For better or for worse, there are two sexes of humans.
That the sexes look different is plain to see. Even a five year old can confirm this and are generally keen to do this early. That males and females act and behave differently is self-evident also. Certainly the characteristic behaviors of the other sex make up much of the conversation of same-sex individuals in TV sitcoms and real-life.
Given the evident differences, it is appropriate then that we see and treat each sex differently, right? Well 'no' as a matter of fact. Even though the sexes differ both in appearance and behavior, the way that we see the other sex and the way that we treat the other sex is often challenged.
There are two parts to this challenge. The first is the truth of the difference. The second is the presumption of a difference.
While some differences are incontestable, others are less clear cut. That is, there maybe much overlap in the characteristics of males and females. For instance, physically we would expect a man to have a penis and a woman to have a vagina. This will be a correct presumption in about 99.9% or more cases. There will always be the occasional surprises which makes for much humour and shock such as in the film, The Crying Game.
However, on other physical characteristics, there may be much more overlap between the sexes. For instance, in general, men are likely to be larger than women both in terms of height and weight. Clearly however, this is not always the case.
The same is true of behaviors, but perhaps the overlap between the sexes tends to be even greater. Males may be more inclined to be good at reading maps in general, while females may be more inclined to be better listeners. Again however, there is likely to be some overlap with some women being better than some men on map-reading, and some men better than some women on listening.
So, the first problem is that the characteristics of each sex may not be entirely distinguishing. That is, there may be some overlap. This is likely to be particularly true of behavior. This then leads to the second problem which is making a judgment of someone based on the presumption.
So given a man and a woman sight unseen, it might be reasonable to presume that the woman is lighter than the man. However, this expectation will be mistaken in a number of cases. Indeed, we are likely to be incorrect more often on this presumption of size difference than on the one that each will carry specific to their sex. Given that behavior is fuzzier and overlaps more between the sexes as already noted, mistaken presumptions about how an individual will behave based on their sex alone is likely to be quite prevalent.
It is this second problem – the presumption – creates the gender divide, the demilitarized zone, the no-man / no-woman land that needs to be bridged. The problem is not the truth of the presumption because people might be offended even if the presumption is true. The presumption undermines individual differences and relegates individuals to one of a homogenous group.
Stereotypes are presumptions. They may or may not be true. Regardless, they have the potential to offend. Let me show you how...