Mars v. Venus... yet again

Christine Whelan | Posted on 04/02/10

These kids are supposed to be past all of those out-of-date gender saws. They are the open-minded Millennials. Right? Right?

I once assigned a chapter of John Gray's bestselling self-help book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in class on the sociology of gender. As a joke. An easy lay-up to talk about why pop-culture gets it wrong.

The chapter talked about how men aren't so good at feeling feelings and communicating, while women can't read maps. My expectation was that students would find this funny. I mean, these kids are supposed to be past all of those out-of-date saws. They are the open-minded Millennials. Right? Right?

In lecture, I'd gone on and on about how most gender traits are socialized - men's and women's brains aren't inherently different in some major way. In discussion sections, we'd talked about how stereotypical and flawed assumptions about gender are destructive to relationships.

So you can imagine my surprise-nay, my third-wave-feminist outrage and horror-when I received papers from students citing Gray as an expert on gender differences. "Now I know that I can't expect my boyfriend to express his feelings to me: He's just not wired that way." I could have cried.

The cover story of the May issue of Scientific American examines The Truth about Boys and Girls. Indeed, the whole issue is devoted to "gender and the brain."

It's basic stuff: No, there's nothing in the boy brain that makes it more active. No, there's nothing in the girl brain that makes it more verbal. The authors conclude:

Experience itself changes brain structure and function. Most sex differences start out small-as mere biases in temperament and play style-but are amplified as children's pink- or blue-tinted brains meet our gender-infused culture.

Fine. Totally correct. But the fact that we're still talking about this-as if it's news-in 2010 sort of makes me want to die.

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