December 2, 2015
Why paint yourself with the either/or, black-or-white binary system of gender when instead you could be a vibrant mosaic of masculine and feminine attributes? By letting go of stereotypes and celebrating individuals with a mix of gender characteristics, you'll create more opportunities for yourself and others.
Imagine if boys could be soft and caring without feeling shame, while girls could be tough and forceful without facing criticism. Imagine women routinely ascending to the top ranks of STEM jobs (science, technology, engineering and math) and men embracing HEAL jobs (health, education, administration and literacy) without judgment. We'd all have so much more freedom and so many more options.
According to research results published by Tel Aviv University in 2015, we now have empirical evidence that this is the way it should be. There are not male and female brains, and it is time to quit routinely classifying based on gender. Everyone is different, and in the same way as there are not just two types of brains; there are not just two types of people. Each of our individual, distinguishing characteristics covers a vast spectrum.
The authors of the study analyzed MRIs of more than 1,400 human brains and found an extensive overlap between distributions of females and males for all gray matter, white matter and connections assessed. Furthermore, they said that brains with features that are consistently at one end of the "maleness-femaleness" continuum are rare. Rather, most brains are composed of a unique mosaic of features.
Recently deceased artist, musician, film star and fashion icon David Bowie led the way on this, defying all categories. He was at first considered gay, then bisexual, and finally heterosexual when he married twice and fathered two children. For this he was called a chameleon yet is recognized as one of the great innovators of our time. If he had allowed himself to be pigeonholed into a traditional gender role I dare say he would never have created such a totally unique and game-changing legacy. The fact that he freely roamed the spectrum was the source of his genius.
For most of us, the labels will not be that extreme, nor the innovations that worldly. However, with proof that the biology of our brains does not support putting boys and girls into two separate camps, we can now accept that it has no influence on our characteristics, career choices or behaviours. Thus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to give up cultural expectations of what it means to be male or female and increase our options.
Readjusting our thinking will make it possible to drop deeply entrenched stereotypes. Faulty beliefs about innate gender differences have provided an excuse to preserve the status quo, and this has been to society's detriment. Men no longer have to be breadwinners and can adapt to a modern family, providing childcare and collaborating with women who earning the bulk of the income. Better yet, we can give up any stigma surrounding these new roles.
With more gender symmetry we can reduce unconscious bias that prohibits people from expressing characteristics typically thought to be the prerogative of the opposite gender. Women will no longer face backlash when they deliver an opinion in a way that isn't adorable. Men will be able to tear up and express emotion publicly without being considered weak. Women will be free to promote their strengths without being considered arrogant, and men can ask for directions without being considered wimps.
In my own way, I am someone who always sought to paint with a broader gender palette. As a preschooler I remember a business client of my father's admiring my self-sufficiency, saying that I would thrive even living in a dank alleyway.
While he found that admirable, I remember my grade-four teacher finding those same characteristics extremely objectionable. I talked too much and had too many opinions that didn't fit the good-little-girl stereotype. My mother, who intuitively understood the mosaic, made lots of trips to the school to reinforce that my individuality wasn't to be squashed.
Later, in my corporate career, I worked with a man who was so kind and sensitive we nicknamed him the “Alan Alda of PotashCorp”. While it was all in good humour, he was a true mosaic before his time. Trained as an engineer, he exhibited many masculine characteristics such as being action-oriented and focused on outcome, yet he managed all relationships within his jurisdiction especially well.
I don't dispute that there are masculine and feminine archetypes and that there is value in preserving them. Not only have they been well established throughout history and across cultural institutions, they also demonstrate a wide palette of attributes for each of us to choose every day.
What I object to is the idea that men must exhibit masculine characteristics and women feminine ones. Furthermore, if we could release the stereotypes affirming that men should be choosing certain careers based on masculine behaviours (and similarly for women) we could eliminate much unconscious bias as well.
By bringing our beliefs in line with our brain biology, we can get out of either/or, black-and-white thinking. We can express ourselves with a wide palette of colours and live as individuals with a mix of gender characteristics. This will open our world and make more options available to us. Everyone will benefit!