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COLLECTIONPublished articles
TITLEPerceiving Differences: A Look at Gender and Equality
AUTHOR 1Mark Brush
TITLE_PARENTdialogue magazine
CITY_THISLos Angeles
ABSTRACTObservations on what Richard DeNovellis' "Personality Type Preference Indicator" tests show about ages and genders; laws of nature vs. laws of God.
NOTES See also list of dialogue articles or image scans.
TAGSChildren; Equality; Gender; Laws; Psychology; Women
CONTENT The following material has been supplied from the research and observations of Dr. Richard DeNovellis, creator of the Personality Type Preference Indicator (PTPI). The PTPI is a self-report instrument designed to measure and describe an individual’s problem-solving “style.” After completing the questionnaire, the individual’s responses are matched to existing 36 male or 36 female profiles. The matches generally run about 70% to 85% accurate according to the follow-up surveys, a very high rate of match when compared to similar instruments. DeNovellis, currently a professor in the Teacher Preparation Center at Cal-Poly Pomona, has spent nearly 15 years developing and researching the PTPI. His current research data base numbers over 15,000 Americans of multi-ethnic backgrounds cross matched with other validated instruments such as the 16PF (Personality Factors), the California Personality Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory.

Children, ages 5-6

  1. Male children score much higher on social concern (awareness of others, sensitivity to affect) at early ages compared to male adults (25-49).
  2. Male children are, on the average, slightly more independent and assertive than female children.
  3. Female children score higher on the need for structure and order, conformity (staying within the limits of expectations) and achievement than male children.
  4. Male children and female children score about the same on the practicality subscale with male children scoring higher on the preference for logical analysis and female children scoring higher on social concern. There are not significant differences at age 5-6 but by the time children are in the fifth to seventh grade (10-14) trends are more significant.
  5. Female children tend to score slightly higher on arithmetic [this trend reverses itself by high school].
  6. Male and female children equally think as much in terms of ideas or creativity at ages five and six.

Ages: 7-8

  1. Girls are beginning to score higher on ideation but not significantly. Schools still enforce conformity and regulation (systems of behavior rather than creative or individualistic behavior), hence children tend to respond in terms of being more concrete and practical.
  2. Girls score higher on conformity, structure and order while boys score higher on adaptability.
  3. Girls tend to score higher on self-concept and learning self-concept as measured by the Learning Style Inventory (LSI).
  4. Male children tend to score higher on excitability than female children.

Ages: 10-14

  1. Male children are beginning to score better on spatial relationships such as the block test.
  2. Female children tend to be more structured and ordered, self-disciplined and conforming.
  3. Male children show a greater tendency toward flexibility (less structure, less conformity) and greater willingness to risk.

Ages: 15-18

  1. Females are scoring higher on extroversion, warmth, social sensitivity while males score higher on dominance, being tough and practical. Male learning self-concept begins to improve dramatically and their scores are slightly higher (but not significantly higher).
  2. Males score slightly higher on risk-taking, adaptability and self-concept. Their scores are lower on verbal, higher on spatial and logical analysis performance. They report being less affected by feelings and less capable of expressing feelings.
  3. Females are scoring higher on ideation and lower on practicality.

Ages: 25-49

  1. Women are usually slightly more extroverted and warm.
  2. Men score higher on a preference for logical analysis and women score higher on a preference for social concern.
  3. Women generally score higher on ideation [abstracting] and men score higher on practicality.
  4. Men score higher on spatial, logical analysis performance, need for achievement recognition and independence.
  5. Women are more detail oriented and higher on structure and order, conformity, self-discipline and tenseness.
  6. Men score higher on dominance, assertiveness and boldness.
  7. Women score higher on sensitivity and being conservative.
  8. Men are more likely to experiment, but feel more apprehension when breaking the rules.
As one can clearly see, the issue of the difference between men and women is anything but clear, let alone the issue of what is the same. We are discovering through instruments like the PTPI that there are no unique points of reference, psychologically, as to what is male and female, only behavioral tendencies. This ambiguity has triggered a debate as to “what is male or female” rather than a celebration of infinite diversity and potential. People proclaim the equality of men and women nearly as loudly as they argue what each one thinks “equality” means. The Bahá'í Writings are unarguably clear: men and women are absolutely equal in station and opportunity while different in function. Yet, for Bahá'ís there is still controversy.

I believe the controversy can be traced to two rather basic ideas. The first idea is linked to the concept of valuation. Valuation is a process by which we decide that some things are more valuable than others. Value emerges from two interconnected elements: perception and power. Our physical senses are geared to perceive differences, sudden movements, strange smells, changes in the tone of someone’s voice, and the like. Constant states tend to dull us, changing states excite us. To determine if one thing is valuable while another is not, one must focus on differences more than similarities. It does not matter that one person is about 90 percent the same as another, it is the 10 percent differences which make us unique (or so we think).

The other element of valuation is the issue of power. Who determines which differences are desirable and which are undesirable? Who tells us what we are to be prejudiced for and against? Simply stated, individuals or groups in power tend to value what they believe to be their most desirable traits in contrast to those not in power. For example, men see as desirable strength, providing, rationality (read as “emotional suppression”), and power. Women are seen as weak, irrational (emotional), powerless, and nurturing rather than providing. Since men are dominant, history, the process by which we perceive and define ourselves, is seen through masculine virtues, that is, strong (survival of the fittest), providing (eat or be eaten), rational (Nature does not take sides), and powerful (the dominant male).

The second, and most serious flaw in the way we approach this issue is to forget what Bahá'í is. We forget we are part of a religion, which is a process that is mystical in its essence. We focus upon subtle differences of skin shading, mammary tissue, and specialized biological functions. We forget that we are souls; and God has “…engraven upon the tablet of man the mysteries of pre-existence…” (The Seven Valleys, p. 1). We forget that “the reality of man is his thought, not his material body” (Reality of Man, p. 9).

It is with great amusement that I hear Bahá'ís state that we have a “spiritual solution to the economic problems of the world.” Are not all of our other solutions also spiritual in their natures? Everything we advocate and live is spiritual in its essence.

As Americans, Bahá'í or not, we are very suspicious of “public religion,” and go out of our way to avoid the infringement of religion in our public lives. For example, although the vast majority of Americans have religious beliefs, we live our daily lives as though there were no such thing as God, spirit, divine Will and so forth. Is the brain the seat of intelligence or a conduit of the rational soul? We may privately believe the latter but our science, medicine, and social philosophy acts as though the former is true.

This limitation upon our true selves hampers us in so many ways. Instead of dealing with the essential equality of the genders or races and striving to remove all barriers to advancement for all, we concentrate on the how’s and what’s. How long does a mother stay with a small child? What is the father’s role? How much should a husband provide? What is the proper number of children? Unless people are a great deal more limited than I can imagine, the best answers to these details would be generalities such as those with which this article began. In other words, even if men tend to show less social concern than females, what about men who do show great sensitivity and women who prefer logic and facts to feeling and intuition? In such cases generalities can move from either the instructional to the oppressive or from the majority to the differences which enrich the whole.

Generalities are like the normative student, a descriptive profile that no single individual actually fits. We may describe a canyon as a long, narrow valley between high cliffs, often with a stream flowing through it; a fine generalization from the dictionary. But this one word “canyon” must convey a sense of a small valley and the Grand Canyon simultaneously. Generalizations that men are aggressive or that women are more inclined toward peace may be somewhat descriptive of gender traits, but to assume all men are one and all women are the other is, at best, naïve, and, at worst, prejudicial and utterly destructive to human potential. As DeNovellis’ research shows, there are tendencies which are more common to one gender or the other but none are exclusive save certain biological functions. For example, while women alone bear children and generally score higher on nurturing scales, as a group, there are many men who score much higher than the average woman on scales measuring warmth or social concern. While function does influence development, function does not dictate development.

Some may argue that there are “Laws” which must be followed whether they are laws of nature, laws of government or laws of God. The problem is whose perceptions of the law do we follow? Science, philosophy, and politico-social paradigms (fashions) are constantly shifting as new data and theories temporarily gain precedence. Traditionally, the power elite has made these determinations in their own self-interest—or at least in their own image. Even the Bahá'ís, who have the Universal House of Justice to make such determinations in an absolute sense, must remember two humbling thoughts: One, even the Universal House of Justice may alter or even reverse itself at some point in the future on any given interpretation or implementation. Two, for virtually every Bahá'í law there are exceptions. For example, get married without a Bahá'í ceremony and you will lose your administrative rights; yes, most of the time; but if you were ignorant of the laws, given bad advice by an Assembly, living in a country where the Bahá'í laws are not in force, acting out of desperation followed by sincere repentance, you might not lose your rights. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh promises that even Mírzá Yaḥyá would be forgiven should he sincerely repent. In short, one should approach hard and fast applications of any laws, including Bahá'í laws and principles, with great caution. This is one of the reasons Bahá'í consultation is not based upon precedent. In its wonderful letter on Bahá'í scholarship, the Research Department of the Bahá'í International Centre, dated October 1978, reminds us that “scholars have often been most wrong when they have been most certain that they were right. The virtues of moderation, humility and humour in regard to one’s own work and ideas are a potent protection against this danger [of spiritual pride and arrogance].”

Knowing that my opinion is the product of studying the Faith through the eyes of an American, middle-class, white male helps me appreciate that other modifiers, such as being Nigerian, wealthy, black, or female might come up with an equally valid but different interpretation of the same set of laws. What of a twentieth-generation Bahá'í living in the fifth Bahá'í century?

The Catholic Church intellectually crippled itself by becoming integrally tied to the ideas of Aristotle. We should not make the same mistake by assuming the ideas and theories of the late twentieth century are the final words on any field of thought or endeavor. Knowing that all of our current ideas and interpretations will be expanded, changed, evolved or utterly discarded in the future, let us instead make errors of inclusion rather than errors of exclusion, that is, in the spirit of future discovery and sophistication, we should broaden our minds rather than narrow them. In the spirit of the true seeker each of us must “so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error or that hate repel him away from the truth.” If an idea or method seems truly wrong, seek the truth of the matter rather than reflexively refute or support it. If it is a divisive matter in the Bahá'í community, report it to the Assembly or even the Universal House of Justice for confirmation rather than become embittered in dissension and strife. As ‘Abdu'l-Bahá’s living example showed, true knowledge manifests itself in patience and compassion, not dogmatism or intolerance. Rather than clashing our ignorant opinions like blind behemoths, let us conduct studies, to see what methods will work with the nearly infinite variety of human beings around us. As the data the article opened up with indicates, no one method of doing anything will be suitable to all people.

Finally, let us remember that we are part of a religion, a faith whose ultimate purpose is to unite the human race in its vast diversity, not crush it with one group’s idea of a sanitized and homogenized world culture. Our purpose is to find our essential spiritual core and see it in all humanity; to remove the barriers that keep others from recognizing and rejoicing in their souls, fashioned in the image of God. It is the Kingdom of God on earth, not the kingdom of mankind for which we are living and dying.


Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exult himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

    Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh

Mark Brush is a mild-mannered administrator of human services for the City of Chino, California.

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