It’s All In The Mind
On Brain Sex & Gender Stereotyping
Alice Purnell BSc, RGN, PGDC, Counselling Psychologist
Conference Organiser, Chairperson Beaumont Trust, Gendys
Gender Dysphoria Conference 1990
The idea of a male versus a female mind is one which I, as a feminist, don’t like, but have to accept.
It is still true to say there are more males working as engineers, doctors, scientists, and composers, whilst more women are carers and usually work in less scientific or well paid or creative employment. Women, it would seem from brain scans, generally, employ more of both sides of their brain and tend to be less specialised in brain laterality. Females make up for this by using more subtle methods of communicating and thinking; this could be the famed women’s intuition. Women seem better at multitasking. Men are often more ambitious and have fewer distractions to pursue their main goals. Part of this process of saying men and women have “different brains” is one superimposed by society and the roles it expects from men or women – boys or girls.
Studies completed at Sussex University, demonstrate that boy babies receive much more overt stimulation than girl babies by both their parents and others. Boys are prodded and are romped with – girls are cuddled and encouraged to be passive. There is obviously a nurture device superimposing stereotypical thinking and acting on both boys and girls, together with natural inborn differences between the sexes. Nature and nurture both operate here.
It has been suggested by Neurophysiologists that brain lateralisation is one expression of maleness versus femaleness. This is a possible explanation for transgenderism originating in utero. The developing foetus ‘thinks’ it is a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ despite the chromosomes and body indicating otherwise. Testosterone levels in utero might have a role in this inherent sense of gender – research is ongoing. Females have a similar range of IQ’s to males and often do better in arts-related subjects at school, than their male counterparts, who develop their scholastic abilities slightly later and with more specialisation. Educationalists have tried to offer boys cooking and home economics with little success, but they do usually make more convincing chefs and economists than do women. Male nurses often become managers.
Most females are not expected to make a lifelong career, but to go off and have families and they suffer menstruation and the menopause. The distribution of successful people using the criteria of promotion prospects, innovative work, and seniority, are stacked in favour of men, whilst women have to be twice as good as men to be even considered for a good job. These appear to be popular mythologies but the statistics seem to bear them out. There are obvious questions of culture and biology. One result of this is that the Judeo-Christian patriarchal stereotype is at one end and the strident feminist at the other, with the truth somewhere in the middle. The fact is that stereotypes do exist and that some women (as mothers) are as much to blame for this thinking as are the men.
If creativity and IQ are measures of intellectual ability, then it is interesting to note that in the case of the transgendered, there is a marked ‘take off’ of their abilities once their “new life “ has been established.
The transgendered themselves, are often accused of being stereotypical. The rationale for this could be that in order to ‘prove’ that one is a woman or a man, one embraces that which is totally seen as feminine (or masculine if transmen) – as felt to be appropriate, to an unhealthy degree. Certainly, the idea that a woman’s life is all about pretty clothes, flowers and tenderness, and a man cannot cry or show his feminine side, is outmoded and irrelevant in this twenty-first century.
A woman’s life has never been easy – if anything, it is harder than a man’s. Women are rarely taken seriously, save based on criteria of appearance and attractiveness, which transsexuals do not always have in their favour. Men nowadays, are fortunately excused the requirement to be cave men, but they too have unfair pressures put upon them. The liberated woman wants the “new man” and gender roles are less set in stone.
Most of the TS chaps ( transmen) have beards and the trans women rarely wear trousers, and neither usually likes to admit that they are good at anything they feel to be stereotypical of their original assigned gender. A part of this is not so much the need to conform as to an unreal stereotypical view of ‘woman’ or ‘man’, but is because it is often necessary to confirm by all means available to prove that they ‘belong’ to their expressed gender.
In a sense there is a slight advantage in being transgendered. There is possibly an increase in using both hemispheres of the brain, both life histories and experiences, of being in fact, more balanced as a person , rather than being a stereotypical of a man or woman. Increase in intellect in these cases might simply be a measure of the freedom experienced once the constraints of having to pretend and to live as a stereotype in the wrong gender. Perhaps this freedom allows them to get on with a happier life might account for improvement.
A hyper-masculine man is depriving himself of the same balance, all men have some inherent femininity in addition to masculinity – which their upbringing tends to subdue towards latency, or even total eradication. Once this element is released in a man, he too may improve his general health and performance which may be greatly impaired by suppression of components of himself as a less stressed, balanced, whole person, less driven by testosterone.
What is clear is that a rounded view and a liberty of thinking and behaving ‘enables’ a person. Fighting stereotypes in oneself is more vital than perhaps was once realised. Conformity allows society to function with few ruffles – however, the individual personality needs expression. This should only be judged in the light of how it affects others and the person concerned, rather than as a cultural ‘norm’. The English love eccentrics and hate a fuss. Perhaps that is why we have historically been so far behind legally in accommodating to the needs of the transgendered, gays and lesbians or any other minority. It is only in historically recent times that the equality of women has been taken seriously. As individuals, we all have different abilities and gifts.
It would be madness to suppress a particular gift because one feels ‘a woman shouldn’t do this’. A woman can do anything! So can a man, except give birth. Post operative transsexuals should think of themselves just as women or men; not as Trans, nor as stereotypes of women or men.
They too deserve the same liberty as other women and men.
Citation Purnell A. (1990) Its All in the Mind Beaumont Trust International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 05.05.19
For more presentations look at the WEBSITE of the
GENDYS GENDER DYSPHORIA CONFERENCES ARCHIVE
Including the Conference Reports
prepared by Jed Bland & Alice Purnell
Where there is a rich assortment of talks presented
by a wide range of speakers on Trans related subjects
Presented between 1990 & 2004
At Hulme Hall Manchester University
NB There are still a few hard copies of these Reports available –
contact Alice Purnell for details
They can also be seen at the Bishopsgate Archive or the British Library
Please send any trans related Archives, publications or articles to
Contact c/o Stefan Dickers | Special Collections and Bishopsgate Trans Archive Archives Manager
230 Bishopsgate, London. EC2M 4QH