|THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE UNISEX BOX|
Recent evidence has brought a new perspective
to the scientific understanding of sex differences
All but one of the documentaries on this page examine the scientific evidence that suggests that BOTH nature and nurture are responsible for sex differences in preferences.
Although it doesn't deal directly with the science, I've included this first documentary as it shows how an awareness of sex differences in children's preferences can help to close the gender gap in children's literacy.
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys (BBC 2010)
My argument in Cool Not Cute is about prevention: I believe that boys’ underachievement in literacy can be nipped in the bud if the first books that boys encounter reflect their enthusiasms as much as TV or video games currently do. This 3-part series is about cure. In it choirmaster Gareth Malone attempts to mend the long-broken reading habits of older primary school boys. Malone believes that primary school teaching tends to encourage girls more than boys and sets out to correct this bias by introducing a number of boy-friendly factors including risk, competition and vigorous outdoor activity.
This second episode focusses on reading. It begins with the boys play-fighting a Roman battle with swords and shields, an activity that’s intended to fire-up their enthusiasm to read about the Romans. Acknowledging the importance of appealing book content, Malone takes a group of reluctant boy readers to a bookshop to make their own choice of boy-friendly books to add to the school library. “I don’t want the teachers [all but one of whom are female] to be deciding on all the books,” he explains to them.
This approach is more effective with some boys than others and no doubt some of the girls in the school would also have benefitted from it. However, while Malone’s experiment lacks scientific rigour, it shows how an awareness of sex differences can be used to close gender gaps and promote equality between the sexes. Malone is hardly a swaggering alpha male and it’s clear that his promotion of activities with boy-typical appeal is intended to engage boys in schooling so that they will turn into well-rounded individuals rather than brutish sexual stereotypes.
The other 2 episodes of the series can also be viewed using the links below:
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys: Episode 1
Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys: Episode 3
Bang Goes the Theory (BBC 2009)This short clip from the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory science magazine programme deals with sex differences in children’s toy preferences. It features both a Child X study, which suggests that nurture plays a role in determining children’s tastes, and Melissa Hines and Gerianne Alexander's primate study, which suggests that nature also plays a role.
The Gendered Brain (Wellcome Trust and Kings College London 2013)
This is a panel discussion featuring Melissa Hines, Director of Cambridge University's Hormones and Behaviour Research Lab, Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre and novelist and poet Michèle Roberts.
During the discussion, Hines and Baron-Cohen outline some of the evidence demonstrating that both nature and nurture are responsible for sex-typical characteristics in human behaviour. While this combined nature and nurture view is now held by most psychologists and neuroscientists, Hines refers to a study which shows that only 15% of the public accept it, with the majority of the public believing that either nature or nurture are solely responsible.
Horizon: Is Your Brain Male or Female? (BBC 2014)
Both of the studies in the Bang Goes the Theory clip above are also featured in this 2014 Horizon documentary. Michael Mosely and Alice Roberts examine recent evidence, with Mosely presenting the evidence for nature in the first half and Roberts the evidence for nurture in the second. Mosely and Roberts appear to reach different conclusions by the end of the programme; while Mosely seems to accept that both nature and nurture have a role in determining gender identity, Roberts appears unconvinced by the evidence suggesting that nature plays a significant role.
The Gender Equality Paradox (NRK 2010)
This Norwegian documentary (in English and Norwegian with English subtitles) features interviews with researchers on both sides of the innate sex differences debate. The “paradox" of the programme’s title is that young people in gender-egalitarian countries such as Norway tend to be more gender-typical in their career choices than young people in less gender-egalitarian countries. Evolutionary psychologist Anne Campbell offers an explanation for this paradox in the programme.
It’s worth noting that all of the researchers featured in the programme that accept the evidence for innate sex differences are either scientists or medical practitioners, while none of the researchers dismissing the scientific evidence are scientifically or medically qualified.
Brainsex (BBC 2005)
This documentary examines a range of sex-difference studies including those carried out by psychologist Richard Lippa in collaboration with the BBC. The Lippa/BBC studies are based on the analyses of survey results from 200,000 people across 53 countries and demonstrate consistent sex differences in preferences across all cultures.