Humans, like most living organisms whose cells are too numerous to count, are sexually dimorphic. From Wikipedia:
Sexual dimorphism is the condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. The condition occurs in many animals, insects, birds and some plants. Differences may include secondary sex characteristics, size, color, markings, and may also include behavioral differences. These differences may be subtle or exaggerated, and may increase over time as a result of sexual selection.
This being the 21st century, unlike its cut-and-dried precis of sexual dimorphism in other species, Wikipedia’s article on Sex Differences in Humans is a mish-mosh of tip-toeing around tentative theories which, if not presented with extreme care, might cause academic problems for the theorists. It divides the differences between men and women into sexual differences and gender differences. Sexual differences are physical differences which one just cannot deny. That extra rib, for example. Gender differences are the differences which are nearly as obvious as the physical ones, but which one can hypothesize one’s way around by blaming them on society.
To give you an example of just how parochial the Wikipedia article is: the subheadings it lists under “Sociology” are Crime; Education; Leadership; Religion; Social Capital; Suicide; Financial Risk-Taking (!?). There is nothing in the article about sexual differences – pardon me, gender differences – in aesthetic responses, political idealism, or empathy, all of which, when it comes to the interest of society as a whole, not only are more important than “Financial Risk-Taking” but have had a much longer shelf life.
The differences between men and women may derive from their different sexual functions or from societal forces so deep and subtle that they cannot be expunged or from chromosomic differences or Darwinian selection – most likely a combination of these and other dynamics so obscure they don’t even have names – but the differences are there, both physical and psychological. To blame them simply on the androcentrism of civilization is irrationally to put the cart before the horse.
Of course, there are gradations in these differences – which is why there are effective women combat soldiers and effective male nurses – and, as with any rule, especially one which encompasses all of humankind, there are exceptions. (The welfare of those who are the exceptions to customary sexual organization has become the cause of choice of many of today’s student activists, which I suppose is a good sign, since it must mean that all the bigger social and political problems, effecting large numbers of people, which aroused students in the past, have been solved.)
I am sure that the everyday behavior of the large majority of mainstream feminists – both the male and female contingents – acknowledges these differences, often to the extent of taking them for granted. Feminism would be a stronger movement, more balanced, deeply effective (instead of shallowly effective), and more empowering, if it were based on the reality of equal and different instead of the chimera of simply equal.
On the other hand ---