Head to Head: Biology is to blame for gender inequity

Arisson Stanfield

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board. This is a head to head, you can find the opposing viewpoint here

The blame for the differences between the sexes should be laid first at the feet of Mother Nature before being laid at the feet of society. Sexual discrimination does play a role in the gender wage gap, but it is not the only factor in why men and women continue to be unequal.

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There are undeniable, powerful and practical effects that follow from liberating women. The United Nations reports that increasing women’s access to education reduces child mortality and increases economic productivity. In addition, when women control more of the household income, the children within the household tend to benefit. 

But liberating women has not erased the biological obstacles that still contribute to gender inequity.

Some women must have children for humanity to exist. This means that any woman who desires a career and a family must wrestle with the fact that she will be encumbered with a child for at least nine months of her professional career. 

Compounding the problem is the critical role that mothers play in the child’s life even after birth. The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed exclusively for the first six months after the child is born and continue to breastfeed to some degree until the child is two. 

Professional mothers must accept the fact that properly raising even one child may hurt their productivity for up to three years. This is no doubt unfair as women en mass did not ask to be the ones given the responsibility of carrying and birthing children. But the blame for these professional obstacles can be placed only on Mother Nature and not society.

My colleague Lauren Willson points out that the very real personality differences between men and women are not enough to explain the gender pay gap. This is a valid point, but the burden of children on women does. In fact, studies from Denmark show that as much as 80 percent of gender inequality is caused by “child penalties,” whereas this only explained 40 percent of the inequality in 1980.

This means that as Western society has become less sexist over the past 40 years, the biological differences between men and women have begun to account for more and more of the total differences between them.

Mother Nature affects the lives of women who choose not to be mothers as well.

A less sexist society will not always result in a more equal society with fewer differences between men and women. This discovery is now being called the “gender-equity paradox,” which denotes the fact that in more gender equal societies, men and women tend to be more different than in less equal societies. 

These differences once again boil down to biology and not to how people are socialized. For instance, a study from the University of Missouri shows that school-age boys are, in general, better at girls in math and science in every society.

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However, even when girls are better than boys at math and science, girls are usually more interested in reading comprehension. They tend to be the best at reading and, in general, people tend to pursue what they feel they are best at. 

Men and women have different personalities, different interests and different roles to play in the maintenance of society. Some of these differences we have created and used as tools of domination but some of them are simply the result of 58 million years of primate evolution that was concerned only with survival and not about fairness. 

We are not slaves to our nature, but we aren’t exactly free either. 

Arisson Stanfield can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @OddestOdyssey.