Shock News: Women and Men are From Earth

According to an overview of thousands of psychology studies, men and women are psychologically very similar. So why are so many of us convinced that women are from Venus and men are from Mars?

Browsing the PsyBlog site I found some very cheering (to me, anyway), study results. It seems that according to an overview (by Janet Shibley Hyde of the University of Wisconsin-Madison) of thousands of psychology studies — men and women are psychologically very similar! (Hyde, 2005).

Hyde reviewed the evidence from studies on cognitive variables, communication, social and personality variables, psychological well being, motor behaviours and a miscellaneous category including moral reasoning and computer use, etc. There were, surprise surprise, differences between the sexes. But a full 78% of those differences were small or close to zero. That’s the bit we don’t often hear!

The three main areas of significant difference were shown to be sexuality, aggression and motor performance, with men being better at the last two.

While it may well seem that there is some truth in the media reports of two separate races, (one of which, if we are to believe reports, seems to be becoming obsolete, while still, to the untrained eye, holding most of the power and the money), it’s impossible to separate the truth we intuit from the effect of being bombarded with those messages. Expectation and treatment are known to affect achievement, so if girls are told, directly or indirectly, that they are bad at technical subjects, hopeless at spatial orientation and likely to cry at the drop of a hat, while boys are given to understand that they don’t communicate well or like to look after others and are biologically incapable of multi-tasking, we can imagine the results. Indeed, we live with them today! Yet when I listen to clients speaking about their experiences I am often struck by how many women have ‘men’s problems’ and how many men, ‘women’s’. How men worry about what other people will think of them and ‘people please’, how women can’t control their aggression.

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So why are so many of us convinced that women are from Venus and men are from Mars? That we use totally different parts of the brain, that we speak different languages, that we are just wired that way and so there’s no harm in the relentless gender stereotyping apparent in any products aimed at children, even those who haven’t worked out any difference yet?

Maybe because not only are the stereotypes constraining, but they can easily be actively twisted by those in power to manipulate others to their own advantage. Sound like a mad conspiracy? I often think how convenient it would be to be born a man and magically delivered from my capacity to multi-task…

Reference: Hyde, J.S. (2005) ‘The gender similarities hypothesis’, American Psychologist, 60(6): 581-92.

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