Wow, these read-alongs really do sneak up on me! It’s time to wrap up our March read and I hope you all found it as enjoyable and informative as I did. I’ve shared my answers to the discussion questions below and added a link-up where you can share your answers as well.
1. Did any of the information in this book surprise you?
I wouldn’t say I believed in innate differences in the skill sets men and women possess before reading this book, but I was still shocked by how much social context could change performance on a test! For instance, I’d heard that men were better at spatial recognition tasks than women. As someone who does perform poorly at this type of task, I have to admit that I’ve wondered if this is true. As it turns out, it is true if you preface giving a spatial recognition test with the statement that it’s a skill useful for engineers. However, if you instead start the test by telling test-takers that spatial recognition is critical for fashion designer, women perform much better than men. Wow!
2. Will you do anything differently in your own life based on what you learned?
There aren’t any specific changes I want to make, but I think I could always do a better job being aware of my own stereotypes. After reading this, I do hope to be more cognizant of the subconscious biases we all have, so that I can disregard them more often.
3. What did you think of how the author handled issues of race and gender? Or of gender-based descrimination against men?
I’m not sure how I feel about the way the author handled issues of race and how they interact with issues of gender. I appreciated that she often acknowledged that race could change the way people of either gender are stereotyped. However, this was always parenthetical and felt like an afterthought. Perhaps just mentioning this topic is enough in a book that’s really focused on gender, but I wouldn’t have minded if she’d dived a little deeper.
The author’s discussion about the cases where stereotypes can negatively impact men were also parenthetical and felt like an afterthought. Based on this book and my own experience, it’s clear that stereotypes are more harmful to women as a group. Men might have a harder time getting some jobs than women due to stereotypes (consciously held or not), but those are mostly jobs they come with lower pay and less prestige than the jobs that are harder for women to get due to stereotypes. I’d have liked to see the author spell this out explicitly, so it would be clear to any men reading the book that she wasn’t just dismissing the negative impact stereotypes can have on individual men.
5. How do you think our preconceptions about gender influence the scientific studies on the topic?
I had no idea how fraught with our own personal baggage this area of research was! For instance, if you want to determine whether boys or girls play with masculine or feminine toys more often, you’re already arbitrarily grouping toys based on your preconceptions about gender. Any difference you find might be due to chance, not underlying differences. Of course, even more important is the fact that children who are only a few months old may already be influenced by their environment to prefer certain objects, people, or behaviors. This makes it nearly impossible to distinguish innate differences from learned ones.
5. Did you enjoy the book?
Probably surprising no one, I loved this book! Research-based discussions of important social issues are one of my favorite kinds of books. As you might guess from my posts about the March of Science here and elsewhere, I’m a firm believer in the power of science to provide facts that will facilitate meaningful discussion. Books like this, that at least start from facts supported by scientific studies, are such a great resource to learn from. On a more light-hearted note, the author was surprisingly funny too! So, yes, I enjoyed this book a lot.