An article in the Times supplement last week called, 'Are girls' brains wired differently from boys'?' really caught my interest and made me want to revisit my thoughts on the great male/female divide. The subject is of greater interest to me now, since moving to Oman from England, and experiencing two such contrasting societies.
The distinction between the behaviour and treatment of males and females, and gender in general, is a current and popular topic in England, although I'm not sure it is such in Oman. There is of course the famous nature versus nurture debate; whether we adopt certain gender-specific roles because we are wired that way, or because we are trained to from birth. The article doesn't really come to a specific conclusion. It basically claims that although boys and girls appear to yield to gender stereotypes very early, which tends towards the 'nature' argument, it may just be that society immediately encourages the behaviour without even being aware of it.
In England for example, women for years have been trying to reverse stereotypical female roles and win equal rights which have universally been denied women. Unfortunately there has been some sort of mix-up between the two issues and women's attempts to secure equality has just resulted in women imitating men's bad habits. The point they're missing is that equal rights are fundamental, but identical behaviour/ treatment isn't. In fact, the loss in value of traditional roles is being rethought as detrimental and the family structure is undergoing a bit of a crisis. This change has been considered to have some connection with the deterioration of children's behaviour, success in education, marriage and divorce rates and crime.
Even drawing the conclusion that behaviour is influenced more by nurture than nature isn't a bad thing. It is important for girl's to be taught nurturing qualities because they will use these skills as mothers. Just as, idealistically speaking, men will use their protective skills as husbands and fathers.
However, this isn't set in stone and it is not nice when things are forced. Some people may find the freedom to interchange roles beneficial and are able to in a society where people choose their partners based on mutual interests and attitudes. It is more difficult in a society such as in Oman, where arranged marriages are the norm. This is because not knowing the intimate details of a future partner's personality and their desires, parties can only assume that traditional roles and attitudes will be fulfilled according to what is expected by society. This in turn compels girls and boys to observe the norm in order to be sure of securing a future marriage.
Moving from family to professional roles (which is maybe a subject for another day), it is clear that women are more than capable of taking on roles that have been traditionally thought of as men's and it is a great loss to a society who denies this. I am happy that Oman is not one of these societies and at least officially, women are encouraged to seek success in whichever field they like.