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religion, ‘woo’ and gender

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something to look into

All the statistics indicate that women are more religious than men, and also more into astrology, numerology, tantric sex, reincarnation, tarot readings and other forms of fortune-telling, tantric sex, ‘alternative’ medicine, reiki, homeopathy, and I almost forgot to mention tantric sex.

Okay, I’m not sure about the tantric sex, but there’s no shortage of statistical evidence re the superior gender’s greater penchant for matters spiritual and such, and there’s also no shortage of attempts to explain this. The most common of these highlight the generally more caring and sharing and community oriented temperament of women, which of course is sheeted home to the nurturing, maternal instinct. Here’s a typical example. There may of course be something in this, despite Margaret Thatcher, Judge Judy and Xena, Warrior Princess, but though this might seem to account for the preponderance of women in community service work [religious or secular], it doesn’t really cut it for those spiritual fields which don’t obviously involve service and obedience to a [male] Lord and Master.

A slightly more interesting explanatory account comes from evolutionary psychology. According to this account, women are more risk-averse than men, and studies have shown that religious people tend to be more risk-averse than non-religious people. Religious people are religious at least partly because they like to feel protected, while atheism removes the safety net, making it much more appealing to ‘man versus wild’ types. Of course this need for protection is seen as evolutionarily associated with human females, who spend a certain period of time in the vulnerable state of motherhood.

It’s an interesting one, but some people might feel it a bit of a stretch associating, say, astrology, with the sense of being protected. Perhaps it’s a protection to feel that the world is predictable, that your star-sign will define your range of behaviours. This ‘tames’ the world in some sense. The same may go for fortune-telling, and perhaps even reincarnation – everything goes in cycles without end , the ‘world’, or the forces of ‘nature’ protect you even from death.

I wonder, though, how affluence, feminism, lower pregnancy rates and other aspects of social evolution are complexifying the picture. I have to say – to be anecdotal for a moment – that most of the women I know who are into woo [and many of them are] don’t strike me as shrinking violets in any way. They’re strong-willed, independent, and generally more career-oriented than I am [which isn’t saying much]. Of course, the most basic instincts are hardest to shift, though they’re often disguised or channelled into modes of thought and behaviour that can’t be easily traced back to primal causes. And the fact is that the social evolution of humans in terms of gender roles is quite recent and varies markedly from region to region, and between religions.

All of this is as much to say that I really don’t know why women are more into superstition than men, beyond the few clues offered here. Fortunately, there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and our social world is never static. Always room for hope.

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Written by stewart henderson

August 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm

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