“Girls go to Jupiter to get more ‘stupider’, boys go to Mars to get more candy bars!” A few of us may have heard this sort of unrefined phraseology during our grade school years, or possibly even uttered something similar (present company excluded, of course). While youthful taunts and jest often play around with and make light of gender superiority or bias, the subject has accumulated a much more serious tone in recent times. In education, academia, and the corporate workforce, the notion of gender differences has been defined, redefined, and defined again, in the pursuit of a single truth; How different are men and women, if any different at all? And if such a difference can be shown to exist, what does that mean for equality and real life experience between the sexes?
The pre-feminism concept of gender differences is captured by Harvey C. Mansfield: “Formerly society recognized the differences between the sexes, and with laws and customs accentuated those differences (435).” And indeed, accentuate them it did, as women were left without many opportunities enjoyed by their male counterparts. The absence of such opportunities, included voting rights, education, and property rights, is documented in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments (411). Stanton does not speak to innate gender differences per se, but roundly testifies of the political injustice experienced by American women in the 1800’s. She shines the “equal station to which they [women] are entitled” through the prism of the Declaration of Independence, matching the inequality of women to men with the colonies to the English Crown, to reveal a sad portrait of female personhood (411-412, Italics mine).
Gender traits in the past were placed into concrete terms of weakness and strength, home-maker and breadwinner. However confining and reclusive, society had defined a woman’s place as in the home, and a man’s place as earning a living, and administrator of the community and the family.
In Mary Wollstonecraft’s piece from The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, innate gender differences exist mainly in terms of physical size and strength (399). All other distinguishing aspects come as a result of male subjugation and the rigid role in which women are expected to show “outward obedience, softness of temper, and a scrupulous attention to propriety (401)”. In this construct, femininity put women into a position of admiration by men, a celestial creature of beauty and charm. This position, boasting power over men, resulted in a control by men, as women’s own voices and desires fell subject to the image of homemaker and caretaker. Wollstonecraft decries the “soldier-like” part that women play in life’s theatre, where “elegance is inferior to virtue” and “inspiring love” should come far behind a commanding respectability (403, 400, 399).
Such an image of a woman living in the mundane realm of an unexciting marriage is drawn by Kate Chopin in The Story of an...