God created males and females to be very different from each other. That’s obvious to us as Christians and to most other clear-thinking people. But to leftwing ideologues who see any recognition of difference as “inequality,” accepting such difference is a form of heresy.
For example, many feminists consider any difference between males and females to be the result of “social conditioning” – the two genders are only different, they say, because our “patriarchal” society imposes differing expectations on boys and girls. And once the government and its education system have properly imposed “equality” on society, then the differences between men and women will disappear.
In recent years, that ideological perspective has been thoroughly refuted by scientific studies of the human body. Many of these studies and their implications are summarized by psychologist and medical doctor Leonard Sax in the book Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences.
Sax is not coming to this issue from any sort of Christian or social conservative perspective. He is not opposed to homosexual behavior, and as a medical doctor he prescribes birth control to sixteen-year-old girls without their parents’ knowledge. In other words, he is not a believer, or a conservative as such. He is simply frustrated by the harmful effects of leftwing ideology on children.
When Sax was trained at university, most professors accepted the ideological view that male and female differences are socially conditioned rather than being natural and intrinsic. He refers to this view as
“the dogma of ‘social constructionism,’ the belief that differences between girls and boys derive exclusively from social expectations with no input from biology.”
Attention Deficit Disorder?
After practicing medicine for a few years, he suddenly saw a huge increase in the number of grade 2 and 3 boys being sent to him with notes from their teachers saying they have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and needed medication. This glut of supposedly ADD boys alerted Sax to the fact that something was wrong. As it turns out, it wasn’t that the boys were ill or needed medication. It turned out that boys have a different sort of learning style than girls, and that the current method of teaching in many schools favors the female learning style. When boys have a hard time paying attention in class they are diagnosed as having ADD and given drugs to cope with that “problem.” But in most cases these boys don’t actually have a problem. They’re just not being taught the way boys need to be taught. As Sax summarizes the situation, “The failure to recognize and respect sex differences in child development has done substantial harm over the past thirty years.”
The brains of male and female humans have significant differences, especially during infancy and childhood. These differences affect the way children learn and thus are relevant when considering how they should be educated.
Girls draw nouns, boys draw verbs
Take the eye, for example. Baby girls are naturally interested in looking at faces while baby boys are more interested in looking at moving objects. According to Sax, “The reason for that difference has to do with sex differences in the anatomy of the eye.”
The anatomy of the eye is different for males and females. It is impossible for the differences to be the result of social conditioning. And these differences are significant. Sax says that,
“We’re not talking about small differences between the sexes, with lots of overlap. We’re talking about large differences between the sexes, with no overlap at all.”
Such biological differences between boys and girls are reflected in a number of ways. For example, when boys and girls are given paper and crayons to draw with, the difference reflects itself in the kinds of pictures that result. Boys tend to portray movement and action more than girls. “Psychologist Donna Tuman summarizes the difference this way: girls draw nouns, boys draw verbs.”
In feminist ideology, boys and girls play with different kinds of toys because their parents give them the kinds of toys they are expected to play with. Boys get “boy toys” like balls, trains, and cars, while girls get “girl toys” like dolls, and baby carriages. The feminists argue that if the boys were given girl toys, and the girls given boy toys, the children would turn out differently – the boys would express more femininity in their play and the girls would express more masculinity in their play.
But the actual research done on children as young as nine-months-old demonstrates that boys naturally gravitate to boy toys and girls to girl toys. Their respective interest in those kinds of toys is natural, not the result of social conditioning. The feminists are wrong again.
This is how Sax summarizes the overall situation:
“Girls and boys play differently. They learn differently. They fight differently. They see the world differently. They hear differently. When I started graduate school in 1980, most psychologists were insisting that those differences came about because parents raised girls and boys in different ways. Today we know that the truth is the other way around: parents raise girls and boys differently because girls and boys are so different from birth. Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently.”
This is a point that bears repeating: “The bottom line is that the brain is just organized differently in females and males.” And the organization of the brain is not something that can be conditioned by a “patriarchal” society.
Danger and violence
Sax discusses a number of other ways that boys and girls differ. One of the most interesting is their reaction to danger. Generally speaking, when a girl is confronted by danger she feels fearful. But in many cases a boy confronted with the same danger will experience a thrill. Boys often seek out dangerous activities for fun. This is less common in girls. Sax notes that, “Studies in the United States and around the world universally find that boys are more likely to engage in physically risky activities.” Boys often get enjoyment from activities that most girls want to avoid.
Boys are also less adverse to violence than girls. Much like the situation with danger, “many young boys get a thrill from violent or quasi-violent confrontation. Most young girls don’t.” This fact has educational implications because it affects the kind of literature that will interest most boys:
“Boys as young as two years of age, given a choice between violent fairy tales and warm and fuzzy fairy tales, usually choose the violent stories. Girls as young as two years of age consistently choose the warm and fuzzy stories.”
Discipline and spanking
Sax has a long discussion on how girls and boys need different kinds of discipline. In his view, boys tend to need strict authoritarian discipline, which includes spanking. However, he does not believe girls respond positively to spanking and advises parents not to spank girls. This differs from the Christian view since girls are not exempt from spanking in the Bible.
However, because he does recommend spanking for boys, he spends some time defending spanking as a legitimate form of discipline. He refutes the argument that spanking leads to child abuse saying,
“Parents who love their young son and spank him only occasionally when he does something really outrageous are at no more risk of becoming child abusers than are parents who never spank.”
He also points out that some countries have outlawed spanking and doing so has not decreased child abuse at all.
“Sweden, for example, passed a law in 1979 making it illegal for parents to spank their children. But a Swedish government study conducted in 1995 showed a fourfold increase in child abuse in the years following passage of the law. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the law somehow caused an increase in child abuse. But it certainly provides no support for the theory that outlawing spanking will decrease child abuse.”
Sax makes another very valuable point. Children have not changed in the last few decades. They still misbehave. How is that misbehavior dealt with? In the “olden days” children were spanked. Now, rather than receiving a spanking, “these kids are instead being put on calming behavior-modifying drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Metadate.”
Sax points out the hypocrisy of this current state of affairs: “In a bizarre turn of events, it’s become politically incorrect to spank your child, but it’s okay to drug him.” This situation is tied to a larger philosophical change. As Sax describes it,
“Fifty years ago, bad behavior was considered a disciplinary problem. If you misbehaved, you needed to be punished. Today bad behavior is more often considered a psychiatric problem. Kids who misbehave are referred to a specialist for a diagnosis – and for treatment, often with medication.”
Spanking and human nature
There is an important aspect to the debate over spanking that Sax understands much better than most people. At the root of this dispute is a difference over human nature. Are humans naturally sinful or naturally good? If children are born sinful, then it stands to reason that force will be needed to direct them into positive behavior patterns. But if children are naturally good rather than sinful, then corporal punishment is never necessary. Other forms of correction are assumed to be superior and preferable.
If children are born good, as the currently dominant worldview believes, then bad behavior must be the result of bad parenting, poor nutrition, ADD, violent entertainment, or something like that. Spanking can’t solve any of those problems because they’re not the children’s fault. Instead, the children need some sort of medical treatment to deal with their misbehavior.
But as Christians we know that children are born with sinful natures. They are not born good. Thus spanking will always be needed as a form of discipline for children.
The current effort to criminalize spanking is a direct attack on the Christian doctrine of original sin. The opponents of spanking do not believe in original sin and therefore reject its implications for child discipline. Instead, they want to impose their preferred methods of child-raising (based on the assumed natural goodness of children) through government coercion.
Sax summarizes his message this way:
“Human nature is gendered to the core. Work with your child’s nature, work with your child’s innate gender-based propensities, rather than trying to reshape them according to the dictates of late-twentieth-century political correctness.”
Recognizing these gender differences and taking them into account in child-raising and education is best for everyone involved, especially the children themselves.
The idea that gender differences are instilled by a patriarchal society, and can be eliminated by imposing an egalitarian society, is simply a feminist ideological fantasy. It has no basis in reality. And the efforts that are taken to enforce this fantasy are harmful to the children who become its victims.
God deliberately made males and females to be very different from each other. As the French say, vive la difference!
This was first published in the September 2015 issue under the title “Different is good! God created males and females to be very different”.