In The Pink – How Girls And Boys Are Different And Why Aliens Think Girls Are Better
In Britain today, women outnumber men in two thirds of university undergraduate courses. So far, so feminist. Society can pat itself on the back for reversing a long trend of male academic dominance. There is a catch though.
Of the degree courses where girls outnumber boys, the top five are as follows. Creative Arts and Design, Education, Social Studies, Biological Sciences, Law. Out of this list, only Law is considered a traditionally male pursuit.
Of the degree courses where boys outnumber girls, this is how the top five runs : Engineering, Computer Sciences, Physics, Architecture, Mathematics. Every single subject on this list is considered a traditionally male pursuit. Despite the fact that the first ever computer program was written by a woman, Ada Lovelace, for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine.
So, it would seem that after decades of encouraging women and men to break their educational stereotypes, girls are still choosing girly subjects and boys are still opting for the laddish disciplines. Why? The answer is obvious really. MEN AND WOMEN ARE NOT THE SAME.
At best, men and women are differently equal. Though I would maintain that if a race of aliens observed us, they would come to the conclusion that women were superior morally and spiritually. In general at least, but only if the aliens in question reproduced asexually. The last thing we need is to be investigated or invaded by sexist aliens.
So, girls and boys are different. The deeper question is how different, and why? Why, to put it in very basic terms, do little girls like pink and little boys do not? Is it nature or is it nurture?
The nature argument goes something like this. Back in prehistory, humans were hunter gatherers. Men did the hunting and women did the gathering. Women evolved to be attracted to the reddish colours of nutritious berries. Though this theory does ignore the fact that most brightly coloured, reddish berries are actually highly poisonous.
The nurture argument unfolds along these lines. Children have no preference for any colours until they are about two and a half years old. This is a firmly established fact. At this age, girls start liking the colour pink and boys start disliking it. Two and a half also happens to be the age when children become aware of gender.
At this age, children become pretty savvy “gender detectives” and are constantly searching for clues to their identity. The adults provide them with those clues. Hence the continuation of the “pink for a girl and blue for a boy” motif. And perhaps the continuation of that motif into the education and career choices later in life.
The girls’ attraction to pink gets stronger with age, as does the boys’ corresponding repulsion. Then, when puberty kicks in, most girls grow out of obsessively liking pink. They’ve absorbed all the gender pointers they need and nature has usually provided a couple of less subtle clues as to whether or not you’re a boy or a girl. Later still, some men who are assured enough of their masculinity even go as far as to wear a pink shirt. Or at least set off a blue one with a pink tie.
This sounds far more plausible than the “nature” theory. There’s still a bit of a problem with it though. It has not always been “pink for a girl and blue for a boy”. In fact, in Britain, it was the other way around up until the 1930s. There are researchers who depute this of course, and maybe they’re right. I haven’t delved into it too deeply, merely accepted it as gospel the moment Stephen Fry spake it on an episode of QI.
I do know this though. At one point, Britain had the largest empire the world has ever seen. Our maps and atlases had all of our overseas territories filled in with one colour. And that colour was pink. Fox hunters wore long, brightly coloured coats. They were called hunting pinks. Whatever you may think of world conquest and ripping live foxes apart, you have to admit that neither occupation could be considered deeply girly. Yet, back in the day, pink was the colour associated with both.
Still, the preoccupation or otherwise that females have with the colour pink is just a symptom. For most girls, the pink issue has evaporated by the time they choose the direction of their future careers. So, I have a theory as to why the top choice for female undergraduates is Creative Arts and Design and the top choice for males is Engineering.
The theory is quite simple. Most little girls grow up and most little boys do not. The choices that boys make educationally mean that they essentially get to tinker around in sheds, either literally or metaphorically. And tinkering around in sheds is just another way of saying “playing with toys”.
Those toys might be engines or machines. They may be numbers, our built environment or computer code. They might even be the fundamental building blocks of our universe. They’re still toys though.
The only way to get more men doing more jobs involving creativity and empathy and more women doing the geeky stuff is to encourage more men to grow up and more women not to. I have to admit to being a bit stumped as to how we might achieve that particular goal.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015
Tags: Ada Lovelace, aliens, architecture, biology, boys, Britain, British Empire, Charles Babbage, computer science, creative arts, Creative Arts and Design, design, detectives, education, Empathy, Engineering, feminist, Fox Hunting, gender, gender identity, Girls, girls and boys, laddish, law, mathematics, nature vs nurture, Numbers, physics, pink, poisonous, QI, social studies, stephen fry, stereotypes, The Universe, Tinkering, Toys, undergraduates, university
About thedailygrimeAt that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.
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