When I was in high school, we were told that we could do whatever we wanted to do and we girls mostly wanted to be doctors. In fact, I know the current filed of study of only three of my female classmates. Two are studying medicine and the third is studying pharmacy. Apparently, Norway has a similar problem. Despite being billed as the most equal country in the world, women still concentrated themselves in traditionally female professions (e.g nursing) and men still concentrated themselves in engineering profession.
The same seems to be true in the US as well. In my intro to computer science class, we explored the problem – women are scarce in computer science. It seems that they are scarce in engineering as a whole, but especially in computer science. I don’t remember the numbers, but the dominant problem seemed to be that women are uninterested in it. They find it boring and prefer medicine, teaching, etc.
For most people, it must seem like a no-brainer that men and women are typically interested in different things. The following really informative video attempts to explain why. The verdict is different depending on who you ask. According to the researchers at the Nordic Gender Institute, the causes are purely social. Despite great efforts to the contrary, boys are girls are still treated differently and different things are expected of them. Consequently, children grow up to choose professions in line with those expectations.
Researchers in the UK and US disagreed, arguing that that claim was wrong for several reasons
1. Male and female children express differences in preferences as early as a day after birth, before they have been influenced by society.
2. Research has shown that the preferences of children (which often last into adulthood) depend on the amount of testosterone they are exposed to while in the womb. More testosterone leads to a greater interest in machines and less leads to a greater interest in social activities, hence the predisposition of girls towards professions that involve working with people (medicine and teaching) and of boys towards technical professions (e.g. engineering).
3. Since women are the ones who give birth to children, it makes sense that evolution would provide them with skills and interests necessary to ensure that they survive till childbearing age and are able to care for those children hence the non-confrontational, social and careful nature of women.
4. If the difference in preferences between men and women were purely due to society, they would vary across cultures. However, the difference in preferences remains remarkably the same from Norway, to Saudi Arabia to the US.
Their conclusion: That men and women have innate differences in personality. These differences can be affected a little by cultural perceptions of the sexes, but only a little. In more ‘gender equal’ countries, where both sexes are free to choose their profession as they like, these differences are accentuated as people choose the professions that interest them. In other countries, choice of profession is constrained by other factors like need and societal expectation.
On the other hand, the researchers at the NIKK offered surprisingly little support for their assertions. Instead they suggested that the studies were flawed and the researchers biased. The NIKK was closed down after this video and its sequels were aired whether as a direst result, I do not know.
I am perfectly willing to accept the talk about the sexes being equal as long as equal does not mean ‘the same’. To me, the difference between men and women is very obvious. I see it in my family, friends and classes. I can count on one hand the number of my male acquaintances that want to be teachers, but that’s what a lot of my girlfriends want. The ratio of guys to girls in my classes is huge. I believe that men and women are equal in the sense that they are both made in God’s image, but I find it difficult to think of any other way in which they are equal.