When it comes to establishing the differences between men and women, the clichés are endless. At one point or another, we all question features of the opposite sex that we just can’t seem to understand or relate to. And because generalizing can be fun, it’s easy to say “women do this!” or “men do that!”
To a certain degree, there are obvious noticeable differences between both genders, which would lead us to think that brains operate in different ways.
However, according to Aston University Neuroscience Professor Gina Rippon, the popular “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” type of assumption is a myth.
Rippon’s research sets to prove that the differences between men and women are not hard-wired into our brains. Instead, those distinctions are formed because of societal gender norms that are instilled in boys and girls from an early age.
Professor Rippon, who spoke on the subject at the British Science Festival in Birmingham this past weekend, said: “We’re stuck in the 19th century model of the ‘vacuum packed’ brain, the idea that we’re born with a brain that gives us certain skills and behaviors.
“The brain doesn’t develop in a vacuum,” Rippon stressed. “What we now know is that the brain is much more affected by stereotypes in the environment and attitudes in the environment, and that doesn’t just change behavior, it changes the brain.”
Experiences are constantly modifying our brains. Stereotypes, though, do not change quickly. They’re deeply engrained in our behavior, even if we don’t realize it often. Naturally, as a female scientist herself, Rippon knows first-hand how male-dominated her area is — and many others. Propagating these stereotypes may be the main reason women are still a minority in certain professions largely viewed as male gigs.
Some studies have suggested a different response from each gender for specific tasks. Most famously, that men are better at spatial skills and women are better at dealing with analytical and intuitive tasks at the same time. Rippon, however, questions these results and the way they’re presented.
“There is quite a lot of thoughtless science being done and quite a lot of overenthusiastic presenting. If you just look at gender differences — and not their experiences in life — then yes you might find differences. But the brains of men and women are much more similar than they are different.”
While the female perspective and the eternal struggle to get to a truly egalitarian society is clearly the bigger and more important part of this, it’s also refreshing to hear that as a guy, because the pluses go both ways. So take it from a top female neuroscientist, fellow dudes: don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t multi-task just as well as any woman does.