A person can be overly rational

Elizabeth Debold: Rational Men, Emotional Women

About myths that determine our lives

For decades, a rumor has been going around in western culture that, in a nutshell: men are from Mars, women from Venus, to quote the bestseller, which is about the differences between the sexes. At the very top of such considerations is often the opinion that women tend to feel and men to think. But what is this assumption based on? We investigated the reasons.

Elizabeth Debold

“In all species in which there are male and female, with the exception of the bear and the leopard,” writes Aristotle, “the females have less courage than the males. The female specimens are softer and more malicious. ”And he continues:“ The woman is more compassionate than the man, more inclined to tears, but at the same time more jealous, more inclined to quarrel, more shameless, more quickly discouraged and more deceitful. The man is braver and more helpful. "

There we have it, 2300 years ago: women are emotional, while men, as Aristotle remarks elsewhere, are rational.

Aristotle often has to serve as a whipping boy for feminists who accuse him of having canonized the supremacy of men in Western philosophy, but I do not blame him. In a warrior society where power was right, men were stronger, and that automatically meant better. Aristotle believed in the superiority of his culture - to which we all tend - and saw in it an expression of the natural order. For Aristotle, woman is an inferior derivative of man for very obvious and practical reasons: she is simply not fit for war. When I look at him against the background of the values ​​of his time, I cannot complain about him. I find his view that women and men are the strong and weak versions of the same phenomenon, even more developable than the popular notion that women and men are species from different planets (Men are from Mars, women from Venus).

Between the poles

This brings us to the heart of the matter: How is it that the idea of ​​the “emotional woman” and the “rational man” still forms the foundation of female and male identities to this day? In the 21st century, we regard gender equality as a high value, but at the same time we believe in fundamental differences between women and men, which are reminiscent of the times of Aristotle. What may be fascinating in the context of ancient history means a catastrophe in our contemporary culture. I'm not saying that men and women are, or should be, completely the same. Equality does not mean equality or uniformity. But the general categorization of male / female, man / woman within the polarity of rational / emotional - where emotional is implicitly synonymous with "irrational" - is a problem. We want to create a culture in which men and women are equally responsible for care and creativity. To determine the core of one's own masculinity or femininity based on rationality or emotionality is inappropriate and counterproductive. It is difficult to overcome this belief, both in ourselves and in our culture, because philosophy, science, and psychology have maintained for several thousand years that this fundamental difference is true. But: is it really true? Ironically, if we look the facts in the face, there is something deeply irrational about that belief in itself.

The idea that women are the more emotional sex has carved itself deeply into the individual and collective psyche for millennia. A Gallup poll in 2001 found that a staggering 90 percent believed that the word "emotional" was more likely to apply to women. Habermas says that culture consists of common, intersubjective agreements that determine the basic assumptions that we have about ourselves, others and reality. These agreements are not conscious of, but they are coded in language, show up in our relationship with the body and are passed on through habits and norms. The word "hysterical" as a term for extremely emotional behavior comes from the Greek word for uterus. If you imagine a “feminine” man, the expression also resonates with emotion. These agreements shape our being, and they all agree that women are emotional.

I would like to examine in more detail how deep the polarization between reason and emotions extends along the boundary between the sexes, because this idea constructs our identity and our deep sense of self. In our egalitarian environment, it might seem absurd to describe women as more emotional than rational, but instead of changing this cultural assumption, women's emotionality is often seen as a sign of their particular strength. In progressive circles, especially when spirituality is a factor, it is widespread to blame the evils of modernity and scientific materialism (environmental degradation, exploitation of resources, alienation and exploitation) of so-called "male leadership" and narrow-minded, results-oriented thinking. At the same time, the antidote is often the belief that women have greater “emotional intelligence”, which makes emotions more “human” and more valuable than the mind. But this reevaluation of male-rational and female-emotional only reinforces the same polarity. It turns out that the connection between “feminine” and “emotional”, whether rated negatively in the sense of “irrational” or positive in the sense of “sensitive”, is deeply imprinted in our social discourse - and embodied by most women themselves becomes.

The raging hormones

First I would like to clarify some basics: women and men have physiological differences and different hormone profiles. The hypothalamus, where hormones are produced, is slightly larger in men. After puberty, women cry more often than men, about four to five times more per month. Adult women - but not pre-pubescent girls - are more likely to have anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder than adult men. But what is the reason for the greater emotionality of women? “The raging hormones” is often the answer: the woman's menstrual cycle. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) supposedly makes women more emotional and therefore more irrational. Strangely, however, PMS does not even exist in women outside of the western world, and the reason for this is not known. Furthermore, research has not found a simple correlation, let alone a causal relationship, between the hormonal cycle and women's emotional responses. The reason girls become anxious or depressed more often during puberty is more because of their cognitive recognition of the overwhelming expectations of young girls. A Dutch researcher summed up in the 1990s: "The basic idea that women are more emotional than men says more about Western gender stereotypes than about the actual feelings of women."

This "basic idea" is a source of identity for women - according to the women themselves. In a study on the question of whether women are more emotional than men, a US research group spent a week asking students about their emotions in connection with their own keep a record of social interactions. Men and women showed no differences in their actual emotions at the time of the interactions: the range and frequency of the feelings were the same. When the test subjects were asked about the situations at a later point in time, however, differences became apparent. The young women considered themselves more emotionally expressive and more focused on their emotions than the young men. The young women may actually have been more emotionally expressive. Because our society accepts and allows emotional expression in women in a way that is frowned upon in men. The researchers hypothesized that women's self-image, based on societal beliefs that women are more emotionally charged, influenced the way they remember their experience. In other words, if girls grow up in a context where femininity is defined by emotionality, then they will interpret their experience in the light of that assumption.

What about the male hormones? How do they relate to our belief that men are rational? Given the noise that is being made about testosterone, it seems very strange that men are culturally considered to be the more rational sex. But when we think of “emotional” and “hormones,” we often don't think of men, even though testosterone is a hormone associated with aggression and dominance behavior. The power of those shared agreements that culturally construct our identities means that we don't see what would otherwise be obvious: men are just as driven by emotions as women. But it is also important not to overly generalize with regard to testosterone: not only do women and men have significant testosterone levels, they also show an enormous range of variation and react to the most diverse social contexts. Men who responsibly care for children have significantly lower testosterone levels than men who do not. And we don't often hear from the women who, without drug intervention, have higher baseline testosterone levels than the average man.The eagerness to try to corroborate polar differences between women and men and to explain that they are caused biologically rather than culturally leads to negligent research. In addition, self-images are formed that distort our own perception.

Our habit of seeing, expecting, and trying to find differences that support a gender gap in the rational-emotional realm often determines the interpretation of very complex neuroscientific data. "There is ... surprisingly little convincing evidence that there is a 'male' brain programmed to understand the world and a 'female' brain programmed to understand people," notes neuroscientist Cordelia Fine in her book The gender lie firmly. “Our minds are extraordinarily socially connected and surprisingly receptive to gender stereotypes.” In experiments in which the researchers “push the gender issue into the background psychologically, the behavior of men and women becomes remarkably similar,” explains Fine. "However, if the environment emphasizes the role of gender - even if this is barely noticeable - ... then our thinking, our behavior, the perception of others and even our self-perception increasingly conform to gender stereotypes." So let's just look at that once This has an effect on our malleable brain, which is exerted by the lifelong subtle - or even not so subtle - insistence that the polarity between the sexes is not only real, but also quite correct.

From the aquarium to the open sea

Neuroscientists like Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot, the author of How different are they?, warn that the enthusiastic misinformation about firmly imprinted differences in the brains of girls and boys creates an environment in which the gender polarity is maintained under the signs rational / emotional. This also has an impact on politics and education - which in turn creates a cultural context that further cements these differences. A study was recently published that produced dramatic images of impressed differences in the brain in women and men, but the results were only slight and imprecise. But immediately definitive evidence of the differences in the "male" and female "brains was called out. The answer was not long in coming: a former editor at Forbes and Financial Times wrote on his blog that these results corroborate the arguments against quotas, which are supposed to bring more women into management, universities and basic research. Why should you reserve places for women when you could take the more suitable men? Fine and Eliot point out that we miss the large overlap between men and women in almost every research evaluation. In addition, the differences within a sex (between women or men) are often far greater than the differences between the sexes, in which men and women are compared with one another. Fine argues: If we organize our entire society around these categories at the present point of our cultural development - 2300 years after Aristotle - it is just as arbitrary as if we were to make the distinction between left-handed and right-handed a point of reference. Because their brains also show differences.

The supposed polarity between the “rational man” and the “emotional woman” is as omnipresent as water is to a fish. We swim in it. Now we need to find a way to change the water in the aquarium while we are the fish. This is a great challenge, but it is possible - if we realize the need to go beyond this polarity. The polarity between male / female, mind / emotion constructs our culture, our identities and the boundaries of what we think and who we can be. A whole area of ​​experience remains hidden from our perception, which also makes it difficult for us to see and support one another in a way that does not pin us down to gender. We need all of our humanity from each other, not just half. The habits of thought and relationships that relate to polarities are too primitive for the complexities of our lives. If we develop the ability to break through this dichotomy in our thinking and develop an awareness of the depths of our own selves beyond the conditioned mind, we can change the reality in which we live. The integration of emotion and mind in higher forms of feeling, perceiving and understanding points to a potential that we have not yet experienced: We can be people, people who are also men and women. Then we may find ourselves outside the boundaries of polarity, in the open sea of ​​possibilities.


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