Here’s one of the most notorious Suttas from the Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN 5.230).
Monks, there are these five dangers of a black snake. What five? It is aggressive, bears grudges, has terrible poison, is fork-tongued, and betrays friends.
Just so, monks, there are five dangers of a woman. What five? She is aggressive, bears grudges, has terrible poison, is fork-tongued, and betrays friends. Herein, monks, a woman’s terrible poison is this – generally, a woman has keen lust. A woman’s forked tongue is this – generally, a woman uses back-biting speech. A woman’s betrayal of friends is this – generally, a woman commits adultery.
And no, I don’t think this was really spoken by the Buddha. Deal with it.
What I’m interested in is to subject this text to the same elementary standard that the Buddha himself insisted on, and that we would apply to any other truth claims: does it stack up against the evidence? I assume it doesn’t, but I’d like to see the proof. Does anyone know of any objective, empirically based psychological studies that statistically examine possible gender differences between men and women in these traits?
Obviously, such psychological traits are heavily conditioned by culture, and it is impossible for us to do empirical research in the context the Sutta was formed. But by examining – and hopefully critiquing – these claims in contemporary cultures, we can at least challenge their universality.
Here’s a few studies to get us started.
In the case of aggression, gender differences are well known, although these refer more to aggressive behavior than aggressive psychological tendencies, which is what the word kodha in the above Sutta means.
As far as bearing grudges goes, I haven’t found any studies, but in this discussion thread men and women share their experiences, and it seems pretty much balanced: both men and women sometimes have problems bearing grudges, sometimes not.
As for sexual desire, this study claims that: “All the evidence we have reviewed points toward the conclusion that men desire sex more than women… We did not find a single study, on any of nearly a dozen different measures, that found women had a stronger sex drive than men.”
Regarding backbiting, or negative gossip generally, this article (while the overall tenor is to criticize gender-based conclusions) cites an article with at least some gender-based differences – women tend to gossip more, although there is little difference in the ethical quality of the gossip; while this article suggests that men and women gossip around the same amount.
Over to you. Remember the rules of the game: referenced, empirical studies please, not anecdotes or opinions. (They are welcome in other posts, though!)