The more I hear from gender-difference “experts”, the more I realise that there are only two possible explanations for their views:
1) they are indulging in culturally defined pseudo-science where opinion is masked as ‘research’, or
2) I am, in fact, a man.
The most recent study bangs on, yet again, about left and right hemispheres, and uses that most misleading of analogies “how our brains are wired”. Now, I don’t doubt that my brain is “wired” differently from yours, but the idea of brain “wiring” that leads to gender-specific brain activity is just bizarre – especially given that so many women exhibit excellent spatial awareness and so many men, excellent communication skills. Were all those people just wired up wrongly for their gender?
Men are no more hard-wired to read maps than women are to read minds but we continually indulge the drip, drip, drip-feed of bad science reporting, reinforcing stereotypes that we then co-opt into our identities.
My own wiring has changed hugely since I became a parent (and don’t even ask about the changes in plumbing…). Before having a child I was never interested in babies and couldn’t understand why anyone could want one, or, horrors, more than one. I didn’t really understand the value of raising a tiny person and thought it was just an obstacle women had to overcome in order to fulfil their real potential. On Mini’s arrival, the change in my world-view was so immediate and revolutionary it has taken me nearly a year to begin understanding the topography of this new internal terrain.
I have never been so at the mercy of my biology – driven by the new and alien impetus of “being mother” and struggling to reconcile some of the ideas I once held with the reality of how I think and feel in this new country. Thankfully, there is still one place where my old and new selves collide: in hoping for a more just world. Having a daughter has brought into painful focus the particular challenges of being a woman in the 21st century and this only sharpens my resolve to make things different. However the pseudo-scientists decide to define and reduce her, she will always have someone telling her that the reality of who she is, and what she can become, is greater than a set of small-minded categories.
(This post is dedicated to the Girl Guides – a brilliantly “who cares how they say your brain is wired, get on with it and take on the world!” organisation. Their most recent report on the pressures young girls face is here: http://girlsattitudes.girlguiding.org.uk/video/girls_attitudes_video.aspx)