The Gender Issue

Basic psychology

When we walk into any public library, we can't help noticing one fact: there is a gender difference. Perhaps a quote from an article on gender differences written by Gabrielle Baldwin of Monash University might just allude us to this situation:

"Librarianship is regarded as one of the "feminised" occupations, in which women are employed in large numbers but under-represented in senior positions." (1)

In other words, more women appear to work in the library compared to men, especially at the service and front line areas. Why?

Peer pressure

Could it be a peer pressure thing? Well, how many Australian men do you know of who carries a stubby in one hand and a beer gut to match would say, "Good on ya mate. Glad to see you're a librarian!"

It doesn't sound manly enough, does it?

Ann Douglas, author of the 1977 book called The Feminization of American Culture agrees with part of this assessment. She said:

" of the effects [after the start of the industrial revolution]...was to create a crisis of male identity for these men [ie. the artists and educators who used to run libraries prior to the industrial revolution], a pressure to prove they were not "wimps"."

However peer pressure alone is not enough to force men away from library and the arts positions. Something else must be driving women to work in the broad "feminist" positions like librarianship and men towards the more specialised and logical so-called "masculine" positions like aircraft pilots, scientists, managers and so on. Baldwin agrees. As the following quote indicates, Baldwin clearly believes the problem is right across all facets of employment, education, race etc:

"These distinctions seem particularly sharp among adolescents, because of their sensitivity to peer pressure. However, they are not restricted to teenage groups at all. One finds equally intriguing patterns in universities and in the work force.

' Philosophy [at a university], for instance, women are more likely to study in the "marginal" areas of aesthetics or social philosophy, while men tend to focus on the formal, logical-semantical areas which are seen as central....I was informed that the tendency is clear even in a field like Microbiology. My informant reeled off a whole string of areas (none of which meant anything to me), the central, "hard-core" [or indepth] parts of the discipline, which she claimed women tend to avoid, opting instead for subjects seen as more on the fringe [and/or covers broadly]." (2)

The industrial revolution

Whatever is causing this gender imbalance, it seems to have commenced or accelerated since the start of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century according to the following quote from Ann Douglas:

"...gender roles occurred in America with the Industrial Revolution. Before that time, the male leaders of the society were generally learned and cultured men, interested in philosophy and the arts, with the leisure to pursue these interests. With the industrialisation of the society, power shifted to leaders of industry and business who were far too busy for cultural pursuits. They effectively passed on to their womanfolk the guardianship of the artistic, spiritual and humanitarian spheres, a responsibility which women shared with clergymen and limited groups of male artists and educators." (3)

The industrial revolution was the time when science, technology and new modern businesses began developing and exploiting new technologies in Europe and the USA. It somehow captured the imagination (or should that be rational thinking) of most men, who in turn saw the dollar signs flash before their very eyes from this revolution. Yet for some reason this did not appeal to the less logically-inclined and generalist women.

Could our brain structure have something to do with the gender issue?

So why the gender difference? Let us propose an interesting theory. It is a theory that might explain why we have a gender difference.

The human brain

The human brain is a remarkable organ. Weighing on average about 1.5kg, the brain is designed to store information mainly in a visual way, to retrieve this information, and to utilise the information it stores and processes everyday. It does this so that it can create and perform a variety of innate and learned patterns of behaviour, thought and action throughout our lives as required to achieve goal(s).

For the brain to perform these tasks, it has to extract patterns from the information we gather around us and later string them together to recreate the original picture through the process of problem-solving or learning. The problem-solving tools we use to extract patterns and string them together in a linear way are already well-developed inside of us and appears as a massive lobe of brain tissue known as the left-cerebral hemisphere (or L-brain). Whereas bringing together a variety of different patterns to create a bigger and original or new pattern is best handled by the right-cerebral hemisphere (or R-brain).

How do we problem-solve?

The process of problem solving is essentially the breaking down of information into small and very specific recognisable patterns (a skill trait common to men), and then recombining the patterns (often in a linear way) to form a larger single "representation of reality" pattern. This is called the L-brain approach to problem solving.

Or sometimes we do the reverse by creating the big picture first through any number of creative combinations of certain known and imagined patterns (a skill trait common to women). Later we may choose to break down this big picture into smaller and more manageable specific patterns so we can more effectively remember and communicate this big picture as well as ensuring the big picture and all these smaller patterns relate to reality properly. We call this the R-brain approach to problem-solving.

Thus your L-brain is primarily your pattern-recognition centre; it is designed to break down information into recognisable patterns. Whereas your R-brain is your pattern-creation centre; it is designed to combine patterns together in a creative way to help form new patterns of reality. When combined with your emotions, these approaches to problem solving and their patterns get easily remembered, especially if they have meaning to you.

However, for the important task of problem-solving to work properly, information has to be freely exchanged between the L- and R-brains. This is achieved via a bundle of biological wires called the corpus callosum linking the two sides of the brain.

What happens when our brain performs in an imbalanced way?

Now this flow of information through the corpus callosum is crucial in this discussion. What happens if this flow of information is biased towards the L- or R- side of the brain? Can this affect the way we think and behave and ultimately how we choose our jobs throughout life?

Some scientists, like the world's leading brain specialist Dr Robert Ornstein, believe this is true. Not only does the L- and R-brain perform essentially opposite functions to one another, but they affect our behaviours, thoughts and actions depending on how often this flow of information moves in one direction or the other and therefore which side of the brain becomes dominant during problem-solving.

To see what we mean by this, you will find a list of some of the most common behaviours observed by psychologists in L-brain dominant people by clicking here. And likewise, you will also find a list of some of the most common behaviours observed by psychologists in R-brain dominant people by clicking here. As you will see, the behaviours of R-brain dominant people are essentially the opposite to L-brain types.

And these behaviours are not unusual for those involved in technical positions as compared to those in the arts positions.

Men are more L-brain; women are more R-brain (or balanced)

Now when we look at people in modern society, we notice something very interesting. Men are more likely to be L-brain, or very analytical creatures. Whereas women are more likely to be R-brain, or very creative and visual creatures.

In other words, young women tend to use their R-brain skills for learning and playing. But as they get older, they usually develop a good balanced L- and R-brain approach to life. Or perhaps some women become mostly L-brain depending on the type of work they do and how old they become. While young boys do have some R-brain skills, but quickly learn as men to stick to a mostly L-brain approach throughout much of their lives unless they choose or are given opportunities and encouragement to do something creative and different in later life.

Men and women are naturally inclined and supported to think in opposite ways

Support for the L-brain approach taken by most men and the R-brain approach taken by most women can be seen from measurements of the size of the corpus callosum for men and women. Scientists have found that the corpus callosum for women is larger than in men.

Although women of the world would like to yell out, "Oh yes! We are the superior beings", we have to remember that men do have an advantage over women in another area. Scientists now know that men actually do have a larger brain than women. This is quite understandable if we were to assume that men need a larger brain to help them store and recall a greater quantity of specific patterns extracted by the L-brain. perhaps this might explain why men tend to be the ones who are called "knobheads"?

But why do women have to possess such a large corpus callosum?

Scientists believe it has something to do with the way women are more efficient in transferring information back and forth between the L- and R-brains in a balanced way. Whereas men tend to transfer information mainly from the R- to the L-brain and rarely do they reverse this flow.

Our environment influences the way we think and do things

But some of you might be thinking, "Well, hold on! Surely it must be more than just a gene thing, isn't it?

Well yes, there are others who believe men and women acquire their biased thinking, behaviour and action from the environment.

For example, it is certainly not unusual for parents to influence their childrens' behaviour and thinking. For instance, girls like to visualise and be creative about the clothes they wear and the sorts of general role-playing games they participate. Girls may also get access to a wider range of general reading books as well. As for boys, they are more likely to receive toys that can be assembled together or broken apart to help them see how things works, and perhaps even receive a highly specialised and interesting magazine to read as well.

But it isn't just the people who we meet in our lives that influence our brain to think and behave in a certain way.

Our very own bodies has the power to enhance and shape the way we think and behave in a L- or R-brain way. Don't know how? Well, let us put it this way. What is the first thing a man sees when he looks down at his naked body? Clearly he notices with his eyes a fleshy protrusion coming straight out of his body called a penis. So when he is sexually aroused, he obviously can't help noticing his penis and what it does. It is quite literally hanging right out there for the world to see! Thus, during sex, a man is more inclined to watch the action of his penis because it is easy for him to do so, and when combined with the powerful and intense emotions, this act of observing helps him to reinforce the view that observing is okay and analysing what he observes using the L-brain is how he should be doing things in life. It is normal for him to do so.

Now what about for a woman. What does she see when she looks down. Hold on! There's something in the way. If you use your hands to separate those natural mounds we call breasts, we still can't see anything. Even if we push our pelvis forward and up, all we see is a little bit of pubic hair but nothing obvious exists down there. The only way to know for sure is to feel and them imagine in our minds with the help of our fingers.

Thus a woman will be more inclined to close her eyes and imagine sex while she is actually experiencing it because it is easy for her to do so and the emotions arising from the visual picture help her to reinforce the view that visualising and being creative is okay and this is how she should be doing things in life.

Clearly, the body of men and women have been remarkably designed to preempt the way the brain should think and behave in a somewhat biased way whether we are aware of it or not.

Our biased thinking affects the makeup of libraries

Alright then. So how does all of this interesting psychology determine the gender differences in libraries?

Well, the library is a place for holding books covering a very wide range of subject matter. Anyone placed in a position of finding information in a library will have to be either a balanced thinking individual to know roughly what the information is basically about and where to find it, or a sufficient R-brain individual to at least have an idea where to find it even if the person does not know anything about the subject matter.

For a woman who is naturally inclined to use her talented R-brain skills without taking too seriously the intimate details of any one particular book or subject, it is usually easier for her to become a librarian than for a man because she has the gift of understanding or at least knowing where a wide range of information is located and what it is broadly about.

Men, on the other hand, tend to be extremely specialised and have great indepth knowledge about a particular field. Therefore, for men to become librarians they often need a computer to help them work out where everything is for something they may not be experts in, let alone understand what's it all about in areas not familiar to him.

Otherwise, if computers are not available, it is quite possible for men to find the task of being a librarian either too stressful or just not suited to them unless they work in a specialised library of interest to them.

Or alternatively, men will probably choose the senior management positions in libraries because they often require good L-brain skills to help manage very specific and linear tasks such as budgeting and finances, applying the mathematics of queueing theory for greater efficiency in the workplace, and so on.

Does that mean men will never make good librarians?

There is certainly a belief out there that genetics does seem to determine the way the brain develops in both sexes and ultimately our behaviour and the types of jobs we do. This is called the essentialist view in that such differences are inherent in men and women and therefore cannot be changed. However is it really unchangeable? Does this mean men will never make good librarians?

Of course not! We only have to visit the more specialised libraries to see what we mean by this. But men can also make good "balanced" librarians of any type, simply because there is an environmental factor to consider as well and how this plays a role in shaping men's thinking.

As we have seen, the L- and R-brain can be trained to process information through the types of activities we perform at school, privately and with others, both sexually and of a non-sexual nature. Although it does help to start at a young age, any form of good emotional and creative support during the learning process is still important for men at any age to help them grow into more balanced individuals.

It is all a question of encouraging people to try using both sides of the brain rather than pigeon-holing people all the time. Let people self-manage and try different things on their own and in the presence of opposite-thinking types and from there new skills can be developed.

Baldwin supports this view when she said something along the lines of "librarians [should]...stop taking defensive and tentative stances and to 'learn to love themselves'."

It is either that, or we start introducing more computers into the library, and that may bring in a few more men into the profession. But unfortunately, that will probably mean less women will want to become librarians given how complicated the technology tends to be and how much unnecessary indepth information women have to learn to use the technology properly.

Probably the best way is to develop our self-esteem first and all the necessary social support structures to help people think in a balanced way.

Solving all gender issue problems could solve world problems

And let us not stop there. Imagine if we were all balanced in our thinking, behaviour and actions. Could it solve all our world problems?

Well, let us think about it for a moment. How many women politicians can you think of that have started a serious world war throughout the history of humankind? Don't be surprised if you are struggling to name one female who has. What about for men? Well yes, that's easy. There's Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein. And of course, there is Alexander the Great with his conquering attitude. Well you do get the picture.

Why is that so? Given the tendency for men to think and behave in a mostly L-brain way, it is not unusual for a man to say to another man, "I have seen and experienced x, y and z and therefore according to the facts I have gathered I know I am right when I say so and so". Then the other man who briefly listens to this will say, "Well, I actually know more than you because I have seen and experienced a, b, c and d and therefore I know I am right when I say so and so".

Now imagine what happens when the first man says, "That's not right, it has to be this way." The second man will probably say, "Rubbish, this is the way it should be" and so the tug-a-war of words continues until something drastic probably happens. Sounds familiar?

It's the old, "Mine is bigger (or better) than yours" scenario.

Women, on the other hand, with their bigger corpus callosums, think a little differently. A woman may not necessarily have to know a lot of detail about a particular field, but she is more likely to say, "I have seen or imagined x and this makes me believe that this is what probably happens." The second woman using her R-brain skills will say, "I can see what you are saying but I also know that I have imagined a situation y which makes me think in this way." The first woman says, "Oh, I can see what you mean and I agree with you. And from what you've said did you know that...", "No I didn't, tell me more."

What are the chances of women with R-brain skills like this starting a world war? Highly unlikely!

The research by Associate Professor Mary Barrett

In a book titled Working Communications, co-author Professor Barrett (with academics Elizabeth Baker and Lesley Roberts) believes there is a sex difference in the workplace and this can lead to all sorts of workplace misunderstandings.

The difference can be seen in the way men and women talk. For example, women tend to ask more questions, encourage others to talk more, and tend to use personal pronouns more regularly such as "you" and "me" compared to men. Men, on the other hand, tend to disrupt and disagree with the specific details of a conversation, then dispute and challenge ideas where possible.

As Barrett said:

"Women typically have a more inclusive style of conversation - they might seem to pause and hesitate more but that's because they aim to get agreement.

'Male concerns in conversation, and this includes in formal situations and workplaces, is often about a different set of issues. It's about facts, activities, challenging ideas more than it is getting agreement." (4)

In essence, Barrett believes the more men and women understand these differences, the more they can work together in a harmonious and balanced way.

What can we achieve in this world if we supported one another?

So just imagine if we all supported each other. Imagine how much better our world would be if we let our brain learn to think, behave and act in a balanced way.

Just imagine. Could we solve all our gender differences, and even all world problems at the same time?

The key word in today's L-brain society is definitely to "imagine". Can you imagine?