Gender Differences and Misconceptions
By Jessika Endsley
Difference in gender, whether those differences actually exist, how it happens, and what the relationship between genders is really like are subjects of much discussion in the neuropsychological world as well as among laymen. Whether someone is trying to fight a stereotype, instill a stereotype, or create equality and unity between the two primary genders, most gender research (and research in general) is fueled by a personal or more global agenda. Many people who conduct research on gender or even write about gender are highly insecure with what their own gender means about them, but as an atypical female who thrives on cynical objectivity, I lack this problem. What happens when no agenda is behind research and explanation of the neuropsychological world of gender?
It is easy to observe the ever-lasting gender stereotypes and associations by simple basic life. Girl babies get a pink room, boy babies get a blue room. Boys like girls, girls like boys, but only after years of being told one another are "icky." Little girls should play with dolls and little boys should play with trucks. Of course, as the times change, little girls color pictures on their iPads and little boys play video games - but what they "should" do is still very defined and often crippling. Upon the birth of each new person, an ideal is instilled by parents, family friends, as well as peers, on what the person should be like in terms of two categories based primarily upon their momentarily useless genital region. The person is also instilled with a sense of what a "real man" or "good girl" is supposed to act like, talk like, think like, and what activities such people do or do not participate in. Therefore, they perceive each person they encounter through gender-typical lenses.
While females may be almost as inclined to be on the Autistic Spectrum, have Down's Syndrome, have a compromised amygdala and therefore capacity for empathy, there is an obvious gap in the diagnostic world between males and females. Females, overall, are less likely to be born with more common genetic defects - the double X chromosome contributes to much protection from this and from many neurological abnormalities. This makes sense evolutionarily and biologically for the simple fact that the more neurologically functional and social a female is, the more inclined to socially-aware and empathetic child-rearing they are. In black and white, dry scientific terms, females were initially designed with an underlying basic function of the raising and caring for the children and the furthering of the human species. Not only the female body was made for this, but the vast majority of female's minds function in a way that is copasetic to this.
The flip-side to this is that females are also less inclined to test with genius-level IQ's and less likely to fall into the savant category, whether they do or do not fall into the Autism/Asperger's Spectrum. While females may be less likely to have retarded or borderline-retarded intelligence levels, they are also less inclined to have a particularly spectacular or noticeable and admirable abnormalities in the neuropsychological realm. Being protected so as to be able to have a higher empathy quotient and a better ability to relate emotionally to others comes with a price of not only being less likely statistically to be extraordinarily systematic, and when a female is extraordinarily systematic or neurologically compromised, it can be hell to acquire a diagnosis or for the condition to be viewed initially as simply "weird" when the female may have Asperger's Syndrome or be a genius lacking nurture. An area of possible statistical controversy is beginning to surround the fact that, when emotionally unstable, females are more likely to seek help. Therefore, the statistical diagnostic statements of diagnosed Personality Disorders will often be substantially larger numbers for females than males, skewing the knowledge of gender-relation and Personality Disorders, anxiety, and other mental disturbances. Women simply seek help more willingly, subconsciously aware of being seen outwardly as the weaker sex and therefore more socially inclined to "ask for directions" whether literally or figuratively. And often, when a neurologically atypical female does seek help, their neurological makeup is entirely ignored and they are diagnosed with an emotional disturbance even if they lack emotion almost entirely. Many diagnostic possibilities will be left out due to the supposed unlikelihood of a systematic brain in a female or of any lack of empathy because the acknowledgment of such females in their actual numbers may shift the entire process behind diagnosis and that would require an adjustment in thinking, and but we don't feel like dealing with that.
Males are taught early on that emotions are equivalent to weakness. It is highly common to hear a father tell his son to "be a man" or to hear people telling each other they should "man up." What do these demands actually mean? Masculinity has consistently been associated with "strength" and "power" in cultures across the map for a very long time. Males are often as likely to have a personality of the "Feeler" (in terms of Meyers-Briggs Personality Typology) variety as females, but they are told to alter their emotions or reactions at a very young age. Although the assumptions of male behavior do have a logical tint due to the biological and un-empathetic aggression that is brought on by the male hormone testosterone, most statistics and behavioral studies suggest that males are not as systematic as a general populace had hoped. This does not overthrow the fact that females are generally more empathetic, as this also is linked not only in environment, but in genes themselves, and this has little to do with the personality type. The insistent pressure on males to behave in a fashion so misguided by society has a dysfunctional effect on the males themselves, despite the fact that they are the ones enforcing the "rules." While repression has been the male way of coping emotion for quite some time, as mental health services become more socially acceptable, it has come to the attention of many renowned psychologists that males are as prone to emotional disturbance as females, such as Major Depression, and actually more inclined towards certain Personality Disorders. With the rising diagnostic evidence of male emotional disturbances (and therefore strong male emotion) there has been a shift in what a male can and cannot show. As gender-standards slowly level out, males are gaining the freedom to learn to express and to be human.
While the highly systematic brain is more commonly found in males (and an extremely systematic brain is termed "Extreme Male Brain" by Baron-Cohen in relation to Asperger's and behavioral gender) this does often comes with the risks of neurological disadvantages as well as learning disabilities. With males being more inclined to develop learning disabilities and be more susceptible to genetic defects by the same gene that makes them taller and prone to acne, they are also more inclined to test at a genius-level IQ and to have savant skills. The male brain is predominately wired for understanding and building systems - not for empathizing. While that may not be the best thought process for relating to and caring for children, it is indeed the best mode for great achievement in the areas of science and for developing strategic ways to provide for their young and their mate as well as for protecting them. With the societal and technological advances of recent times, males do not necessarily have to spend as much of their energy being providers for others; this gives them the freedom to create and explore systems, whether abstract or applied. Most mathematicians are male, as are most in the field of building new technology. Even philosophy is a predominately male interest and profession; different philosophies are indeed different systems of thought and viewing the surrounding world. The systematic brain is responsible for winning Nobel Prize after Nobel Prize - no empathy required.
The Science of Gender Relationships
Gender interaction is an entirely different animal than studying each gender itself. With advances in society that allow for large gaps in preferences for males in regards to "ideal female" and for females to no longer need a male counterpart to care for them, interactions have changed. Some of the easiest ways to study how a relationship actually works from any given male or female perspective is to watch one-half of a same-sex couple, where there is less inclination to be a battle of what is "right" and what is not. This if often the product of the empathetic VS systematic brain, and since most people in this world are inclined towards heterosexuality, the heterosexual dynamic cannot be ignored for practicality's sake.
While societal preferences for what a "perfect female" should look like changes with the decade and is often illogical in terms of the male biological preference for feminine traits, what the typical male brain is wired to seek is actually consistent throughout the ages. Signs of fertility in females is of utmost importance, subconsciously, to the male; it can be argued that seeking otherwise could be a sign of a psychological abnormality or the carrying of genetic defect. Because fertility is what has defined female "beauty" throughout the ages, body shape (not size) in females has been relatively consistent - breast size proportional to the waist, at least moderate definition in waist, and broad hips. A healthy but not "lazy-induced" layer of fat that females carry naturally to protect themselves in crisis will be taken note of as well as strong legs. Along with the "fertile body," healthy skin and lips as well as feminine facial features (signs of extra estrogen) are what makes a female a good candidate for reproduction. Despite differences in societal standards for what an "attractive female" is (and this is often chosen by homosexual men working in the fashion industry rather than heterosexual men) always changing, signs of fertility don't change, and the same basic them can be observed from culture to culture. Many males may begin to question why they do not find the clothes-hanger bodies on television attractive, and the honest answer to that question may very well be "because you're straight."
Females have their own set of standards for what their males should be capable of. Although basic attractiveness, stature and masculinity are and always have been the most common initial spark for a female to take note of a male, the ability to provide and protect is more important. This is why it is common to see a typically attractive female with a male who is unattractive - what's in his wallet? Yes, it is biological for females to be "gold diggers." This is a direct evolutionary response to the female inborn standard of attractiveness to be based around their appearance of fertility. Being fertile only gets part of the job done; a mate who cannot protect or provide for the offspring and therefore insure the new addition to the species' survival is undesirable and an illogical choice. While society has changed enough for females to often be able to take care of themselves, females will often find themselves more attracted to a male upon discovering he has a steady job and a nice car. Although it can unnerve males and imply that the female is "shallow," this trait has as much of a root in evolutionary biology as the male inclination to prefer females of a certain body type.
Can men and women "just be friends"?
Since we know that both genders are shallow, it can be taken notice of that this inherent shallowness among healthy or neurotypical adults has started going to war with the "deeper" part of our genetic makeup that has come to desire intellectually stimulating partners rather than a simple selection good for "getting the job done." Some people base their marriages around that as opposed to mutual attractiveness, and others try to make up for what they are missing from their partner by having friends. Although platonic friendships can exist easily among neurologically atypical people of opposite genders, it requires a small variety of opportunities among the general populace to actually exist even in a one-sided manner. Age differences, physical unattractiveness in either gender or low libido can aid platonic friendships, and little else can. If the opposite-sex friendship did not begin with an agenda from one or both parties, it will likely end in one - and don't blame this entirely on males, because females are actually more inclined to have extra-marital affairs than men now that it is common for them to work outside of the home. So, no, unless you're old or ugly, we cannot just be friends.