Can We Finally Ditch the Mars-Venus Myth?

Amy Keyishian

boy and girl
Not long ago, an ex of mine (yes, I'm still friends with an ex -- several, in fact) was whining that because his office had so many female employees, everything had to be vetted too many times. “If men ran this place, we’d just get the work done,” he grumped.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“You deny that men and women have different brains?” he retorted.

Well, yeah, I did. And I do. And now, I’ve got proof.

An article in Educational Leadership, a journal published by and for teachers, takes a critical look at every neuroscientific study done on male and female brains for the past several years. I highly recommend that you read the whole article, because it’s very, very well done and disproves many of the popular myths about gender differences we've been storing in our craniums.

But just in case you’re too blond (Come on! That’s a joke!), here are the highlights:

  • There are physical differences in size and development of male and female brains, but these don’t correlate to differences in how they work.
  • There are differences in how men and women act, but these don’t correlate to differences in the brain. For example, girls are better at self-regulation, but they don’t have a different self-regulation part of the brain; the reason for that difference lies somewhere beside the gray matter.
  • The myths that are such a big part of popular self-help books (like the idea that women process language differently or have more serotonin) are not based in real science (double-blind experiments done on thousands of subjects). Rather, they’re based on more casual studies of a few dozen subjects -- kind of like taking a poll of your Facebook friends and then citing the results as fact.

Of course, we do see differences in how men and women behave, how boys and girls perform in school. The point is: These differences aren’t “hard-wired” and can be eliminated if we stop expecting boys to be spazzes and girls to be math-tards.

The main point is this: Yes, of course, we can all look at our lives and see evidence that men and women are different. But when we fall back on gender stereotypes, we might win the battle (or argument, or sympathy from our friends), but in the long run, all we do is make our own worlds smaller and rob ourselves -- and our daughters and sons -- of the potential to be bigger than our expectations.

Okay! Lecture over! How have your relationships been shaped by the expectation that women and men have to act in a particular way?

Image via Anolob/Flickr

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