If you want lots of simple jobs doing adequately and all at the same time, ask a woman; if you want just one tough, complicated job doing brilliantly, ask a man.
This is how conventional wisdom has it, anyway – that men are better at devoting their full, focused attention to one task, while women are granted the honour of being better at “multi-tasking”.
Conventional wisdom also has it that women are more intuitive, have better social skills and better memories – well, of the sort that enables them to remember faces, anniversaries and school parents’ evenings. The sort of abilities that are called “soft skills” in the business world.
For a number of years now, I, like many women, have tended to view this “conventional wisdom” with the degree of scepticism that I also reserve for unicorns and half-price supermarket wine offers. All this “women are best at multi-tasking and listening” nonsense has, in my opinion, been little more than a ploy and a plot to ensure that women do all the work and shut up about it, so that men can do just one little thing and then go on and on about it, for ever.
But I now have to eat my words, because it seems there is truth – proper, scientific truth – in the very stereotyping that I have been so readily and cynically dismissing.
Scientists in the US have MRI-scanned the brains of 949 young men and women to map the connecting activity. They have found that women have better connections between the left (logical thinking) and right (intuitive thinking) sides of the brain, making them good at the soft, social stuff.
Meanwhile, men have better connections between the front and back of the brain, giving them a better ability to understand information quickly and use it immediately to carry out complex tasks. Their brains show more intense activity in the cerebellum, which controls motor skills – all of which means they are better at activities such as learning to swim, parking a car and reading a map. Ta-da!
So there we have it. I have been proved wrong, and will be cynical no more. On Sunday, I wrote a fashion story, went to a Christmas fair then the supermarket, cleaned the bathroom, did two loads of laundry, put up the Christmas decorations and made Sunday roast. My husband spent all day trying to remove a broken light bulb (the glass had cracked off at the base) from a lamp, researching on the internet and trying to unscrew what remained in the fixing, first with a potato and then, finally and successfully, with a ball of Blu-Tack. He was very pleased with himself.
I am using that very lamp right now, as I write. That’s evolution for you. Back to menial multi-tasking for me, then. I know my place.