Summarizing the Differences Between Men and Women
There will probably never be an end to discussion about male and female roles. For the foreseeable future, gender-based discrimination will be a part of our culture. However, we can help minimize misunderstandings about the sexes by acknowledging which differences are inherent to our species and which are culturally based. The following summary itemizes some of the major differences between men and women:
1. Both sexes are genetically predisposed to have different typical adult heights, weights, body shapes, and body compositions. Average men are taller, with a higher percent of body weight as lean muscle mass, and they have greater physical strength but less endurance than the average woman. Men are generally more physically active, muscularly stronger, and have a higher death rate at every stage of life.
2. Society in the 1970’s and 80’s tended to demonize boys and encourage gender-neutral play in children. Recently, there has been an appreciation that the developmental needs of boys are different from those of girls. Boys may do better in a learning environment, with more chances to run around, hands-on experiential work, and more physical outlets. While girls may benefit from single-gender classes in science and mathematics, boys’ needs for gender-specific verbal learning have been neglected.
3. On the whole, taller men with good muscle development and symmetrical features are considered more attractive. They earn higher salaries, are more likely to be promoted, are respected by peers, appeal to an equally attractive female, and are more often elected. These physical norms represent culturally-based exaggerations of the genetic determinants associated with the best reproductive outcome. A major challenge for everyone is to develop healthy self-esteem and body image independent of how closely they meet cultural stereotypes for physical ideals. The developmental needs of boys not meeting these “ideals” can be better met by appropriate teaching and thoughtful guidance.
4. Males are as dissatisfied with their weight as females, but differ in the goals for change. Forty percent of men want to be slimmer, but an equal percentage desire increased weight, especially muscle bulk. With women, weight loss is almost always the desired choice.
5. Men tend to be dissatisfied with their body shape from the waist up, while women are usually dissatisfied from the waist down.
6. Slow developers, short boys, and very thin boys experience a harder time in social development and in building positive self-esteem during adolescence.
7. Most differences in eating patterns are culturally determined. The important components of feeling hungry or full, keeping body weight within a “set point,” guiding the person unconsciously to choose variety in foods, packing away some extra weight for times of famine, are all biologically built in. In contemporary society, most women attempt dieting (usually unsuccessfully) to lose weight. Men eat with far less restraint in their food choices and quantities consumed.
8. Testosterone has been demonized and trivialized. High levels of testosterone do not cause rage behavior, and adequate levels are important for calm, effective male functioning. Low testosterone is a source of irritability, depression, and low self-esteem.
9. Size and shape have an important effect on the opposite gender. A female waist-to-hip ratio of about 0.7 and a male ratio of 0.9 seem to produce the strongest sexual attractions, independent of actual body weight.
10. A major source of distress in marriage is the transition from being a physically attractive partner-seeker to becoming a long-term mate. Once a sexual partner/long-term mate has been found, the agenda regarding physical appearance changes for both genders, but differently for each.
11. Society has pushed women to be thinner for decades; but until recently, men’s normal weight has been generally accepted. Today, the media pushes men to have a more “perfect” body through the same kind of advertising and marketing that has traditionally been aimed at women.
Finding personal satisfaction with body image and developing a healthy opinion about one’s appearance is a complex but vital process for both men and women. The road to long-term satisfying relationships and self-confidence begins by recognizing the importance of weight and shape, changing what can be changed, truly accepting and loving what cannot be changed, and going beyond physical judgments about attractiveness to discover the depths of personality, experiences, and long-term goals for a meaningful life. Vive les différences!
Reprinted with permission from Making Weigh
t By Arnold Andersen, M.D., Leigh Cohn, M.A.T., and Thomas Holbrook, M.D.
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