Friday, January 15, 2010

Male and Female

As I write this, a federal court is considering if it should overturn the voters and order California to allow homosexual marriage. Aside from the fact that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution to require that, we should look at the primary reason that marriage not only exists at all, but throughout history has been between man and a woman (or in polygamous societies, a man and several women).

Of course a big part of the reason is that marriage provides an environment for the bearing and raising of children. It takes both male and female to produce human offspring. Furthermore, for most of history the very young have depended on their mothers for nutrition since men do not produce breast milk. It makes sense to have the female bear and feed the young while the male, who is usually bigger and stronger, goes in search of family necessities. Those are simple facts of nature, true for eons.

Though modern society makes that less necessary than before, there are still advantages to breast-feeding. Breast-feeding has been shown to be good for both mother and baby, but it puts a burden on women which men do not face. Nor do men face the morning sickness of early pregnancy or the discomfort and physical limitations of late pregnancy or the danger and pain of childbirth. It makes sense to put more responsibility for earning a living on men and to free up women to do what men cannot do.

In addition, the fact is that marriage is different from any other contract in the world – it is a contract of differences. Men and women are very different, and that difference goes far beyond plumbing. Marriage is specifically to formalize the relationship between two people who are fundamentally different, something that does not change in people beyond childbearing years.

Some of these differences are obvious. Aside from internal plumbing (and external shapes) men mature later but are, on average, bigger and stronger. However that is an average, some women are bigger and stronger than some men. Each sex also tends to be susceptible to different health risks though in nearly all cases that is also an average phenomenon.

The more significant differences are in our brains and hormones. The male and female brains are significantly different – with little or no statistical overlap in some important characteristics. Now before I go farther I want to be clear that I am not advocating discrimination. If a woman is big and strong enough to haul a charged fire hose up the stairs and hold the water stream on the fire, she should have a chance at a firefighting job. However it would be a mistake to expect that the same percentage of women as men will have that strength, and people whose homes catch fire will want someone who can do the job, regardless of sex.

Likewise it is a mistake to assume that the male and female brains will be equally attracted to all occupations. Men and women should have the right to try those jobs if they wish but we should not be surprised if each sex has different preferences.

So what are the differences between the male and female brain? I know of two that should concern us here. First, men have more gray matter than women but women have more white matter than men. The gray matter part does the analytic stuff while white matter is better for relationships and communication. That might explain why talking is so important to women. It might also explain the preponderance of men in some careers and of women in others.

Another significant difference is the connection between the two sides of the brain. They are in a sense two separate organs. The left brain is usually the analytical side while the right tends to be more intuitive. The connection between those two hemispheres is much stronger in women than in men. That connection has been compared to a path through the woods in men and a freeway in women. This connection to the right, “intuitive,” brain may help explain why women are more in touch with the emotional while men tend to be more “thing” oriented.

A classic example of these effects is played out in different variations in homes throughout the world. The wife may find a problem, for example she just cannot get the vacuum cleaner bag to fit as it should. She tells her husband who, if he thinks of himself as a good husband, promptly fixes it. Is the wife happy? Not at all. She will go about her work and get it done but not really enjoy it. Meanwhile the husband doesn't even notice that she is unhappy except to perhaps note that she didn't seem appreciative.

What has really happened here? Did the wife not want the vacuum cleaner fixed? Of course, but that was really her second priority. She is in tune with feeling and emotion so first she wanted her husband to understand her frustration. When she got not a word of understanding she felt unloved. That was exacerbated by her husband's failure to notice that she felt that way. Meanwhile the “thing oriented” husband believes he did what she wanted; after all he did fix the vacuum cleaner. His “thing orientation” also allows him to ignore her continued unhappiness until she gives him the cold shoulder when he wants affection.

The above is only a brief outline of male-female differences but it does help us understand that men and women are different and think differently.

It is these fundamental differences that marriage attempts to reconcile. The reconciliation is never perfect and often quite poor, but it would be worse without the idea of a long-term agreement to live together and support one another.

Those who ask “why no same-sex marriage?” are asking the wrong question. The real question is why we should have marriage at all? The answer is that we have it in order to formalize this relationship between people who are so different, yet attracted to each other and on whose relationship society has depended for generations. Same-sex couples present no similar reason for such a legally recognized institution.

If you like my blog, please tell others.
If you don't like it, please tell me.

No comments: