I had a look at a new service for bloggers, which is similar in some senses to citation indices for scientific papers (but without the career making or breaking capability that the latter offer) - Technorati [link via BoingBoing]. It lets you input a URL for a blog or article, and it finds other pages which link to it. Of course, part of the attraction is pure vanity, but it's also a great way to find new blogs that in some way relate to your own point of view, or discuss something of interest to you.
And so it was that I came upon an interesting article by Baldur on a current weblog debate on "Girlism" and gender stereotypes.
My view on the subject, for what it's worth, is this. First, men and women are different, in numerous physical, psychological and social ways. This is almost certainly the result of the combined and inseparable effects of genetics, environment and culture. As Baldur makes clear, this is not an excuse to treat people unequally, but means that people need to understand and acknowledge what the differences are. For example, I realize that my phrase at the start of this paragraph ("for what it's worth") is a rather female one. Few men would think to apologize in advance for their opinions or abilities, whereas it is second nature to women (as Susan Greenfield pointed out in a recent article in the Guardian).
Second, much as I hate being stereotyped, stereotypes are actually rather important for social animals like humans. If you interact with other social beings, you need some kind of default setting to guide your behaviour towards that person, and inform you how they are likely to behave towards you. The problem comes if you don't update your psychological model of an individual when they don't fit into a nice tidy category. As Cyberkat points out, some people just aren't flexible enough to recognize that sterotypes arise from the average of the characteristics of a particular group, and should only be a starting point:
After I had done one of these spiels, I once had a customer tell me, "Wow - you're pretty technical. I bet you're good with a hammer!" What one had to do with the other, I have no idea.
Yet through it all, I still had the occasional customer who insisted on having one of the men explain the whole thing, exactly the way I did. They accepted what he said, but didn't accept my advice. That brought the whole gender thing home and made me angry. But as much as I would rant and rage against it, I knew I couldn't do anything about it. Some men simply do not get it. They don't have the vision. I suspect these are the same men who fall for the short-skirted, sexy "girlism" ploy.
The "stereotype as average" point above is an important one. Male and female differences overlap to a large extent. Men and women may have characteristics which sit on the tails of the distribution. Regular readers of my blog will know that I am one of those people, as is Cyberkat. And we should be proud of that, rather than apologizing for it. It does mean that you have to work harder to overcome people's initial misconceptions. On the plus side, you do have the element of surprise on your side.
See? All this thought stimulated (and on a Sunday, too!) by a simple link on Technorati. Actually, the service isn't quite reliable yet. I just checked it again to make sure I got the URL for Gimli right, but it no longer appears in the Cosmos section. As an aside, Baldur is in Clifton, Bristol, where I also lived as a student, making me think about that city again. I went back recently, and what struck me was the hills. I had forgotten how all the houses perch like kittiwakes on a rock face.