Dear sexist men, your privileged gender is not an outcome of your “biological” qualities, but of social conditioning

Published: July 24, 2017
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The social construction of gender merely internalises the belief that men and women are essentially different due to biology and therefore gender imbalance in the society is merely a ‘natural’ phenomenon. PHOTO: TUMBLR

Recently, I wrote an article based on two recent videos which went viral. The main idea behind the article was to showcase two outstanding individuals who challenged gender stereotypes instead of conforming to society’s prescribed gender roles, going on to live their individual dreams.

For me, these individuals are heroes and, in fact, trailblazers as they have challenged socially constructed stereotypes. These stereotypes play a large role in determining what is expected of men and women from society. By spelling out these expectations and enforcing them through upbringing and cultural norms, men and women are often regimented into different roles and hence, destinies. These different roles also largely account for the gender imbalance, giving men an advantage and power that cannot be attributed to biological traits alone.

The reaction to the article on social media, particularly Facebook, was interesting. Considering the great schism between the views when it comes to gender equality and a woman’s rightful place in society, I was expecting a lot of heterogeneity in the reaction. The central premise that socially-constructed gender roles hamper women resonated with many women – understandably, as they experience limitations because of such roles. Men predictably gave a diverse reaction. Some agreed, while others disagreed. Those who disagreed used either religion or biology to justify themselves.

The reactions which drew upon biology tried to explain the existing gender role differences through biological differences. One comment touted as to how men are more aggressive and have greater upper body strength and this idea of not recognising the difference can be a dangerous one. Likewise, it was also argued that a woman’s brain is more emotional and therefore more expressive, whereas a man is said to have a more ‘logical’ brain. One commentator further extended this logic and argued that existing gender roles are merely an outcome of our biology and society’s assessment of what ‘works’.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Most of these comments were from men who think that their superior position in life is not because of the way society prioritises men over women but because men are somehow born that way. They think that gender roles are based on biology and our genitals have ultimately determined the power imbalance and the kind of roles we play in our lives.

I would like to clarify a few things here. First of all, this attitude reeks of crude sexism which is trying to find refuge in biology. Many privileged men think their privileged position in life is not because of a cultural set up they were born into, but because of their ‘in born’ qualities.

Second, I am not throwing biology out as there is no doubt that men and women are not identical. On average, both the genders are different. No one is contesting the differences. However, such differences are merely average and do not map well to individual level and therefore should not become the basis for adopting across the board discriminatory rules.

Third, not all of these differences are merely an outcome of biology. In reality, nature and nurture both combine together to shape us. Here, I would like to further point out that no two men are identical or for that matter equal in every respect of the way. Irrespective of our gender, we are all unique in some way or the other.

However the kind of roles we are expected to play in our lives are not dependent on our ‘uniqueness’, but largely what, on average, society has already determined for us. Men are expected to be breadwinners, aggressive and dominant. Women, in contrast, are expected to be submissive and docile. These roles are largely an outcome of social conditioning, not our biology. The social construction of gender merely internalises the belief that men and women are essentially different due to biology and therefore gender imbalance in society is merely a ‘natural’ phenomenon.

Yes, obviously there are biological differences, but both genders face different constraints and incentives based largely on social set ups and conditioning. Biological differences may explain why men, on average, may be potentially better in some professions and women better in others, but social constraints and expectations determine whether women will even be allowed to do a particular job.

In our part of society, a working and independent woman is largely frowned upon, a fact which deters many women to even want to pursue a profession, particularly professions considered appropriate for men.

If biology was the sole determinant, there should not have been so many differences in gender parity across various societies as the biological differences in men and women are the same everywhere. For example, in advanced societies, gender expectations and roles are not as radically different as they are in our society, and consequently there you see women in literally every field of life. Yes, in some jobs women are better than men and in some men are better, but nevertheless, women get a fair chance and they have not only capitalised on it but shown that they can be equal and even excel men.

Over the last 30 years, the female to male ratio of college students has changed dramatically and now more females have begun to enrol in colleges. This ratio has changed because of the evolution of the notion that women do not solely need to be housewives. Women have also consistently outperformed men in academics. Even the traditional gap in science subjects is gradually decreasing. Besides academics, due to more balanced gender roles and expectations, the schism between the genders has decreased as we even see some women embracing “masculine” traits.

We should be striving for a society where both men and women should be allowed to develop according to their natural potential. The existing social conditioning by regimenting men and women into starkly different roles is hampering that. Instead of crudely reducing everything to biology and trying to normalise power imbalances, we need to take a more nuanced and thoughtful approach.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Asim

    After careful assessment of both the publisher Mr. Raza’s and his anonymous facebook target’s viewpoints, I came to the conclusion that Mr. Raza has been outgunned by his opponent. You have failed to refute his educated response when it comes to describing the differences between men and women. Before I’m branded as a sexist let me just point out that by being raised by a single mother, I believe in women empowerment. But I also believe in science and by turning a blind eye towards it IS THE REAL DANGER. Women should be given a fair chance but to suppress (not deny, remember there’s a difference) what distinguishes the two genders might create a schism where the two sexes are pursuing careers not suitable for their prosperity. Not only that but calling to set aside the differences means that you’re calling out psychologists to treat men and women in the same way which is again equally dangerous. In the end I would like the author to stick to political sciences in which he has a his PhD (Kudos to you) and leave biology and psychology to people educated in those fields.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Let me try to address your points.

    I do not think I have a privileged position in society. Going out into the job market, taking risks, working long hours just to be the breadwinner and be able to raise a family is not a position of privilege. It is a position of servitude. By all means, I would prefer society changed to a point where women have to go out and work while I can sit in front of the TV the whole day, watching morning shows, daytime cooking and dramas. All the while complaining that I feel so “oppressed” and “marginalized”.

    Second, you accepted my point about biological differences. Good. We’re making progress.

    Third, I have not said all men are identical, or all women are identical. For sure, there are some women out there who think more logically than men, as there may be some men that are more emotional than women. There are unique people, like Maria Toorpakay. But I submit that the majority of men act masculine and women act feminine. Not because of an artificial social construct but because it comes naturally to them to act that way.

    How many women work in construction, mining, night security-guard or long-distance truck drivers? How many take up the profession as a mechanic, plumber, carpenter, dock-worker or sailor. Forget Pakistan. We are a misogynist, patriarchal society according to feminists. How many women take up these jobs in the west?

    The fact is women are unwilling to take up any hard jobs. They only opt for easier ones like media person, school teacher, receptionist/telephone operator, doctor and model/salesgirl. No one is stopping women from going into hard physical labor. By all means, go work in a mine underground or as a bus conductor in Karachi. I would like to see them collecting fare from passengers sitting on top of a speeding coach. Be a working, independent woman there.

    The overwhelming majority of women who become housewives do it because it is easy. You think getting up early in the morning, navigating back and forth through big city traffic to go work at a high-pressure job where the boss treats you like garbage is a privilege?

    I will pass.

    I demand that all women should be forced to go out and work while men should sit at home as househusbands. I demand that men be “oppressed” this way.Recommend

  • Uzair

    Men are superior than women. Period.Recommend

  • Alka Rim

    Very articulately written, Mr. Raja. Your arguments are logical, coherent, and well substantiated. However, I do take an exception to your comment, “men and women are often regimented into different roles and hence, destinies.” Keep up the good work.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Huh?…Wha,…er…some mistake? What’s up here? No song or even
    a mention of the Raja of Raiwind? Or where will the Sharif family migrate?
    Saudia? The King and Junior King said NO. Don’t come here again.
    Dubai? Nada. They said Nawaz’s work permit expired. Not allowed back
    Nawaz need to apply for Tajikistan visa, maybe Kyrgyzstan ? Mali?
    Where will the Sharif Darbar go? Gujranwala? Sialkot? Kot Diji? Malir?
    Sohrab Goth? Banu Akil? Parachinar? Yes! The Darbar should be forced
    to live in Parachinar !!!Recommend

  • Golnath

    YawnnnnRecommend

  • Anand Kumar

    You know nothing about the West. You have never been to the West
    Women are working EVERY single category you wrote down.
    [when you sit at home, be prepared to have 3,..5…up to 14 to 15 kids,
    not in the hospital,…but AT HOME,… with no epidural anesthetic]Recommend

  • ex Minor

    We should be striving for a society where
    both men and women should be allowed to develop according to their
    natural potential. The existing social conditioning by regimenting men
    and women into starkly different roles is hampering that. Instead of
    crudely reducing everything to biology and trying to normalise power
    imbalances, we need to take a more nuanced and thoughtful approach.

    And who in the opinion of the author represents ‘WE’ and how should an individual determine the so called ‘ Natural Potential’. the society emerges from a community and a community is developed from traditions and cultures of the region. Pakistan being located in an under developed region.

    Rex Minor.Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    Uncomfortable truth, but truth nevertheless. In the 4 decades as a home owner in the UK and the countless times I’ve called in electricians, plumbers, roof tilers, sewerage unblockers, carpenters, bricklayers I’ve yet to be visited by a single female service provider. In cases for instance where consultancy is required first like a landscape gardener or a new kitchen you will sometimes find a female ‘consultant’ who will come round and draw some fancy plans and issue a quote, but the installation is invariably done by a man.

    Call an estate agent round though and more often than not it will be a woman. I suppose if someone invents a way for plumbing to be done by sitting behind a desk, driving around in an air conditioned car and talking over the phone we’ll start seeing more female plumbers.Recommend

  • RHR

    Hi Rex

    What are you smoking these days?Recommend

  • RHR

    You think I have been “outgunned” because his response provides you instinctive comfort!Recommend

  • RHR

    I can feel so much hurt in your post!Recommend

  • RHR

    What was that? Ok a typical PTI troll rant!Recommend

  • RHR

    That was not all the purpose of the article. No one is asking that Psychologists to treat the two sexes in the same way. Just like that commentator did not read the article, you have also not bothered to read.
    By the way, all such responses are only coming from men!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Not at all. The former Kuptaan,…er…ballboy is currently
    having legal issues. But your master Nawaz bin Salman bin Panama
    bin AbdelAziz bin Sharif bin Raiwind will be vacating the PM house,
    quicklike, pronto, soon.Recommend

  • Asim

    It’s not my fault the responses are coming from men and does that make it wrong? So as a libertarian you’re asking men to stay mute? You are a very conflicted journalist. Your ideals, your views and your expertise are not enough to make you a spokesperson on behalf of women. The person you are attacking used science and biological facts to distinguish the two genders and since biology plays a major role in shaping the psychological aspects of the sexes (seriously look it up), he HAS outgunned you. You merely stated your “beliefs” and I reckon that in journalism beliefs cannot be facts. His answers do not provide me any instinctive comfort. As an academician I find it deplorable when a person stating scientific facts is shunned by those who with a political sciences degree.Recommend

  • Asim

    These psychological aspects in turn influence the role of the genders in society and aid (not hinder according to you) in choosing the right career for both men and women.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Lol.. was that your best comeback?

    Men are hurting. Considering all the work they put into relationships with women, the risks they take, the sacrifices they make, the resources, finance and protection they provide to make women’s lives easier, more comfortable and yet be told that they are oppressing them? It’s downright insulting.

    I await your next attempt at shaming men. Good luck ;)Recommend

  • Ahmar

    He is no longer able to think rationally and logically when it comes to gender issues. Feminism has messed up his brain.

    A pity. He does write quite eloquently when discussing politics.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Your statements are true but the opposite of all what you have said is also true. RHR is not a plumber nor a bus driver either, men and women given the opportunity choose a professon of their likes in accordance to their education and training. RHR is concerned with the regmentation practices in patriarchial societes of the under-deveveloped countries but ignores that education and professional training in such countries are also limited for men and women alike. Given the opportunity both men and women are capable to practice any profession, the gender has a negligible role in todays world.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ahmar

    Men are more willing to lower expectations from society. If a man cannot find a job as a banker, he will take the job of a clerk. If he can’t get a clerk’s job, he will take the job of a peon. If he can’t get a peon’s job, he will take on work as a plumber/mechanic. If not that, then a laborer, digging holes in the ground and laying bricks.

    Men realize that we have to make a living. Society expects us to work and provide resources/income for the family. There is no such pressure on women and they can choose to become housewives. Men get no choice. We must work. At whatever job we can find.

    If a woman can’t get her dream job, she prefers to stay home. Her husband/father/brother/son can work and provide an income. Then she goes on to blame someone for her inability to get her dream job. Enter “patriarchy”.

    Blaming patriarchy is a way for feminists to shift blame to men for women’s shortcomings. Women are denied opportunities, they say without bothering to look at men who get denied opportunities and go on to work at dead-end jobs for which they are over-qualified. I have seen men with graduate degrees working as waiters, delivery guy, cleaners, shop assistants. 90% of men work at low-end, low-pay jobs yet all of them are invisible to feminists. The only men they can see are the 10% at the top.

    If our society WAS patriarchal and favored men, we would not find men working in some of the most dangerous and hazardous jobs. We would be forcing women to work at those jobs. That…would be true oppression. Nowhere in history have oppressors worked at some of the most demeaning and dangerous jobs while providing, protecting and caring for their oppressed.Recommend

  • Asim

    That’s true and I believe it is you who he was attacking right? To be honest its a pathetic move on his part to attack ordinary people. He is not only taking advantage of his position as a journalist, but also he is abusing it just like our politicians and cops. I hate the fact that all men are labelled sexist because of a deranged fringe group that encourages treating women as slaves. Feminism has changed from fighting for women’s rights to equal pay and opportunities to fighting against men. RHRs political pieces are well articulated and he should stick to those. It’s not in my position to tell an engineer on how to do his/her job (see what I did there?) as a doctor. Journalists should stick to journalism. Attacking the common folk makes them no less than a mafia.Recommend

  • RHR

    Aap tu jazbaati ho gai!Recommend

  • RHR

    Still hurt?Recommend

  • RHR

    So your degree is medical sciences? And the commentator you are supporting, I guess also has a degree in genetics and psychology?
    He just quoted one book, ( science is divided by the way) and NO WHERE I said that biology does not play a role. Social conditioning of gender has something to with incentives and constraints which both sexes experience in the society. These incentives and constraints are NOT biological though our ability to capitalize on these may be partially biological.
    I understand that your fragile male ego is the main problem here. You think being a man, you are “superior” and I understand an opinion which demolishes that makes you cringe!
    Pretty fragile ego btw and typical male insecurityRecommend

  • Asim

    That’s rich coming from a guy who attacks ordinary people on Facebook using his journalistic privilege. A Journalist and a troll. Add those to your list of achievements.Recommend

  • ernest baza

    Im a female,I was deeply touched by this article,considering there are many good men out there who speak for the rights of opposite gender,I know pysiologically and psychologically male and female are a bit different,but we are not that different either, in the end we are all humans.Im not victomizing the females who partially are responsible for their own agony sadly, but lets start with our houses, we see our dads working from 8-4:00 in office,I know its difficult for them,the pressure if earning, facing the boss etc,many of mothers in our society are housewives but let me make it clear, its not easy there aswell dudes,have you ever seen your mom sitting idle either? She is cooking class food 3 times a day, cleaning whole huge house,taking care of husband,granny,grandpa and other in laws,their critical thoughts about her,them presurizing her to do this and that. And finally the biggest battle of all raising 3 or 4 kids, having to go through pregnancy,feeding babies not being able to sleep for whole night,changing diapers,then the growing kids,sending them to school teaching them at house,always stressed about abiding by rules of in laws.my mother like many othersworks aswell, I see her working sweat and tears at home after school,preparing tests,checking them,giving assignments, going to workshops for teaching,while my father comes around 4 after which he is watching TV,asking for this and that,now don’t tell me your fathers help your mothers in kitchen or taking care of kids, its rare in our society…do you call this fair? I don’t think so.And I’ve witnessed many domestic abuse cases carried by husbands against their wives around my neighbourhood,even men shouting at their mothers? Tell me you would want the same for your mothers and daughters?would you?I know you wouldn’t as its unethical.Our society expects females to bear with whatever rulthless behavious her inlaws are doing with her,thats insane and sadly they accept it. Not every female wants to be a housewive and cook for their husbands and his family like a masterchef,or listen to them ordering her around , many of us want to achieve a carrier like men want to,if our society really wants to overcome being a third world nation to become real advanced like other nations we have start acting like one,the prime solution is to reduce this sexism, I know nothing can be done about 100% population, but alteast we can try, the Youngs and kids should be raised to be better and educated about this issue.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    lol. You are funny. “Outgunned”, but funny, ^_^Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Yes. The second screenshot in his article is my response. I am simply pointing out facts. His shaming tactic is quite typical of feminists. They resort to calling men sexist, rapist, misogynist to shut them up. Much easier than presenting a fact-based counter-argument.

    I do want women to succeed. But not by putting men down or denying reality. That will help no one.

    As for him attacking me..I have stopped caring. Unless he has rational arguments which I will certainly consider, name-calling does not bother me anymore.

    Anyways, it was nice reading your comments. Much appreciated ^_^Recommend