Letter: Secret responses to fatherhood

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The Independent Online
Sir: Men and women may indeed be "wired" differently from each other, a notion your editorial ("On sexual equality we should agree to differ", 2 July) urges us to tolerate; and indeed, looking around it seems they must be. Yet, pace testosterone, genes or whatever, researchers who get down to specifics are often astonished by innate similarities.

You cited fatherhood. So shall I. Fathers in our society usually vocalise and smile less to babies than do mothers, but put in charge of infants for sustained periods, as mothers routinely are, they exhibit no less chat and smiling, or patience and sensitivity (Gbrich, 1986).

When males and females are played tapes of crying babies, females appear more agitated. However, when concealed responses (heart rate, blood pressure, etc) are measured, no sex differences are found: males and females are revealed as equally distressed and responsive (Lamb, 1981).

Whatever the initial "wiring", it's clear that social conditioning drives a huge wedge between men and their parenting instincts. When pre-schoolers are given a doll and asked to pose as a "mummy", they stay close to it; when posing as themselves, they stand further away; when posing as a "daddy", they stand furthest away of all (Reid, Tate & Berman, 1989).

Given that childbearing is seen as the ultimate "girls' game", we should not be surprised when adult males fail to join in. We should, rather, marvel that so many do, and consider whether this alone may not be evidence of a powerful instinctual drive.

ADRIENNE BURGESS

Author of `Fatherhood Reclaimed'

London SW1

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