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|Clinicians Digest Mar/Apr 2008 - Page 4|
By now it's become a matter of conventional wisdom that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but are they really? University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde's review of 46 metanalyses on gender differences, published in the September 2005 American Psychologist, concluded that for 78 percent of the variables commonly supposed to differentiate one gender from the other, there was negligible or no difference.
After examining studies of gender differences in such areas as cognitive abilities, communication, social behavior, personality, and psychological well-being, she concluded that for such commonly supposed gender-specific attributes as indirect aggression, leadership style, self-disclosure, moral reasoning, and delay of gratification, within-gender variability was much greater than between-gender variability. Men do throw harder, masturbate more, exhibit slightly more direct aggression, and endorse casual sex more strongly, but that's about it.
Expectations often color objectivity, and the fact that some therapists buy into the common myths about gender differences may help explain why men often feel at a disadvantage in couples therapy, where women are supposedly so much better able to talk about feelings. Expecting less input from their male clients, therapists may miss the input when it happens, or reinforce spouses' views that their men are biologically indifferent or incapable of being emotional. (Therapists who want to examine their own implicit assumptions about gender can take an online association test that measures unconscious gender bias, at http://www.understanding prejudice.org/iat/.)
Hyde advises therapists to think in terms of gender similarities instead of differences. She believes that therapists who follow the Mars/Venus paradigm may inadvertently steer couples away from finding their emotional connections toward better communication.