast in general, even if for a smaller 200lb or under guy, let alone a big dude like that running that speed. That’s freak of nature speed which you see male pro athletes do.

  21. Like any complex relationship, complementary traits are the advantage.

  22. I would only add that while men are generally stronger and women are generally more nimble, individual strength and agility for both genders are all over the map, so I would disagree with someone (not you) who would suggest that we ought to have male-only or female-only professions.

    • I agree. Women should have equal opportunity to apply for any job.

    • Surprisingly , I believe men are overall more agile than women too. Though I would think women should be, but women have better balance and such like that. But power, speed, agility, acceleration or “burst”, jumping, kicking, punching, throwing, are better athletes and why any sports are separated. But like marathons, I believe women can run longer or have better endurance long distance than men. People whether condition or maybe natural, seem to be attracted or like watching sports that are “fast” aggressive, and why football is very popular , basketball and soccer is popular worldwide.

  23. We have the babies, that’s pretty tough. But you are right, men are (usually) physically stronger, but women have different strengths…… and in the whole spectrum of gender we are talking about recently, how does that factor in?

    • Sex and gender are two different things. the strength difference is a physical difference — a sex difference. Gender is what cultures make of physical, sex differences. And when it comes to gender there’s a tremendous amount of overlap. This sex trait is one of the few areas where there is not a lot of overlap between men and women. There is some overlap, but not a lot.

  24. Informative, Georgia, and the post concludes by nailing the issue with the right finality, that neither sex is inferior or superior; it is just that physical strength is allocated differently, to better serve the evolutionary purpose…best wishes.

  25. just different, who’d have thunk it?!

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