Posted Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at 12:46 PM
Anna North at BuzzFeed reported Tuesday on a study by psychological researchers Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis, which demonstrates that, on a series of personality traits that are typically understood as gender-specific, men and women overlap far more than many people and most network TV shows would like to believe. There were some gender differences—there are more assertive men than women, for instance—but the significant overlap was such that, contrary to public opinion, one could not predict a person's gender very well based on their personality traits. This is the chart showing the overlap in assertiveness:
University of Rochester
As North reports, there's similar overlap in terms of how open people are to non-committed sex, how often they masturbate, how much empathy they have, whether they find science interesting, and how much feeling they have for their friends, despite the fact that most people believe men and women are very different on all of these measurements.
What's remarkable about all this is not that men and women have so much in common but that these commonalities persist despite relentless gender policing that usually involves quite a bit of shame. Men face ridicule if they're perceived as having female-like levels of empathy and concern for their friends, and yet, according to the study, they overcome it. Women are routinely told there's something wrong with them if they have "masculine" attitudes towards sex and men are emasculated if they aren't horny all the time or if they desire intimacy alongside their sexual adventures, and yet both genders tend to have a mix of adventurousness and tenderness when it comes to sex. We're constantly being put in gender silos, and yet, apparently, we keep escaping. (Go us!)
With that in mind, imagine how much happier we'd be if we just gave up on all the needless gender policing! If men didn't feel like they might lose their "man card" if they hug a friend outside of a sports context or women didn't get labeled "bitch" for assertive behavior, the overlap in these traits would almost surely be greater. (Sure, some claim the differences that do exist are "biological," but if that were true, there would be no need to use shame to keep people from venturing away from their assigned gender roles. Nature would do its job.) Feminists often face a wall of skepticism for suggesting simply that we relinquish our attachment to gender expectations, but this research implies that doing so would free us all up to be ourselves even more than we already are.