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Policy Perspective: Do Gender Differences Exist?

In my last post, I asked the theoretical question, do gender differences exist?  I concluded that there are observable trends that group people more-or-less by gender, but that identifying with a particular gender doesn’t mean that one identifies with every trait society assigns to that gender, and that gender categorization can be damaging both to those who do and do not identify as male or female.

Next, I’d like to consider the policy implications of the question.

The challenge here is to question whether gender differences have any utility from a policy perspective, while still respecting the lived experiences and claimed identities of those who identify as male or female.  I can say that gender differences are illusory, that the “box” created by a lump of traits is in many ways artificial, and that the weight put on certain traits such as secondary sex characteristics and hormones obscures the actual diversity that exists in our society.  But while saying this, I have to recognize that the categories “male” and “female” do mean something for many people, perhaps most, and that these categories can be useful when setting policy, organizing, or doing activist work.

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Theoretical Perspective: Do Gender Differences Exist?

These days, it seems like I can’t get away from headlines about men vs. women, discussing everything from biology to health to relationship preferences to shopping habits.  It’s easy to feel erased when everything you read groups behavior of men vs. behavior of women, and you don’t fit into either of those categories.  But is there a reason to organize the world in this way?  Do gender differences exist?

In this post, I’ll address the the theoretical question of whether gender differences exist, and then, in a second post, I’ll ask the policy question of whether there’s any utility to using gender differences on a practical level.

So, are there gender differences?  Well, yes, simply put.  They aren’t black and white, and of course we can’t say that all men do x and all women do y about anything whatsoever.  But there are observable trends, which is unsurprising given our tendency as a society to group absolutely everything by gender.

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