Negating gender stereotypes

We’ve all heard Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  Most of us may have even read the book.  We stereotype genders, and get stereotyped ourselves…more than you can imagine.  There are many theories, articles and books – many scientific – that claim women’s brains are clinically different from men’s.  Many attempts to rationalize why women and men behave and react differently.  Why?  Just so we can understand our “segmentation” theories and market to them accordingly?  How are you and your companies stereotyping these human behaviors?

Women are emotional and nurturing.  Women can multi-task.  Men like machines.  Men are more logical.  Women want togetherness.  Men long for separateness.  I even read an article once that had research numbers pointing to men being happier when they are married to smart women; and women happier when they are married to rich men.  I couldn’t believe these archetypes were still out there.  How about men and women are happier when they can find their own strengths and passions – whatever they may be – and hopefully can share those with partners who appreciate, love, and nurture that in them.

Can we pick and choose what studies we like and not choose those that don’t fit into our own personal beliefs?  And, more importantly do they really matter?

There are two sides to all these stereotypes.  If women are emotional and nurturing, then the Army needs to re-think its recruitment of women.  Conversely, if men are less emotional, then the American Airlines ad where the tired traveling salesmen gets an unexpected bonus – a trip home to see his family – is off kilter.  If marketing is designed to get an “emotional” response and attachment, then why are we marketing to men at all?

The most recent entry into the truth about the sexes is Cordelia Fine’s Delusion of Gender in which she punches a big hole in the notion that women’s brains are hardwired for nurturing and domesticity.  Fine, who has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from University College in London, takes on the historical scientific  “evidence” that supposedly explained the differences in men and women and asks the question: “Is it realistic . . . to expect two kinds of people with such different brains to ever have similar values, abilities, achievements, lives? If it’s our differently wired brains that make us different, maybe we can sit back and relax. If you want the answer to persistent gender inequalities, stop peering suspiciously at society and take a look right over here, please, at this brain scan. If only it were that simple.”

In the past, experts have come up with various theories about gender inequality. The Victorians believed that women’s brains were smaller due to more delicate brain fibers, and called it the “missing five ounces.” After the Victorians went out of style, the smaller size of upper spinal cord was fingered as being the reason why the vote should be withheld from women because they were not as able to evaluate “political initiative,” according to Dr. Charles L. Dana in 1915.  According to Norman Geschwind in the 1980s, men get more from right size of brain which gives them more artistic, musical or mathematical talent.  In female brains, he wrote, the hemispheres are more collaborative, which accounts for women’s superior verbalizing skills.  Well, there is a hole right there.  Our emotions are not linear/left brain, Mr. Geschwind.  And men can also collaborate, and some women can’t.

Have you asked yourself why there is so much focus on gender inequality?  Are we, as a society, finding ways to rationalize the inequalities that we push, both socially and politically?  Haven’t we confused the new generation enough?

Dr. Fine starts out disputing that there is any size difference between men and women.  But she also hedges, by asking the important question:  Does size matter? She wrote “getting from brain to behavior has proved a challenge.” Even if there were sex differences in the brain, she asks, “What do they actually mean for differences in the mind?

Her answer is: not much. In fact, even if there were differences, the brain self-adapts. In other words, if boys tend to be better in math and science then girls, the reason is more cultural than neurological because boys are expected to do better in math and therefore rise to the occasion. Girls are supposed to be better listeners and more empathetic so they grow into that role.

Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, and there may or may not be biological and neurological reasons why men and women tend to – or are perceived to – react differently to situations.  People have different natural strengths, talents and passions.  All people.  Why don’t we write so many books and articles about how different men are from other men.

The key to success of any brand strategy is to avoid stereotypes, and the changing archetypes.  What if words such as yin/yang and feminine/masculine were discernment of different qualities, regardless of gender and cultural differences.  To have brand attributes aligned with the values of the New World, wouldn’t you rather study commonalities within your target customers, than differences?  Wouldn’t you want to find the “sweet spot” on what makes that strong emotional bond and loyalty among the different segments of your customer base?  What if we debunk some of the popular myths and archetypes, and truly start learning about cultures – different cultural values, that are inherent in both genders.  Most of the gender inequalities may very well be “cultural”.  I could point out that one simple explanation may be “redistribution of resources” …. But that’s a whole different article in itself.

Leave a Reply