Janet Hyde discusses how gender differences pale compared to similarities

Samantha Ye

woman at podium speaking
Janet Hype, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, giving her speech on “Men Are from Earth, Women Are from Earth: Science of Gender Differences and Similarities” hosted by Psi Chi/PSA, ASCSU, the Department of Psychology, and Women in Natural Sciences.

Contrary to popular belief, men and women are, in fact, both from Earth.

In her lecture, “Men are from Earth and Women are from Earth”–a play on the bestselling book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” by John Gray–Janet Hyde, professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, discussed her research showing minimal psychological differences between male and females Wednesday. 

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The event was hosted by Psi Chi and the Psychology Student Alliance

Hyde said assuming innate, biological differences between genders, what she terms the Difference Model, and sometimes even female mental inferiority, or the Deficit Model, is heavily ingrained into how our society views gender.

For her talk, Hyde focused mainly on the belief that women are intrinsically less capable at math than men. This belief was echoed by Lawrence Summers in 2005, then Harvard University president.

“(Summer’s) speech inspired me,” Hyde said. “I don’t fight with my fists; I fight with data, so I worked to collect data to test if his claims were accurate.”

Evidently, they were not.

Hyde and her colleagues did a meta-analysis to see if boys and girls really do show intrinsic differences in math ability. A meta-analysis is a study which pools together many similar studies and analyzes their data in order to answer one core question with quantitative statistics.

In the case of Hyde’s work, she and her colleagues did a major meta-analyses using state standardized math tests for grades two through 11 from 10 states, encompassing seven million children.

Gender differences in scores came out to be negligible at every grade level.

Hyde said this was an improvement from similar studies in the 1990s, which showed girls falling behind once they reached high school. She attributes this more girls taking higher-level math courses now because mathematically-oriented careers have opened up for them.

However, math is not the only place where men and women are similar.

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In 2005, Hyde had put forth the Gender Similarities Hypothesis in an American Psychologist article, which stated that for most, but not all, psychological variables, men and women are more alike than different. The study came from a review of 46 meta-analyses of research on psychological gender differences, including reading comprehension, leadership and even smiling.

Hyde said because most all of the studies evaluated were limited to the gender binary, male-female, her research was limited as well. The resulting conclusions showed 78 percent of male and female differences are small or trivial.

While there are a few notable differences, like in the frequency of masturbation or throwing ability, the similarities were far more. Hyde warned against focusing too much on the differences or gendering issues. 

For example, treating depression as a “female problem” could lead to underdiagnosing depression in men, Hyde said.

There is also the logical problem of achieving equal pay for women.

“How can we claim that women are vastly different from men but they do deserve equal pay?” Hyde said. “It just doesn’t work.”

After the lecture, PSA vice president Mel Babion said the topic was relevant given contemporary gender issues like the pay gap and transgender rights.

“I think stuff like this will help people realize (gender) is a thing and we’re going to talk about it,” Babion said. “People should be comfortable in their own skin.”

Psi Chi President Sam Swain said campus discussion on gender was important to have on campus.

“What I love about (Hyde’s) research is that it just goes to show that we are not as divided as we’d like to be, and we shouldn’t focus on those differences as much,” Swain said. “If we focus more on our similarities, we could probably come together and do something great.”

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.