Are Gender Differences A Complete Lie? Quite Possibly.


Men and women might not be that different after all.

I was mad at my husband. Boiling mad. And I wanted to get even. Dave was born during the great depression of 1982 and hates to waste money. He is the only 25 year old I know who reuses plastic sandwich bags. So, I got him where I knew it would hurt. I walked through the house and turned on every light in the house. Flashlights. Stove lights. Closet lights. Everything. And then I sat on the couch waited for him to notice. Over the next 20 minutes, my husband walked through the house slowly turning off every light. Then he ate a cookie and went to bed.

When I explained my passive-aggressive failure to my mom she said, "Oh honey, men and women are just wired different." But according to Dr. Janet Hyde a professor at the University of Wisconsin, the differences in how my husband and I approach a conflict may not be attributable to gender.

"There are widespread views that there are big gender differences in communication skills and communication styles and that have been fostered by John Gray’s Mars Venus book…but in fact the differences are tiny," says Hyde.

Dr. Hyde asserts what she calls the "Gender Similarities Hypothesis," which was published in the September 2005 issue of The American Psychologist. Explains Hyde, "The Gender Similarities Hypothesis states that men and women are very similar on most but not all psychological variables, which is so different from the prevailing view that there are massive gender differences in dozens and dozens of psychological characteristics. But when you really look at the evidence it shows a very different picture."

According to the Gender Similarities Hypothesis, many of the stereotypical differences between men and women are moot.

Hyde's research found that not only do men and women communicate in similar ways, but that there is minimal difference between male and female self esteem. "This is really important," Hyde says, "because self-esteem affects the way we approach our relationships."

She also discovered that there is also very little difference in nurturing tendencies between the sexes, and this characteristic is dependent upon the social context, for example, if there are onlookers. The same holds true for interrupting. Researchers have long thought that men interrupted more than women, but the differences can be minimal depending on the social context.

Despite these findings society seems to cling to the idea of these stereotypical differences. Notes Hyde in her article, "There are serious costs of over inflated claims of gender differences. These costs occur in many areas including work, family and relationships."

"If," Hyde explains, "men and women believe what they have been told—that it is almost impossible to communicate with each other—they may simply give up on trying to resolve the conflict through better communication."

"People think that they can’t communicate across gender in heterosexual couples and this is a problem," says Hyde, "But in fact communication styles are quite similar and men and women communicate quite well all the time. Sometimes when I give talks to big audiences, after talking for about 20 minutes, I say are you understanding me and of course they are. I am speaking perfect English."

A study conducted by Dr. Erina MacGeorge and published in the February 2004 issue of Sex Roles: A Journal of Research supports Hyde’s assertions. In an interview on the topic MacGeorge, who is an assistant professor at Purdue University, notes, "Overall, men and women were both likely to express sympathy, share similar problems with distressed friends or discourage their friends from worrying. Men did give a bit more advice more often than women, and women were slightly more likely to provide support by affirming their friend or offering help. However, men and women were only 2 percent different."

Yet, Jane Scandurra, director and producer of the documentary Single, which examines what it is like to be single in the United States, disagrees. "There are real fundamental biological differences between the sexes." And studies done by the researchers at the California Institute of Technology and Baylor University suggest that women and men simply approach everyday tasks differently.

In the meantime, I'll keep trying to find better ways to get back at Dave. Next time, I am hiding the cookies. All of them.

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