In the latest extract from the Almost-Completely-Secret Diary of a CIPA President, Andrea Brewster writes a review of Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine.
10 May 2016, 4 pm
I am on a train, reading a book about gender inequality. And I am becoming, by the minute, an increasingly militant feminist. The key thesis of the book so far is that all the tosh about male and female brains being “hardwired” differently, so that women are better equipped to do the drudgery and men to do the Being Important, was potentially wrong after all. It was convenient; it was comforting (to some); but it was just a little bit scientifically and sociologically suspect. As someone whose brain has never been “hardwired”, much less equipped to do drudgery, and in any case has a tendency to short-circuit under pressure, I have always suspected this.
The thing is, guess what, you can manufacture gender differences by priming people before you experiment on them. For example, if you tell people before they do a maths test that men normally do better in it, the men will do better in it. If you tell them that women are expected to perform better, the women will do as they’re told and perform better, often ten times better. To extrapolate, if you go round telling people that they are rubbish and incompetent at their jobs, but would be really really good at looking after your children, they will turn out to be much better at looking after your children than they are at their jobs, and will eventually give up their jobs to look after your children. Try it.
There are of course women for whom this doesn’t work. These are the ones who turn out to be rubbish and incompetent at their jobs but also not really fit to look after anyone’s children, including their own. Such people can sometimes be found a niche in an off-beat profession such as patent attorneyism. Honestly I never told my husband he was rubbish and incompetent at his job. He chose to do the childcare because he felt it would be safer that way.
Which brings me to something else the book says: that the women who do traditionally male jobs, like in science and engineering and Being Important, tend to cope with their own and everyone else’s surprise by pretending they are not proper women. I can relate to this. Underneath my high-powered, analytical, spatially aware, technically competent and quantitative pseudo-male exterior, I am actually extremely ladylike, but I keep this a big secret in order not to undermine my skill with a calculator. It may be difficult to imagine that someone surrounded by so much straw and crumpled clothing is actually a walking, talking epitome of all that is traditionally considered feminine, but may I suggest you are not trying hard enough? No really: I do have some nail polish. Somewhere. It is pink, I believe.
It has also solidified in the bottle. But, unusually for a woman, I can probably explain why.
What do you all think?
For example, as women in IP, do you feel that you have to act or even dress ‘more male’ to succeed in the profession? As men in IP, do you find yourself not talking about your children or family life at work? We would like to hear from you.