A few years ago, I was still a frequent flyer and thus a frequent reader of ‘airport books’. Once in an airport bookshop, I could not resist when I fell upon a paperback with the subtitle, ‘The Real Science behind Sex Differences’. When I entered the diplomatic service in 1980, we still received two years of training, the first of which was at the ‘Graduate Institute for International Studies’, in Geneva. There, I learnt diplomatic correspondence and the redaction of a ‘Note Verbale’. A note verbale is a formal instrument of official inter-governmental communication with legal force. It has to be matter of fact, material and sober. No adjectives with the nouns and no adverbs with the verbs because they reveal your intent, perception, ideology. They can make your text become propaganda. Obviously against this background, the ‘real’ science on the cover of the airport book intrigued me. Why that adjective?
I was soon to find out. I had bought a state-of-the-art gender study which exacts social change towards ‘perfect’ gender equality. Another adjective. ‘Real’ science turned out to be social science only. Boys and men, girls and women were not born, they were socially made, claimed the book. Sex differences were due to the influence of culture, and it was the patriarchy’s culture of inequality which created the differences between the boys and girls, men and women. And this had to change because men and women had to be perfectly equal. I believe, ‘perfectly’ is an adverb. And according to my book, perfect equality was achievable, if only society would allow women to stop behaving as women and men behaving as men. Studies of neuroscience which discovered biologically hardwired sex differences, were declared ‘flawed’ in their sampling or in their methodology, or they were not ‘truly’ controlled. More adverbs. Implicitly, everything contradicting the ideology of gender equality was ‘unreal’ science, in other words false or fake. Considering all the adjectives and adverbs, I was skeptical of the scientific foundation of what I had read.
I was also confused. My lifelong view had been that men and women are equal but different. Equal as humans, but different as male and female humans. I had felt confirmed in my perception not only by what I know of biology, by universal mythology, by my legal studies, and by the determination made in the English language that men and women are mutually their opposite sex. I thought that the French had got it right, when they say about sex differences, ‘vive la différence!’ And the relationship with my wife Bilha is one big, fascinating celebration and reconciliation of the differences between a White Man and an African Woman. Sex differences and cultural differences. After having read this airport book, I felt I had to reassess my understanding of gender, equality, and difference. I chose an empirical approach and in a field study, I made my own observations as to a number of real-life sex differences.
Gender studies themselves have become a foremost sex difference. Only women write them, and I believe, only women concur with them. Apart from idle travelers at international airports, I don’t think men even read them. Their concentration on the male dominated fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, for which they have specially introduced the acronym STEM, misrepresents the men. Men cannot be reduced to their high-flying professions of astronomer, architect, engineer, pilot, or physicist. Those are just the jobs they do. In the real world, they are much more humane creatures. Men like to get together, drink beer and talk about football, women and sex, and politics, and how things ought to be. When they get older, like me, they get together, drink beer and talk about football, their health, and politics, and how things used to be. Against this background, men fail to understand why women want to be equal to them in STEM rather than being their partners in the essential things of life.
Pullover is a synonym for sweater because to put a sweater on or take it off, you have to pull it over your head. If you have ever observed how a man and a woman take off a sweater, you will have detected another sex difference. Women cross their arms and reach to the bottom front hem for the grip and then pull the sweater backward over their head. Men reach backward over their shoulders with their arms parallel, grip the sweater on their shoulder blades and pull it forward over their head.
Whenever I visit a city with my wife – her favorites in Europe are Rome and London – we give ourselves a day for shopping. It is more her day than mine and I know that sooner or later, we will end up in a shoe store. From Imelda Marcos and more recently, from Grace Mugabe, who is also known as ‘Gucci Grace’ and is the wife of the former dictator of Zimbabwe, we know that women have a weakness for shoes. There must be something in women’s reward center of the reptilian brain which makes them feel good when they buy shoes and urges them to repeat it.
I take shoes as one of the major sex differences between men and women and I am disappointed that gender studies refuse to do any research on it. Shoes are much more down to earth than STEM – and yield more genuine results. My assumption that the obsession with shoes is a female thing, was confirmed by the market. In the stores where Bilha tried on her shoes, the ladies’ department was always immediately after the entrance, whereas the men’s department was behind, below, or above. Also, still following her, I noted that boutiques for ladies’ shoes only, in any city, by far outnumber those for men’s shoes only. Of course, I also looked into the variety of ladies’ shoes. I found that most shoe types, even originally male ones like boots, are nowadays available for both sexes. But there is one shoe which is strictly female – the high heel and particularly its pinnacle, the stiletto.
A man would never consider wearing high heel shoes, forbid stilettos. And for a transwoman, it poses a problem. This is due to the physiological difference between the male and the female foot: Women can point their feet better than men and men can better flex. Imagine men competing in synchronized artistic swimming at Olympic Summer Games: Muscular hairy legs sticking out of the water with the feet, strong like irons, in a right angle.
Thanks to the military, healthcare, and sports, we know that ladies’ feet are also different in size and shape. Proportionally to their body height, men’s feet are longer, and ladies’ feet are narrower. Women have a wider forefoot and leaner heels and ankles. Movie-goers and attentive advertisement watchers will know that when they come home, before they can relax and enjoy a glass of white wine, women have to kick off their pumps. That’s because, for elegance, most women wear shoes too small for their feet. Even if we take this into consideration, the size difference between men’s and women’s shoes in the stores I visited with my wife remains meaningful: The ladies’ shoes would normally range from size 36 to 42. Men’s sizes range from 39 to 47. Other differences regard the shape of the arch, the lateral side, the ball of the foot and the first toe. Women are four to five times more likely to get a hammer toe.
I already knew that any shoes of crocodile leather I would find, would most likely be of the soft leather from the Caiman of West Africa rather than from the Nile crocodile. But on the lookout for crocodile leather shoes in the ladies’ departments, I was to be disappointed. When I enlarged upon the matter, I was surprised to find out that crocodile leather shoes are a specialty favored more by African men than women in general. This underlines the complexity of the issue of sex differences, not all of them are due to brain, biology, and genetics, and I admit that this one is most likely contingent on culture. Crocodile leather handbags against this, you will find in the ladies’ departments because men, in general, do not carry handbags. Whereas women never go out without them.
Concluding my research on male and female feet and shoes, it became obvious to me that already the very lowest level of the human body manifests meaningful biological sex differences. From shoes and feet to football is only a small step and yes, football brings another sex difference. And a hard blow to gender equality. Women don’t watch football and only a very few play it. And worse, the few who do play, compare themselves to the men and call for equality. In her interview with a magazine before the 2018 World Cup, a Swiss female player complained that it was not fair that women’s football matches would not get the same numbers of spectators as the men’s. But to get more spectators, female football players have to do more than claim equality and appeal for fairness. They have to play better football. And to achieve this, unfortunately, nature has stacked the odds against them. Evolution is not fair, it is selective.
Ever since Homo erectus, men have been hunters, chasing and shooting game on the move. This has not only made them physically stronger, it also gives them innate experience of movement in space and time. Men have bigger feet than women and they can really flex them. This allows them to wrap their foot around the ball and curve it into the penalty box for a pass, or struck frontally instep, generate those thunderbolt shots directly on goal. Ladies claiming equality in football also miss the point that men play their football with three balls. It’s the testosterone and resulting aggression. And finally, after striking a goal, a woman would never pull off her shirt and thump her bare chest. And even if, she would still pull her shirt over the head in the wrong direction. In short, men attract more spectators to their matches because they are better at football. And spitting.
An ambassador has magisterial powers, at least this is mentioned in the full title which reads ‘Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary’. When the Swiss government finally named me Ambassador and sent me to a faraway country in Africa, my colleagues remaining behind in the capital who tried to give me instructions, had conveniently forgotten this. But it didn’t matter, because I soon found out that it is not the governmental authority that makes an ambassador – it’s the driver. Any public appearance of an ambassador without a mostly black limousine and, at the stop, the driver running around the rear end of the vehicle to open the car door for the Ambassador to alight, is somehow against protocol. And more importantly, in the political reporting of any ambassador, the driver is the most frequently quoted – but confidential – local source of information. Anyway, there is another sex difference here, because with very rare exceptions, the drivers are male. This may somehow be linked to STEM.
Being retired, I don't have the privilege of having a driver anymore, so I verified my findings on sex differences with the taxi driver who regularly takes me to the airport, in Nairobi. He is married, has two children and his wife also works. Having observed his wife, he argued that the spending pattern of women was not good for the economy because they spent all their money on the hairdresser, shoes, and the family. When he had money, he would spend it on going out with his friends, drinking beer, and watching football in his neighborhood bar. He is a fan of Manchester United which is good for our conversation because I am a fan of Liverpool, and those two teams are arch-rivals. As to women, he would not talk about them but rather spend his extra money on them. And if he could afford, he would have a permanent girlfriend and if he were rich, a second wife. That was much better for the economy, he concluded, because it would keep the money circulating. In conclusion, he had confirmed my empiric finding of the sex difference of the shoes. To myself, I was a little disappointed that the sex difference of the headdress, at the highest level of the woman’s body, had not occurred to me. For a moment, I considered asking him whether he believed that the hairdo could be the reason for which the ladies pulled the sweaters over their head from the front to behind. But then I just thanked him for his remarks and changed the subject.