Men and women’s brains are wired differently. When men and women argue about ideas, they might as well be speaking a different language. A popular personality test shows how character traits are clustered according to gender.
Do men and women think differently?
Is one rational and the other emotional?
Or is it sexist even to ask the question?
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. I’m a feminist. I believe men and women have equal rights, but I also believe men and women are different.
We think differently, act differently and value things differently. Isn’t that a statement of the obvious? Surely, it’s not sexist to point out gender differences.
I’m not saying all men are like this and all women are like that. I’m saying if you take one hundred men and one hundred women and measure certain traits, the median point would be different for men and women.
Some feminists who argue for more women MPs say this will lead to fewer wars and a more compassionate form of politics. Is that sexist?
A few weeks ago, a group of mainly female campaigners vehemently disagreed with an episode of this show. Many responded by attacking me personally, posting insults and expletives on Facebook.
Now, I’m a big boy. I can take it. But what really intrigued me was why these women focussed on me rather than my argument, or chose to conflate the two?
Are women, in general, less able to separate an idea from the person delivering it?
Professor Deborah Tannen, an expert in linguistics at Georgetown University told me: men and women are different.
“Many men are eager to challenge each other’s ideas, seeing it as a sign of respect that they do so. Often women take it literally or personally when men start arguing with their ideas and think less clearly if they feel under attack.”
The Nobel Prize winning biochemist, Professor Tim Hunt was condemned – in part – after he claimed women scientists cry when their ideas are criticized.
I’ll come back to why women might not like hearing that, but in my experience, there is a general truth about what he said. Not all women, all of the time, but a disproportionate number of women compared to men.
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a popular personality questionnaire which identifies four pairs of alternative character traits:-
Extroversion and Introversion.
Sensing and Intuition.
Thinking and Feeling.
Judging and Perceiving.
Each of us has all of these traits, but commonly lean towards certain preferences, represented by four letters.
If you look at the UK population as a whole, men and women have clearly different profiles.
Look at the proportion of ISTJ people who are male compared to female.
Or ESFJs who are female.
Now, Myers-Briggs has its detractors but it’s interesting its creators, two women, discovered men are more likely to be ‘Thinking’ than ‘Feeling’, 65% to 35%; while women are the reverse, 70% to 30%.
‘Thinking’ is to do with making decisions on the basis of logic and objectivity, while ‘Feeling’ is about making decisions by considering the impact on people.
More on political debate and our choice of reading…
The readership of the New Statesman is just 30% female.
For the Economist, it’s 25%.
And it’s only 20% for The Spectator.
Why do so few women read the country’s leading political magazines?
Conversely, when Gallup asked a thousand people if they believe in astrology:-
30% of women said they do.
More than twice the number of men (14%).
Look – it’s OK to point out differences in the way men and women think without necessarily advocating one trait is better than the other.
But we do live in a world where men have determined which traits are “good” and which are “bad”. Not surprisingly, the traits that are predominantly held by men are highly prized.
And all of us, men and women, are brought up to believe in this value system, which is why those women scientists didn’t like to hear about how often they cry.
However, there is another option. Women could challenge the view that characteristics that are predominantly female have less value. After all, women outnumber men, so in a democratic system, they should prevail.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.