Are Gender Stereotypes Boring?

By Cochrane, Kira | New Statesman (1996), June 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

Are Gender Stereotypes Boring?


Cochrane, Kira, New Statesman (1996)


Anyone who is particularly fond of sweeping sexist generalisations (and really, who doesn't just love the suggestion that all women are shoe-obsessed chatterboxes, for instance, while all men are emotionally repressed sport nuts?) was in for a treat in the Daily Telegraph this past week.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Recently, the paper featured an article by Sabine Durrant, baldly headlined: "Are men boring? A ramble through a heap of anecdotes, shot through with science, Durrant's article initially found that "a straw poll among friends and relations would suggest the contention is so irrefutable that evidence is barely necessary"; she then unpacked a slightly more balanced argument. This tonal shift wasn't enough to quell Neil Tweedie, who rebuked her in the paper the following day: "For your information, Sabine, men often find female conversation less than scintillating." All pretty nebulous and sniping, which was hardly surprising: implications that one sex is more intelligent, witty sympathetic, moral or interesting than the other do tend to be objectionable.

The idea that the sexes are almost entirely different species has, of course, always been popular, often especially with those who prize traditional gender roles. If you want society to stick to an ancient order, it helps to assert that men and women each have their own place and quite separate characteristics, and that these are defined not simply by social structures and norms, but by biology. To take the example of power, to define it specifically as a male, testosterone-driven prerogative, as many have done, immediately makes any woman who seeks it (I'm thinking Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton) into either a freak of nature or a faker--someone who is simply trying to ape the manerisms of the opposite sex, to become a male, and who, on those terms, can only ever fail.

Those who cling to the idea that the most basic of male and female stereotypes hold true like to point to the science. Now, I've no doubt that there are scientists who are conducting very interesting, nuanced and subtle work on the differences between the male and female brains, but I'm equally sure that the subtleties of their work are often misrepresented.

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