Understanding gender differences: Equal does not mean the same

A rape perpetrated by a Stanford University athlete has generated a considerable uproar.  The basics of the particular case, once made clear, leave no doubt as to the seriousness of his offense but much of the ensuing discussion has revealed fissures between the way men and women view the line, (or is it the murk?) between consent and non-consent in the endless array of ambiguous contextual factors.

Sexual intercourse among unmarried young people and adults has become much more common as a fact of modern mores. Birth control helped but a big push from TV and advertising has had its effect too.  Many of us in the senior generation react with surprise or shock on apprehending the commonness of teen intercourse but the fact is that virginity at marriage is uncommon and the argument that pre-marital sex is inappropriate ("hey, I don't intend to get married so it can't be pre-marital sex") has lost its force.

What has become more evident is that sex education, particularly information on the changing social and psychological impacts of post-puberty relations between and among genders, is an urgent social need.  Classroom education is a better preparation for the gendered aspects of life than movies, television, teen-gossip and the usually skimpy and often incorrect parental advice.

The impact over the last century of women's liberation, obscured by the dynamic evolution of technology, has been seriously underestimated. The battle for "equality," beginning with voting, that started in the lifetime of your grandparents, the call for equal pay and the removal of the glass ceiling, still not fully answered, has been accompanied by the emergence of a new, independent female equal to (and sometimes superior to) the male in many respects.  This change in assignments has created a confusion in male and female roles and new ambiguities in gender relationships.

The equality movement notwithstanding, men and women remain profoundly different in many respects and think differently about many subjects including sex.  Every relationship between a man and a woman is going to be different from relationships within the gender.  Differences in notions of legal equality and LGBT issues add yet another dimension.

Before the more complete facts came out on the Stanford offender, many assumed that this was just another "fraternity rape."  At a fraternity party, a member invites his female invitee to come on upstairs, maybe even to lie on his bed.  After a few hot snuggles the tipsy, sleepy invitee changes her mind or just falls asleep.  She should never have accepted an invitation upstairs in the first place. When up there, she should never have lain down on the bed.  Yes, she still has a right to change her mind but she had better be forceful about it, getting up and shouting, hitting if necessary but she created the enhanced risk in the first place since in an age of more casual sex, the male is assuming consent.

Feminists sometimes seem to assume that men and women have more or less equal sexual urges.  Not so.  Biologically speaking, men think more about sex and are driven by sexual desire, once aroused, far more than women.  "Portnoy's Complaint" is not a story about a woman.


Women's clothing (Hillary's suits aside) tends to be deliberately sexy, which is to say it makes the male think about her as an object of sexual desire.  Sharp contrasts go back to the eighteenth century and beyond.  One can agree with the feminist, irritated by this observation, that any woman has a perfect right to wear clothes that please her.  Surely, but she should be conscious of the impact clothing and the absence of it has on the men around her. A man may easily imagine her as an object of sexual desire or seduction in addition to his attention to the terribly interesting things she says.

Men, sorry to say, are also biologically more prone to violence.  The history of the family and clan which is the source of inherited characteristics, is the role of the male as the hunter-fighter and defender against intrusions from next door including fierce protection of wives and daughters until a formal transfer of interest.  Women as property is not that far back in the United States and is still, to varying degrees, a standard of social life globally.

What then to do about men?  Education of both genders on gender knowledge, not just anatomy, is the obvious beginning.

John Havelock is a former Alaska attorney general. He lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

John Havelock

John Havelock is an Anchorage attorney and university scholar.