A review of Chptr. 16 from Piper and Grudem’s “A Biblical Response to Evangelical Feminism”: Biological Basis for Gender Behavior.
Gregg Johnson brings out some interesting points about the bases for behavioral difference between men and women: biological factors. Since the natures of men and women have been historically debated, Johnson suggests that to truly understand the biological factors for the different typical behavioral patterns of men and women, “we should actively eliminate all cultural elements that continue to foster traditional attitudes that the sexes might be differently gifted,” (280) since culture tends to largely define the gender roles of behavior. However, studies in gender stereotypes identified drastically different characteristics between men and women. Men had higher levels of these traits: “aggressiveness, dominance, self-confidence, and activity level” while women had higher levels “ verbal ability, compliance, nurturance, and empathy scales” (281). So how does anatomy and physiology play into these gender behavior characteristics? A further question I would wonder from there would be what are the anatomical and physiological factors which differ in a man or woman without the stereotypical gender behavioral traits?
Johnson suggests that the gender behaviors patterned according to anatomy are “characteristic not only to humans, but also many of the higher social animals.” (281) However, Johnson cautions humans on understanding gender behaviors solely from the data obtained studying more highly sociable animals. While there are universal gender behavior trends that correlate between humans and animals, Johnson points out that there is no such possible correlation between animal and human nervous systems. Secondly, Johnson acknowledges cautions that all information is a generalization rather than completely universalized data. Johnson offers seven data points, which offer evidence on physiological gender differences dictating some gender behaviors.
Ethological observations (those based on group social behavior of humans and animals) deduce that males, being more assertive and aggressive tend to be more socially dominant than the women. Since women tend to be more nurturing, they serve as primary care givers submissive to the dominant territories erected by the men. In non-nervous system physiology, ethological observations allow males to be more aggressive because they convert more energy to muscle and power faster and in greater quantities than women, who tend to store the energy in fact, allowing them resilience to nurture their young. Women have more sensory nerve endings in their skin, not allowing them to withstand physical extremes as well as males. Johnson makes an interesting observation that “sex differences present in all the organ systems across various mammalian species go far beyond the superficial anatomical characteristics necessary for reproduction,” (284) explaining the physiology as dictated by hormonal differences.
Not only hormones dictate the gender differences based on biology, but Johnson points out how the peripheral nervous system differs between genders: women have peripheral senses allowing them to better read emotions (allowing for nurturing) while men tend to have better hand-eye coordination. While Johnson seems to understand these characteristics as coming from a natural order, I am not so sure as to whether biology dictates personality and nature. Perhaps I must concede this fact… can someone go against his or her biology? How much affect do hormones really have upon me, my body and my behavior? Not only do peripheral senses tend to vary per gender, but also the functions of the limbic systems, which is the “seat of drives and emotions” (285). Again, Johnson ties the correlation between amounts of testosterone and estrogen to dictate the intensity of certain behaviors (such as aggression or maternal instincts) in males and females.
One of the most fascinating anatomical differences between men and women is that of the corpus callosum, “the bridge of nerve fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres” (287). The physiology of the brains seem to indicate that “the female central nervous system may have more interconnections and more networking fibers” (289) than the male brain. Supposedly, this makes women more “capable of receiving and meaningfully processing more sensory nerve per input” (289) than men. So why is it that men are given the stereotypical roles as the intellectuals, if they “tend to have thought-processing more regionally isolated and discreet, with fewer interconnecting nerve interactions” (289)? Society has done itself a disservice by historically repressing women’s thought lives; imagine how difficult it would be for a bright woman to cope with being restrained from the learning she craved?
Another interesting point Johnson notes is that of sex differences between men and women at birth. Women who were given different steroids at the births of their children seemed to give birth to children with different tendencies. However, Johnson does point out that “hormones are a more reliable predictor of gender-related behavior characteristics than cultural persuasion.” (291) When dealing with stress, Johnson claims “men respond initially in the same way as females” (292), sedated be hormones, but in the long term do not deal with stress as well. It is well summarizing the biological differences between men and women to say that anatomy dictates different needs and gifts. The evidence presented by Johnson would seem to indicate basic physiological differences between men and women, from which was can derive God-given differences for a purpose.