Review From

By Jonathan Butcher and Melissa Pardue

Dr. Steven Rhoads' provocative new book Taking Sex Differences Seriously may literally be taken differently by the two sexes. Heritage Foundation Policy Analyst Melissa Pardue and Research Assistant Jonathan Butcher offer their insights on Rhoads' book, showing how both men and women will be challenged to consider their different biological natures as a key determinant of their desires, goals, and ultimate happiness.

Through A Man's Eyes

While reading Taking Sex Differences Seriously, I was surprised at how much information I didn't realize that I knew. Often, I found myself saying, I knew that, after reading a section on a particular male or female behavior - which makes sense, considering how much social science data supports the existence of biological differences between men and women. My reaction to Rhoads' thesis was confirmed by both my wife Pearce and my Heritage colleague Melissa Pardue.

In reading Rhoads' new book, Melissa and I both found that social science data dispels many arguments propagated by the extremist wing of the women's lib movement. We already had a hunch that this was the case, but Rhoads' book gave our hunches empirical support. (I also told Melissa that the book gave me a small glimpse into the female psyche - small mind you, but enough so that I could explain some things to my wife, such as why greeting cards mean so much to her.)

Attempts to "liberate" women over the past fifty years by deconstructing traditional interpretations of the differences between men and women have made society forget that men and women are different. For example, the nurturing hormone oxytocin "promotes bonding and a calm, relaxed state" in both males and females. However while males show higher levels of oxytocin after sex, women show high levels while pregnant. Rhoads quotes Naomi Wolf who says, "The ways in which the hormones of pregnancy affected me called into question my entire belief system about 'the social construct of gender.'"

Today, few people recognize these differences because liberal attitudes and the feminist agenda have brainwashed the public into thinking that the differences between men and women are caused solely by socialization or stereotyping. According to egalitarian dogma, how could men and women be biologically different? That might imply one is better than the other, and that just would not be fair.

Rhoads' book has arrived none too early to remind Generation X of these differences and that the differences do not denigrate women nor elevate men; in fact, sex differences must be acknowledged for everyone's benefit.

We must deal with these differences, writes Rhoads, because "men and women in traditional marriages both get exactly what they want." Happy marriages are essential to happy families, and families are the bedrock upon which societies are built. Thus, the future of the human race depends on how men and women treat these differences.

The impact of sex differences on healthy, happy families and societies is the lasting value of Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Rhoads' book does not discover something new or introduce new concepts; the concepts only seem new to this generation. Rhoads cites studies and findings that have held true over thousands of years, despite attempts during the past half-century to disprove them. Rhoads' book verifies that neither feminist will nor political agendas can change the natural world, and by trying to ignore or deny these differences, men and women are shackling themselves to unhappiness.

Regarding a man's role, Rhoads writes, "While the emotional work of marriage may not be inherently pleasurable or come naturally to men, it can become central to their lives if it is seen as a duty or as intrinsic to a mission." The role of men as consistent leaders within families appeals to them "by giving them a sense of importance and reminding them of their sacred obligation to use their familial power to serve their families."

Rhoads goes to great lengths (nearly 260 pages) to document the social science data that supports ideas such as this one, while admitting that this particular element - a man's service to his family - has religious roots that are over 2,000 years old: "Just as Christ sacrificed himself for the sake of others, husbands must be ready to sacrifice themselves for their wives and children." Men want to be husbands and fathers; they were made that way.

Rhoads provides extensive evidence that women feel similar instinctive urges. In addition to his thorough review of the supporting literature, he provides revealing anecdotes from some of the most powerful and influential women in the world on such subjects as leaving their children in daycare, returning to work after pregnancy, and nursing children. Rhoads quotes Wolf, Hillary Clinton, and Golda Meir about their struggles to deny maternal urges. In several of these cases, the maternal instincts won

Don't tell my wife, but I can see much the same in her since we've been married. On one of our first dates, Pearce told me that she was never going to get married, but was going to live alone on a mountain with her Jeep and her dog. What a change a little ring can make. Clearly, Rhoads' book is a must-read for both women and men. Especially women.

Jonathan Butcher is a Research Assistant in Domestic Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Through A Woman's Eyes

While reading Taking Sex Differences Seriously, I was surprised at how much information guys really didn't know, but probably thought they did. Often, I found myself saying, I wonder if my husband knows that, after reading a section on a particular male or female behavior that underscores many of the fundamental differences between the two sexes. Consequently, this book made for some interesting dinner conversation between my husband Joel and I, and is now sitting on his nightstand. My suspicions were further confirmed by my Heritage colleague Jonathan Butcher, who also found the book quite revealing and educational.

But maybe I shouldn't be so hard on men for not knowing what is in fact quite obvious. After all, most guys won't touch this subject with a ten-foot pole for fear of coming across as sexist. Talking about sex differences has practically become a taboo subject thanks to today's "modern" or "progressive" elites, especially feminists. They tells us all from an early age that gender roles - or sex differences - are really nothing more than a social construct and have little or nothing to do with our biological natures. Many feminists will even tell you that men and women are virtually interchangeable, and should therefore share all roles and responsibilities equally.

Well, after reading Taking Sex Differences Seriously, I couldn't disagree more. Men and women are different, and Rhoads spotlights this simple yet controversial reality by examining a wealth of research on such differences. This book makes a strong and convincing case for Rhoads' argument that differences between men and women are "hardwired" into our biology and remain a deeply-rooted part of human nature. Using research on the biological differences of men and women, as well as a retrospective look at the feminist teachings of the past several decades, Rhoads shows us just how far we've strayed from the reality of who we really are.

Rhodes uses this information to dispel many of the common myths that have shaped gender roles in today's families. Even in the most egalitarian of homes where household duties are shared more equally than in other residences, Rhoads' research finds that women still end up doing the majority of child-care responsibilities. A likely reason for this is that women, acting in accordance to their deepest natural desires and instincts, want to be the primary caregiver and nurturer of their children. Such a realization may lead many women to believe that "having it all" isn't worth the emotional cost. Rhoads introduces us to many women who experience this firsthand and discover that "being a working mother is not liberating, it's taxing and stressful."

For women, this may not be anything we don't already know. After all, we're multi-taskers in almost everything we do. It's not uncommon for me to be cooking dinner, talking on the phone, folding laundry, and even watching the nightly news all at the same time after a long day at work. But for some reason, my husband can only manage to do one of those things at a time. That said, just because us women can "have it all" or "do it all" doesn't mean we necessarily have to, or that it makes for an enjoyable lifestyle.

Rhoads offers countless other examples of how the feminist agenda may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Arguing that "fatherless families exist in the first place either because parents do not want to marry or because they divorce," Rhoads blames the sexual revolution for making men less interested in relationships and allowing them to engage in casual sex without commitment. These attitudes have also permeated into public policies such as Title IX and the demand for universal day care, both of which undermine and ignore fundamental differences between men and women.

Another aspect that Rhoads touches on is the "civilizing" aspect that women and marriage have on men. As Rhoads writes, "marriage and fatherhood most likely make men slower to 'fly off the handle.'" This combination also "creates more peaceful men" as their testosterone levels are lowered through less competition for women and less time spent with single guys. Even on a much smaller scale, I can recall in horrendous detail the state of my husband's apartment and what his diet consisted of when we first started dating. (One word: Yuck!) He is definitely benefiting from some "civilization" since our marriage nearly 2 years ago.

Both genders of all ages and stages of life will find this book intriguing, provocative, and at the very least worth considering. By better understanding differences between the sexes, we will be more efffectively equipped to truly appreciate who we really are and not be ashamed to act on our natural instincts. I hope women will be encouraged to resist feminist pressure to be who they "should" be, and instead choose whatever profession - whether at home or at work - that is most fulfilling to them. And I hope men will be reminded of the significant benefits of marriage, family, and fatherhood on their lives, and maybe even embrace their inner "softie". Clearly, Rhoads' book is a must-read for both women and men. Especially men.

Melissa Pardue is a social welfare policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

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© 2004 Steven E. Rhoads
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