A study came out recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Men and Women Are from Earth: Examining the Latent Structure of Gender.” The central hypothesis of the paper is that men and women actually aren’t all that different. Many of the differences that we might demonstrate have more to do societal expectations than inherent biology.
This isn’t the first study on the subject. I recently read the book “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference,” by neuroscience psychologist Cordelia Fine. In it she exposes noticeable trends in male vs. female psychology, both in results of brain scans and in behavioral studies. However, when studies are designed to remove the concept of gender from the testing, and then slowly reintroduce it, something interesting emerges. Men and women don’t have standard different responses. Individuals are different, but that difference isn’t necessarily inherent in our gender neural biology.
We historically assume that because there are inherent emotional/psychological differences in gender, therefore society treats them differently. Instead, it might be more accurate to assume that because society views gender in a certain way, our psychology and sometimes our actual (neural) biology follow suit. There are studies on totally unrelated topics that show that our brains are constantly changing and developing, even as adults.
Maybe a young girl shows an aptitude for math, but as she goes through school, it’s constantly reinforced to her that men are better at math. Most of her math teachers are men; society tells her that’s a strength men have. She abandons the pursuit, and her brain focuses its development on other pathways.
Women are told we’re supposed to have emotional strength and insight, so we focus our energies on that, and men are told they have inherent skills in leadership and problem solving, so they do the same. Most of the time this is an unconscious response, but study after study, cited in the first two above works, show that people in a variety of situations either rise or under-perform to meet the expectations placed on them.
So what does all of this mean for our marriages? Throw that Mars-Venus book out the window. Sure, given how our society is now it might actually be accurate, but as it turns out, we’re perpetuating stereotypes that are creating the difference, rather than accommodating natural biological inclinations. That’s not to say that there aren’t wives who are the emotionally intelligent, intuitive ones in the relationship, and husbands who are more stoic and want tangible problems to solve.
The key is that we need to focus on individuals, not groups. We should get to know our spouses for who they really are and interact with them accordingly. A book can’t tell us how best to interact with our spouses, because the author doesn’t know them like we do. We should be the ones writing the books on our husbands or wives. We should encourage our spouses to be who they are, and then figure out how best to treat them and interact with them based on that, rather than trying to force them into the molds presented by society or self-help books, which require us to ignore the parts in individuals that don’t fit.
Human beings are tricky, complex creatures, and although in some ways we remain the same, we also never stop changing. Our duty as a spouse is to change with them: to change together, to constantly work at the marriage and change how we approach it as we grow and develop ourselves.
*(The above image by sscreations is from freedigitalphotos.net).