Nature or Nurture—What Makes Men and Women Different?
There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that boys and girls behave differently. “Boys will always be boys,” as some would say. The cause for the difference, however, has been the subject of an age-old debate—the so-called “nature-nurture” controversy.
Many people attribute the difference to upbringing and culture. Boys and girls are expected to fulfill different roles in life, they say, and this molds them into different patterns of behavior.
“But evidence from recent brain research indicates that some behavioural differences between men and women are based on differences in brain functioning that are biologically inherent and unlikely to be changed by cultural factors alone,” says neurologist Richard Restak of Georgetown University School of Medicine.
A study of three-month-old babies revealed that girls respond to music and voices with activity in the left side of the brain while boys do so with the right side of the brain. Other studies found that verbal and nonverbal abilities in boys are developed in opposite hemispheres of the brain. But in girls these skills are found in both sides of the brain.
For over seven years, two researchers at Johns Hopkins University worked with some 10,000 seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls, whose educational background is thought to be alike since it is not until high school that they begin to take different courses. They were given advanced math and verbal aptitude tests. The researchers found that boys and girls did equally well on verbal tests, but that there was “a large sex difference in mathematical ability in favor of boys.”
Understandably, these findings have created quite a stir among educators and, particularly, feminists, who tend to be skeptical about the whole matter. So the debate is by no means over.
How do you view the matter? Even if the evidence is still incomplete, it is important to remember that differences do not mean one is superior or inferior to the other. A pen is not better than a pencil. Though similar, each is made for a different purpose. The Bible says of the Maker’s purpose regarding the woman: “I am going to make a helper for him [the man], as a complement of him.”—Gen. 2:18.
While the Johns Hopkins research finds boys better in math, other studies show that “girls exceed boys in language abilities, and this early linguistic bias often prevails throughout life.” Rather than being a drawback, the differences in behavior between men and women make them truly complementary, supplying one another’s lack. As one of the researchers put it: “Social equality for men and women really depends on recognizing these differences.”