In the last installment
of 'Gender Stereotype Debunking,' the subject was the remote control. This installment has to do with another navigating device: the map.
Let me set the stage with a typical dialogue between Catherine and me, one that you would no doubt witness for yourself if you happened to go on a road trip with us. It usually goes something like this:
'Where the hell are we?'
'No friggin' idea. I think I made a wrong turn back there.'
'Give me the map.'
'Wait, wait. We don't need the map, I think I can get us back to . . . '
'Give me the map.'
'Oh God. Okay, fine! Wait . . . it's not . . . it's on your side! Get it yourself.'
Can you guess which one is me? Many people would assume that since I am the male, I would be the first to go for the map. But they would be wrong. The assumption probably stems from a generally-accepted notion that women can not read maps, a notion that is actually supported by a number of scientific studies, which I suppose makes it more of a 'hypothesis.' I did a quick Google search and found several results on the topic. One recent University of California study looks to the different ways men and women use their gray matter and white matter
as the reason why women have a harder time reading maps. Another study from Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany points to a lack of testosterone
, citing the fact that women can actually read maps better during times when the hormone is more abundant in their systems, like during a period. (Hey, I'm not making this stuff up.) Well, I challenge any scientist offering evidence in favor of women being inferior at reading maps to drive from DC to New York with my wife. He'll be singing a different tune somewhere around Wilmington, Delaware.
There is a reason that I usually drive when we are navigating difficult territory on road trips, and it's not because of my superior driving skills, though that would be a pretty good reason in and of itself. (Eh-hem.) No, it's because, while I'd love to sit here and tell you that I'm an excellent map-reader, that shit ain't the truth. The harsh reality is that I suck at it, and after several frustrating episodes involving poor advice and wrong turns, we decided it was best for both of us if Catherine manages the directions.
Now, in my defense, it's not that I can't read a map. Honestly. I do grasp the nature of it relatively well. I think even Catherine would attest to the fact that I have a pretty good sense of direction and she might even admit that I can get around certain parts of DC better than she can. I guess when it comes to me and maps, the problem is this: I can't seem to effectively process the information on a map through my brain and have it come out of my mouth in any kind of useful, or even recognizable, verbal communication. As you can probably guess, this makes it challenging for anybody who happens to be in the driver's seat next to me. I think my map-interpreting issues stem from the fact that I don't really perceive the map as a 'tool' the way it's intended. Instead, I see it as some kind of abstract object, a work of art even. I look at a map and I get lost in the patterns, the lines, the pretty colors. I know it's supposed to be about A to B, but that's relatively boring stuff, isn't it? I like things to convey some deeper meaning or significance. And multiple layers of it, if possible. For this reason, I believe a map should be studied and contextualized. If you ask me to tell you the way from A to B, I won't give you a straight answer. Instead, I'll give you an array of confusing possibilities. And when I'm through, we will be well on our way to someplace we never intended. I don't mean for it to happen. It just does. It is the way of things.
Catherine, on the other hand, has a much more commanding way with maps. For her, it's about finding the quickest, most efficient route from A to B and she has no problem determining that within a couple of seconds. Also, she seems to have greater powers of recollection which allow her to determine our exact location on a map quickly, if asked. I've seen her with a map in one hand, the steering wheel in the other, driving through traffic, and she'll point to where we are with a casual flick of the wrist. Effortless. Like I had just asked, 'point to the nose on my face,' or even simpler, 'show me the general location on my body where my head is located.' Yeah, my baby has mad map-reading skills. More importantly, she can take the information she finds on a map and turn it into meaningful language. She can employ phrases like, 'take a right here' or, 'continue straight ahead through the next intersection.'
So there you have it. Gender stereotype, the map: Debunked.
One side note: As long as I'm disproving one stereotype, I should go ahead and affirm another. When the map fails, Catherine has no problem stopping to ask strangers for directions. I, on the other hand, conform to the general principle that no self-respecting male should ever submit to the indecorum of asking another human being how to get somewhere, especially a human being he does not know personally.
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