The Mars/Venus fallacy, or the hoax of feminine and masculine traits
In the Western world today, women are more able than ever to be who they want to be, instead of what society dictates they should be.
As recently as 50 years ago, women were expected to become homemakers and devote their lives to serving their husband and taking care of their children. In short, girls were taught that what mattered about them was how completely they were ruled by their Heart Brains. The idea that they could make their way in the world using the strength of their intelligence, or that they might follow their aspirations and dreams was not only alien — it was disruptive.
These days, women are more empowered to break free of society’s expectations (which are still there, just less universally accepted). The changes are noticeable not only in the workplace, but also in sports. In previously male-dominated sports like soccer or rugby, nowadays there is a fierce competition of female teams.
In the old days, a woman who didn’t dream of dedicating her life to her husband and children was considered to have something wrong with her. She was delusional in thinking that she could be the professional equal of a man. She was thought to be cold-hearted and narcissistic for spurning the role of self-sacrificing helpmate and mother. Men, on the other hand, were expected to be fierce competitors at work and benevolent dictators in their homes.
No one of either gender was encouraged to be themselves. It is a blessing that young people today have difficulty even imagining the idea of being forced into a pre-defined role, without any consideration given to who they really are or what they would like to become.
And still nowadays one stereotype, based on the traditional indoctrination, is still alive and kept alive: that men and women think in fundamentally different ways and that there are masculine and feminine traits. From time to time, some stereotypes contain a grain of truth — but that tiny mote is wrapped in a giant package of nonsense masquerading as wisdom.
For example, that men and women who were raised in Western cultures were socialized in reasonably similar ways yet still differ; just think of the differences between Scandinavia and the USA. When you travel around the world, you will become aware that men and women communicate, act, and behave differently in different societies based on their socialization. We can call this simple, but appealing, myth, The Mars/Venus Fallacy. In fact, the differences from one individual to another in different parts of the world are far greater than those between the male and female genders.
In science, when there is an exception to the facts, it means that “it is not a fact any more but just a hypothesis that is proved wrong”[i]. As not all men and women communicate, act, and behave in the same way, it means it is not a fact or law but just a ‘learned’ preference.
Still, the myth persists. According to the Mars/Venus Fallacy, men are simple creatures, aggressively driven by hormonal urges and desperate for gratification. They think mostly about sex, food, and power. They will say or do anything to get these things. In this blinkered view, women, driven by a different hormonal mix, are more contextual and emotional in their thinking/feeling processes, focusing on emotional connections, harmony, and security.
This simple-minded notion has so infiltrated our popular culture that it now has the status of revealed truth. Take, for instance, the following example: According to Mars/Venus thinking, when she says, “Do whatever you want”, what she really means is, “Do exactly what I want you to do”.
The stereotyped explanation of this is that she knows that she should not and cannot tell her partner what to do. So, she pays lip service to his free will, while also believing that only a dolt would not figure out what she really wants. When you start believing this, you go down the path of believing that women, as a gender, are disingenuous manipulators. (And that men, in general, are so far from that sort of behavior that they often can’t recognize it when they see it.) What a toxic little trap that is to fall into!
Similarly, according to Mars/Venus thinking, when she says, “It was a bargain”, it’s because she doesn’t have the courage to confess, “I had to remortgage our house. So please don’t ask me how much it cost”.
If you start believing this, you could end up thinking that women are compulsive liars, not to mention bubble-headed spendthrifts. Such scenarios make for great sitcom storylines. As a world view however, they leave something to be desired.
Likewise, according to the ‘men are Martians’ stereotype, men are just as oblique in the way that they express themselves. Accordingly, when he says, “You are overreacting/dramatic”, what he is actually doing is blaming a woman for reacting to his bad behavior by asserting that she is emotional (while he, naturally, is the rational one).
Even when he says, “It’s my fault, I’m sorry”, the Mars/Venus approach would decode that into, “We have been arguing about this for hours and I just can’t take it anymore. Congratulations, you wore me down. Can we have sex now?”
Again, in this explanation, men are written off as nincompoops who will say anything to end a conflict and satisfy their appetites.
Examples of this sort are entertaining, for sure. As a world view, however, they do not pass muster.
While doing research about for my 3 Brains theory and how this connects with our behavior and communication between men and women and how this theory could make our relationships better, I started to realize we are actually all the same only different educated and socialized.
The 3 brains theory is, this is based on the scientifically proven theory that we have three Brains: one in our head, one in our heart and one in our Gut.
We have an ‘enteric brain’ otherwise known as your ‘gut brain’ which controls our survival needs and acts in fear, anger or immobilisation hence: fight, flight or surrender responses and it the place of our EGO. I saw the resembles with what we call masculinity
Then there’s the ‘cardiac brain’ which is your ‘heart brain’ and it controls our bonding with other people and that is where we feel love, compassion but also hate and does this not really relate to femininity?
Finally, there’s the ‘head brain’ with three sections inside it (the rational new section or prefrontal cortex; the emotional middle section; and the instinctual reptilian section).
Those 3 Brains are hierarchical connected for powerful decision-making and are in charge of our life. Their decisions can make us flourish or suffer based on how the different brains store our memories and emotions, such as stress, fear, anger, grief, sadness and frustration.
With this concept in mind and how we actually educate/socialize teenagers I looked at research about comic-book superheroes (34,476 comic-book characters were analyzed[ii]) and found some interesting statistics.
Nearly three-quarters (73.3%) of comic-book heroes are men. Only 26.7% of all DC and Marvel characters are female and barely more than one in ten (12%) of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists. To make matters worse, female characters are often hyper-sexualized, unnecessarily brutalized, stereotyped, and used as tokens. They tend, also, to rely on stereotypically ‘female’ super-skills such as empathy, intellect, and telepathy, rather than physical power. The male characters, however, are often portrayed as having great physical strength, along with remarkable technological skills.
When female characters do have some extraordinary physical abilities, they are often tied to sex and emotions. The ability to create emotional and physical states, such as sleep, fear, and pleasure by means of pheromones, for example, occurs five times as often in a female character. Sonic scream appears in twice as many female characters as male. A hair-related superpower is something common for female characters, while being an extremely rare talent amongst men.
So yes, we are still educated that boys should be boys and girls should be girls. According to this view, boys should have a highly developed masculinity or Gut Brain, something less favorable for women or girls. Women should have a huge feminine quality (the Heart Brain) full of compassion, and they should love, admire, and encourage masculine (Gut Brain) behavior in their men, because that was what made them good providers and protectors.
Many of the old attitudes linger. There is still a lot of stereotyping going on in our education and in the business world. Most positions on executive boards are still held by men. And the competitive ‘Me’ or Gut Brain attitude that is needed to compete in many business settings is still encouraged in boys, while often being discouraged in girls. To excel in the professional world, a certain amount of masculinity Gut Brain drive seems to be required.
The fact that the portrayal of masculinity as strong and femininity as caring is fully ingrained in our society is clear when we look at Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory. One dimension is named ‘masculinity vs femininity’. ‘Masculinity’ describes a society’s preference for achievement, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. The society at large is more competitive. On the contrary, the theory uses ‘femininity’ to demonstrate a society’s preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, and quality of life. The society at large is more consensus-oriented.
If you are interested in how countries score, visit Hofstede’s website at https://geerthofstede.com. A little teaser: For masculinity, Sweden has an index of 5, the Netherlands 14, Australia 61, the USA 62, the UK 66 and Japan 95[iii].
When I was reading an article about Janine van den Berg[iv] (the first female police chief on the board of Interpol), it struck me once again how we are conditioned to think we are different because of our gender.
In the interview, they asked her if a female police chief acts differently than a male one?
She replied, “You have to be really careful thinking like that, because before you know it you are generalizing, but as a rule man have more masculine traits, like decisiveness, and women have more feminine traits, like communication. I have both”. Although she says not to generalize, she continues to label the traits as men- or women-specific.
After all of this I started to see a way out of this trap because what is the biggest problem with calling them ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits? Equal and happy, healthy relationships between men and women will stay on a Mission Impossible track.
Think about it. Why would you as a female adopt ‘male’ traits and run the risk of being called “masculine”, or even worse, “bitchy”, “bossy” or “working mom”. Conversely, why would a man adopt ‘female’ traits with the risk of being called “feminine” or “pussy”, “soft” or even “gay“?
By giving the traits the gender-neutral names of Heart Brain and Gut Brain — their original source — it becomes normal and acceptable for all of us to connect with them.
Because why would we not utilize all the resources we have inside us?
Why would a man not be willing to develop his Heart Brain if it brings him more ’success’ at home and at work, and as collateral beauty makes him a better human being? Similarly, for women, why would they have an issue with saying that they have developed a more Gut Brain survival instinct, when it will benefit their relationships and career, not to mention boost their self-esteem?
So are you in to change this world for better, and stop using the words masculine and feminine and start using heart and gut brain?
[ii] Shendruk, A. (2017). Analyzing the Gender Representation of 34,476 Comic Book Characters. The Pudding. Retrieved from: https://pudding.cool/2017/07/comics/
[iii] Clearly Cultural, Masculinity, Website: http://clearlycultural.com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/masculinity/
[iv] NRC, Andreas Kouwenhoven, Dutch Woman in the Top of Interpol, (2018), Website: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2018/11/21/nederlandse-vrouw-in-de-top-van-interpol-a2756092