Gender Differences: Facts And Myths -- By: Susan H. Howell

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 24:2 (Spring 2010)
Article: Gender Differences: Facts And Myths
Author: Susan H. Howell


Gender Differences: Facts And Myths

Susan Howell

Susan Howell is Professor of Psychology at Campbellsville University in Kentucky, where she I teaches a gender studies course. She and her husband, Dwayne, have two children, Katelyn and Patrick.

We hear much these days about differences between males and females. Television advertisements encourage us to purchase different vitamins for our sons and daughters based on their claims that females need skin care assistance while males need help building muscle. Manufacturers of adult undergarments assure us men and women have different undergarment needs, pointing to supposed differences in the way males and females drive their vehicles. The marketing of everything from toys to different Bibles for girls and boys suggests that even children are completely opposite in their essence. The uninformed might be persuaded that males and females are of two different species.

Yet, research continues to bear out the vast similarities rather than differences between the genders, reminding us that we are truly of the same species and that differences long assumed to be innate might be culturally created if not entirely nonexistent. This article will look at what research indicates regarding differences (and similarities) in the areas of cognitive and socio-emotional behavior in contrast to the myths so often perpetuated as truth. Application will then be made for appropriate use of these findings within the church and other areas of ministry. I am indebted to the work of Vicki S. Helgeson, whose thorough meta-analyses of research on gender differences provides the basis for this article1

Cognitive Abilities

Traditionally, males are considered stronger in spatial and mathematical abilities, while females are typically thought to be stronger in verbal skills. These supposed differences are used to account for males’ overrepresentation in certain occupations and feed stereotypes of the talkative female and the silent male. However, an exploration of empirical research suggests that such beliefs are only partially true. For instance, while males overall tend to score higher on most spatial tasks (e.g., mental rotation), females tend to score higher in spatial location memory (i.e., object location) (106,108). Likewise, some research indicates high school and college males score higher in mathematical problem solving, whereas, during elementary and middle school, females perform better in the area of computational ability (110-111), although differences in math abilities among the general population seem to be decreasing (111) and are minimal (no).

Whether such differences are innate or a result of social expectations and improv...

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