Could it be that boys are different from girls…and that that’s OK? Christina Hoff Sommers has a good piece in Time about The Mask You Live In, a new documentary arguing that an unhealthy standard of masculinity (“never cry or show your feelings”) is what gives rise to violence, like the school shootings that have been far too common over the past decade. Against this, Sommers points out that some level of aggression and emotional reserve is biologically natural for men:
The title and content of the film suggest that masculinity is a cultural creation. That is only marginally true. A lot of typical boy behavior, such as rough-and-tumble play, risk taking and fascination with gadgets rather than dolls, appears to have a basis in biology. Researchers have found, for example, that female monkeys play with dolls much more than their brothers, who prefer toy cars and trucks. Are male monkeys captive to a “guy code”? A recent study on sex differences by researchers from the University of Turin, in Italy, and the University of Manchester, in England, confirms what most of us see with our eyes: with some exceptions, women tend to be more sensitive, esthetic, sentimental, intuitive and tender-minded, while men tend to be more utilitarian, objective, unsentimental and tough-minded. We do not yet fully understand the biological underpinnings of these universal tendencies, but that is no reason to deny they exist.
She goes on to point out that there are better ways to meet the challenges of excessive male aggression or depression than by attacking masculinity as such. One issue the Sommers piece raises is what role, if any, men have in a culture that views all “masculinity” as simply a mask men are forced to wear. If men and women are roughly the same in all respects, separated from each other only by the “masks” of arbitrary, socially imposed gender characteristics, then is a man just a woman who lacks the ability to bear children? Is a unruly boy just a deficient girl? Is that all we are supposed to make of gender?Sommers’ piece provides a forceful antidote to that kind of thinking. As such it will probably horrify the professional gender equalitarians, but we for one welcome these heretical thoughts.