Christina Patterson: Let's call a ceasefire in the battle of the sexes

A revolutionary assumption has lain dormant: men and women are the same
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The Independent Online

Gosh, we're in a mess. Financially, obviously, there's a little spot of global bother but let's, on this occasion, not bother our pretty little heads with that. No, the mess is this: that 400,000 years after the first human female told her hairy husband that his haunch of mammoth was in the oven, the men who run the world are dreaming up ever-more elaborate strategies for extracting her vote. Somewhere at the bottom of a long list that starts, "Have rich friends and stay on their yacht/ranch/guest list" is an item, scrawled as an afterthought, "women".

And so the British political party led by a PR man took on an agency specialising in this challenging niche area and the American political party led by a multimillionaire married to a Sindy doll assembled all the experts their donor millions could muster and came up with – well, it's rather hard to say. But in the laboratory in which this composite creature was created, you can sort of imagine the conversation: make her smart, ya know, sassy, but not too smart. Make her folksy. Make her fun. Make her hot. And so the Barbie-doll-hockey-mom male fantasy of a female politician was born, and laid on with a trowel. The kids. The make-up. The chutzpah. You, too, can wake up a housewife (with a little job in a shop or an office) and go to bed a president. You, too, can take off those glasses, unfurl that schoolmistressy knot and... Whoops, sorry, we're meant to be catering to women.

How did it come to this? How, 70 years after British women were first allowed to vote and 45 years after Betty Friedan shattered illusions about feminine mystique and 38 years after Germaine Greer categorised half the human race as eunuchs, did we get to the point where male politicians thought that a few references to food and fuel bills, together with the usual Tourette's scattergun of "hard-working families", would have women galloping to the ballot box to cast their vote for – well, the man in the dark suit or the man in the dark suit. How did it all go so horribly wrong?

The long version would fill a thousand PhD theses, but the short version is simple. We were sold a big, fat lie. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and those Sixties feminists had very good intentions. But in among those searingly accurate analyses of the myriad prisons in which women were trapped nestled one little assumption that was meant to change the world, but which lay there dormant and then bit it on its bottom.

The assumption was revolutionary. Men and women are the same. If men are bossy bastards, who spend their days propelling themselves up the corporate ladder and their evenings alphabetically filing their record collections, it's because that's what their dads taught them. If women are chatty multi-taskers who juggle cup-cakes, and babies, and grievances, it's because that's what their mums taught them, and because someone's got to keep their feet on the ground while hubby soars ever higher.

All cultural conditioning, and cultures can be changed. And so women chucked out their chintz, and their knitting, and burnt their bras, and tried a new hobby called a "zipless fuck" (which proved a bit tricky in dungarees) and, when they had children, they made sure that Tom played with dolls and Lily wore trousers. And when Tom stole his friend's toy guns and Lily demanded pink frills, they were confused. And when Tom grew up, and tried to empathise in the way his mother taught him, but found the girls he fancied liked men who didn't, and when Lily grew up, and found the men she fancied wanted someone a little less intimidating, they too were confused.

And so it was that women CEOs of New York companies bought guides to dating based on the mores of high schools in small-town America, and so it was that women who embarked on relationships expecting scintillating conversation found a grunting slob on a sofa, and men who embarked on relationships expecting nice sex and a chance to relax found an uptight control freak, moaning about her disappointment. And so it was that everyone went out and bought a book, which became a franchise, about how men are rubber-band-wearing creatures from Mars and women are well-diving divas from Venus – and the old, old myths were reborn.

The truth, as pretty much all the recent research demonstrates, is that there are real differences between the male and female brain. This doesn't mean that we are doomed to eternal incomprehension, or eternal war, or eternal inequality, but it does mean that it's time for a much more nuanced, much more sophisticated, much more intelligent appraisal of how men and women can live, function and work together. And maybe even one day rule the world.