in math and visual-spatial abilities; females used to do better in verbal
abilities (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974), although these test score
differences are declining and may have disappeared. When older men
and women have strokes on the left side, where language functions
are thought to be, men are three times more likely to become aphasic
(speech problems). This suggests speech is more concentrated on the
left side in males than in females. Male and female brains may differ
but the innate intellectual differences seem to be very slight.
Even where male and female average physical traits are clearly
different--males are bigger, stronger, and faster--there is great
overlap, i.e. the fastest female is much faster than most males. All of
these group differences can be overcome by individual efforts, i.e. a
woman can become very strong through exercise, very proficient in
advanced math through classes, a superb combat soldier though
training, etc. Just like a man can learn to be a great "mom," a
wonderful conversationalist, an empathic listener, and a caring
cooperator rather than a dogged competitor.
What and/or who is responsible for generating these gender roles?
The genes must influence our physical structure and our health.
Hormones surely also play a role: estrogen in females seems to
produce better health (for reproducing the species?), especially less
heart disease; testosterone in males increases their aggressive
response to danger, and may be related to dominance and
competitiveness. And, thirdly, we are taught by family and culture that
boys (men) should behave certain ways and girls should be different,
as discussed above. This may explain why female high school
valedictorians outperform men in college but 2/3's start to lower their
aspirations early in college and few go on to graduate school
(exceptions are those women who develop a supportive relationship
with a faculty member or who go to a women's college, where they
become active "players" and leaders, not just "observers"). See earlier
discussion of developmental differences.
Learning our gender roles: What do we want and expect of each sex?
Our parents start teaching us our roles shortly after birth, e.g.
boys are cuddled, kissed, and stroked less than girls while girls are
less often tossed and handled roughly. In playing with their infants,
mothers mirror the young child's expressed emotions. But mothers
play down the boy's emotions (in order to keep the boys less excited)
while they reflect the baby girl's expressions accurately. Could this
possibly be an early cause of adolescent boys denying emotional
experiences and not telling others how they feel? We don't know. In
addition, remember that boys between 4 and 7 must shift their
identities from Mom to Dad. In that process, boys are chided for being
a sissy ("like a girl") and we start shoving them on to bicycles and into
Little League; they are praised for being tough; boys start to think
they are superior or should be. From then on, schools, churches,
governments, entertainment, and employers reinforce the idea that
males are superior.