The ultimate battle of the sexes in Australia hit fever pitch last week when Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave Opposition Leader Tony Abbott an absolute berating in Parliament. The speech made by Gillard comes after months and months of alleged misogynistic comments made by Abbott. If you haven’t seen the footage, or the memes, check it out here. My favourite meme being this one:
Gillard’s speech made both national and international headlines, even making it into the New Yorker. She ripped into Tony Abbott for being a misogynist, listing dates and phrases that Abbott has used over the years, including this gem:
“But what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
But scientifically speaking, is Abbott right? Are men, by default of nature, more suited to leadership roles? It sounds sensible enough. Men, after all, are the hunters while women are the gatherers. Men and women have evolved differently over time and maybe men are geared towards a more dominating psyche.
Unfortunately for Tony Abbott, this is not the case. Yeah sure, men and women have evolved differently. But men are not, by default, more adapted to exercise authority and men are not more suited to issue command. Here’s why.
Men aren’t from Mars, women aren’t from Venus
When we think about what makes someone biologically male or female, we think of different things. For example, if someone is tall they’re more likely to be a man and if someone is shorter, they’re more likely to be a woman. But we know that there are enough short men and tall women for height not to be an accurate measure of gender.
Brain physiology is similar. Men have larger areas of the brain that deal with spatial perception, and women are better at problem solving and decision making. But it’s not to suggest that all men and women are like that.
In fact, personality factors such as aggression, empathy and assertiveness are less than half as indicative of gender as height. Translation: they are not indicative of gender at all. This is also true for many other traits such as mathematical skills and computation ability, which show no difference between men and women.
Same same but different
Yet regardless, we still see gender roles played out in society. We tend to associate engineering and IT jobs with men, and nursing and teaching with women. Men dominate the political spectrum, while women are left underrepresented.
This brings us back to the original comment that Tony Abbott made about men in power. It’s not a case of men being more suited to leadership, it’s about gender inequality.
We cannot define gender based on how our minds work and we cannot pretend that we don’t know any better. Yes, differences do exist, but they are not deterministic.
The human brain is very malleable and can adapt acutely to any situation. This means that women are more than capable to take on leadership roles and men are more than suited to operating an iron.
So are Tony Abbott’s comments misogynistic or is he just ill-informed? Well, I’ll let you decide that one for yourself.