Suppose a researcher were to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to write down what, according to cultural lore, males and females are like.
Before starting to review this book I have to admit that I am biased in its favour. I hate and despise those “Men are from Mars”-esque books. I’ve never actually read one, but flicking through them as they get catalogued is almost enough to make me puke they are so despicable. So I guess that a debunking of them is bound to appeal to me because it agrees with me. And we all know how happy that makes me :)
The real reason I hate those books is not because they are wrong, but because I think they are doing harm by telling people who are often looking for help that their partner should behave in X way because of their gender. They never seem to allow for the fact that people are different from people, not because of their gender or race, but because they are different people. My philosophy has always been just because I react a given way doesn’t mean 1) that is how everyone will react and 2) that is the right way to react.
But enough of this derail, back to Delusions of Gender, and it is a fantastic book. It is a pop science book, but it never talks down to the reader, or hides behind “scary-science”, instead Fine’s sarcasm and humour comes across wonderfully. As does her disbelief in some of the things people will believe. But what fascinated me the most was how little things can have a huge impact in research. She reveals that even asking about the sex of someone answering a questionnaire can make them answer differently than if that question hadn’t been answered. I guess that is one reason that many surveys ask all that malarky at the end of the research questions rather than at the start.
It really is amazing to read how society shapes and reshapes us, even when parents try to behave in a gender-neutral manner they don’t. Imagine how many gendered messages are passing around when you aren’t trying. Some of the research she mentions, such as parents underestimating girls abilities in comparison to boys, I’d heard before, but others were new to me. Gender essentialism, in my opinion, is a terrible thing. Forcing people to be something that they aren’t is, well, evil. Even if done with the best of intentions. Why can’t we all be happy with the label “person”? Why do we force one another to take on label after label after label in an effort to understand them? For easiness I suppose. And it is understandable, to a certain extent, I still hate it though. And it bothers me to hear people judge another person for their role because of their gender. I’ve heard people criticise men for being a stay-at-home parent, or describe it as strange. Well, it is strange, in that it is not the norm. But a stay-at-home parent isn’t the norm at all any more. And I’m sure that any man can do just a good a job of it as any other woman. Once they were allowed to, and not judged for it.
If you are at all interested how sex differences are created then this is a book you should read. It doesn’t tell you that men and women will behave in the same way in any situation, rather, it tells you that society and culture are responsible for many of those differences, and so they are created by people. Surely then we can figure out a way to *not* create them?