When I think of the Number 1 unresolved conflict in the world today, it’s got to be Men vs Women. Ever since young, we’ve known that men and women are different, and ever since birth, we’ve been forced to take a side (of course, many people still manage to sit on the fence, but the fact that they undeniably belong in 1 or the other category invalidates any attempt to be totally neutral one way or another). It’s no longer just a question of “which side is better?” Fortunately, society has evolved beyond that. Instead, the debate launches into the nitty-gritty areas of “which side is better in which aspects?” which is arguably not any less annoying.
The bottom line is this: research has failed to show any significant difference between males and females in terms of cognition. Even if there is any difference, the difference is pretty minuscule. So yes, if you’re bad at Maths, it is not because you’re a girl. It could be because of lack of practice, or lack of confidence, or applying the wrong mindset to the question. If you don’t understand why someone is sad, it is not because you’re a guy either. In fact, the reason why girls can’t get Maths and guys can’t get people boils down to 1 simple reason: you think the task is beyond you.
If all along people have taught you that it’s all right not to know how to do Maths or how to empathise with people, you start to think that there must be a whole lot to it that you don’t understand. When you think that there’s a whole lot to something that you don’t understand, you’re confident that every challenging situation you encounter must fall into the category of things you never learnt. For instance, a lot of the time when I give up on Maths questions, the answer is glaringly obvious. I would often retort, “well, how was I to know it was as simple as adding these 2 numbers together?” Similarly, if a guy learns that the reason somebody is sad could be because of something he said, he is likely to facepalm and go, “how was I to know? She could be sad because of anything. Girls are so unpredictable after all.” The unpredictability of Maths and the unpredictability of girls are a lot more similar than you would think, and it has something to do with a psychological term known as learnt helplessness, which basically means that once you think you cannot accomplish a task, you don’t put in any effort to it, and when you fail you think that the task was indeed impossible after all, and the vicious cycle continues.
A lot of the more visible differences we see in men and women are due to socialisation, girls being expected to be more agreeable and guys being expected to be more emotionally stable. I don’t deny that there is a little chance biology or hormones have a part to play in it though. Research has found that men have more intra-lobe neural connections whereas women have more inter-lobe neural connections. This means that men have more connections within the left and right hemispheres, and women have more links between hemispheres. This may explain how men may compartmentalise their problems well — philosophical problems are philosophical problems, emotional responses should be shelved — and women can utilise both logic and empathy on the same problem. Of course, this may also explain nothing. Not all biological differences have to express themselves as observable behavioural differences.
Much of this is my own stand, and there is a lot of research being done on a variety of gender differences. Currently, though, nothing suggests that either gender has its own niche that members of the other gender cannot step into. Whatever you want to do, you’ll be able to do it as well as anyone else.