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How Different are Men and Women?

DISCLAIMER: The controversial views expressed in this post are the product of a notoriously over-heated mind, and should be taken with a grain of salt.  However, even the gods themselves agree with me, and think you would be a fuddle-snerp not to. 

(About a 6 minute read)

It is difficult for me now at 61 to recall when I did not think men and women were 95% similar and only 5% dissimilar — though we spend 95% of our time dwelling on the 5% of differences.  But I do know that when I was young, I thought men and women as different as night and day — and I thought night and day were polar opposites.

The thought that night and day were mostly alike — the tree in my yard doesn’t disappear with the sunset, after all — took awhile to occur to me, let alone the thought that men and women were mostly alike.

When that thought did at last come to me, it was more idealism than insight.  I was simply recognizing what had to be correct if the science was correct.  I was not actually seeing women as mostly like me and/or other men.  That had to wait an embarrassingly long time — until middle age.

It was only when my testosterone levels subsided a bit as I entered middle age that I truly began seeing women as persons first and foremost — a perspective that led me to conclude they really aren’t much different than men.  Testosterone is a wonderful chemical, but it is exactly like alcohol (or any other neurochemical, for that matter) in that it changes not only how we feel about things, but also what our minds focus on.

As a young man, I came damnably close to testosterone poisoning — actually showing some symptoms of it.  Testosterone poisoning is, as you might expect, caused by too much testosterone in the bloodstream.  Full blown, the symptoms cannot be distinguished from schizophrenia except by a blood test.  When I said I was “close” to it, I mean withing kissing distance.

One thing it did for me is so focus me on sex that I simply couldn’t see a woman’s personality much better than most of us can make out someone standing at the other end of a dark alley.  When my T-levels abated during middle age, I was both surprised and delighted to discover whole new worlds open to me, each world being a woman I knew well enough to now perceive who she was as a person.  It was one of the most expansive periods of my life.

As I said, with it came the growing recognition that women were mostly like men.

But if that’s so, then why do not more people see it?  The question is not one to be taken lightly because the fact is, it honestly appears to many of us — perhaps to most of us — than men and women are very different.

And here, you cannot blame testosterone for most of the reason so many of us see men and women as extraordinarily different.  Testosterone might be a part of the puzzle, but not everyone has enough testosterone to be almost incapable of seeing women as persons.

I think the primary culprit here is culture.  A lot of us think men and women are different by nature. What we fail to realize is that much of what we consider to be natural is what we are acculturated to think is natural.  But that does not mean our acculturated opinions about what is natural are any less strong in us than they would be if they were rooted in our genes.  Culture can — and sometimes does — override our genes.

Case in point: How difficult do you suppose it would be for you to honestly believe there were only three colors?  Say, blue, green, and yellow.  Do you think you could easily do it?  I suppose not.  And yet, were you to be raised in any of several tribes around the planet, you would be taught that very fact — and you would not only believe it, but for all practical purposes, you would see the world that way.  If someone pointed out to you that purple was not the same as blue, you would be just as disbelieving as if someone pointed out to us that purple and royal blue were the same color.

Culture can be so deeply rooted in us that we spend our entire lives unable to think of the world outside its boxes.

In ancient Persia, men were considered more emotional, more flighty, than women.  If you wanted a dispassionate view of things, you didn’t ask your father, you asked your mother. To the Persians, it would have made no more sense to say your father was more coldly rational than your mother than it makes sense to many of us to say our mothers are more coldly rational than our fathers.

For the past 40 years — ever since I minored in anthropology at uni — I have had an interest in how culture shapes our view of the world.  That very much includes how it shapes our view of men and women.

When I was at uni, I used to have a drinking game of my own creation.  I would ask you three questions.  On the basis of your answers, I would guess your religion as either Catholic, Mainstream Protestant, Evangelical, or Jewish.  I so got into the game that at one point, I kept score on a slip of matchbook paper that I carried in my wallet of how often I was right or wrong.  Eighty percent of the time I got it right.

Just three questions and I could predict with 80% accuracy what your religion was.

I no longer recall one of the three, but here are the two I do recall:

  • Can men and women be true best friends (or maybe it was, “Do you think someone of the other sex could ever be your true best friend)?
  • Are men and women complete or polar opposites?

One night I got so drunk, I went table to table begging people to allow me to play my game with them.  Naturally, the ulterior motive of my game was to get women talking about sex.   Cheap thrills, yes, but thrilling in those days, nonetheless.

Here’s a game for you.  Make a list of characteristics humans might possess, such as kindness, generosity, honesty, humor, intelligence, introversion, extroversion, compassion, frankness, sincerity, curiosity, friendliness, aggression, masculinity, femininity, optimism, pessimism, reliability, steadfastness (slightly different from steadfastness), courage, honor, integrity, aggression, fairness, and so forth.

Now go through your list one by one and mark every character trait that men and women can share in common to at least some significant degree.

What dd you find?  Did you find there are far more traits men and women can share in common to at least some significant degree than there are not?  That’s what I find.  In fact, I can give examples for each one of those traits of both men and women I have known.  Including masculinity and femininity.

Now go back through the list and mark each trait that your culture tells you significantly belongs more to one sex than to the other.

Again, what did you find?  I found many more traits my culture thinks make men and women different than I think make men or women different.

As I said at the start of this magnificent post, I think men and women are 95% similar and only 5% dissimilar — but we spend 95% of our time dwelling on the 5% of differences.  However, I’m not here to convince you of my point of view — only to explain it.  What do you yourself think?

6 thoughts on “How Different are Men and Women?”

  1. Interesting post, it reminds me of the fact that men and women are companions. There must be neutral ground for attraction at the same time the differences often provide the nuances that embolden our love and adoration for the other.


  2. I dare not disagree,since your points are valid and the list of characteristics you mentioned suits both men and women,in my opinion 100%

    There is MALE inside FeMALE
    MR in every MRs,
    He in each sHe,
    Which proves that MAN can’t live without a woMan….unknown

    Men and women are equal and they need each other without ego.

    Dear Paul Sunstone I take this opportunity in nominating you for the Mystery Blogger Award.


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