I read an article the other day over at The Last Ditch. It concerns the notion that the sexes have different roles to play in the world. A lot of people would find it offensive, but not me: I’m not easy to offend. I think there are some nuggets of wisdom in there, and at the very least I can identify a talented rhetorician when I read one. In any case, the point he makes is this: the sexes are not identical and, to a degree, they are equipped for different tasks; that different equipment affects their economic roles. In these vague terms, it seems obvious. I hope it’s hard to argue with that framing.
The problem (and the place that people get offended) is that the people who ‘agree’ with the sentiment are agreeing for the wrong reasons, and the people who are offended are offended for the wrong reasons. Men who feel like victims of women will see this article as saying that women should have a role in society determined by their biology. Those who disagree will see another opresive man trying to determine womens’ future through control of the culture.
There are tendencies given to us by biology and culture, but neither determine us. There is plenty of evidence that Nature and Nurture both play important roles in the development of an adult human. Twins can have the same genes and very different personalities, even to the point of one having a terrible debilitating mental illness and another being spared. At the same time, identical twins separated at birth have been shown to lead remarkably similar lives in many cases.
What’s the answer? Are women determined by their two x-chromosomes to be homemakers? Of course not. Should they be required to be homemakers? Of course not. Is it shameful to consider the possibility that many women might be happier being homemakers than doing other things? I don’t see why. The big upshot is that one bias is as bad as the other. Being offended by a proposition that maybe families would be better off with a mother around is as foolish as asserting that women are irrational. Taking the position that the culture is wholly responsible for peoples’ lives is as foolish as assigning that responsibility to genes. All of these foolishnesses ignore personal choice. More on that next time.