Monday, August 22, 2011

It's a [insert life-defining gender here]!

Whether you believe nature or nurture accounts for gender differences, there’s no denying that in today’s world, gender defines and shapes each and every one of us.
A few years ago, I filled out a chain mail quiz counting stereotypical boy and girl traits. At the time, I scored almost twice as many boy traits as girl traits. In preparation for this post, I redid the quiz… and scored three times as many boy traits as girl traits. (And let’s be clear: I’m quite sure that I’m a girl.) The truth is, despite these results, I’d make a very bad boy. Of course, I make only a marginally better girl.
I’m uber-competitive and I love math. I disdain makeup, high heels, and jewelry in favour of spending way too much time playing sports and messing around on my laptop. When in comes to clothes, I take pains to be neat and clean, but I wear no skinny jeans, no dresses or skirts and nothing that shows cleavage. Certainly no pink. In fact, blue is the most prominent colour in my wardrobe. I think being ‘nice’ is dumb, like extending an invitation for people to walk all over you. I’m not shy about my opinions or my beliefs, and I can be a ‘real bitch’ when I lead. I’m planning to study engineering in university.
At the same time, I’m a detail oriented perfectionist. I must keep everything neat and clean. I love languages (I speak English, French and some Spanish) and creative ventures such as novel and poetry writing. I adore little kids (when they aren’t sticky), and when I have kids of my own someday, I can’t imagine leaving them at a daycare. I have trouble keeping left and right straight and reading maps that aren’t oriented correctly. I want to become a best selling author of books with happily ever after endings.
So which is it… I am a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’? Maybe I just make a very bad stereotype, which is no bad thing.
To get an objective opinion, I took a male/female brain test developed by the BBC. When I got the results, I was flabbergasted. Not by the results so much as by their methodology and reasoning in dispensing them.
By all means take the test yourself, but please be aware of its many and serious flaws. Half the time, their own male and female averages on different sections defy the so-called ‘scientific results’ they are handing out.
They’re using selective neuroscience to justify gender stereotypes, gender bias, and gender based discrimination. For example, they say that women and people with an arts background tend to score worse on a spacial manipulation test than men and those with science and engineering backgrounds. I have two questions about this:
1) Why is it that women have better ‘spatial memory’ when it comes to objects that have moved (earlier in the results) but worse ‘spacial manipulation skills’?
2) More importantly, why would people with arts backgrounds (such as painters and sculptors) be worse at spacial manipulation than people with science backgrounds (like chemists and psychiatrists)? Extreme examples, I know, but they serve to illuminate the gross generalizations permitted when it comes to gender.
I could go on all day, but instead I will simply quote Alanna the Lioness: “Men don't think any differently from women- they just make more noise about being able to.”
(For those of you interested in a more lengthly tirade, I recommend Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine.)
In the end, all the quizzes and tests in the world don’t mean anything compared to the importance of simply being myself. Girl? Yes. Conventional girl? Hell no.
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As an addendum, I’d like to extend my deepest sympathies to Jack Layton’s family and friends. Jack was the leader of Canada’s NDP party, which recently won a historic position as the Official Opposition in our House of Commons. More than any other Canadian politician, Jack was beloved of the entire country.
I went to bed in the early hours of this morning, and when I awoke this afternoon I discovered that while I slept peacefully, Jack Layton had passed into the final sleep of peace. I don’t know what he believed about death - in fact, I’m not even sure what I believe - but I refuse to believe that such a vibrant presence could disappear forever. I choose to believe that somewhere, somehow, Jack lives on. 
In his final days, Jack wrote a beautifully eloquent open letter to his country and the world. He wrote the following speaking to fellow cancer patients, but I think we could all do well to take this advice:
You must not lose your own hope… You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future… cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey…
His closing words, his farewell to the country and people he served with such passion, devotion and steadfastness, were perfect, and perfectly representative of the man he was. 
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
Jack probably never read The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but I think the closing of that book is a wonderful way to say farewell to someone known as “The Fighter.”
Step follows step.
Hope follows courage.
Set your face toward danger.
Set your heart on victory.

Goodbye Smiling Jack. You will never be forgotten.

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