Rhoads finds men and women travel to the beat of a different drum

By Charlotte Crystal


Steven Rhoads
Steven Rhoads
Sigmund Freud asked, “What do women want?” Steven E. Rhoads answers, “Most women want most of all a loving husband and children.”

In his new book, “Taking Sex Differences Seriously,” Rhoads, a professor of politics who has taught public policy at the University for more than 30 years, argues that the women’s movement has ignored essential biological differences between men and women in its push for equality. He believes the result has been to drive women into the workplace when many would rather be at home.

“Women and men both make terrific doctors and lawyers, but women are far superior as nurturers of young children,” said Rhoads. “Our national survey of young professors with kids under 2 shows that women like child care much more than their male peers do.”

His survey of 184 tenure-track assistant professors who had children under the age of 2 found that female academics performed all of 25 child care tasks, such as changing diapers or playing with the child, far more often than the males did, even though the group as a whole professed to value equal gender roles in parental duties. Women liked doing 24 of the tasks more than the men did—16 tasks much more.

The survey also found, not surprisingly, that women were more likely to feel overwhelmed by the job/family balancing act and more likely to have thought about dropping off the tenure track.

“Women have and should have far more career opportunities than they had in the ’50s, but our psychological predispositions do not keep up with the times,” Rhoads said. “In fact, mothers are rarely happy working 50-hour weeks with a 1-year-old at home. It’s far easier for men to just put their parental side on hold when they are at work.”

Since the late 20th century, he believes, women are less likely to get what they want out of relationships. Many men prefer the unencumbered sex fostered by the sexual revolution, according to Rhoads, while women, who typically engage in sex to share emotions and love, get little pleasure from casual encounters.

Rhoads offers policy prescriptions that run counter to the past four decades of cultural trends and federal legislation. His suggestions range from making competitive cheerleading a sport to downgrading the access of fathers to paid parental leave at universities. He decries the impact of Title IX on high school and collegiate sports, believing it has reduced men’s opportunities to play sports when they need them to tame aggressive impulses and bond with other men in ways that women do not.

The author builds his case on evidence such as:

          •            Studies from the 1920s to the 1990s show that in the preschool years, girls are more interested in dance and boys in rough-and-tumble play. These differences begin to appear before the age of 2. 

            •            At puberty, when estrogen levels soar, there is a “marked rise” in the female preference for cooperation over competition and an “increasing gender gap” in participation in competitive sports. 

           •            A 1997 Pew Research Center survey found that 93 percent of mothers regard their children as a source of happiness all or most of the time and 90 percent say the same about their marriage. But only 60 percent of working women find their careers a source of happiness all or most of the time.

Rhoads believes that public officials should consider differences between men and women in three basic areas—sex, nurturing and aggression or competitiveness—when contemplating changes in public policy.


Charlotte Crystal is a former business journalist now working in media relations for the University of Virginia.



© 2004 Steven E. Rhoads
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