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This came out of a discussion of an all female colony world, but I'm interested in the more general version of this question. Is there any function in society that requires male levels of strength in order for it to be successful?

I'm not really thinking here about the changes to gender dynamics as much as the question of whether or not the differences between male and female strength would really have a large impact in terms of what humanity would be capable of in general. If female level strength was the upper limit overall, how would this affect things?

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    $\begingroup$ it depend of the time period i think, with modern technologies we have clearly reduce the need of strength, but for medieval or ancient society, i think strength and endurance of male was important (especially in agricultural job) $\endgroup$ – hcocox Feb 20 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ You do understand that people from different geographical subpopulation are physically different, yes? Some human populations are (or were) typically shorter, some taller, some lighter, some heavier. What is (or was) typical "male strength" in one population would overlap the typical "female strength" in another. Human sexual dimorphism is smaller than human geographical variation, and it always was. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 20 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ The question would benefit if it made clear whether it refers to the modern world, or to historical development. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 20 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ First off, pickles would no longer be sold in jars... $\endgroup$ – ColonelPanic Feb 20 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander perhaps how high one is capable of throwing a toddler should not be the criteria which we measure physical play with children... $\endgroup$ – asgallant Feb 20 at 21:03

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Historically, male strength has served us well in any type of construction job, or things like combat. However, as industry and tools develop, this becomes increasingly less significant and necessary.

Especially the invention of industrial tools to make manual tasks easier, contributes to the difference being less significant. While historically a man with a shovel could get more done than a woman (on average), nowadays any gender can operate a digger. While having the strength to manually lift large loads might be useful, the more technology develops the less necessary it is. In current society Europe for example, an all-female city would likely not fall behind a mixed or all male one.

That being said, if development were historically based on solely female strength, tools use would scale with this, and perhaps construction would as well. The reason things were done historically as they were is because we could, not because we had to. It's cheaper to have one man wield a hammer and drive a pole into the ground, than one woman either taking longer or needing to drive two smaller poles for same effect. But that doesn't change the fact that it can be done differently.

Size plays a significant role in this as well. I could argue a short man could be on par strength-wise with a tall woman. Historically this height difference was less defined than in modern times, but still noticeable.

Bottom line, the only reason male strength is useful, is because it is more efficient. Not because it is necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ Also it’s more readily useful. A strong man with a shovel can turn his hand to digging, carrying things or beating people to death, where requiring mechanical assistance for those three things needs a digger, a pickup and... Erm... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 20 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Note that humans, collectively as a species, are much weaker on average than we used to be, since we don't need brute strength as much in modern society. The typical Bronze Age woman was probably stronger than the majority of modern men today on average. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Feb 20 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs ... and a peoplebeater. $\endgroup$ – Headcrab Feb 21 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman, yeah, no. The average height and weight of Bronze Age Greek men, based on skeletal remains, was 162 to 165 cm, 60-65 kg. For women, 153 to 156 cm, 50-55 kg. Today, the height of the average Greek is 177 cm for men, 165 for women. Since size correlates well with strength in the average human... $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 21 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman, in other words you have just an assumption based on questionable reasoning rather than the absolute assertion you initially made. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 21 at 16:07
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No there isn't.

While on average, men are stronger than women, some individual women are much stronger than the average male, and vice versa.

For all i know the maximum strength a human can reach is slightly higher in men, but that is just for extreme cases. The biggest part of the difference in average strengths is (somewhat dated) role models, and aestetic preferences.

For a work force, you typically have groups of people, who are chosen for their ability to perform the required jobs. You can easily find women who perform the same as men. You won't choose the physically weaker ones, but you wouldn't choose physically weak men for hard manual labour either.

Plus, you typically work in a way that maximum peak strength is not that much of an issue, because even the strongest and fittest cannot keep that up for an entire day, let alone an entire working life.

The reason we hardly see all-female groups of workers has a lot to do with role ideas, but very little with physical ability.

Also, historically, women tended to be pregnant a lot. And one shouldn't do too much heavy lifting while pregnant. That is at least one part of why there were "women's jobs" and "men's jobs". For those that look closer at such classification: It also implies (correctly, as i think) that biologically, men are much more expendable than women.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the pregnancy statement, but for the rest you would largely run into an issue with availability. You could find women who perform the same as men, but they simply aren't as available. Training the body of a man simply yields higher results than training a woman, just look at the difference in sports. Even untrained base-strength has noticeable differences. $\endgroup$ – Plutian Feb 20 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ The "one shouldn't do too much heavy lifting while pregnant" thing can only happen in societies where the woman can withdraw from the labour force without her family starving due to lack of money or lack of food. Heavily pregnant women still have to work the fields and carrying water in rural subsistence economies. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Feb 20 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ "The biggest part of the difference in average strengths is ... role models". Patently false. Men, even when adjusting to body mass differences, are considerably stronger than women in most capacities (and equal at best in other muscle/strength measurements). This is all due to biological differences between the genders, not 'aesthetic preferences'. $\endgroup$ – ColonelPanic Feb 20 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ If there were not a significant difference in strength between men and women, then there would not be separate categories of competition for the 2 sexes. $\endgroup$ – Glen Yates Feb 20 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ "While on average, men are stronger than women, some individual women are much stronger than the average male, and vice versa." Yeah, no. Put your average man next to your average woman and the average man will be stronger 100% of the time. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Feb 21 at 6:50
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As soon as you have things like levers, wedges and wheels -- not to mention draft animals -- muscle power becomes a 'nice to have' rather than essential. Yes, big, hefty construction workers (of either sex) may get the job done quicker than small, delicate ones (of either sex) if they have to move a lot of bags of cement etc; and (crucially) your wages bill will be lower with the muscular types.

But there is nothing I can think of that the bigger types could do that smaller ones could not.

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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't take more than a few months of simple physical labour before all your construction workers are up at the relatively hefty end of the scale. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 21 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ In an all female colony world, chances are exoskeletons are in use anyway so personal strength doesn't matter either way. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Feb 24 at 3:14
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Ok, before I answer the main point, I'm going go into a little diversion which has really important implications: What's the gravity on your all-female world?

Because the physical strength of the people on your planet (male and female) will be highly dependent on the gravity they live in.

  • If your planet has a lower than Earth gravity (like say the 0.89g of Venus or the 0.37g of Mars), then the inhabitants will not be as strong as people from Earth. So even a big, buff male Martian who spends all day at the gym pumping iron and abusing steroids will not be as strong as an Earth woman.
  • If your planet is higher than Earth gravity, the people's bodies will have to adapt to this and various muscles and bones will be stronger than those of a Earthling, simply to cope with daily life, like walking around or carrying groceries back from the shops.

Some bits of the body will be 'immune' to the above. The strength of your jaw muscles and shape of your lower jaw is more influenced by how tough the food your chew is, than the gravity you do the chewing in.

So onto the question...

Plenty modern women and girls living in impoverished rural places in developing countries do daily task which rely on physical strength and/or endurance. Examples of this include:

  • Walking miles to the nearest water source, then carrying the water back. If they have a small child they'll carry the child as well as the water. Some statistics here
  • Carrying firewood
  • Carrying goods to local markets
  • Many of them carry the loads on their heads. Here's an article about why women carrying things on their heads died out in Europe (and why men didn't do it as much).

Many of the tasks traditionally done by women - pounding grain into flour or pounding clay to prep it for making pottery, for instance - are similar in strength and stamina to tasks done by men, such as a blacksmith hammering metal.

One thing you will have to take into account with an all woman world is menopause and loss of muscle and bone strength with age. Old women lose their physical strength faster than old men. If your world is a low tech one and most people are on subsistence diets, then the average age for the menopause may be quite low. Here is a medical paper which says Aristotle said the menopause starts at 40, but in modern India it begins at 45 to 47 and not until 50 to 51 in modern Western countries.

So your all-woman culture will have to take account of all workers losing their strength as they hit the menopause.

EDIT: I just remember child labour! D'oh! Kids are weaker than both men and women, but children worked in coal mines, in the Staffordshire potteries, and as labour on farms. If a young child can do it, then even a really wimpy woman can do it.

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    $\begingroup$ A note: The gravity thing will only be relevant if the people in question didn't evolve on that world. $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 20 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ Something else about gravity with regards to colony worlds - in a low-gravity situation male strength isn't as important because for the most part female strength can do there what male strength can do on Earth. I'd be curious to see an analysis of higher-gravity situations, such as how much muscle growth men would see compared to women in a 1.2G environment, and how that muscle growth would translate into how much work they can get done. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Feb 20 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ That article is interesting, but manages to answer none of the questions it raises. $\endgroup$ – Daniel B Feb 20 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki. Yes, very true. But if they did evolve on that world, then they aren't human - and so the OP can make them as strong or weak as he likes. He can decide that there is no sexual dimorphism at all! $\endgroup$ – DrBob Feb 21 at 15:58
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I can’t think of any single task in the past or present which requires high strength but can’t be broken down into smaller parts or tasks. Sure, the average man might be able to lift a heavier log of wood than the average woman, but at some point you’ll always need two pairs of hands. We’ve always excelled at breaking things into manageable parts.

I also think that in an all-female society things would scale well. Women are weaker but they are also smaller and require less energy. So it wouldn’t be an issue that they can’t build as large/fast or plough a field of the same size.

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    $\begingroup$ Naval architects have had to redesign US Navy ships, to reduce the maximum amount of weight that a sailor is expected to carry from 70 lbs to 35 lbs. (No citation; this is what a naval architect once told me while we drank beer.) This is fine during normal operations, but what about in an emergency, when a 200 lb object needs to be moved out of the way to patch a hole in the ship, or it sinks and there's only room for two people. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 21 at 6:40
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: In an all female society I’d expect everything to be scaled down. So the 200 lb object would only be 160lb or so. $\endgroup$ – Michael Feb 21 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ That's still not the 50% which the USN has mandated. Besides, assuming that's true, your scaling is way too generous. Women (in the US, at least) are only a median 7% shorter (5'10" down to 5'5"). Thus your 200 lb would be scaled to 186 lb. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 21 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: What do you do when there's a 500 lb object that needs to be moved out of the way to patch a hole? What do you do when the hole is in a constrained space that can only be reached by someone who is 4'10" or smaller? $\endgroup$ – DMPalmer Feb 21 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @DMPalmer somehow the US Navy saved a lot of very damaged ships in WW2 without that diversity, by hauling heavy fire hoses around. Diversity give more options only within the "envelope" of the physical reality of the circumstances. "and circumstances where ... gymnastic ability matter." You've watched too much TV. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 22 at 22:15
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Jobs that absolutely need male strength? No, none whatsoever.

Jobs in which more strength would be useful are all around us.

I'll pick child care as an example. I'm a father, and I count physical strength as a very useful asset. One use case is to carry my sleeping 6-year-old without waking him up, and managing to hold him with one arm while opening the door with the other. My wife, who's less strong, can still do that, but will lose that possibility sooner than I.

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To answer your question directly the only thing I can think of that can be affected by the average man being slightly more physically strong than women is war. To modern war it matters less than when we still killed each other with blades and pointy sticks. Back when battles were hundreds or thousands of men lining up and killing each other (slowly) with equivalent weapons, anyone who was slightly less athletic or physically powerful would have been at a disadvantage. This is probably a fair equivalent to our squabbles over modern team contact sports (and we equivalently have men's and women's leagues). That said there's plenty of evidence women participated in warfare, notably in leadership positions. But the front line soldiers were almost exclusively men.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_ancient_warfare

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_post-classical_warfare

Basically, I think your colonies would be fine until they had to fight a ground war with swords against and invading all male force.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm dubious about female infantry having to make a forced march while carrying 45 kg of gear. Women's bones are smaller than men's. Sure, because of the overlapping normal distributions, a few can do it without destroying their ankles, knees and hips, but not enough. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 21 at 6:37
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No it's nothing that can't be accomplished with more time added on or more people to join in for whatever if we're looking at pre tools with post tools you can have less people to most tasks.

Women disguised as men during the civil war performed all the same duties, functions, and miles as their male counterparts.

Khutulun Mongolian Wrester & daughter of Kahn never lost a wrestling match against any man who challenged her.

Studies conducted in WW2 between all female and all mixed vs all male units had the female only units working just as well as the all male units lifting the heavy shells, loading, aiming, firing, they found women were slightly better at determining target distance but that was it the mix units weren't spoken of much so it seems it was fine. They had one female unit go into warfare and hold a hill they denied them ammo drops, guns, and other requested things and yet the women did live their test concluded this unit for the allies held up find under severe pressure performing their jobs as any normal unit would this was done in preparations for if they needed to add women into the military.

Christin Davies - fought in the 9 yrs war under the British disguised for 13 years as a man she too performed her jobs fully including looting and warfare.

Basically added strength is an added bonus some women however are very strong some look the part others do not your women are probably going to be the most fit for the society in the timeframe it is set in. The Aztecs did wonders with stone that shouldn't have been possible for their people and there was simply not enough raw strength to cover those feats they needed quantity to do that job.

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    $\begingroup$ "Khutulun Mongolian Wrester & daughter of Kahn never lost a wrestling match against any man who challenged her." Anecdotes are the exception which proves the rule. How many women are commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea? Hint: very few. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 21 at 6:33
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It's not the biology you're looking for. You're looking at muscle when it's largely irrelevant. I don't want to presume what "female level strength" is, so instead I'll my own physical strength, and boy oh boy you're in a bad shape. If that was your baseline then your society is has no other choice but to use their big fat human brain.

No amount of raw physical strength can build a pyramid, a medieval fortress, or an Emirati skyline. What you need is good old human ingenuity and tons of slave labour, and that's something we as a society have understood a long time ago.

To illustrate how old and basic that knowledge is, let me tell you about so-called simple machines. There are six classical simple machines: lever, wheel, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. That's right, it isn't a misnomer, these are simple machines that have been around for a while and are still the basis in many a modern machinery. As technology progresses, you can even get into chains and gears, until one day you invent the exoskeleton that is a bunch of screws, gears and springs put together into one fashionable package.

There's no reason to think a society of women wouldn't develop these technologies because there would be no institutionalised sexism to push them away from engineering knowledge. And since you don't need unfathomable scifi technology, even if it may or may not take more manpower, or womanpower as it is, I can't imagine a problem that we solved but they couldn't.

In conclusion, remember that humanity didn't strive because we're faster than cheetahs or bigger than elephants or stronger than oxen. Humanity strove because we're hella smart and we made dem oxen our B-word of burden.

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In my job (logistics mule) a lot of the women claim they underperform because they lack male strength. So at least according to them, my ordinary job does.

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    $\begingroup$ Whatever is "logistics mule?" I'm picturing a guy at the border with illicit logistics. Maybe in a strategically-placed condom. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Feb 21 at 17:34
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No, in our modern or anyone's more-than-modern society, personal strength is not a limiting factor for any job assuming personal wealth or the equivalent available for use in acquiring mechanical means to assist or achieve a task.

Nor need pregnancy overly limit, directly, such things either. Can a pregnant woman steer an oil tanker better than a hugely muscled man can use an oar to jack a canoe around in whitewater? Can she say "Robot, fetch me that boulder" when she need a 500# boulder?

In practice, pregnancy is likely to be limiting in an indirect way as the prospects for any child are bright whereas in 1800 BC (oops... BCE) half a woman's children likely didn't make it to 5 years of age any better than a poor Bostonian woman's children in 1776. But that's indirect.

What is truly limiting in practice is the fact that the longer a child gestates and then takes to acquire some useful self-sufficiency, the fewer of them any given woman can have reach their own breeding age. So the more of the women you constantly risk, the less likely that your society is sustainable at any wealth level that depends partly or completely upon increasing numbers. (That mix also allows for the marginal wealth to keep grandparents alive which is a factor that has been shown to noticeably increase pre-modern population's durability and continued increase.)

Or a short way of looking at it, Becky might be beefy enough, skilled enough, and inclined enough to out-hunt the daylights out of me. Along with her friends. But LUCK likely played a huge role in life-after-hunting for such folk and if our band has 14 breeding women and seven males die one day in a hunt for antelope that fed the lions instead, I and my clique of 2-3 males can easily keep the mateless women pregnant. Bearing in mind that pre-modern family units were highly organized to have the entire range of skills and behaviors to just barely make it, economically, and that that had plenty to do with children surviving to their own breeding ages, but without those seven men, we can still churn out a lot of babies and have a shot at it. If Becky and her clique of six friends are the lion food, that leaves just half the women in the band which is a monstrously huge "other thing."

So THAT, once chimps and such began hunting in an important way, was probably more the determinant that lead to PREFERRING that the males hunt and risk the dangers of the wild and the fights to the death with as big a bunch of animals as they could manage. Or thought they could... while the child carriers who had to contribute years not seconds to the bringing of a child to minor self-sufficiency, much less breeding age, stayed more together, hunting the vicious plant life that provided something like 80% of the calories, and in probably otherwise less instantly dangerous scenarios to fill the days. Lose a few, not a lot, men and things CAN go on. Lose a few women and the population effect might be huge.

So preference. And naturally, judging from nowadays, choices swiftly became "the natural order" and cemented into societies as the only way possible. Consider all those pioneer women dropping their foals while pulling the plow for their husbands, wiping the brats down and wrapping them in blankets or whatever, then back to pulling. And 30 years later, US society is a wee bit wealthier and cannot contemplate women as anything but hoop-skirted fainters.

That seems the likelier source of the idea "women can't do what a man can strengthwise" and it really wouldn't seem applicable today as nothing any of us do is anywhere nearly as life-threatening as hunting lion food in lion country with sticks and rocks. "Here Fluffy, let me take that food right out of your mouth..." creating situations a whole several levels of danger greater than even a nasty OSHA violation. You don't risk the childbearers in such situations if you have a choice. Not a matter of they can't contribute, but a matter of not a single person thinks it's better if they do including them. And while there is then physical optimization for each group's CHOSEN roles and that is then easily misunderstood by later folks as the natural order, it comes down to a very sane choice, not a limitation.

And if it wasn't truly a limitation 25,000 years ago, but rather a smart choice, it SURELY isn't a limitation today or in any society equivalent to mid- to late-1800's America, or more advanced, especially REALLY more advanced.

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  • $\begingroup$ "assuming personal wealth or the equivalent". That's a step too far. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 21 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of jobs that require physical strength where machines are not as useful as it may seem. Soldiering, construction and farming are places where your physical strength and stamina is important. You might build up your strength quickly, but being too weak means you can't do the job. In soldering, pregnancy is a very limiting factor. $\endgroup$ – Clearer Feb 21 at 12:50
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It depends on what strength you are refering to. Mental strength in the 21st century is more important than physical strength. Emotional intelligence, manipulation limited by morals and mental health are far more important in today's world.

Men in the past have been the hunters, farmers, constructors and more often given tasks which require physical strength. This is the way we (homo-sapiens) evolved. In many animal species, females are the more dominant ones because historically, they had to do more functions than the males.

In today's date, humans just can't survive on physical strength. Intelligence and agility also play a vital role. That's where women have always been ahead. In our society, they have generally never been given the choice to make their own decisions. The fact that only now women are appearing in so many careers that men earlier dominated. The 20th century saw women in company leadership roles, but still were objectified and made fun of.

Coming back to the topic, there is no particular function today which requires strength of males. I know my mom asks me to open the jar which has been vaccum sealed. But I think that's just laziness. There are still some jobs which use significant amount of male population (plumbing, carpentry, industry workers etc.). That again, is due to society views that women are supposed to be at home taking care of children and men are supposed to be doing work and earning for the family.

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    $\begingroup$ You do realize "intelligence" is a broad concept which includes a variety of skills, some which males tend to be better at and some which females tend to be better at? $\endgroup$ – Muuski Feb 21 at 23:01

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