Once More Into the Breach image

Once More Into the Breach

The more gender equality in a country, the greater the difference in the way men and women think. It could be called the patriarchy paradox.

That’s the startling claim in an article in The Times based on two recent pieces of research. (And these are large scale projects: one involved surveying 130,000 people from 22 countries.)

This research demonstrates what I have long suspected. Three years ago I posted on Think my anecdotal observations about how masculinity and femininity is expressed culturally:

It could be argued that for all our sexual equality, the physical distinctions between the sexes are more pronounced now than has often been the case in far less equal societies. Not many men achieve quite the results of Aidan Turner, but there are far more men around who have spent a lot more time in the gym than used to be the case. This might just be a reaction to the much less physically demanding lives most of us lead than did previous generations, and a need to stress the body in a way that working at a desk does not allow. Only we also seem to be in an era of hyper-feminisation in terms of the attention paid by women to their clothes, hair and nails. (Not to mention the growth in cosmetic surgery.) Go to many parts of the developing world and even though the power structures between men and women might be much more ‘traditional’ than how we do life in the west today, the external physical distinctions between the sexes are often fewer than is the case in our more cosmopolitan towns and cities. Our ‘liberation’ from the tyranny of manual labour has enabled visible sexual distinctions to be expressed like never before.

I’m beginning to form a working hypothesis about human sexuality: That it is like squeezing air in in an air-bed: push it out of one area, and it pops up in another. Being distinguished as male and female is so real, and so fundamental to us, that it always manifests itself by some means. Suppress or blur it here, and it becomes all the more evident there.

A number of people suggested I was a bit of an idiot for saying such things and that my observations were silly, subjective ones. But the evidence seems to be in – at least when it comes to ‘gendered’ behaviour, if not physical appearance: “As gender equality increases, as countries become more progressive, men and women gravitate towards traditional gender norms.”

According to The Times, this patriarchy paradox, “is now one of the best-established findings in psychology, even if no one can properly explain it.” The more egalitarian we become the more different we are. Who knew?



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