Recently, during a school trip to Kings’ College University, I had the privilege of meeting the head of the university’s Psychology Department- Professor Richard Brown. Having a keen interest in societal ideas of gender, I naturally became very fascinated by the nature of one of Professor Brown’s observations:
In a social experiment, Professor Brown laid out a complex scientific activity. He put the participants into groups according to gender, and timed how long it took for the groups to obtain the correct answer. He found that, whilst the girls were interested in organisation and the avoidance of conflict, the boys were far more assertive, if slightly aggressive, and this allowed them to delve into the finer details of the task at hand. They called each other “idiots” and were far more competitive in their approaches. They favoured competition over cooperation, as opposed to the girls.
Much has been written about how boys are typically more ‘independent, assertive and competitive’ than girls, even at early ages, but are these characteristics biological or learned? Many sociologists argue that the idea that they are intrinsic and ‘critical to the survival of our species’ is wholly mythical, and that such characteristics only arise as a direct result of gender socialisation.
From a young age, boys are encouraged to play with cars, action figures and science sets. Thus, they are channelled into their gender roles as ‘protectors’, and favour careers in science and technology. As a result of this, only 5.3% of women in the UK are involved in SET compared with 33% of men, according to the Women’s Engineering Society.
Meanwhile, young girls are encouraged to be sensitive, passive and supportive. They are often canalised into playing with dolls, tea sets and simulation toys, and therefore favour careers in teaching, nursing and other nurture fields.
In my view, gender roles are fundamentally stupid: they are restrictive and irrational, and damage young children and young potential.
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