What Weaker Sex?

GEORGE KISKER December 1 1946

What Weaker Sex?

GEORGE KISKER December 1 1946

What Weaker Sex?


IT STARTED as a quiet, evening of bridge. But it almost broke up in a riot when the subject of “masculine superiority” came up. By the time the game was over the husbands and wives weren’t on speaking terms. The men knew that they were superior to women. And the women were just as convinced that they were superior to men.

What’s the truth? Is one sex superior to the other? If so, which?

Someone once said that the competition between the sexes begins at birth. But it actually begins at the time of conception. Scientists have estimated that as many as 150 boys are conceived for every 100 girls. Yet at the time of birth there are only 106 boys to every 100 girls. What has happened to all the boys? Obviously they were not able to exist for the full period of their mothers’ pregnancy. Round one of the “battle of the sexes” must go to the women. Female embryos can “take it” far better than the so-called stronger sex.

Women have a consistently lower death rate. During the first year of life, 20% more boys die than girls. By the time adolescence is reached the number of boys and girls is about equal. And when we get to extreme old age, the women outnumber the men two to one. Every year of life is

another proof that women put up a better fight against disease and death.

If length of life is any indication, it would seem that the men should be called the “weaker” sex. But there is something else to be considered. Women lead the kind of life that shelters and protects them against accidents and disease. They are less exposed to weather and to infection. Their chances of meeting an early death are far less than the man who leaves his house every day and exposes himself to street traffic and to crowded offices and factories, where contagious diseases are prevalent. It is true that men don’t live as long as women. But if women were exposed to the same dangers as men, the death rates would probably be the same for both sexes.

Part of the age-old masculine claim to superiority is based on physical size. Everyone knows that scales and the tape measure favor the male of the species. On the average, men are about five

inches taller than women and they weigh about 24 pounds more. Men’s muscles are larger and st ronger than those of women. And it isn’t merely a matter of more exercise. Men’s muscles are stronger to begin with. No matter how much the average woman exercises she can never hope to become as strong as the average man.

Some men have made quite a point of the fact that a woman’s brain is smaller and weighs less than that of a man. “How can a woman be as smart as a man when her brain is so much smaller?” is a question that is frequently asked. Let’s look at the facts. The brain of the average woman weighs between 1,200 and 1.250 grams; the brain of the average man weighs bet ween 1,350 and 1,400 grams. These figures would seem to'prove that men have the superior brain. But the important thing is not how much brain you have, but how it compares to the total weight of the body. And since women weigh less than men, the ratio of brain to body is the same for both sexes.

The brain-to-body weight ratio is the important thing, because the brain controls the energy and metabolism machinery of the body. As body size and weight increase, more brain tissue is required to operate and control the energy and metabolism machinery.

For instance, the whale and elephant not only have brains much larger than man’s, but the brain-to-body weight ratio is also far greater. Their lack of intelligence is due not to the capacity of the brain but to the fact that so much of it is used in bodily processes that little or nothing is left over for thinking.

Men and women have a brain that is almost 800%, larger than is needed to carry out the basic body functions. This 800% represents the difference in intelligence between man and the lower animal. All evidence shows that the quality of brain tissue in men and women is the same; the greater quantity of tissue in men is used to operate the larger and heavier body.

The Male Boast—Strength

jgY THIS time

male readers are probably tearing their hair—or what is left of their hair, since women are much superior in keeping their natural tresses. To appease the men, let’s turn to tests of endurance and physical stamina. Because this is one place where men are superior to women. In a study that was made at Harvard University and Wellesley College, 17 men and 30 women exercised on a motor-driven treadmill. They walked for 15 minutes at 3)4. miles an hour and then they ran for five minutes—or until they were exhausted— at seven miles an hour. Careful records were kept of the heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood chemistry. When it was over, and the records were analyzed, it was found that women become exhausted much quicker than men, and

Are men smarter than women? No. Longer lived? No. Healthier? No again, says this doctor—and he’s a man, too

that women are less fit than men for either moderate or strenuous physical exercise.

Now that we have inflated the male ego, it might be well to look at the differences between men and women in the rate of growth and maturity. Again it is a sad story for the men. Throughout childhood and early adolescence girls develop more rapidly—both physically and mentally—than boys. A favorite index of growth is the rate of ossification—or hardening—of the bones in the wrist, X-ray studies of the wrist show that girls are about two years ahead of boys in their growth.

Not only are girls in their early teens taller and heavier than boys, but they are well ahead of them in psychological maturity. Their interests and their behavior are much more adult than those of boys of the same age. Of course these differences in mental and physical growth tend to disappear in late adolescence. The early superiority of the girls is probably due to differences in the “timing” of glandular changes.

We’ve heard the evidence of the biologists in the “battle of the sexes.” Now let’s call another witness—the family doctor. He has had a chance to observe men and women in sickness and in health. And he knows which diseases are more fatal to men and which are more fatal to women. He knows, for instance, that measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria are more common among boys— but not enough to be concerned about. He knows, too, that the infantile paralysis rate for boys is about

45% higher than for girls. And this difference is something to be concerned about.

Every year in the United States and Canada there are more than four million deaths from heart disease. It ranks as our number one medical problem. And between the ages of 45 and 54 the death rate from this condition is 60%; higher in men than in women. Deaths from brain hemorrhage and artery diseases are also considerably more frequent among men. One reason for this high heart death rate is that the average man leads a more strenuous life. There are greater demands on his circulatory system, and his heart is more likely to be overtaxed. Women—despite their trials and tribulations in running a home and a family—lead a calmer and more peaceful life. And a calm life keeps down heart disease.

Respiratory diseases are also more common in men, but for a different reason than heart disease. Tuberculosis deaths are 3)4 times greater in men, and pneumonia and influenza deaths are almost one half greater. “These differences,” said one medical authority, “are partially due to the fact that men are exposed to infection much more often than women. Women spend most of their time at home. Men spend most of their time with other people. And the Continued on page 74

Continued from page 12

more people you meet, the more likely it is that you will contract a respiratory disease.” Women are relatively safe from these diseases because of the kind of life they lead—not because of any inborn resistance.

Other diseases that, for one reason or another, are more common among men are skin cancer, stomach cancer, stomach ulcers, typhoid fever, nephritis and appendicitis. From 1911 to 1915 there were 28% more male than female deaths in the United States from appendicitis. By 1935 the percentage had increased to 45%-—and it is still going up. Medical scientists throughout the world have been trying to discover the reason for this relative increase in appendicitis in men. So far they haven’t been able to find the answer.

The list of serious diseases which attack women in preference to men

is shorter. Among children, deaths from rheumatic heart disease and whooping cough are more common in girls. And adult women are more likely than men to die of diabetes, pernicious anaemia, gallstones and thyroid disorders. Dr. Arthur Grollman, Associate Professor of Experimental Therapeutics at the Medical School of Johns Hopkins University, has found that not only are thyroid diseases more common among women but that they seem to run in families. In any event, statistics show that hyperthyroidism is from six to 15 times more common among women, and deaths from goitre are about seven times greater for women.

When everything is taken into consideration, the differences between men and women in the death rates for most diseases are small and unimportant. Most of the differences can be explained on the basis of the way of living, kind of work, and the chances for exposure. If women lived the same kind of lives that men live, they would probably have the same diseases and their death rate would probably be just as high. Only a few diseases are due to the differences in the physiology and anatomy of the two sexes.

Women have a lower death rate, and they contract fewer of the serious diseases. But it isn’t because of any inherited superiority over men. It is because men have protected them— though neither the men nor women may have realized it—from the ravages of the most deadly diseases.

And now that we’ve heard from the biologist and the physician, let’s call on the psychologist. He has been studying the intelligence, the emotions, the abilities and the interests of men and women for many years. He knows how they differ in the way they think and the way they talk.

We know that women are supposed to be more emotional, more suggestible, more fickle, more vain and more intuitive than men. And we know that men are supposed to be more logical, more deliberate, more rational and more dependable than women. But are they?

Trying to decide whether women are smarter than men is a touchy business. Up to 100 years ago it was assumed that a woman’s mind was “weak” in comparison with a man’s. Men were supposed to be the natural leaders of the world. Since nearly every famous name in art, music, science and

literature belonged to a man, men were fully convinced that they were the superior beings. Women—according to the men — could never hope to accomplish the things that men have accomplished. And even today most men are thoroughly sold on the idea of the intellectual inferiority of women.

It will come as a shock to such men to learn that girls are intellectually superior to boys all the way from kindergarten to college. In some colleges the lowest averages for girls are actually higher than the highest averages for boys. One reason is that girls are a year or two advanced physically. Another is that they are more conscientious in their studies. They try harder than boys. But that’s not all. “The main reason for female superioiity in school,” declared a well-known educational psychologist, “is because women do better than men on tests involving language and memory. And since most intelligence tests are based largely on these two abilities, it should not surprise anyone that girls score higher than boys.”

All of the differences in intelligence scores during school and college age disappear in adult life. There is not a scrap of evidence showing that men are either superior or inferior to women in intellectual ability. There is evidence showing that there is a greater variability in the intelligence of men. There are more men who are mentally deficient and there are more men who have outstanding ability. But for those of us who are average— neither dullards nor geniuses—the intellectual race between men and women ends in a tie.

Why Women Talk More

It has already been mentioned that women are superior to men in language ability. They have a larger vocabulary, they use longer sentences and they use more parts of speech than men. And most men will tell you that women talk a good deal more than they ought to. But that is one of those male prejudices that probably won’t ever be killed. Women talk more than men because they have more things in common to talk about. A man in one job finds it hard to talk to a man in a completely different kind of job. But taking care of a house and raising children are pretty much the same all over the

world. A woman’s work brings her closer to other women. A man’s work sets him apart from other men. One kind of life encourages conversation; the other kind of life discourages it.

But if women are language-minded, men are mechanically-minded. Most psychologists agree that men rate higher than women on tests of mechanical ability, although even here the women won’t let the men have a full share of glory. Women, it appears, profit more than men from practice on mechanical devices.

At this point every male reader is probably shaking his head and saying that it “ain’t so.” And they are almost sure to back their claims by pointing to women automobile drivers. Almost every man alive is firmly convinced that women are the worst drivers in the world. But again the men are in for a surprise. A leading industrial psychologist, I)r. Morris S. Víteles of thç University of Pennsylvania, made a study of men and women drivers under identical conditions of traffic and weather. After many months of research, the investigation revealed that while women have more accidents than men, the accidents are not nearly as serious as those had by men.

The most obvious differences between men and women are in their interests—the things they talk about, the books they read and their favorite radio programs. One psychologist went about the country eavesdropping on casual conversations on the street, during intermissions at concerts, on streetcars and in restaurants. By analyzing the thousands of scraps of conversation he collected, he found that favorite topics of men are business and sports. And most women talk about men, other women, themselves and clothes. Surveys of reading interests and radio program preferences bear out the fact that men are most interested in things, while women are most interested in people.

When you get right down to it, there are few differences in character and personality between men and women. Truthfulness, tolerance, stupidity, ability to draw, ear for music, patriotism, snobbishness and kindness to animals seem to be about evenly divided among men and women. One study, has shown that women have a clearer picture of right and wrong, but it doesn’t seem to make them any more honest than men. And that’s the way it goes for trait after trait. The personality differences between men and women are mostly myths. They just don’t exist.

Most people have had the idea that women are more neurotic than men—that they break down more easily under emotional stress and strain. But the evidence isn’t as strong as one would think. It’s true that nervous habits such as nail biting and finger sucking are more common among girls. But it is also true that stuttering— which in most cases is a symptom of a personality disturbance—is from two to 10 times more common among boys.

Women Keep out of Court

Another clue to the emotional stability of men and women is found in the statistics for crime and suicide. Juvenile delinquency—taking all types of offenses into consideration—is about six times more frequent in boys than in girls. And in adult life the figures for murder and other crimes bear out the common belief that most of the offenders are men. But the statistics don’t fool the criminologists. They are convinced that women would commit as many crimes as men if they had the same opportunities and the same motives.

And what about the 20,000 men and women who take their own lives each year in the United States and Canada? Does the fact that three times more men than women commit suicide prove that, men are more unstable than women? Does it mean that there is something fundamentally different about women that prevents t hem from taking their own lives? Most psychiatrists don’t think so. They feel that men and women are emotionally pretty much the same. The development of a neurosis or a more serious mental disease depends on the kind of life that is led—not on whether one is a man or a woman.

The fact is that the differences between men and women have been very much overestimated. Men like to believe that women are the “weaker” sex. But medical science and psychology have shattered the myths of male superiority one by one. Today we know that men and women are very much alike. The differences that have been stressed down through the generations have not been based on scientific observations. Science has shown that men and women are amazingly alike, especially during childhood and during old age. The biggest differences are observed during the childbearing years.

If the differences between men and women are so unimportant, why have women appeared inferior throughout so much of world’s history. Why have all of the world leaders been men? The answer is not difficult. Women have been living in a man’s world. At every turn women have been faced with restrictions and discriminations set up by men to protect their own importance. Probably the two world wars have done as much as anything to help break down the barriers that have been holding women in an inferior position. Due to the necessities of war, women have taken over practically every type of work previously limited to men. And not only have they taken over these jobs but they have held them as efficiently as the men who left them to go to war.

More Alike Than Unlike

All sorts of social and economic pressures have operated to decide what a woman could do and what she could not do. She is the one who bears the children; that has kept her home while the man goes out and makes a living for the family. The man, too, has assumed the protective role over his wife and children. These roles of men and women have grown up through thousands of years of custom. Part of the reason for them may be biological, but it is difficult to separate the biological reasons from those of training and custom. Scientists believe that most of the differences we see between men and women are the result of family influences—not of any basic biological difference between the sexes.

The important thing is not how much difference there is between men and women, but how much difference There is between members of the same sex. The differences between individual men and individual women are far greater than differences between the average man and the average woman. Individuals of the same sex vary so much that differences between the sexes are of little consequence.

Everything indicates that men and women are more alike than they are different. And neither men nor women have the right to claim any important mental or physical superiority. Fundamentally they are the same. And what they say, do and think is not because they are men or women—but because they have learned to say, do and think that way. if