September 20th, 2005
A Meta analysis of research looking at male and female behaviour suggests that women and men are more similar in personality, behaviour, mental skills and leadership. The research from the University of Wisconsin, led by psychologist Janet Hyde examined 46 gender studies conducted over the past 20 years.
Researchers concluded unethical pop psychology books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and media preoccupation with gender differences led to people expecting men and women to be different, and overlooking much published, reputable evidence that suggested alternative explanations.
I found it troublesome when a number of psychologists were invited by the media to jump in and criticise this research – saying things like ‘it’s dangerous not to study gender differences’.
What is dangerous is to assume women and men are vastly different and report or research with that view in mind, to overlook research that suggests gender similarities, or to promote unethical or ill-founded books or theories that suggest males and females originate from different planets.
It’s also dangerous to comment on research you’ve not read. Because the University of Wisconsin research wasn’t saying men and women are the same, or that we shouldn’t study gender. It was saying women and men can be similar, and in fact you can have as many differences within genders as you can find between them. It was also saying that gender similarities are as interesting and valid area of study as gender differences.
Scientists and journalists are doing the public a great disservice if they can only report gender research in terms of difference – rather than a more critical evaluation of similarities and the politics of gender research. Journalists also need to be careful that they don’t report incorrect information – there’s data out there from reputable sources that says that gender difference isn’t the only way to talk about human behaviour – we should question why it is the media’s so reticent to report this.Tweet