International Women's Day: Women and Their Intellectual Giftedness

This is my contribution to tomorrow's International Women's Day (8/03/11) ...

"Gone are the days when we thought of women as less intelligent than men because of their smaller brains. The fact that Einstein's brain is known to be 10% less in volume than that of an average person (Montlahuc, 2006) has aided in putting this debate in the cupboard. However, gender continues to be a significant issue in any discussion about intellectual performance.

Cohen disclosed in 2007 that three-quarters of applicants to read maths and 90% for computer sciences degree at Cambridge University were males. He also posed the question as to why in over 100 years of Field Medal's ( Maths Nobel Prize) existence, none of the winners has been a woman. Similarly, Zeidner, et al. (2004) reiterated that Western studies find adolescent boys to be usually better in spatial and numerical abilities whereas girls are superior in verbal abilities. Hormonal difference is believed to be the reason for this: oestrogen enhances reading capacity, which is attributed to women being more gifted in communication and languages than men while testosterone improves performance related to space, which explains why men are better in giving and applying directions than women. There are no concrete explanations, however, why there are more high IQ possessors among boys than girls. Some researchers and academics, though, think that the type of questions asked is to be blamed for this difference. For instance, there might be more questions about cars and mode of transportation than housekeeping and fashion. On the other hand, there are those who insist that really there is no consistent evidence on the difference in IQ scores due to gender.

In France, it is reported that girls have better academic results than boys but succeed less in admission to prestigious universities ‘grandes écoles’ because they suffer from a competitive environment ‘environmental concurrential’ (Jacqué, 2009). According to Jacqué, on average, the performance of men and women is similar. However, women are concentrated in the average (not many have very good and very bad results) while the men are dispersed – i.e. many with very good results but also many with very bad results. Consequently, when you choose the top candidates you get more men. As well, men are generally more competitive than women, particularly in patriarchal societies in both developed and developing countries.

In his study of hundreds of managers, James Adonis (2008) concluded that when it comes to motivating and engaging employees women do it better. He backs up his conclusion with the North Western University study which affirms that transformation (people-focused) leadership is far more effective than transactional (task-focused) and that women outperformed the men in transformation endeavors. Adonis explains this in terms of mental functioning: women are mostly right-brain (relational and people-oriented) while men are left-brain (associated with facts and figures) thinkers.

I believe that the difference in intelligence between boys and girls is likely to be cultural more than biological. The boys, in general, are more introverted, analytical, rational and pragmatic because they are conditioned to be like this and are perceived as such. The girls are more intuitive and open to interpersonal relationships because of their exposure and expectations. Gifted girls and boys, however, are different. Gifted girls cognitively resemble gifted boys whereas the latter that of non-gifted girls. Gifted girls might have the same emotional problems as non-gifted girls, such as femininity and family roles, but have additional challenges related to giftedness. Similarly, gifted boys might have the same concerns, like image and career with non-gifted boys, but are more inclined to engage in female-labelled activities. Many gifted boys have music and arts as hobbies.

Amidst Government legislation and policies on equality and anti-discrimination, gender is still significant in some professions and academic subject matters; e.g. generally, women are more numerous in social sciences while men in maths and physics. We also often hear remarks of wives and girlfriends that they have better memory at remembering everyday events and details than their male counterparts. According to Fahlman (2000), while boys maintain their high status profile of career aspirations throughout teenage years, girls show a pattern of decline. Therefore, it is not surprising that Delisle's (1992) and Dixon's (1998) (in Fahlman, 2000) studies showed that gifted females, unlike gifted men, do not show correlations between IQ and career prominence. It is evident that as society's expectations of career and employment become clearer and imposing, as in during adolescence, the majority of girls start to think about non-career intentions, e.g. family and children, which may be in conflict or compete with their intellectual quest.

Generally, women are more likely than men to underutilise their giftedness and/or be misunderstood for socio-cultural and economic reasons. Because of their role as wife and/or mother, they may not reach their full intellectual potential. They are more likely to interrupt their career to bring up children or care for family members. They are more likely to follow their partners who move residence for professional reasons" (I'm one of them).

From my book "Intelligence, Giftedness: Pre-cradle to Post-grave" (2010)

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