“Here’s all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.” ~George Carlin
Baby boomers brought up in the 1950s were taught that men and women are very different creatures. Those assumptions would be challenged in the 60s “sexual revolution,” and have since retreated and advanced, advanced and retreated.
Much of the debate stemmed from the reality that women were denied equal economic opportunity based on supposed differences. The world remains imperfect, but that part of the equation has changed dramatically. In personal and cultural matters, things are murkier.
In 1992, a pop culture psychologist re-announced that Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Family therapist John Gray, a baby boomer himself, was speaking to his own generation, many of whom were struggling with midlife relationships. He sold tons of books and became the “final word,” for a moment.
What’s the latest word? There’s a lot of research lately, focusing less on “Are there differences?” than “Why are there differences?”
One school stands pat: gender separation is fundamentally innate—biological, hormonal, hard-wired. Efforts to change this by education are futile and counterproductive. Vive la difference!
Wait a liberation minute, say critics. The only thing hard-wired is your prejudice. There’s scant scientific evidence that male/female brains are significantly different. It’s sexist cultural nurturing that pigeonholes genders into roles.
This represents a renewed attack on what is called “the pseudo-science of neurosexism.” Male-female brain disparities are minor at best and brain wiring is actually soft, not hard. The issue is brainwashing. Minor variations are seized upon by society and exaggerated to keep women in roles that are comfortable for men, as well as to sell a wide range of “female” products. A change in nurturing/education could result in actual physiological brain changes.
The vive le difference! enthusiasts are in a bit of a retreat, but hardly defeated. One study demonstrates that depression exhibits various symptoms in men and women, which means gender chemistry should dictate the use of distinct anti-depressant drugs. Since most mental disorders strike the sexes in gender-unique ways, men and women may need their own psychiatric couches.
There is a middle ground and, like most compromises, it’s fuzzy or at least complex: Yes, gender variations exist. When examined closely, however, they are actually differences of emphasis around a common goal. For example, men seek resolution in conversations; women crave understanding and sympathy, but both want what the other wants. All these disparate needs tend (hopefully) to mesh together into a working, harmonious whole. The message here is: why can’t we all just get along?