Several years ago, a very popular book, and subsequent lecture tour, used the very clever title of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” in order to cleverly bring home a very important point- men and women differ, not only in terms of the obvious physical differences, but also in terms of psychological makeup as well. This book brought to the mainstream in shirtsleeve English something that experts in psychology had known for decades.
Looking beyond that broad statement, however, it is appropriate to ask, and answer the question of exactly how men and women differ psychologically. Due to the advances in the study of modern psychology as well as a proliferation of research on the relationship between gender and psychological differences, it is possible to replace the question of whether men and women differ psychologically with more interesting questions.
This research will present and answer those higher level questions in an effort to better understand overall the complexities involved at the intersection of gender and psychology. Gender Differences and Conflict between Men and Women To begin, in relation to psychology, it is important to examine gender differences from the viewpoint of the conflicts that arise between the genders, and how those conflicts may be resolved, given the established understanding of them.
Traditionally, differences in gender were strictl8y relegated to that of the medical, which is to say that due to a limited knowledge of the complexities of the human mind and psyche, in the past, men and women were differentiated merely by their physical characteristics, which of course made it easy to separate them, but was also a very limited, and flawed way of differentiating, as proven by an example from relevant literature on the topic.
Research has shown that in those cases where a child was mistakenly identified as being a certain gender due to a confusion in the identification of primary sexual characteristics such as genitalia formation, later in life, the development of hormones at puberty- testosterone in males and estrogen in females- in the majority of cases, led to the exhibition of classically male of female behavior respectively, regardless of which gender the individual was treated as earlier in life when they were mistakenly identified.
Thus, it can fairly be said that the differences in gender do in fact have an effect on the development of the psychological makeup of the individual (Caplan, et al, 1997).
This being said, however, the first time that the more complex psychological differences between men and women began to receive deeper consideration and analysis was in the 1980s, when researchers reached the conclusion that gender may be initially established at birth as a matter of genetics, but in fact can change later in life due to the ability of the human being to think on a higher level, make choices, and embrace the psychology of a gender different from their own(Diamant, et al, 1995).
While it is beyond the scope of this research to discuss in detail, in the modern day, it is also possible for individuals to take their choice of crossing gender emotionally to the next level of doing so physically through the use of surgery that “reassigns gender”, essentially making the body and mind match one another. This has also become more commonplace in society due to the increased tolerance in society for such choices and therefore the increased occurrences of such choices, which in turn leads to this occurring even more frequently, which leads to the issue of sexual orientation as a part of psychological composition.
The link between psychology and gender also brings about the more complex issue of sexual orientation, which some argue is in fact a result of the influences that an individual is exposed to during the formative years of their life, when their preferences, opinions, personality and other aspects are first developed, within the transition from child to adult. On the other hand, there are arguments which hold that there is some kind of an internal code, essentially woven into the complex thread of every person’s DNA, which allows for a person to choose a given sexual orientation toward being heterosexual or homosexual.
While the clinical jury of sorts is still out in regard to this issue, and possibly it is beyond human comprehension to ever fully understand something so complex, in relation to this research, it is possible to conclude that when an individual is either born with the mindset of male or female, or embraces such a mindset against the grain of their assigned gender, there is a definite difference in the psychological makeup, depending on such a direction.
For example, research indicates that either genetic males or females who embrace the sexual orientation and mindset of males are more likely to be emotionally detached, more aggressive and the like while those who are either genetically female or embracing the sexual orientation and mindset of females are likely to be more passive, sensitive and the like (Caplan, et al, 1997). Have Selection Pressures Vanished in the Modern World?
Because of the findings over the past several decades which indicate that even when an individual is incorrectly assigned a gender at birth, they sometimes revert to their genetic traits due to the physiological makeup of their bodies, it is valid and possible to take a closer look at the question of whether or not selection pressures have vanished in the modern world. Answering this question properly requires, however, consideration from several different angles.
Psychologically speaking, for the human race, selection pressures have in fact come about as a means of survival much like more primitive selection pressures have come about for lower life forms to be able to survive changes in climate, food source, etc. For example, in the very beginning of the human race, it was necessary for men and women to assume their primary roles in terms of producing and caring for offspring as a matter of the continuation of human beings, albeit in their most primitive form.
However, with each successive generation, the human brain evolved, necessitating higher levels of thought, and with it, more complex emotions and psychological characteristics. It was at that point, when human beings became higher thinking creatures, that genders became more differentiated, and as such, the inevitable conflicts arose, as each likely felt that they should in fact become the dominant one (Kimmel, 1997)- something which still exists today as evidenced by the high rate of divorce in the present.
Selection pressures can also in many respects be blamed for the proliferation of psychological issues that modern people are experiencing; for instance, the increased pressure on modern people to embrace materialism and work themselves literally to death in many cases leaves many men and women alike at the brink of mental breakdown, for it is society which places all of this excessive burden on individuals to be richer, more successful, and in more possession of material things than their neighbors.
In many regards, this also fuels the fire of gender dispute, as husbands may pressure wives to be thinner and more beautiful than their friends, or wives may pressure husbands to be more gainfully employed or to act more masculine. In either case, it is the demand of society that leads to the dispute and the related psychological problems emerging today.
What can fairly be said is that one would think that selection pressures ceased with the development of the modern human being who has the ability to think, feel, and survive on their own, but it is more appropriate to say that selection pressures per se still continued to appear in the world, but became of a different variety and still held with them the reality that selection pressures are intended to keep the human species alive and progressing forward.
The bottom line is that it cannot fairly be said that selection pressures have “vanished” in the modern world, but they certainly have dissipated to a great extent due to the increasing diversity of society as well as the tolerance within society of differences in genetic as well as chosen gender.
This has come about due to a combination of conclusive evidence which shows that while gender does in large part dictate psychology, it is not absolute, for there is still the part of the human mind that exercises free will to the extent that modern human beings do not necessarily conform to the parameters of their gender in regard to thoughts, feelings and emotions, nor do they feel that they have to in most cases today.
It is very likely that in the past, many people suppressed their true psychological traits if they went against gender classifications, and indeed many probably still do the same, but this is a changing phenomenon with the evolution of society. How Societies Can Deal with the Profound Psychological Divergences of the Sexes
Yet another interesting facet of the issue of gender and psychology to examine in regard to psychological divergence is an attempt to establish at what point the individual is in fact permitted, based on known links, to assign their psychological behavior, disorders or eccentricities to assigned traits at birth and at what point the individual must take responsibility for their own actions, emotions and behaviors and be held accountable by society for those same actions, emotions and behaviors.
For decades, clever criminal defense attorneys have used insanity defenses in order to excuse the bad behavior of their clients, and on the simplest of levels, individuals have probably always used the excuse of “that’s just the way I am” to dismiss their rude or insensitive actions. Beyond these examples, however, there is much more brewing below the surface of what one sees as the typical behavior and mindset of men and women respectively. What societies in the modern day must in fact understand is that the psychological makeup of men and women has become what it has due to a combination of genetics, evolution, and societal influences.
Without treading on the proverbial thin ice of the argument regarding the origins of human life, suffice it to say for the purpose of this research that wherever and however one believes that the first males and females of the human species emerged on the face of the earth, each was in fact intended for a different purpose, with males traditionally being the hunters and gatherers of food, and the females being responsible for the care of the offspring and the like.
Men, by design, were larger and physically stronger than women from the outset- a trend that continues today, even with the progress that the human race has achieved over hundreds of thousands of years. In combination with these inbred traits, over time, the development of a more sophisticated human intellect first reinforced the traditional thought processes, emotional reactions and feelings of males and females, and with societal changes and the like, eventually blurred the differences between the two.
Due to the advancements that women have made in society over the years in terms of educational, occupational, vocational and financial equality, women are no longer meek and dependent upon men for validation and/or survival, and likewise, men are no longer forced to always be the strong, silent type for whom the expression of emotions is essentially forbidden (Bogaert, 2001).
Rather, each gender has in effect developed the psychological ability to eventually become whatever it is that they may choose to become, without having to be restricted to fitting into the mold that society dictates into which they should fit. This likewise causes a problem in regard to how societies can in fact deal with the divergence of the sexes, for in many cases, the divergence is difficult to detect. Therefore, perhaps the answer is not for societies to “deal with” the divergent psychological divergences of the sexes, but rather to embrace them (Frabel, 1997).
Regarding psychological therapy as well, it is effective for caregivers to have a firm grasp of what it is that the individual feels is built in to their mental structure and what it is that they feel that they are responsible for, and therefore have a better chance at changing. This is because in the mind of the patient, if there are things which they feel are as permanent as their height or race, they may in fact close their mind to the possibility of remedying those particular issues.
Conversely, those items which the patient feels are things which they have causes or are creating may in fact be more readily taken care of through therapies and medications. As such, perhaps the key for modern psychology in regard to gender differences and the mindsets associated with them is to simultaneously understand that there is a difference between the voluntary and involuntary responses of the human mind, but perhaps more importantly, that there is the possibility of bringing the patient to the realization that the voluntary and involuntary are in some cases interchangeable (Bogaert, 2001).
It is within that interchange that perhaps both males and females can be treated as one- in all respects. Lastly, in order for males and females to be treated as one, the premise of equality that society has taken great pains in many instances to promote must be perpetuated, and even increased, for as long as the divide between the genders is allowed to exist in terms of societal recognition, there will be some level of conflict which will constantly distract society from the true ills that plague it, and in that regard, no substantial advances in humanity will ever be enjoyed.
Conclusion This research began with the simple question of the psychological differences between men and women, but as a matter of necessity in answering the question properly, branched out into a much more detailed and complex discussion, for it has been seen in this research that both genders, and indeed humanity overall, have continued to evolve over time, and must keep moving in that direction.
This can in fact be achieved through the embracing of diversity and the understanding that men and women, aside from their gender mindset, are human beings first, and as such must be allowed to grow and change as they see fit, for if this were not allowed to happen, indeed history itself would not have progressed as it did and most importantly to this research, the human psyche would never have developed to the sophistication that it has, nor would it continue to improve in the future.
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