|Gender Similarities |
With Janet Hyde, PhD
|By Bradley Cannon, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga |
We have all heard of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus (Gray, 1992). However, the title of Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde’s (University of Wisconsin–Madison) 2014 MPA Distinguished Lecture is "Men Are From Earth, Women Are From Earth” because she has found that women and men are not as different as we have been told.
Making great strides against the differences model, which states that men and women are psychologically very different, Dr. Hyde introduced the gender similarities hypothesis in 2005. This hypothesis, first supported by a review of 46 meta-analyses, reveals that men and women are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables. In fact, of the 46 studies analyzed, 78% of the gender differences found were small or close to zero. The study went on to indicate that "overinflated claims of gender differences carry substantial costs in areas such as the workplace and relationships” (Hyde, 2005, p. 581).
Almost overnight, Dr. Hyde’s theory gained recognition from the media. On the day when she is kind enough to speak with us at Psi Chi, she still has materials before her from another interview that she completed only minutes earlier. For almost 10 years, she has tirelessly worked to conduct lectures, interviews, and have her research presented in undergraduate textbooks in order to spread the word about the ramifications to society if we go on believing that men and women are different in nearly every way.
Troubles Caused by Believing Gender Differences
"The danger,” Dr. Hyde cautions, "is not only from believing that men and women are different just because it is a false belief; thinking men and women are different when evidence shows otherwise causes a number of other problems.”
- "For example, in education, we have stereotyped girls to be the ones who have low self-esteem so that we tend to ignore boys with low self-esteem. That’s not good for the boys or the broader society that they are in where school shootings are something we need to be more concerned about. Thus, our need to protect both genders is one example.”
- "A second cost of believing gender differences is that women in the
workplace want equal pay for equal work. That benefits our society as a
whole, but if you claim that women are very different from men—if you
claim that women think differently, have different abilities, and also
have different ways of communicating, then it’s very difficult to argue
that women deserve equal pay. Thus, this idea of gender differences
plays into various kinds of workplace inequalities such as unequal pay.”
- "A third example has to do with issues in psychotherapy and particularly
couple’s therapy. For example, if a heterosexual couple and their
therapist assume that relationship problems are due to gender
miscommunication, then relationships become harder to fix due to this
unbridgeable gulf. However, if we say ‘men and women are pretty similar,
and we simply need to work on improving our communication,’ then that’s
something we can do.”
As these examples show, "the assumptions of huge gender differences are just not functional.” If people intend to understand, equally value, and help each other, then they must also understand that strong communication is possible.
Progress and Prevention
"Over the last 20 or 30 years, women really have broken into a lot of fields. For example, when I got my PhD, only about 20% of the people with PhDs in psychology were women, and now that number is well over 50%. The same is true for biology, medical schools, and veterinary schools,” Dr. Hyde says, pausing to chuckle before she continues. "People used to say that women can’t do science, but it’s clear now that they can!”
However, not all fields have been as welcome to change as others. "Two that haven’t been so accepting are engineering and physics, and there are many speculations about this.”
"Some people cling to the idea that women aren’t as good at math even though my research and the research of many others has clearly shown that this is not true.” Another reason engineering and physics disciplines have fewer women than men is because of how the disciplines portray themselves. "For example, people typically think engineering is about building cool robots and bridges. However, women on average—and I’m not saying there’s a huge difference here—but women on average are more interested in doing things that help people. On the other hand, if you think about it, building bridges does help people and so does a lot of bioengineering for individuals with disabilities. If there was more advertising to make people think about these disciplines in that light, then the percentage of women might go up. And, of course, a third explanation is that, when a discipline has a low representation of women, female undergraduate students are left thinking that they don’t belong.”
Many abilities in women and men are disregarded due to gender stereotypes. In particular, Dr. Hyde notes that we do not focus enough on men’s verbal abilities or especially women’s mathematical abilities.
So Are Women Good at Math?
Young women need look no further than Dr. Hyde’s success to find the answer to this question. "Because my undergraduate major was math, mathematics absolutely helped me. It was invaluable, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. Psychology requires a lot of statistical analyses, and learning that came very easy to me because of my math background. I wouldn’t have gotten into meta-analyses if I hadn’t been so comfortable and knowledgeable about math. I teach a graduate statistics class to this day.
"Mathematics certainly helped me in my specific research, and I think the gender similarities hypothesis has been my most beneficial project in terms of its impact on science. That paper seems to get people excited a lot,” she says, explaining that she continues to update her work.
"I try to do a good dissemination of this research so that a wide swath of people know about it, and I hope this causes students to consider careers that they wouldn’t have considered before. I also hope the research encourages parents and teachers not to stereotype students and to encourage them to do whatever they want.”
Unfortunately, this appears to be an unending journey because so much popular media already exists about gender differences. Nearly every sitcom shows mothers cooking dinner and messy men sitting on couches. Researchers still exaggerate the slight differences between men and women in a variety of studies if only because they are looking to include a new variable so that their research is more publishable. Many still believe sports are not for girls and pink is not for boys . . . Because of all this, Dr. Hyde still finds that the material on gender similarities comes as a revelation to many students despite all the acclaim for her work. "It’s not that they don’t believe it when I lay the data out, but it’s simply not what they expected. In that way, the gender similarities hypothesis gives many a new way to see the world.”
Advice for Students
If students are interested in joining Dr. Hyde to study women’s or human sexuality courses, she recommends following the big fundamentals laid out before them. "They have to find a faculty member who focuses on one of these areas. They have to figure out how to meet the requirements of the department. They need research experience. And they need to do well on the GRE.”
The Future of Human Sexuality Studies and Women’s Studies Dr. Hyde has been teaching her human sexuality course since 1975, but she still believes that women’s studies is a little further ahead because it hasn’t been as difficult to study in the American climate. In general, she would like to see more about cultural impact including how it affects human sexuality and how we express our sexuality. "Human sexuality studies are going to keep going because students are fascinated by them. We don’t have good coverage in the K through 12 schools today. And even if we did, students would still need to learn about the material at a university level.
"As for women’s studies—this is not going to go away either because we have continuing issues in gender bias. There has also been a shift to considering other gender possibilities, which opens the way for the study of transgender. Thus, there is much work to be done still in women’s and gender studies.”
Inspired by the second wave of the Women’s Movement, Dr. Hyde created her course on the psychology of women in 1973 because she found it stimulating and relevant. At the time, it was one of the first courses of its kind, "and students flocked to it. I was interested, and they were interested. It was a whole new area that had never been studied before and had really been ignored” (Sharp, 2009, p. 26). She has kept teaching this course—first at Bowling Green State University (OH), then at Denison University (OH), and now at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Throughout these years and places, she continues to surprise students and receive e-mails after media exposure about how meaningful her work has been to the lives of others. She also currently studies gender differences in depression for adolescents and the effectiveness of single-sex versus coed schooling structures, but she is always excited to explain her gender similarities hypothesis to everyone who will listen.
Gray, J. (1992). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Hyde, J. S. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581–592. doi:0.1037/0003-066X.60.6.581
National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2013). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2013 (Special Report NSF 13-304). Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/digest/theme2_1.cfm
Sharp, K. (2009, Summer). Psi Chi distinguished lecturer series: Q&A with the 2011 regional convention speakers. Eye on Psi Chi, 16(4), 26–31. Retrieved from http://www.psichi.org/?154EyeSum11cSharp101