Verity Johnson’s Mum was once told that women were scientifically less intelligent that men because they have smaller brains. Ridiculous maybe, but its still happening…
I’ve never been good with science. The closest I get to understanding elements is when I forget to wear a jacket outside.
My scientific, numerical and technological illiteracy meant that until recently if you can prove something ‘scientifically’ then I’m persuaded.
But reaching the end of the teenage years has taught me two things. One, fishnets aren’t attractive. Two, a lot of people have explanations for why men and women are different.
The ones that make me scrape the walls in anger are the ones that involve science.
Yes, there are gender differences based on genes that I’m fine with. Like Men having more upper body strength. Sure. You only have to watch me doing a push up (well, belly flop) to see that.
But some of these ‘biological’ explanations for gender differences make me want to pour bleach in my eyes.
Take humour. The belief that ‘evolutionary’ reasons meant that men are funnier than women. Being young means that a lot of older guys think they’ve a right to tell you your opinion. I remember the first time I was told that women aren’t as funny as men.
The guy patiently explained that humour had evolved as an evolutionary trick to help men seduce women. Men were funnier because it helped them in the competition to win a woman who would rear their offspring.
Apparently the high male to female ratio of comedians proves this.
That’s like saying that there are far fewer female surgeons because women are less capable than men at operating on people.
Ratios don’t reflect gender talent. They show that comedy is traditionally seen as a ‘male’ business that women are beginning to break the monopoly on. Just as with the rise of female doctors and lawyers – traditionally ‘male’ roles.
Plus, ahem, Kristen Wiig?
“Just an isolated example.”
Melissa McCarthy? Dawn French? Jennifer Saunders? Joanna Lumley? Joan Rivers? Emma Chambers?
Still isolated examples. Hmmm.
And have you heard the one about female ambition? I’ve been told repeatedly that women are less ambitious than men due to hormonal differences.
John Gray, the ‘Men Are From Mars’ guy argues in his new book on working women that women are less ambitious and hence less successful in business. Why? Because they have less testosterone than men do.
But ambition is a social product too.
Ambition is hugely related to how much we are encouraged. If girls aren’t encouraged to be ambitious by society then it’s not likely we will be.
Moderately bright, middle class girls like me dream of becoming big in the business world. But with only 3 companies in the FTSE 100 having female CEOs it’s hardly encouraging. A lot of girls just look at that and think “well, it’s obviously a male world, what’s the point in trying?”
That doesn’t mean they lack ambition. It’s just a bloody scary picture to look at. You’d have to be a fool (or Beyoncé) to think that your dream, as one 18 year old girl, can take on the entire corporate world.
See how these biological arguments are dangerous?
When behaviour becomes a question of hormones and genes it suddenly becomes ‘natural’. This makes it incredibly hard to protest against. It’s seen as the way-it-should-be and therefore challenging the belief is challenging nature.
This isn’t very useful when it comes to topics like female ambition. To us teenager girls, being told it’s unnatural for us to want powerful careers makes us almost ashamed. We’re going against God’s genetic game plan…
Then there’s the fact that anything with science-y words in it sounds so…authoritative.
We just end up accepting these biologically based differences because apparently science says so. And when a belief has ‘scientific backing’ it becomes much harder to change people’s minds on it. This means the stereotypes become ingrained and the whole sodding process grinds on.
Plus it means that other explanations are side lined.
Like in the ‘men are funnier’ argument has any ever thought that maybe women are largely just being polite when they laugh at a guy’s jokes? Most of my male friends couldn’t even laugh their way into me giving them a post-date coffee. Let alone my ovaries.
If someone asked me today what I wanted when I am all grown up I’d have to say this. I want a world where women and our abilities aren’t defined away by ‘genetics.’