Sex and the Social Scientist

By Cole, Susan G. | Herizons, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview
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Sex and the Social Scientist


Cole, Susan G., Herizons


Sex and the Social Scientist.

You should see what's going on in the sex role research labs lately.

Take this recent study of tiny toddlers. Researchers looked at a group of boys and girls playing with the same toys. The boys, they noticed, looked at the tools of play as a means of building something. The girls played with the toys in a way that let them share information about each other. Oh, we can build this, said the boys. Hey, I have these at my house, said the girls, and so they were talking about their lives.

The feminist in me worries that such data weights the argument more towards the nature rather than the nurture side of the child development model and I'm not one to tout women's biological superiority as social beings. But as the mother of a six-year-old who has hung out for hours in day care centres, I have to admit there's something that rings true here. But so what?

Try this one. A group of girls and boys were looked at as they engaged in personal conflict. The boys wanted it. They stuck to their guns (so to speak), came to physical blows over it and a winner emerged. One kid had the truck, the other didn't

The girls were arguing over a doll. But they tried to talk to each other to work out an arrangement. Things got heavy, but only verbally, peaking with the ultimate insult-"Well, then you can't come to my birthday," then, "I didn't want to come anyways"-but eventually they found away to trade something off so that things worked out.

What was key here was that the girl who has the doll kept trying to come up with a solution that took into account the fact that the other girl wanted it. She offered her a different doll, for example, or a chance with the doll she had a little later. The boys stayed focused on the one trucka at issue, for that moment in time.

So, what's to be learned from the way male and female adults resolve conflicts? In one study, a man and a woman on a hiring committee disagreed about who should get the job. The researchers monitored the situation and noticed that the man's impulse was to offer an ultimatum. "If my candidate doesn't get the job, I'll quit," he said.

The woman did not respond in kind. She didn't say, "Oh yeah, then quit," or, "If I don't get my way, I'll quit." She took into account his position and said, "Well, we don't want you to quit, so we'll hire your candidate." The researchers were clear that they did not interpret this as buckling under. It was not that she didn't care about her own point of view but rather, echoing the groundbreaking studies by Carol Gilligan on gender and moral reasoning, that she was able to take the entire situation into account when she was making decisions.

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