Men and women are not nearly as different as the media and pop psychologists would lead us to believe, according to a new metastudy of gender research.
Girls don’t have the same mathematical proclivity as boys? Not true. Men can’t communicate as well as women can in relationships? Not so either. And it turns out that the self-esteem problems usually associated with teenage girls are just as pronounced in teenage boys.
Of course, there are cognitive and emotional differences between the sexes, says Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who reviewed 46 major gender studies done over the past 20 years. Males are indeed more physically aggressive, for example. But Hyde hopes her work reveals how we tend to concentrate on our differences instead of similarities and how we exaggerate any scientific finding that might unveil minor contrasts.
Humans like to categorize, Hyde explains, and once we devise categories we immediately start judging one as better than another. But there is a big social cost in getting hung up on claims that just aren’t supported. “If we believe men can’t communicate, what are the implications for, say, marriage?” Hyde asks. For example, why should a wife try to work things out with her husband if current culture tells her he is incapable of understanding her?
“If we say boys are better at math,” Hyde continues, “we’re potentially overlooking the mathematical talent of many girls.” That could mean girls unnecessarily limit their own career opportunities, and it also undermines a vast talent pool for scientific and technical professions. Rather than believing pop psychology, Hyde says, we need to listen to scientific data that “tell us when we’re holding on to false stereotypes.”