Gender Stereotyping: Who Controls the Remote?

When it comes to the brain, clichés are never true.

                                                                                      Jonah Lehrer

Wielding control of the TV remote is one of the most recognizable cliché examples of male (dominance) behavior. But my partner of 30 years, who died in 2005, was a 4w5—a Withdrawing type with a Withdrawing wing—and since I’m an 8w7—an Aggressive type with an Aggressive wing—I was always the one firmly in control of the TV remote.

Our relationship never fit that Mars/Venus stereotyping that’s still popular in some circles. Withdrawing types tend to nurture the past in one way or another, and as a result, RC had much greater and more detailed recall about the events of our relationship than I did. He would wander off on verbal reveries about something or other we once did—or used to do regularly—assuming I shared those memories. But since I often had zero recall, I learned to keep my mouth shut or nod abstractedly. If I strained hard enough, I was sometimes able to bring up a fragment of the past that had been lost to me, which was always a huge surprise and slightly unnerving.

On the domestic front, I’m erratic at best. I enjoy decorating, but I hate cleaning, am indifferent about cooking, and find grocery shopping and doing dishes useless wastes of time. While RC wasn’t crazy about cleaning, either, he pulled his own weight. And he did the lion’s share of all those other tasks. He was an excellent cook, and he really enjoyed it. I’ve never prepared a Thanksgiving dinner in my life. But we had roasted turkey and all the trimmings every year we were together.

He once threatened to get me a T-shirt that said “I am not the nice lady”—and he meant it as a compliment. And he told me he liked hanging out with me because I was always up to something interesting: high praise from someone who was, among other things, a musician, an artist (in multiple media), and a writer of poetry and science fiction stories. So I guess I brought something to the relationship besides direction and appreciation. We were opposites in so many ways—just not in the stereotypical ones.

While neuroscience is revealing that there are definite differences in the brains of men and women, the jury still seems to be out on exactly how those differences play out in the behavioral realm. One thing the male brain is supposed to be better at is spatial perception, which always makes me laugh. When RC and I were preparing to move from California to New Mexico, he rented a truck to transport our earthly goods. A couple of days before we were supposed to leave, I looked around our apartment and told him the truck was too small. He insisted it was not. I asked him to humor me and get a larger truck. If it turned out to be too big, he could forever rib me about it. On moving day, once everything was onboard the larger truck, there wasn’t a square inch of space left. We could barely get the door closed, and we had to pack the car nearly to the roof.

One aspect of the neuroscientific research that really intrigues me is the idea that there’s a continuum between the “extreme male brain” and the “extreme female brain,” and each individual’s brain is somewhere along that continuum. That makes sense because it’s akin to sexual orientation, with “extremely straight” being at one end of that continuum and “extremely gay” at the other end. Being right in the middle of the brain continuum might represent someone who is psychologically androgynous, while being in the middle of the sexual preference continuum would indicate someone who is bisexual. Although, according to Satoshi Kanazawa in a Psychology Today article, men are more likely to have the male brain and women are more likely to have the female brain, it was certainly not so for either RC or me.

Yes, some generalizations can be made about the differences between men and women. We make generalizations about all kinds of things all the time. Doing so is a useful kind of shorthand—a way of understanding. But these kinds of generalizations apply to groups, not to specific individuals, and trying to apply them to individuals leads to stereotyping.

Enneagram typology—because it categorizes people into nine general types—can be used to stereotype people, too. But since I’ve never felt I fit the feminine mold properly, understanding myself in terms of my Enneagram type has been far more useful than trying to understand myself as a female. Yet I often find myself disagreeing with other people’s interpretations of my type. So I wonder how a female 8w7 differs from a male 8w7. Would incorporating gender differences in personality profiles enhance type descriptions?

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