By: Ahmad Khan Noorzai
How many of us will admit to being prejudiced? How many of us believe that men are more intelligent than women? How many of us would prefer to have a female leader at work? How many of us believe that females can score the same as males on the universities’ entrance exam?
The answer to these questions differs from community to community. Overall, we have some communities where people believe men are better at science and math than women or are more intelligent than women. In some communities, boys are assumed to score better in math than girls. Are boys naturally better in math, or does the culture have a role?
Per recent analysis, distributed online by American Psychologist, many people in America (86%) polled in 2018 believe men and women have the same intelligence level.
These results are a departure from public opinion polls conducted in the 1940s when most Americans thought that men were the more intelligent sex, and merely 36% assumed that men and women were the same when it came to brains.
Furthermore, throughout history, in several cultures, women have been treated differently. For example, they were not allowed to attend individual schools or vote and had limited access to certain social activities. The changes that we see today in the lives of women did not come easily. Many people have endeavored to work hard to make changes to the lives of women in the community. For example, in 1850, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first lady to attend medical school in the United States; after graduating from the university, she founded a medical school for women to attend. To evaluate the claim men are more intelligent than women, to see if it is just a cultural belief or scientific studies that would indicate the same thing, we have to explore this difference scientifically.
Are women the same as men? The answer to this question is straightforward. No, they are not the same. Women’s and men’s anatomy and physiology are different in some parts of our body. For example, men’s brains are ten percent larger than women’s. Does that ten percent difference or other anatomical and physiological differences make men more intelligent? Recent research shows that the ten percent difference in brain size is, in general, related to a higher concentration of receptors for sex hormones. If we look at the brain’s size among males, the bigger the male’s body, the bigger the brain. We would not conclude that if a person is larger in the body, the more intelligent he is. In 2001, researchers from Harvard found that the brain’s frontal lobe, responsible for problem-solving and decision making, is larger in females than males.
To explore this phenomenon, it is helpful to first come to a consensus on intelligence definition. Researchers have described the concept of intelligence several times with modifications as psychology evolves. British psychologist Charles Spearman concluded that intelligence consisted of one general factor. On the other hand, some psychologists have concluded that intelligence is a set of distinct abilities.
One of the recent theories that have flourished is the theory of multiple intelligences suggested by Howard Gardner, positing that humans possess eight intelligence types: Naturalist Intelligence, Linguistic Intelligence, Musical intelligence, Logical-mathematical intelligence, Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, Spatial intelligence, and Interpersonal intelligence. Gardner says that when comparing these types of intelligence in people, they might shine differently; one individual might excel in naturalist intelligence while another individual might excel in linguistic intelligence. In 1990, Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, published an unprecedented meta-analysis that gathered data from 100 different math performance studies. Integrating data collected on more than 3 million individuals between 1967 and 1987, the researchers indicated no significant overall differences between males and females in math performance. Females were marginally better at computation in elementary and middle school. In high school, boys showed a slight edge in problem-solving feasibly because they participated in more science classes that nurtured those skills. However, both sexes learned math concepts equally well, and any gender differences tapered over the years, contradicting the notion that males are naturally superior in math skills.
In a 2005 report, Hyde evaluated 46 different meta-analyses on sex differences, not merely focused on cognition but also encompassing communication style, social and personality variables, motor behaviors, and moral reasoning. In 50% of the studies, sex differences were minor; in another third, they were practically nonexistent.
Furthermore, in 2005, Dr. Elizabeth Spelke, a psychologist at Harvard University, evaluated 111 studies and concluded that gender contrast in math and science ability has a genetic basis in cognitive systems that evolves in early childhood. Nonetheless, the research indicated that both females and males, on the whole, are naturally equal in performance in math and science. In fact, during infancy, both boys and girls were found to do the same on tasks that measure mathematics abilities.
Other research indicates that when it comes to math performance, girls and boys are similarly capable. A 2008 analysis by Hyde and colleagues showed that in children from grades 2 to 11, there was no difference between girls and boys for math performance. Furthermore, in 2009, Hyde and Janet Mertz, Ph.D., indicated that while more boys than girls score at the highest levels in mathematics, this gender gap has been fading over time. They noted that the gap is disappearing in communities with more significant equal gender opportunities, suggesting that gender disparity in math performance is mainly due to cultural and environmental factors.
Another possible reason that those girls could not evolve their skills the same way as boys are that in most cultures, high school-aged girls are expected to do extra work at home, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their young siblings. These activities are not only time-consuming but also cause mental fatigue. As a result, they might not perform as well as boys. Per recent studies, we can conclude that there is no essential difference between men’s and women’s intelligence. It can be seen not only in theory but in practice. For this, all we need to do is turn to the history books to read about many remarkable women in the sciences and leadership fields. For example, Marie Curie, 1867-1934, was the first female Nobel Prize winner and was the first lady who discovered radioactive material that revolutionized cancer treatment. Another example is Ada Lovelace, 1815-52, a great mathematician; Rabia Balkhi was a great poet; and Dr. Suhaila Siddiq was the first Afghan woman who held the rank of Lieutenant General in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Shamsia Alizada scored the highest score on the university entrance exam in 2020. As humans, we are socialized creatures, and we all have the urge to improve our community and lives. The development of community infrastructures depends on many fields such as engineering, medicine, teaching, literature, and more to make a community function and help it to move forward. In most of these fields, a person’s external anatomy does not matter; the only required thing is expertise. To perform surgery, we need a surgeon. It does not matter how the external or internal body of the surgeon works.
Today, most professions rely on teamwork over individuality, and women make up fifty percent of our community. However, some cultures believe that women are not naturally capable of doing these professional tasks. Some communities believe that men are innately entitled to certain professions because they are more intelligent and competent than women. For progress to be made in our communities and society as a whole, women should be encouraged and supported in developing their professional skills and be allowed to participate in traditionally male-dominated fields.