Life in London: it is hectic and brutal yet truly vibrant. On the one hand the diverse population and innovative businesses lead to forward thinking and trend setting. Yet in many ways London clings onto the old and familiar. Views on gender are a paradigm case. I think the most interesting place to hear these views is from the ordinary person on the street: one of my favourite methods is eavesdropping on the bus or tube. As self-awareness of the topic is usually pretty low, in other words people don't realise they are expressing a view about gender, I get to hear what they really think.
Just the other afternoon on a train through Greenwich I overheard one young woman telling her female friend about her new job. She spoke about her new colleagues and expressed disappointment that they were predominantly male. Specifically she said she didn't 'have anything to talk to them about' namely because they are men. These little asides about gender differences usually get me listening, especially when expressed by women (who are often more guilty then men for perpetuating gender myths).
So this woman is claiming that due to her colleagues' gender she finds them uninteresting and difficult to talk to in the work place. In fact it's more than that when she claims she has nothing at all to say to them as by the gender they are so different to her. Perhaps her male colleagues have isolated her. A throwaway comment is actually a big statement (hyperbole aside). I know some will think I'm reading too much into this. Others will say why does this matter? Yet consider for a moment if a man had said this about his female colleagues. Many of us have fought to ensure that no one felt isolated in the workplace. Similarly many women have argued that the differences between the genders are minimal. This has greatly enabled female progress in the workplace as it proves women are just as capable as men.
Yet clearly this remark shows that there are those who still think there are large differences between men and women. This is not of course limited to everyday conversation. I read recently that there are now more women than men becoming doctors. This is something of a great achievement and women should be congratulated. However the media focus of this event was to question whether this would lead to a great change, to focus on the differences that could occur in the profession. Of course male and female doctors have been trained to the same high standards, why should we focus on differences? Let me guess, they want to argue women are more caring (in contrast to the supposedly uncaring male doctors?) This leads to minimal differences being amplified and stereotypes being perpetuated, which in turn widens the gender divide. The thoughts expressed by the young woman represent opinions that are still widespread. I think it is about time we moved on and stopped focusing on the differences between men and women.
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