“Biology doesn’t care about your feelings.” A capital point!
A lot of us were taught as children that there are certain differences between men and women that are inextricably linked to our biology…
Read: our hormones. Since these are immutable scientific differences, men should be more prone lead “masculine” lives and women are more naturally adapted to “feminine” labor.
Now, hormones are vastly complicated. The human body produces more than 200 different hormones – the same, whether you’re a man or a woman. We’re all human, after all.
The difference lies in functionality and dosage.
Most people are aware that testosterone and estrogen, although societally coded as “male” and “female” hormones, are both produced in men and women. However, we tend to attribute “masculine” behavior in females to higher levels of testosterone, and feminine behavior in males to higher levels of estrogen…
Or other wayward assumptions.
And this is really because of some misconceptions in the early days of endocrinology. When endocrinologists were initially looking to explain the functional differences between men and women, both interpersonally and in society, they thought they’d find that men and women have totally different chemical make-ups.
That didn’t end up being true.
What they did find was that testosterone exhibited a stronger presence than estrogen in men, and while that is also true for women, testosterone levels in men were higher than in women (for the most part).
Much of the later research regarding these two hormones was done in the shadow of this false assumption – testosterone is male and and estrogen is female.
Especially considering how harmful our treatment of what society considers “divergent” men and women can be (i.e., men who exhibit traditionally feminine traits and vice versa), we should know some fundamental truths about what these hormones actually do and how they tend to present!
Estrogen: any of a group of three (main) steroid hormones produced in the ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands responsible in females for developing and maintaining the reproductive system, and in men for modulating libido, erectile function, and sperm creation.
Testosterone: a steroid hormone produced in the testes (but also in the ovaries and adrenal glands), responsible in males for muscle growth, facial hair, deep voices, sperm production, regulating the sex drive, and developing sexual organs. But in both men and women, there are testosterone receptors all over the body. Testosterone in men and women affects bones, the brain, blood vessels, the heart, hair, skin, and more.
From those brief definitions alone, we can see that men would be as lost without estradiol (the main form of estrogen) as women would be without testosterone.
But there’s more…
Myth #1: Only women experience a “menopause”, usually beginning in their early fifties and marked by a dip in estrogen production.
Truth: Men actually also experience a timed hormonal shift, called andropause.
Now, hormonal shifts can occur any time throughout the lives of both men and women. But it is considered out of the range of normalcy for men and women not to experience andropause or menopause.
During andropause, men naturally produce less testosterone, and that means they experience fatigue, hair less, and lower sex drives (on average – hormones affect everyone a little bit differently since they’re so heavily dependent on lifestyle variables.)
Myth #2: Testosterone is responsible for aggression, athletic prowess, and “leadership” qualities.
Truth: There is actually scientific evidence to support estrogen causing aggression more than testosterone does. In fact, a lot of the research regarding testosterone and aggression is fundamentally flawed to favor the largely white male ruling class as determined and dogged, while in the same breath dehumanizing non-white men as violent.
Myth #3: Thyroid hormone production issues are a female problem.
Truth: Around 20% of report thyroid issues affect men.
Mood changes, hair loss, fatigue, weight gain, erectile dysfunction, depression – all can be symptoms of thyroid issues. Because of the “female” stigma, traditional doctors often don’t look to the thyroid as possible explanations for these issues in men.
This isn’t to say that testosterone isn’t present in men in higher levels than it is in women, or that estrogen isn’t present in women in higher levels than in men.
The point is that those hormones are much more complicated than being simply male or female. Neither sex can function properly without both hormones, and neither hormone is responsible for making either sex better or worse in traditionally gendered applications.
There are certainly differences in men and women that need not be explained.
But the “female” and “male” hormones don’t determine much more than how capable your body is of performing biological functions.
We are all made of the same (roughly) 200 hormones, in varying quantities and degrees. We’re all human.