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3.6 out of 5 stars
Taking Sex Differences Seriously
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162 of 192 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
It might seem odd to have to pen a book like this, but we live in odd times. Throughout history people have known that men and women are different. But recently we have been told that men and women are not different after all. Perceived differences are due to society, not biology, and sex and gender differences are both interchangeable and malleable.
In this view, gender is a social construction. Moreover, one can change one's gender like one changes one's clothes. Male today, female tomorrow, bisexual one day, homosexual the next. This is the brave new world of the gender benders.
The thesis Rhoads offers is simple: men and women are different, and these differences are basic, profound and rooted in our very nature. With a wealth of documentation and research, Rhoads sets the record straight, informing us of the clear scientific and biological case for male-female differences.
Hormones and other chemical/biological determinants cannot be dismissed when assessing gender. Their very presence means that nature has hotwired the human species into two clearly different sexes, and these differences cannot be wished away by social engineers.
And these changes can be found from our earliest moments, refuting the notion that social or environmental factors are the sole explanations for such differences. For example, day-old infants will cry when they hear a recording of another infant crying, but girls will cry longer than boys.
Women tend to be more communitarian, more nurturing and less aggressive than men. Researchers have found that there are universal constants running throughout every known human society, including division of labour by sex, women being the primary child carers, and the dominance of men in the public sphere.
Now if sex differences were due to socialization, and not biology (nurture, nor nature) then we would expect to see these differences quickly fading, at least in western cultures, where sex role changes have been most dramatic. But this has not been the case.
These differences, in other words are enduring and they are significant. No amount of social reconstruction will make them disappear. If so, argues Rhoads, we are doing great damage to men, women and society when we act as if they do not exist. Forcing little Johnny to play with dolls and compelling little Jennie to play with toy soldiers, in other words, is counterproductive, and may simply make things worse.
Those who seek 50/50 marriages, for example, and attempt a complete equality of roles and jobs usually come to frustration. Conflicts tend to be higher in such households, and child rearing also suffers as a result. And role-reversal families tend to be short-lived, with most reverting to more traditional patterns.
Those who seek to turn their children into androgynous role models find they only come to grief in their attempts. Children cannot be taught to change what they are by nature.
Rhoads also notes that those researchers who seek to demonstrate the biological and physiological fixity of the sexes have real trouble getting funding and publicity, because of the stranglehold of political correctness and feminist orthodoxy. And the majority of these sex difference researchers happen to be women.
And he shows that if sex differences are indeed true, then there are implications for what sort of family structures we promote. He details the now familiar evidence of how children, and especially boys, suffer in fatherless households. A mother just cannot replicate what a father provides in a home, just as a dad cannot take the place of a mother.
And children need a biological father living in the home, says Rhoads. Step-dads, boyfriends, male role-models, just do not cut it. Children need both sexes: they need a biological mother and a father, not a committee, not an alternative lifestyle arrangement.
Career options too need to be reassessed. We need to rethink the wisdom of putting career first and children last. Mums can do certain things dads cannot, and it is not just breastfeeding. Women are the nurturers and child carers throughout the world, not because of male chauvinism, but because of their very natures.
And whole nations need a rethink. Social engineers, like the Swedes and the Israeli kibbutzim, have tried long and hard to eradicate stereotypical sex roles and to enforce androgyny. But both experiments have failed miserably.
And feminism must be rethought. Women are losing their choices, not expanding them, when they follow the feminist script. Women in fact tend to like having babies and raising children - it is part of who they are. So it does no good for feminists to say to women that they should deny these instincts and seek instead careers.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be adversely affected by high-powered careers. The harm of stress impacts not just the mum, but is transferred to the baby in the womb as well. The vital importance of breastfeeding is also jeopardised by careers. Thus we are selling women short, as well as the next generation, when we insist that women can have it all. They can, but not necessarily at the same time.
The debate over day care also arises here. If mothers are best equipped by nature to care for and nurture the young, then we should stop the rush to let strangers raise our children. The benefits to children of being looked after by mom for the first few years are clearly documented. So whose interests do we put first in this regard?
In sum, this is a great book. Feminists will hate it. Social engineers will detest it. And slaves to political correctness will wretch over it. But ordinary men and women will find it a breath of fresh air. And in the stagnant stench of modern ideologies, fresh air is just what we need.
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52 of 65 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon January 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
We should all applaud the generation of feminist rhetoric and bombast we've endured. The repeated charge that "patriarchal" society has kept women in a subdued role has led to a wealth of studies investigating that assertion's validity. The result has been the generation of a string of books granting us enlightenment. We are beginning to find out just who we are as a species. Rhoads' fine book is an assemblage of many of these studies, organised and presented with clarity and verve. The message is: men and women aren't "the same" and that the differences go deeper than mere plumbing. We need to understand what distinguishes men and women. We then need to apply that knowledge realistically.

The difference in brain functions between men and women have long been known. Rhoads shows that those distinctions are expressed in behaviour patterns. Men don't act the same as women, nor should they be expected to. The approach to sex and relationships, no matter how much women have tried to feminise men, are by very diverse routes. The male genetically-urged drive to spread their genes is fundamental. To deny or disparage this, as many feminist writers have done, is self-defeating. It has led to grave misunderstandings and worse judgements. Rhoads wants this outlook rectified - which can be accomplished by "taking sex differences seriously" through a more scientific approach. Ironically, the thrust of this research has been done by women wishing to confirm the feminist rhetoric, which they found refuted by empirical data.

Rhoads outlines the many findings of behavioural differences among men and women across many cultures. Although little in human behaviour is firmly "hard-wired" into our genetic definition, there clearly are patterns manifested from our evolutionary past. Mate selection is, of course, the most visible of these traits. While men are concerned about youth, symmetry and "beauty", these aren't cultural artefacts or "constructs", but signals of health. Women are naturally concerned with sustained resources to support family needs. The "powerful" man not only represents physical strength, but likely social status as well. In many societies, that means economic security and family stability for the woman, Rhoads notes.

The key evidence in many of the studies Rhoads cites is the emergence of different behaviour traits in children. No matter how many parents or teachers of primary grades attempt to feminise boy children, the male preferences will emerge whenever allowed. Young boys will play together, roughhouse, and express aggressive tendencies while little girls will gather and converse. These traits emerge at far too young an age to be the product of "patriarchal culturalism", Rhoads notes. A young boy, deprived of toy guns, demands one as a gift at the first opportunity. Rhoads reminds us, if we needed it, that the "culture wars" are about women's roles, not men's.

This "battle of the sexes" is far from over, Rhoads contends. The battleground remains in the worst possible location - the classroom. While he briefly notes that public school attempts to feminise boys has "backfired", his real concern is with collegiate athletics. For the past thirty years publicly funded education has struggled to end "sexual discrimination" in university sports. Known as "Title IX", the provisions of these regulations have led to the dismantling of a significant portion of these competitive activities. What has replaced them is a "women's athletics" programme which is fully funded, under-utilised version of "equality". These programmes simply ignore the distinctions between men and women on competitive activities, whether sports, business or other fields. Women, of course, are better where competition isn't the measure of success, as the number of women executives abandoning office for home indicates, Rhoads notes. The law and educational regulators have failed to note these "serious differences", or unthinkingly dismiss them.

All this said, Rhoads makes clear he doesn't make simple distinctions between males and females. In fact, he postulates the notion of a general description for males, but females are divided into two basic types. The division is mediated by long-term evolutionary unfolding of hormone secretion - chiefly testosterone, estrogen and oxytocin. These chemicals influence a wide range of behaviour traits, from aggression to nursing. Vigorous testing programmes have shown which of these neurohormones are present in varying conditions. Subject reactions even show feedback loops in which initial activities lead to greater expression of the hormones to intensify the activity. Women may become masculinised by enhanced levels of some hormones, but the loss of it doesn't "feminise" men. The key is in the level of aggression exhibited.

It's simple, if not simple-minded, to criticise works such as Rhoads' as "just-so" stories or "soft science". The accumulating evidence suggests this view is merely special pleading. The studies Rhoads sites are from across cultures and through the ranks from blue-collar workers to corporate executives. The bibliography alone is sufficient indication of the scope and depth of studies Rhoads relied on. This book is required reading for a wide range of people - from parents and teachers to regulators and enforcers. There is much to be learned and acted on. A fine starting point for change. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Luckily, on the occasions when we find ourselves under fire for our own personal choices or the choices of our ancestors, which is what political correctness demands from anyone born male, blasphemers like myself can find sanctuary in Steven E. Rhoads's delightful new book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Upon finishing Rhoads's work, many readers will discover that they have renewed respect for the nature of women, and, perhaps, unexpected esteem for the nature of men.

I should warn that Taking Sex Differences Seriously is not a chatty, self-help book. It is a highly erudite work in which the author examines study after study and author after author, yet, at the same time, it is very accessible (just as was the case with Why Men Don't Iron). It was written with the average person in mind even though it voluminously surveys contemporary scholarship. There is less focus here on statistics and experimental procedure than there is in works like The New Science of Intimate Relationships, The Mating Mind, or The Red Queen.

The study of sex difference can be quite precarious for the academic, and it is with some relief that I noted that Rhoads already has put in thirty years of service at the University of Virginia. For those without tenure, such a book could spell unemployment. The author cites the opinions of heavyweights like Gloria Steinem and Gloria Allred on the topic of sex research. They believe that making inquiries into the discrepancies between men and women is downright dangerous to all women and anti-American in spirit [!]. Yet, one could make a strong case that unearthing what others purposefully ignore is intrinsic to what it means to be an American.

The real question that most people have is not that differences are present but for what purpose do these variations exist? Central to Rhoads's work, and central to evolutionary psychology in general, is the fact that the biological drives of humans were formed long ago in a time known as the "environment of evolutionary adaptation." This period embodied "99 percent of hominid existence." Back then there were no hotels, no indoor plumbing, no antibiotics, no birth control pills or abortions, and certainly no cushy jobs which involved clacking away at keyboards. Survival was precarious and most of our current preferences evolved from our ancestors adapting to life in a brutal and unsavory setting.

Only in today's world have we reached the levels of luxury and comfort where we can mistakenly assert that men and women want identical outcomes from love, sex, and life. This false assumption is a cause for considerable unhappiness in our interpersonal relations.

Where Rhoads succeeds is through his presentation of all views and his relentless attempts to explain human behavior. He ignores nothing and shares with the reader many a citation which does not support his case. One would be wise to remember that the goal of evolutionary psychology is to illuminate the basis for human behavior and not to excuse or condone such behaviors. To describe is not to advocate. We embrace fantasy over fact if we deny that gender exerts an influence on the way we act, but, unfortunately, that is exactly what many universities around the country have done through their creation of women's studies programs and their never-ending fetish for describing the world as they want it to be rather than how it actually is.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As a biologist who regularly teaches a course on human sexuality from an evolutionary perspective, I highly commend Rhoads for writing this excellent book on sex differences. He has distilled a large body of information into an easily usable format. I have already used sections of it during my course this summer. I plan to use more of the book in the future.

I have another good anecdote that relates directly to observations that women find men who act in "manly" ways sexy (described on pp. 67-68). A couple of years ago, my then 17 year-old daughter and her friends watched the movie "Black Hawk Down" on video. After the movie was over, my daughter's best friend remarked, "Is it just me, or were all of those guys "hot?" As Shavaun's comment attests: women find warriors "hot." Indeed, one of the few times I have been really intimidated by other men in a purely social setting was when my family and I visited by sister-in-law and her husband, who at the time was a Lt. Commander in the USN and was attending the Naval War College in Newport, RI. One night we went to the Officers' Club for dinner and were surrounded by a large group of men who had experienced combat and were fresh from victory in the first Gulf War. Surrounded by these warriors, I suddenly felt very inadequate, and to this day, like many men who have not faced combat, wonder how I would respond. Men probably also find warriors "hot," but in a very different way than do women.

I think that this book should be read, debated, and utilized by policy makers.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I listened to the First Voice interview on this and was impressed by Rhoads. The book lived up to my expectations, very detailed and organized. Last time I looked the interview was still available on [...]

It's funny that the book is so organized, cause in the interview, Rhoads sounded a bit disorganized. Interesting things to say, though.
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30 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I stumbled upon this book online, after someone sent me a review of it. I
bought a copy, and I have to tell you this book has revolutionized my
life! It has made me understand WHY I am the way I am, and WHY I never
fit in with other women.
You see, I am a high testosterone woman. I was actually tested for it
after a string of miscarriages a few years ago (they felt it might be a
possible cause, but it wasn't.) All my life, all my 44 years, I have felt
confused as to why I never fit in with other women. I tend to think like
a man, I tend to offer advice instead of a shoulder to vent on, I have
always been obsessed with sex/porn, I tend to be aggressive, I was a
tomboy as a child, and still am, I like "guy" things, but strangely I am
not a feminist, quite the contrary. I am fortunate in that I was raised
by a father who allowed me to be myself and didn't try to box me into
feminine roles.
The jobs I have held in my life were always male dominated ones: law
enforcement and the like. I was always happy being the way I am, but
people often made me feel there was something wrong with me. Now I know
there isn't, I'm just a high T woman!
I also wonder if my bisexuality is caused by the high T levels. Although
I am bisexual in orientation, I have been happily married to a man for 22
years and have three children. Curiosuly I think my husband may be low
Testosterone...he is the opposite of me in so many ways! Maybe thats why
we are a perfect match.
I feel like I have been "born again" in a sense, I feel complete. And I
feel I'm OKAY! :-)
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 10, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
To be sure, this is a valuable and provocative book, and extremely readable. The argument, though, takes the biology-is-destiny school of thought a little too far and reduces to a homogenous pulp the variety within the broad schematic of male/female that Rhoads sketches. While it is certainly a mistake to deny all innate differences between the sexes (or as they are more popularly called "genders"), one can go equally astray by reifying them. In the universe according to Rhoads, men pretty much are all testosterone-driven, insensitive clods who need to be civilized by their "estrogen-bathed" mates, who in turn will find the meaning of life in changing diapers, especially if they breast-feed their babies and therefore find the smell of their poopoo particularly appealing (no kidding). To resist this division of labor is to court serious unhappiness and most probably divorce.

One of Rhoads' former students reminisces fondly about one of his lectures on sex difference: "you stated your view that if an alien came to our planet and asked you to show him what happiness looked like, you'd show him a recently engaged woman." Perhaps, having let loose with such overcharged rhetoric, Rhoads should question the reporting he gets back from his undergraduate students and graduate assistants. On that topic, a strange irony is that much of the research assistance and many of the psychological studies that form the basis of his work were done by women. If the world were re-made without day-care centers and if more women just stayed home and followed their biological imperative to procreate, I wonder what Rhoads thinks would happen to these bright and productive women students? The University of Virginia, where he teaches, was the last public university to go coed, back in, I believe, 1970; the program he espouses would lead us inevitably back to those days.

On the other hand, many of his more focused suggestions make a lot of sense: His chapter on Title IX, for example, should be read by the bureaucrats in Washington who make the ham-handed regulations that are slowly decimating men's sports, and his observation that men use parental leave differently (and need it less) than women is an important insight. I hope that, as Rhoads evolves as a scholar, he will find a way to combine these important policy observations with a more nuanced approach to sex difference.

The challenge for modern society is to adjust underlying sex differences to the realities of a complex information society to which women, like men, have a great deal to contribute. While social policy cannot pretend away the profound differences between the sexes, it also cannot ignore the changes in reproductive technology and the workplace that have leveled the field between the sexes. Our society needs a strong voice for common sense in this discussion. Rhoads, unfortunately, too often allows anecdotal evidence and his own prejudices to overwhelm his better judgment, and has produced, therefore, a good book but not a great one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
University of Virginia public policy professor Steven E. Rhoads' latest book purports to be a meticulously researched and elegantly written, provocative and groundbreaking exploration of the masculine and feminine. I found Taking Sex Differences Seriously to be a solid though unexceptional book that makes a number of interesting points. Career women, we learn, have higher average testosterone levels. Rhoads provides interesting detail on how modern university textbooks ignore women who choose to focus on volunteer and/or homemaker careers, ironically implying that the only careers acceptable for women are those traditionally defined (presumably by the patriarchy) as successful. Along similar lines, the author deftly points out the absurdity of prescribing and proscribing activities for our children based on our political wishes.

One feminist academic quoted by the author candidly, delightfully admits that she likes dating men who are "totally sexist" because they are comfortable with privilege and power. Putting together some points in different sections of the book, the happiest marriages are not egalitarian in either power or roles, but rather are male dominant with female influence on decisionmaking, and have women performing somewhat more of the chores than is seen as fair by either spouse. Rhoads' interesting explanation for the latter finding is essentially that women enjoy being appreciated more than they value strict equality, and men enjoy being able to sincerely appreciate their wives for their role in the family.

Much of Rhoads' book is not new. Yet he does manage to inject some fresh perspectives and information into each of his chapters, including those on fatherless families, the sexual revolution, competition, Title IX, childraising, and day care. Yet another fact we are not told until the author does so: evidently a divorce reduces the life expectancy of a child of the divorcing parents by no fewer than four years! Stepfather presence leads to earlier sexual maturation by girls, as girls not counting on a biological father's support evidently adopt an opportunistic, short-term mating strategy that leads them to provide earlier sexual access to men. Regarding day care, I had never heard it said (again, partly because these sorts of data are not widely publicized) that the effects of non-maternal care are comparable in their level of impact to growing up in poverty. (As mentioned below, however, I question Rhoads' tunnel vision regarding mothers; the author gives fathers short shrift.) It was similarly new to me that day care triples the odds that children will later be disobedient and aggression. (Regarding this claim, however, I would have appreciated further detail on the critical ages for placing children in day care, how the data was developed, etc. This potentially critical study only received one sentence in the book.)

As a reviewer who is now almost a quarter-century removed from his undergraduate years, I was interested by the discussion of the rarity of conventional dating nowadays and its replacement by "hookups," i.e., sexual encounters with strangers or acquaintances without commitment and often without any real affection. Rhoads is not afraid to counter prevailing trends in proclaiming the desirability, where feasible, of marrying in one's early twenties, pointing out that such marriages actually are more enduring than those occurring later in a couple's lifetimes. Surely the polls Rhoads cites are correct that the feminist movement has made it both harder to balance job and family and also harder for marriages to be successful. And certainly I find it to be true of myself that no matter how good the relationship, men need time to relax (although personally I'm not so good at that) and pursue hobbies away from their partner.

Steven Rhoads is not my all-time favorite author. He is, somewhat bizarrely, seemingly a fan of The Rules. He seems to be wrong on some of his facts, most noticeably his enthusiastic advocacy of the merits of motherhood while seemingly entirely unaware of the substantial evidence in favor of fathers' sensitivity to even young children's needs, not to mention dads' demonstrated capacities to raise happy, well-adjusted children. I certainly haven't found, either in my life or in the lives of my friends who are fathers, that he is correct in focusing exclusively on women's allegedly "outsized love of their children." His book has a bit of a random aspect to it, examining various issues, sometimes engagingly, sometimes with some fresh points or analysis, though also often with a "déjà vu" sense that we have heard it before, and every twenty pages or so popping in an often seemingly gratuitous reference to "taking sex differences seriously."

In sum, Taking Sex Differences Seriously is a good book that I recommend, but not as enthusiastically as many of the other titles I have reviewed over the years. I suppose it is a positive development that so many books loosely aligned with the Everyman viewpoint are being published that we readers are able to make these sorts of distinctions! Maybe that is the most useful and most heartening lesson of all.
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32 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There is no greater truth than that which Dr. Rhoads has laid out: men and women are not equal and interchangable. To rob men and women of their unique traits and talents (as feminists have sought to do) is foolish. Just because men and women are equally capable of being successful in the workplace (the physical jobs notwithstanding)does not mean we can expect the same of men and women when it comes to more personal matters -- particularly those related to marriage and children. For years feminists have been myopic in their hope for an androgynous society. And now, thankfully, Dr. Rhoads has come along to turn their worldview upside down. Between his book and Suzanne Venker's new book, 7 Myths of Working Mothers, feminists have no leg to stand on.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Taking Sex Differences Seriously is a pleasure to read. The book is well written, very well researched, and makes a strong contribution to disseminating knowledge of our understanding of human sex differences. The combination of an accessible and engaging writing style and a solid footing in the scientific literature makes the work a good undergraduate text or adjunct text, in addition to a fun read for anyone interested in learning more about how and why men and women differ.
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