“Battle of the Sexes”? Men are from Earth, Women are from… Earth
When it comes to sex and gender, it’s easy to think that we live in a divided world (or separate worlds!). “What do women want?” “What are men really thinking?” It’s a trope commonly employed in movies, television shows, and in regular conversations. Of course, an extremely well-known pop psychology book was written detailing just that. All in all, it seems like it’s pretty difficult to understand someone of the other sex.
Wait, why did I just say “other sex”? Isn’t the term “opposite sex”? Well, let’s step back for a moment and think about this. The word “opposite” implies a polarity; there is nothing as dissimilar as opposites. There is no common ground to be held. Doesn’t that kind of set us all up as women and men to clash against each other? What are all these violent terms doing in this conversation?
Research has shown that there are many more differences among members of each sex than between both sexes*. In other words, if you pick out two women randomly, they will probably be more different regarding any type of trait or personality characteristic (say, humor) than if you took the average level of humor in all women and viewed it against the average level of humor in all men. Plainly said, on the whole, women and men are more alike than we are different. (Of course, traditional gender socialization plays a large part in undermining this similarity and promoting difference, but that is another post entirely.)
So really, there is no “battle of the sexes” except the one we are told exists. At the very best, promoting and exploiting gender difference sells books, movie tickets, you name it, and hilarity ensues. At the worst, however, it contributes to sexism and interpersonal violence, rape, sexual assault, and murder. Viewing someone as “opposite” of you can lead to treating that person differently; empathy is undermined because, of course, you have nothing in common with this person! You can’t understand why they behave the way they do, or what they are even thinking. You are so totally different than they are. While you may think this is a slippery slope, I believe that treating someone differently can ultimately lead to treating them in inhumane ways.
If we are more alike than we are different, why are we even fighting in the first place? The mythological battle of the sexes seeks to keep us divided from each other as human beings and reinforces gender differences and the power and privilege differences inherent within. Think about that the next time you crack a joke about the “opposite sex”.
*Please note that in this post I’ve chosen to use binary terms (female and male/women and men) and may have conflated sex and gender, if only to describe this topic as it is spoken about in popular terminology.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons – D Mitriy