The Gender Wars in Brunei (Revisited)

One Aaron Johns just recently commented on the The Gender Wars in Brunei entry which I posted a couple of weeks back. I thought his comment was very eloquent and gives a different perspective to the overall argument about the gender differences between men and women. Rather than leaving it in the comments box, I thought I will take it out and post it out here so that everyone can read this. Aaron Johns, if you please....

I apologize for this late comment. I only managed to read the readers' comments yesterday. The majority of the readers’ arguments and comments were very interesting. But I couldn't help but notice that none of the readers saw this issue of so-called gender wars as biological. Men and women are biologically different. One gender is not better than the other but it's just that - DIFFERENT.

A man's organs, senses and brain can handle certain tasks better. That's why some men are more dominant in some areas. The same also applies to women. For example, a man's vision is more focus while a woman's vision is more peripheral. On average, a man is better at navigating through a city but can’t find his own socks inside the closet.

Sociologists and psychologists used to have the upper hand in the 'Nature vs Nurture' argument - that men and women behave like they do due to social programming. However, recent findings in studies in the fields of biology and genetics show that this is not the case. Men and women are controlled by their hormones and genes. Their brains do not work in the same way. They don't think and approach problems in the same manner.

Now it is important for both genders to understand this simple but important fact. If we look at our education system (or most countries' education systems), it can be said that the system suits young girls better than young boys. Girls mature at an earlier age, can multitask better and also have a better verbal ability. It is perhaps not surprising to see them performing better overall than the boys at school.

In the UK, girls have been outperforming boys in A Levels for years. However, boys still performed better in certain subjects such as mathematics. Furthermore, although there are more female first graduates than male, there are still more men with Master's degrees and PhDs. Many people conveniently points out that this is due to gender discrimination. But this clearly cannot be the case because after all the efforts made to level the playing field; men are still dominant in some fields and women in other. There are still more female teachers than male. On the other hand, there are still more male scientists than female. Some women become teachers not because they have to or due to discrimination but simply because they choose the teaching profession.

That said, I'm not saying that there is a total abscence of sexual discrimination. It does exist in our society. However, I don't believe that this is a major factor causing the disparity.

Now back to my point. Since men and women have different abilities, we cannot expect them to perform equal roles. I believe that women should have the exact same opportunities as men. But if men can perform better as pilots, why should we put more women to fly our airplanes? Similarly, if women can teach better than men, why should we give more teaching positions to male graduates? Lawrence Summers of Harvard University was in trouble when he suggested that one of the reasons why the number of women making it to the top in science & engineering is small was genetics. He is not an uneducated misogynist. He is the President of perhaps the best university in the world (not sure whether he still holds that position, maybe Mr BR can verify this) [BR: no longer, it's now Derek Bok].

I believe a man and a woman should have equal rights and opportunities but different roles and responsibilities. This is very much the case in Islam. It is true that male relatives will get a larger share of inheritance but they also have greater responsibilities. Sure, a husband is the head of the family but he must not see this as a privilege. He is responsible to provide for his wife and children no matter what. It is not an excuse not to provide the wife with nafkah just because she is earning more than him.

If we can acknowledge that a man and a woman is inherently different, then we can understand gender issues better. It will also help us in our daily interactions at the office as well as our personal relationships. Men and women should complement each other. It is not necessary for women to do everything that men do. Of course, if a woman can be a better pilot or scientist than all her male counterparts, then she should get the job. But on average, this might not be the case.

For more on gender differences, please read Brain Sex by Anne Moir & David Jessel and Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps by Allan & Barbara Pease.


Anonymous said…
Differences: That is why a man should marry a woman, not a man (and vice versa).
Anonymous said…
Aaron Johns - that was a very well written comments you had just posted and thank you Mr. BR for putting up the comments in your daily blog today so that we all can read. The comments are really mind opening and in a way you managed to answer all the arguments that had been put up. I like the word of 'biological difference' which we fail to accept and also when you touch on family heritance in Islam.
Marhinha said…
It is scientifically proven that women can't read maps. There's this particular area in women's brain doesn't seem to 'light up' when it comes to map reading, which is totally normal. Hehe. I did a course on human brain and we learned about sexual dimorphism. It was an interesting one ;)
Anonymous said…
i agree with your views mr senior office~. Its not a question of which gender is better than the other. men and women are just DIFFERENT.

god created men and women for different purposes that co-exist. i cant say enough that there is always a reason for everything.

i don't have time to delve into this matter but i have a feeling that you know what you are talking about.
Anonymous said…
Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus....:)
FlyBoy said…
If you haven't read, ' Why women can't read maps and men don't listen', then you should.

After reading it all i can say is, i thought so.
Anonymous said…
biological differences alone does not justify inequality in opportunities.

moreira, that is a naive thing to say especially from a student of the human brain. different people uses different parts of the brain to do different cognitive processes. of course women can read maps. i can. every single woman in the military can. some can't but they can't represent the whole of womankind for god sakes.

aaron john. its not a question of whether we, men and women, are biologically, physically and whateverly different. of course we all are different! its mindlessly obvious to even point out.

its a question of, no matter what, in administrative offices, these differences between gender CAN NEVER justify this ridiculous existing glass ceiling for women.
Penny Lane said…
While i feel that Aaron Johns brought up some very interesting points i whole-heartedly agree with Maurina.

We accept that women and men are inherently different - biological or otherwise - but what we do not accept is "biological difference" being used to justify inequality in our society. So often it is the case that men are given jobs over women because a certain occupation has traditonally been a man's domain. It is the attitude which needs to change. Most employers in this modern age are not sexist cavemen (or women). But most people do have ingrained ideas about the traditional roles men and women should occupy in society.

Now that women have entered the work force we are trying to challenge this traditional perspective, because we are just as capable and hard working as men. While statistics may support the idea that men are more suited to certain jobs, it should not justify overlooking a similarly qualified female.

Biological determinism is merely a hypothesis, not scientific fact, and it does not take account of all the other disparities in our world - whether they be economic, political or cultural - which affect our performance in education and the workplace.

We, as women, are not looking for special treatment. We merely seek the same opportunities and consideration that our male counterparts are given everyday, and which we have been denied since existence.
Aaron John said…
Many thanks for Mr BR for posting my comments on the blog's home page. And for the praises (from anonymous as well). Coming from someone of your stature, that was very flattering.

Just a few short words to Maurina & Penny Lane. Thanks for your comments. If you read mine, I used the words 'on average' twice. It means that for example, if you put ten men and ten women in a room, on average there would be more good male map readers than female. That's what Allan & Barbara Pease (and Moreira) meant. When someone says men are taller than women, it doesn't mean that ALL men are taller than ALL women.

As for discrimination and opportunities, I'm against discrimination and I believe in equal opportunities as I stated in my comments. But if you read the books, it is found that equal opportunities did not reduce the disparity by a significant margin as experienced by some Western countries. Which is why the authors stated that biology is also a factor. That was my point. Please read the books. They are very thought provoking.
Anonymous said…
Men and Women are different. Read:

a) The Economist, 3rd August on the article: The mismeasure of woman

b) Dr. John Money of John Hopkins University, who thought he could re-assign female gender role to "baby" boy. It ended in disaster. His subject, David Reimer killed himself eventually.
Anonymous said…
First of all, I HAVE read the book and I recalled a rough ride! They were thought provoking indeed! My thoughts were these exactly: the scientific study that mentioned that the disparity will be minimal is done by ONE person on only a few professions who I don't know and can't possibly check the integrity, credibility and political bias of.

The book, by itself, although has some interesting points (note that I am using the word "points", not INSIGHTS), is extremely irritating with its pseudo-science bullshit presented cleverly as unreferenced empirical data.

There, a mini book review which is very rantsy. Haha.

With that said, I will say it once again. Biological differences, a hypothesis, will never justify inequal opportunities in the workplace. Plus, I'd be wary of using studies from the book to support my argument.
Anonymous said…
"Biology may predispose, but even in the rugged world of metal bashing, it is not necessarily destiny."

The Economist article agrees that we're different but it does not say, that those differences would neccesarilly make a man unable to multitask or a woman unable to read maps.
Anonymous said…
I love this kinda topic, alwez makes my day =) one gender feeling a bit unhappy by the other gender, and the other gender tries to justify with few references hoping to make dat one gender a bit happier when in fact only solid change will bring lil satisfaction to the one gender. kudos for trying tho. for me im in d one gender's side. as history teaches us, d less fortunate alwez hav d advantage in d next round. n oh yea, sorry abt d inglish. Hav a nice day to all! ;)
Penny Lane said…
I feel that all these factors - biology, discrimination, cultural attitudes, economic conditions - play a role in the disparities we encounter in education and the workplace. We can not say conclusively that any one factor is overriding or dominant.

My point in my previous comment was that women feel frustrated that employers automatically assume that a man would be better for a certain position than a woman. This is largely due to cultural attitudes that stem from our conservative society and not from studies of biological predisposition.

I didn't want to make it seem like I was dismissing Aaron's argument, it is certainly thought-provoking.

What I was trying to address was the reasons for disparities in Brunei's labour force. In fields like engineering, men MAY be dominant because of predisposition or the way our education system is set up. But when it comes to the upper echelons of government administration, such as the directors, permanent secretaries and ministers - i feel these jobs are allocated to men because of tradition rather than merit. Let's face it - Brunei is still very conservative when it comes to allocating such important posts. That's not to say that the current holders of these posts aren't qaulified, they are, but there are also women of similar accomplishments who are ready and willing to serve their country at the highest level.
Anonymous said…
On 'natpak' comments, I can't help but share with all of you a recent documentary I saw about 'what muslims want'. In it was an interview with a muslim teenage girl and she was asked about homosexuals. The questions were asked persistently and she managed (god bless her) to avert her answer all the time until she finally gave up and said,"God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!"

**I can resist anything but temptation**
Anonymous said…
Masculinist work claims to be exhaustive and it therefore assumes that no-one else can add to its knowledge; it is therefore reluctant to listen to anyone else. Masculinist work, then, excludes women because it alienates us in its choice of research themes, because it feels women should not really be interested in producing geography, and also because it assumes that it is itself comprehensive…Masculinism can be seen at work not only in the choice of topics made by geographers, not only in their epistemological claim to exhaustive knowledge, but also in seminars, in conferences, in common rooms, in job interviews. - Rose a Feminist Geographer

Anonymous said…
Another penny for a thought; I find that the gender imbalance or gender inequality is often considered as both biological and societal subjectively from which part of the world readers are from.

Within this modern society, both men and women are educated and strive to succeed in both education and career wise within their abilities; however a woman's responsibilities does not end when her day job ends, within societal views older generation pressure women to be able to cook, clean and look after her family but who takes care of her? a man's responsibilities in the societal view often end when he arrives home with food ready on the table, clothes ironed. children taken care of. In addition to that, women are often criticised by families if they do not know how to do the household duties.

What about child rearing? maybe some men do help out now in the modern society. But why does it limit to only women to pick up children from school? procreation is the teamwork of both man and woman so why is it only the woman take care of children ? Shouldn't the man help out as well since they helped in creating a child (biologically speaking)

What about single mothers? who does not have support from families or the support from families given are not enough; what other choice does she have other than to work and get off from work in order to pick her children up. To support her family by herself and yet she gets criticised which not only affects her but it affects her child as well. And yet when a single father who does the exact same as the norm of how much a single mother would do they get praised. What about people who have berzina and the woman gets pregnant; how is it that some men can just up and leave and the discrimination falls solely on the woman and her innocent child even if she had already repent from her mistakes; often which leaves the woman no choice but to abandon her child when there is discrimination from her family and relatives. maybe there is a company or an organisation that deals with these cases but I don't know.

What about men who were abused by their female partners? what about their rights?

I believe that both men and women are different but they are both able to do each other jobs if they wanted to. I believe in gender equality; in this modern society where both men and women work; household chores could be divided equally; child rearing could be the task of both men and women it benefits both as the child will learn and bond with both his/her mother and father. Relating it with work space; would it not be seen as men feeling inferior to women? is that why women are often put down?( maybe I'm naïve but is that the thought process that has been passed down by older generations?); Within Islam Allah created Hawa from tulang rusuk adam; not to let Hawa be dominated by Adam instead is meant to lead Hawa.

I agree with Aaron's comment; however there are other stigmata that follows; yes men and women are biologically different however the way society perceive the gender roles individually differs a lot. I believe that if you ask multiple women if being a woman is hard for sure they will say yes. As women are monitored and criticised for all their movements. Men do not face this particular stigma as they are particularly favoured in most families.

In order to improve gender imbalance/inequality it should be identified what societal groups may be discriminated. It should start from home. As children; they learn from what knowledge is given. If there is a need in a change in the future generation is to not discriminate other societal groups.

The real question is when will this societal norm be the norm in the future? And if it does become a societal norm will it only affect a certain type of people or will it be for all the women and men.

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