Do you think the differences between men and women are genuine, and do they matter? Yes, that is a bit of a heavy question but stay with me; I’d love to hear your views on this at the end.
I’ve been doing a tidying up of my bookshelves in the office (I take dozens of books to seminars, talks, courses for women to look at and tend to chuck them back on the shelves randomly-the time had come for a mass sort out) and it has set me off on my favourite topic – the differences twixt men and women, or not…
I thought I might try and group my books according to topic. I occasionally get overtaken by this desire to be very organised although my preferred state is what I call creative chaos. Probably about half my collection is dedicated to women’s issues: women as leaders, research into women at work, assertiveness for women and so on. I buy them to keep up to date with what is going in my field, and also to share via book reviews, and to use when appropriate. A large section is dedicated to the differences between men and women. Some of it is proper research by which I mean peer reviewed surveys, or studies using a statistically significant number of respondents, and some of it is hypothetical theory, someone’s bright idea, and some of it is pure opinion.
I probably could, (once I’ve finished tidying them) find you the polar opposite argument of every theory or study on the topic. Women talk too much, no they don’t. Men don’t show emotion, yes they do. Women lack confidence, not always, and on it goes. I’ve blogged on many of these topics – I’m not immune. It’s a minefield out there in the field of gender studies.
Whenever I was asked as a student what theory I preferred, or was using in a particular case, my response was always ‘I am eclectic’ (To be honest most of us used to say that as it covered a multitude of sins!)
But now I can truly say I am eclectic because I cannot bring myself to sign up to one particular school. The fact I hang onto is that women are under represented at all powerful levels in society. In some societies they are positively abused. Despite all the advances of the recent times women are still not playing a major part in the life of this country, or in others. In the end it all comes down to power and more power resides with men than it does with women. We do not have gender equality.
Regardless of books and theories that sends a very powerful message to everyone. When we switch on the TV and see mainly men (try it for a couple of evenings; just take a head count, particularly of panel shows where there will usually be one token woman but sometimes they can”t even muster one!), or open a newspaper, see How Independent is TheI? and see young glamorous models, or air brushed older women lauded for looking younger than their years not their achievements, read Miriam O’Reilly’s story for an example of that, we’re being given a message about the status of women. It’s so insidious that most of the time we don’t even register it.
Yes, I think the sexes are different (I don’t suppose that ‘revelation’ has made you fall off your chair) and that we behave differently. I don’t much care whether that’s nature or nurture. I think probably half the books out there (conservative estimate) are a load of old tosh, many based on the premise of let’s find differences and ‘excuse’ or ‘explain’ behaviours in society which have served to keep women inferior.
And I always come back to the same point:
Men designed the business and political world and it suits men well.
Maybe women and men would behave the same way if the power were equally shared? Women who behave like men have a better chance of getting on. Do women behave like that because it is behaviour that brings rewards, is the only way to get ahead in certain places? Or does that mean that given the right circumstances either gender adopts this type of what we think of as ‘classic male behaviour’? That if people have power they all end up behaving the same way? That if a woman goes into the adversarial world of politics, for example, she ultimately ends up behaving as adversarially as the men, despite research to show that women are less inclined to this approach and less comfortable with it?
Do I care? Not about the research really. All research is ‘unpure’ in that it is set in own time. The very topics for research reflect societal norms so I guess we should take some comfort from the fact that this is being looked at all.
So why do I have such a collection of books? Well, they do interest me and they do inform me. I use my many books as tools for discussion and debate, to help women think about themselves and their relation to power. My ultimate aim is to see more women in positions of power and authority, to have a gender equal society. It doesn’t matter that we behave differently but it matters that half the population is not equally represented. I work directly with women to achieve that either in one to one and in my courses.
It’s difficult to make wholesale changes in society but we can always make changes within ourselves. Helping women to have the insight to recognise what is happening and then the confidence to challenge it is my aim. It’s why I am not anti men and have expressed concern about the plethora of women only networking groups in business springing up. Men have to be part of this too and there are some great champions of gender equality out there who happen to be men. Equally there are quite a few women out there who don’t see this as a problem and are happy with the status quo. Fine, they won’t be subscribing to my newsletter…
Come on, share your thoughts below, do you think I’m wrong? Partly right? Or plain misguided? I’m open to discussion (feminine trait –only joking!)
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Posted on July 26th, 2012 by Jane