At a work meeting this morning, one of my colleagues mentioned jokingly that men lag years behind women in terms of maturity. The remark passed without comment from the roomful of women. Outwardly, I was my usual calm and collected self but inside my head, this innocent bit of conventional wisdom had set off a storm. So I did what I always do when something sets off a storm in my head. I decided to blog about it.
First, I have to create a point of reference. I couldn’t find any scientific literature arguing that women mature faster than men but I was able to pull something off the Web that I think gets to the gist of the women-are-more-mature-than-men argument:
Women mature much faster than men. Most 17-year-old females can function as adults. Most 17-year-old males are still trading baseball cards and giving each other wedgies after gym class. This is why high school romances rarely work.”
My problem with this whole argument is that “maturity” is never defined in any way, let alone an acceptable one. The above quote doesn’t say what women do that makes them more mature at 17, besides “functioning as adults.” But again, we don’t know what adults do to demonstrate their maturity. I can only assume it’s “adult” stuff like having relationships, owning a home, raising a family, etc. But we’ll come to that later.
What we do know is that boys, through the things they do, show themselves to be less mature. Trading baseball cards or giving each other wedgies, for example. I can only extrapolate that 17-year-old women are more mature because they are presumably less interested in hobbies or horseplay. More importantly, as the last sentence insinuates, women are also interested in relationships. Ergo, they are more mature. Without going to great lengths or providing evidence, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the maturity argument hinges implicitly on matters pertaining to relationships. The “maturity” of boys and girls is directly proportional to their interest in getting into a relationship.
First off, let’s try to find the point at which boys’ activities render them less mature than their girl peers?
Is a 10-year-old-boy who plays at cops and robbers less mature than a 10-year-old-girl who plays with dolls? Is a 15-year-old-boy who dreams of being a veterinarian, a pilot or teacher less mature than a girl his age who develops her first crush? Is a 19-year-old girl who’s in a relationship with a 23-year-old more mature than a 19-year-old boy who’s into X-Box? I say no, no, and no. Conventional wisdom might say no, yes, and yes. So when do the maturity levels of the sexes diverge? They diverge right around puberty, the age at which women can become pregnant and boys can produce sperm.
Girls become interested in boys while boys remain interested in toys. It is at this point, when interests diverge, that the maturity argument comes into play. You never hear the maturity argument prior to adolescence. Nobody says that a one-year-old girl is as mature as a five-year-old boy. You never hear that a 14-year-old boy has the same maturity level as an eight-year-old girl. But once puberty hits, you start hearing all about how girls are more mature than boys. The fact that girls enter puberty one to two years before boys only adds credibility to the argument.
However, there is never any talk about why some behaviors are more “mature” and others less. Instead, immature behavior almost always happens to be whatever boys are interested in doing. Interest in games and toys is deemed immature. Interest in hanging out with your friends is deemed immature. On the other hand, girls’ activities—developing crushes on boys, passing love notes to boys in class, and spending hours on the phone with friends talking about boys—are not deemed immature.
Why is this? Because activities that put women into the sexual and reproductive realm are rewarded, i.e., considered mature. In other words, “maturity” is conferred on girls when they become sexualized and capable of bearing offspring. Why else is the age of “womanhood” so close to the age of puberty? Why not confer womanhood after completion of an advanced degree or after the purchase of a home? And why is the most significant day in a woman’s life the day she gets married? Because all these activities are tied directly to women’s sexuality and reproductivity, and anything they do that sets them on the path to wifehood and motherhood is applauded as “mature” behavior. Boys, on the other hand, enter manhood only after they graduate college, join the army or buy their first home.
So closely tied to relationships is the gender-maturity argument that it’s impossible to discuss gender and maturity without ultimately ending up at relationships! To be more precise, men’s and women’s attitudes at different ages regarding relationships. A woman who wants to settle down with a husband and start a family is considered mature, even if she’s only in her early 20s. On the other hand, a man who prefers to put off marriage or even dating is considered immature. Which ties back to the logical conclusion of the women-are-more-mature-than-men argument, the notion that it is only natural for women to date older men. Consequently, nobody bats an eyelid if a 17-year-old girl has a boyfriend who’s already in college or if a 23-year-old woman marries a 46-year-old divorced man.
Ultimately, “maturity” has nothing to do with anything. Our patriarchal society arbitrarily deems some behaviors mature and others immature. Activities—like wearing makeup and having boyfriends—which move girls out of childhood and into womanhood are considered mature. Boys only acquire maturity through “adult” activities like home-ownership or military service, which usually come later in life when many of their female peers have already gone for older men. Is it any surprise then that the patriarchy places more value on behaviors that result in higher-placed members gaining access to younger women’s bodies?
Check out this post I found in the course of my “research.” It’s anecdotal (and possibly fictional) but it’s devilishly clever and well worth the read!!!