For one thing, the real statistical data regarding many of these claims is simply not present. For the most part, these assertions came from “a handful of small studies with nonrepresentative samples,” making their validity more than slightly flawed (Barnett and Rivers, 2004) Despite the invalid nature of these claims, they were still used by professors and other researchers, their results taken as gospel. As a result, these gender differences have become something that many have accepted, even though they likely should not have. Many of these claims have some slight basis in research, but the degree to which they are true is not nearly as high as they claim. The degree of overlap between the behavior of the sexes in these early studies was not tested adequately; therefore, these claims were simply created without any real sense of checks and balances. These findings were not checked, and therefore they should not have been released.
Much of the claims that exist are merely “bandwagon concepts that have become unhitched from research moorings” (Barnett and Rivers, 2004). Many of these claims are as follows: there is a difference between men’s and women’s overall attitudes and behavior. Women have an inherent need to care and be in relationships, and men are usually less apt to talk about their feelings and communicate. When girls become teenagers, they start to feel terribly about themselves. There is something biological about men that makes them better at math. All of these assertions have come into the cultural lexicon and have established themselves as things that people merely accept about men and women. However, they may be the product of bad research.
The biggest problem is that too many people incorporated these early studies into their research even with their problems (too small sample sizes, poor research, faulty reasoning), and popular culture has run with these norms, making them easier to believe. Even though later studies have disproved many of these accusations, they are so closely ingrained in the prevailing culture that it is no easy task to change them, even despite rampant evidence of their falsehood. So, even though it has been proven that there is no difference in the mathematics ability of men and women, people still believe that women are naturally bad at math, because they do not have the genetic predisposition (Barnett and Rivers, 2004).
Real research performed to test these ideas tends to debunk these very same myths that previous research purported to support. According to many new studies, “the size of effects indicate that the differences between the sexes are trivial or slight on a host of personality traits and cognitive and social behaviors” (Barnett and Rivers, 2004). For example, there was a study performed recently that debunks the assertion that “men don’t value personal relations,” and that communication cultures between men and women are largely the same.
Another study indicates that gender equality is now greater than it was before, leading women to stop looking for the stereotypical things they are claimed to mostly look for: money, status and power (Barnett and Rivers, 2004). Empirical research indicates that there is no connection between physical attractiveness and someone’s childbearing habits or sexual activity, making it strange that this perception of relationships has been built up so substantially throughout human history.
Some people may claim that the existence of these gender disparities must come from some sensible place – people seem to see women who are terrible at math all the time, and that they tend to care more about things like relationships. On the other side of the coin, lots of people tell of men being uncaring and unfeeling, unwilling to share and open up. They also say that women choose older men because of their established power and status, and that men only go for looks and youth.
Because of these anecdotal pieces of evidence, one must surely be able to claim that there is some sort of credence lent to these assertions. However, these same claims help to bring about a vicious cycle wherein people act according to their own response to these myths; if a woman believes she should care more than she actually would, she might perpetuate that idea by being more emotional. If she had not heard that myth, or if that was a factor that was not attributed to women, it might not have crossed her mind and she could have acted differently.
In conclusion, Barnett and Rivers assert correctly that the bad research performed on gender studies and differences early in the development of the field led to a bizarre perpetuation of their results, leading in gender tropes that may not actually be true. Later research has proved that they are not, and that men and women react more or less the same, and not nearly as different as earlier research and popular culture say. With this in mind, a greater effort must be made to challenge these faulty claims about gender, in order to prevent these types of falsehoods from recurring or continuing. This will allow men and women to behave on equal ground, without the burden of incorrect stereotypes.
Barnett, R. and Rivers, C. “Men are from Earth, and So Are Women; It’s Faulty Research That
Sets Them Apart.” The Chronicle Review 51.2, p. B11, 2004.