Men vs. women: Why we’re imagining equality all wrong

It's possible to seek equality without seeking sameness.

HEATHER HEYING: Should we seek identical outcomes for men and women on all tasks because our imagining of what equality looks like is that equality must be same?

Male and female are concepts that are real and far older than us as humans, older than primates, older than mammals, older than vertebrates. Man and woman obviously are the human names for adult forms of male and female and it would be beyond surprising if we were identical in every way except for the obvious ways that we're reproductively not identical. We can, we should recognize our difference and be equal under the law, be equal in our expectations for what we can achieve, be equal in our ability to move into particular careers that we might want to move into while simultaneously recognizing that at the population level males as a population and females as a population are on average different. It's not to say better or worse on average across the board, but that there will be places, there will be things that you can measure, there will be parameters that are actually relevant to being human and to moving around in the world where women are on average better than men and places where men are on average better than women.

With regard to some measures of mathematical intelligence the greater male variability hypothesis, for which there is research evidence, suggests that males and females are basically the same on average, but the standard deviation for men is higher, which means that you expect to see more men at both tails of the distribution, which is to say more male geniuses in this particular regard and more male idiots as well, men who can't do math at all and men who are much better than the vast majority of the population. Not to say that there aren't women in both of those categories as well, but you expect to see more men. To take an example of a character on which women on average are better than men we have measures of linguistic capability such as reading and writing. With regard to reading and writing and other linguistic activities women are on average better.

I would argue then that we should seek equality without seeking sameness: seeking equality means recognizing difference, being honest with ourselves about what differences are and honoring the choices that people make when you're in a system in which all barriers to entry for various careers have been eroded. So allow girls and boys equally to make choices that they would like to make, but instead of, for instance, forcing girls to play with trucks and boys to play with dolls, some of them want to, many of them don't, many girls don't want to play with dolls either, let children choose what they want to choose and don't be appalled and don't assume that society is putting people down when on average there are differences between the sexes.

  • Males and females as a population, on average, are different. Beyond obvious differences in reproductive systems, research has shown measurable differences between the sexes in areas such as linguistic capabilities.
  • Evolutionary biologist Heather Heying argues that while males and females should be equal under the law, that does not mean that their differences should be ignored. "We should seek equality without seeking sameness."
  • People should be given the freedom to make choices, not forced to engage in activities in the name of equality.

Catacombs of Paris: The city of darkness finds its new raison d'être

Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.

Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain
Strange Maps
  • People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
  • They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
  • Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Keep reading Show less

Baby's first poop predicts risk of allergies

Meconium contains a wealth of information.

Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
  • A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
  • The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
Keep reading Show less

Asteroid impact: NASA simulation shows we are sitting ducks

Even with six months' notice, we can't stop an incoming asteroid.

Credit: NASA/JPL
Surprising Science
  • At an international space conference, attendees took part in an exercise that imagined an asteroid crashing into Earth.
  • With the object first spotted six months before impact, attendees concluded that there was insufficient time for a meaningful response.
  • There are an estimated 25,000 near-Earth objects potentially threatening our planet.
Keep reading Show less

Big think: Will AI ever achieve true understanding?

If you ask your maps app to find "restaurants that aren't McDonald's," you won't like the result.

Credit: GABRIEL BOUYS via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The Chinese Room thought experiment is designed to show how understanding something cannot be reduced to an "input-process-output" model.
  • Artificial intelligence today is becoming increasingly sophisticated thanks to learning algorithms but still fails to demonstrate true understanding.
  • All humans demonstrate computational habits when we first learn a new skill, until this somehow becomes understanding.
Keep reading Show less