Article written by Chris Baines, based on her presentation at the "Helping each other flourish" event, incorporating the celebration of International Women's Day, at the Queens Hotel, Leeds on 9 March 2018.
As a child, I thought my male cousin’s toys were far more interesting than the ones I was given and that all the really fun things to do seemed to be the preserve of boys, while girls were expected to play at being housewives. As I wanted to know how things worked and do things I thought were exciting (which definitely didn’t include housework!), it soon became clear that other people’s expectations of me did not fit my own preferences, so I started to wonder why boys and girls were treated so differently and both sexes were expected to conform to fairly narrow stereotypes.
Personal observation led me to the conclusion that the differences were not as great as many believed so, when I went to university and found that my tutor was interested in the study of sex differences, this was my opportunity to delve into all sorts of aspects of beliefs about men and women.
When we agreed the topic for this year’s conference in Leeds to celebrate International Women’s Day, would be ‘Helping Each Other Flourish’, I had reservations about how far any of us can flourish if we are hampered by prejudices about our abilities and roles in life. I therefore took the opportunity to get onto my favourite soap-box and offered to speak on the topic of “Myths About Sex”. Since feedback from last year was that the delegates enjoyed round-table discussions, I also thought it would be an opportunity to encourage an exchange of views and to share ideas for overcoming some of the biases which hold back both women and men.
While some ideas have changed, others remain stubbornly unaffected by the realities of modern life. Some Victorian doctors believed that educating women would cause their wombs to shrivel and make them infertile, although I doubt many people would give that credence now. In the 1960s and 1970s, psychologists were trying to identify the psychological traits that were considered healthy: needless to say, they differed for men and women. Whereas it was considered fine for men to be aggressive, daring, tough and unemotional, women were only considered psychologically healthy if they were childlike, dependent, submissive and weak.
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