Gender division has two vital sides

Sue Palmer

For goodness' sake, Adi, get a grip. In The TES "debate" last week, Warwick Mansell argued that boys are good at quick thinking and risk- taking, but not so good at diligent long-term application. Adi Bloom got huffy: "Oh well, then, I suppose we'll have to change to multiple-choice tests because we all know girly strengths aren't valued in our horrible patriarchal society."

And they never will be valued if we waste time whingeing. For women's strengths to be valued, we women must start to value ourselves. Diligent application is no less a strength than quick-fire risk-taking - a culture needs both to keep it moving forward. Traditional male and female skills, whether the product of evolution or socialisation, are both vital, and women should be proud of what we are good at, rather than comparing ourselves with men and finding ourselves wanting.

The world is suffering from a dearth of another traditionally female strength: empathy. The psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has suggested women are arguably better at empathising than men, who may be marginally better at systemising information. So, what have women done in pursuit of "equality" with men? We have frantically competed at systemising, disregarding the significance of empathy.

If the "brilliance" of the risk-taking systemisers who run the world's banks had been tempered by diligence and empathy, the world might not now be confronting the possibility of economic Armageddon. If women don't value and promote strengths that perhaps come more "naturally" to them, we can scarcely expect a load of boy-racers to do it for us.

Sue Palmer, Literacy consultant and author of `Toxic Childhood', Edinburgh.

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