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Author Topic: Are men naturally physically stronger than women?  (Read 85411 times)
anthroid
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« Reply #15 on: October 23, 2006, 8:04:36 am »

Still, what the hey.  "Strength" can be defined in a number of ways.  Men tend to have better upper body strength than women.  However, this varies by age, physical condition, height, weight, and so forth.  I suspect, for example, that I could beat up lots of men even though I am a woman, because I work out just about every day in one way or another.  What I tell my students is that the strongest man, in terms of upper body strength, could take the strongest woman hands down.  However, most men aren't that strong unless they work at it, and many men do not work at it.  And women who are stronger will be able to handle men who are not in condition. 

Women have better lower body strength.  I lift more on leg machines than do many men at my gym.  Women also have better pain endurance, more body fat (which helps with endurance), and better endurance in general (it isn't a mistake that women are much more successful at swimming the English Channel than are men, or that girl babies live longer than boy babies in the same malnutrition conditions, for instance).  So the question of whether men are stronger than women is a complex one, without a single answer.

larryc's remarks are on point as well.  In most foraging societies, while men may do the actual killing of game, women are the "beasts of burden," carrying as much or more than men can or will.  Why they are willing to do this is a different question.

To the OP:  try going to class instead of bothering the grownups.
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al_wallace
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« Reply #16 on: October 23, 2006, 8:37:33 am »

Okay, I'll bite.

If you measure mean strength through a battery of tests of several hundred randomly selected men to several hundred randomly selected women (e.g. holding a weight at arm's length, ratio of work performed to body weight, most weight lifted once, most weight lifted multiple times within a given time period etc.), then yes, men will, on average, perform better at more of these tasks than women. This is a statistical fact. I could imagine engineering a legitimate measure of strength where women, on average, would perform better (probably some sort of leg exercise or possibly an arm hang), but I would venture a guess that if you picked a test of strength out of a hat at random out of many possible tests, men would perform at a higher level at those tasks.

Interestingly enough, this is probably the same reason why men die at a younger age than women. To paraphrase from the movie Blade runner, the flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. 

A more interesting and much more contentious question is: are men more athletic than women?

Now for my flame-worthy comment--

Sometimes folks, it isn't about culture. It's about biology. Measures of physical strength can't be easily shoe-horned into a post-modern view. You can certainly argue that strength isn't relevant, but there is a quality called strength, and it can be measured.

 
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untenured
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« Reply #17 on: October 23, 2006, 9:23:03 am »

erika78
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Troll... it's always the same... new person... first post... and something as stupid as 'Are men physically stronger than women'

True, that.  Every post, however, that is civil and takes the topic in a new direction drains the troll's power.  This thread is going in the exact direction it should.

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anthroid
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« Reply #18 on: October 23, 2006, 9:36:31 am »

It's always about culture, al_wallace.  This is not to say that biology is not important but it is not determinative (and neither is culture), generally speaking, of anything by itself.  In human behavior, at any rate, the two interact constantly.  In some parts of the world, women die at younger ages than men due to maternal mortality.  Men die younger often because they engage in (or are forced to engage in; depends on your persepective) the physically dangerous activities such as gathering honey (parts of Africa), deep-sea fishing (Arctic areas), warfare and raiding (some African and Papua New Guinea communities), and so forth.  Is there a biological imperative to do so?  Who the heck knows?  For every sociobiological example someone might provide, I betcha I can provide cultural examples of how it is that biology and culture are interacting.  Furthermore, who cares?

Once again, it's about who's doing the defining of "strength" (or, for that matter, "aggression").  If it is upper body strength, many men would win over most women.  If it is other measures of strength--the legs, as al_wallace and I have pointed out--women win.  While upper body strength is important, it is not the only crucial measure of physical strength.  Additionally, what is clear is that human sexual dimorphism (the size of women relative to the size of men) is relatively unimportant in human behavior if we compare ourselves to our closest relatives, chimps and gorillas, in which dimorphism is kind of extreme (on average, chimp females are about 65% the size of chimp males while human females [within a population] are about 85-90% the size of human males).  Furthermore, in some societies, certain kinds of technology make sexual dimorphism only moot--men and women have equal access to guns, for instance, which require no strength of any kind to use.

Your turn.  :~)
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al_wallace
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« Reply #19 on: October 23, 2006, 10:08:07 am »

The relative importance of strength within a society is certainly under cultural influence, however whether you examine Inuits, Yanomamo, or New York office workers, the relative differences in male and female strength will persist. If strength differences between males and females persist independent of the culture, then we might conclude that a biological explanation for these differences (e.g. testosterone levels etc.) is a more satisfying explanation than formulating many ad hoc independent cultural explanations for it in each culture. In other words, biology is a more parsimonious explanation than culture. This is what I meant by my previous post.

The value of strength is culturally determined, but not the difference in strength.

Compared to many species, 10-15% sexual dimorphism is sizable. Here too, one could easily consider some biological explanation--either phylogenetic or adaptive for this difference. We are looking at the same glass as half empty or half full. Most dimorphism points to sexual selection on some level (with rare exceptions being trophic reasons for dimorphism). Thus differences in strength between men and women may likely be the result of current or historical sexual selection. What becomes interesting is that these biological differences in strength may influence cultural differences in work allocation by sex. Certainly culture may influence biological evolution as well (the distribution of lactose enzymes among pastoral societies immediately comes to mind), but to ignore biological differences in sex is to ignore much of the reasons why you see particular sex roles come up over and over again across many different cultures (e.g. why males are typically the ones that engage in risky behavior, etc.)
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anthroid
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« Reply #20 on: October 23, 2006, 10:54:06 am »

As seems to be so often the case, al_wallace and I are quibbling on the details or the emphasis.  We do both agree, I think, that biology AND culture are important factors in figuring out human behavior.  I don't agree that biology is more parsimonious if we're trying to understand why humans behave as they do, given the wide variety of human behaviors out there.  If we're trying to understand human physiology, okay, I'll accept the biology-is-parsimonious explanation.  What I think is interesting is to think about where we are headed rather than where we are or were.  In other words, given the level of technology available to at least some human beings, the nature of sex role behaviors is changing drastically (thus showing biology as potential rather than determinative--if the behavior can change then it is not biologically fixed by physiology) and rather rapidly, at least in the west (to say nothing of the fact that sex roles are not actually all that fixed, in that gender understandings--what makes us masculine or feminine or something else--are changeable and vary relatively widely cross-culturally).



(Shoot, if I could just figure out why I do what I do within the space a minute, I'd be happy.)
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al_wallace
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« Reply #21 on: October 23, 2006, 12:51:08 pm »

Of course, I agree that culture and biology shape human behavior. The difference I think is one of emphasis. I think our biological history is critical to understand where we are and the constraints on where we are likely to go. It's contribution shouldn't be minimized. Further, human physiology and morphology are integral parts of influencing our behavior and will be in the future as well as the past--even though much of it is deemed culturally determined.

For example human physiology drives differences in strength between men and women. This difference in turn affects sex roles in humans and can even contribute to seemingly nuanced aspects of our culture that are perceived as arbitrary from a biological standpoint(e.g. why there is a large broadcasting market for male sports but not as large of a market for female sports)

As a biologist, I'm not interested in gender differences. I'm interested in sex differences. The genitalia that men and women have is not a cultural construct but it has real and direct effects on why men and women have particular roles within our culture and places limits on the probability of particular cultural practices to occur. Men won't and can't lactate. This has many direct and indirect consequences on sex roles that many perceive as culturally determined. 
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trentsands
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« Reply #22 on: October 23, 2006, 1:39:33 pm »

If you measure mean strength through a battery of tests of several hundred randomly selected men to several hundred randomly selected women (e.g. holding a weight at arm's length, ratio of work performed to body weight, most weight lifted once, most weight lifted multiple times within a given time period etc.), then yes, men will, on average, perform better at more of these tasks than women.

For the sake of argument, though, even this seemingly broad and statistically valid test is subject to culture. But strength has as much to do with strength training as it does innate characteristics.  Most, if not all, human cultures I can think of on earth prefer strength training amongst men and deemphasize strength training amongst women (Think of women in America who may avoid exercise that would cause them to bulk up, which is perceived as unappealing).  This would mean that among a large human sample, men would measure as physically stronger.  But what if a culture at large prefer and emphasized strength training amongst women and de-emphasized it amongst men?  In a measure of physical strength of that culture, it would likely appear that women are statistically stronger than men.  But this would we a culturally constructed difference.

Al_Wallace, in the study you referred to, did it control for relative levels of regular physical activity and/or strength training amongst the groups it studies or did it merely take a large population of men and women and then measure?  In a culture, as ours, that seems to emphasize male strength rather than female strength, it is logical that such a study would find men to be stronger.  The men in our culture are likely stronger, statistically, but they are also more likely to work on improving their strength.
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twotimeloser
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« Reply #23 on: October 23, 2006, 1:41:04 pm »

You people make me crazy. "Strength" is not a "behavior."  Men ARE stronger than women. Upper and lower body. This is a comparison of widely overlapping distributions--of COURSE the strongest women are stronger than the least-strong men, but there is clear dimorphism on average. Strength is a function of cross-sectional muscle area. Men have larger muscles (on average) because of the muscle-building effects of testosterone ("anabolic steroids" are fake testosterone, and they do in fact increase muscle mass). So the difference only shows up after the testosterone surge at puberty. That said, any individual's muscle mass is plastic and responds to use. Women who work out a lot get stronger, men who sit all day get weaker. And vice-versa. Straightforward questions deserve straightforward answers and not a bunch of cultural relativity BS. That last sentence is my (physiologist's) opinion.
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al_wallace
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« Reply #24 on: October 24, 2006, 8:52:44 am »

I pretty much agree with what twotimeloser said. Of course there are a few qualifiers about cross sectional area (e.g. as measured through the belly of the muscle or the sum of the cross sectional areas of bipennate or multipennate muscles etc.).

 

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crazybatlady
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« Reply #25 on: October 24, 2006, 8:56:57 am »

But women are smarter than men, so who cares?
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dr_evil
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« Reply #26 on: October 24, 2006, 10:07:58 am »

You people make me crazy. "Strength" is not a "behavior."  Men ARE stronger than women. Upper and lower body.

I've read in numerous sources that women can match men in lower body strength, so I'd have to disagree.

Quote
When the difference in body dimensions and lean body mass between genders is taken into consideration, however, the relative strength differences between the sexes are less appreciable. In the lower body, using a strength to lean body weight ratio, Wilmore and others have found women to possess approximately equal lower body strength compared to males. Hosler and Morrow, in a 1982 study involving 87 men and 115 women, found that 'the impact of gender is rather small when one considers strength differences after allowing for body size and composition'. In this study, gender accounted for only 2 percent in leg strength and 1 percent in arm strength. (http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/cgi-bin/iowa/issues/part/article.html?record=958)

But women are smarter than men, so who cares?
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expatinuk
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« Reply #27 on: October 24, 2006, 10:16:51 am »

I'd like to see ANY guy get his feet in the stirups at the OBGYN...
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twotimeloser
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« Reply #28 on: October 24, 2006, 1:08:04 pm »

If you "control for lean body mass" you are controlling mostly for muscle size and mass. All this means is that male and female muscle have similar strength per unit muscle mass. Men, though, tend to have MORE muscle, therefore more strength.
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anthroid
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« Reply #29 on: October 24, 2006, 1:08:46 pm »

I'd like to see ANY guy get his feet in the stirups at the OBGYN...

...and hear those wonderful words:  "you may feel a little pinch."  True story:  I had some girl issues and needed to get a cervical cone biopsy many, many years ago.  The OB/GYN surgeon (this was at one of the best medical facilities in the nation) stuck some instrument in me while saying "now, this might be a bit uncomfortable," but I felt next to nothing and was proud of my strength and forebearance.  He looked at whatever he had pulled out of me, turned to the nurse, and said "don't we have anything sharper?"  And she said "no."  He shrugged his shoulders and went back in with the same instrument. 

I dare the guys here to understand what real pain is.
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