Gender Science of Children Appears to be Contradictory

It’s been ages since I’ve written anything on here, I’ve been so busy I just haven’t had the time. So here’s something to get the brain cells working again…
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I’m not a scientist in the true sense of the word, although as an engineer there’s a large overlap. While engineering largely deals with non-living things (and that includes dealing with accountants), we do have to design things that are used by humans, so having an insight into human behaviour and physiology is important. The science behind human behaviour is understandably complex and difficult to garner definitive conclusions from as the human brain is the most complex single organism we know and there’s such a variety of different people. So it is not surprise that studies of aspects of behaviour can reveal contradictory results.

I’d written in another one of my blog posts (Women in Engineering) about the lack of women in engineering and what we can do about it, so the differences in gender behaviour interests me, but seems filled with conflicting views and evidence. As a father to two young children, a boy and a girl, I also observe differences close up, but obviously with a smaller sample size.

Examples of Contradictory Views

A few months ago the BBC ran a short series called ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ which tried to dispel myths and assumptions about the differences between girls and boys of primary school age. It found that a lot of behaviour is based around parents, carers and teachers pigeon-holing children based on their gender in terms of expectation of their behaviour. For example, giving dolls to girls and toy cars to boys. The general conclusion was that the differences in behaviour between boys and girls was purely down to external influences (i.e. nurture) and that if adults treated boys and girls identically, then they’ll behave the same.

To demonstrate a different viewpoint, I recently came across this article in the Guardian: “A child’s gender can be detected in their speech from age five, research says”. Not only does it mention gender differences, but throws in some questions about sexuality too. Of course, these are favourite topics for the Guardian, although this article goes largely against the typical Guardian viewpoint I feel. In this article the development of speech is indicated as a differentiator of gender and sexuality.

Surely both positions can’t be correct? It is worth saying they are looking at slightly different areas of behaviour. The BBC programme is looking at higher level activities such as playing with toys, physical and mental tasks, and basically the sort of things you’ll do at school. The Guardian article is looking at lower level behaviour such as clothing preferences, approaches to play and social behaviour. But there is a big overlap, so they both can’t be right. How much of it really is nurture and how much is nature?

My Experiences

They say an anecdote isn’t data, and of course one example doesn’t prove a rule. However, being a parent of two school children, I do observe their friends, talk to other parents and teachers. So there is quite a lot of information about variety of children to tap into.

The Guardian article discusses the differences in speech development as an indicator, and it is something I have noticed myself. My son’s speech is quite a long way behind my daughter’s, possible a couple of years in terms of development. I’ve also noticed it with their friends, most of the girls are far more articulate than the boys at the same age. Naturally there’s quite a spread within each group, so there is always going to be an overlap.

The teachers I meet are aware of these differences too. When I remark about my son’s development, they say that’s typical for boys and they progress at a different rate from girls, and there’s nothing to worry about. These teachers would have observed hundreds of children in their careers, so I’m not going to argue with their observations. However, the BBC programme suggests that teachers often unconsciously stereotype girls and boys and treat them differently, leading to these differences. I’m not so sure as I’ve observed children before school age, and the differences in speech development have been quite clear then.

As for other types of behaviour, I also see clear difference between the genders, but not for everything. My kids have been to plenty of birthday parties, and while I tend to steer clear of the party itself (there’s only so many times I can put up with Gangnam Style blearing out of a kids’ disco), I can see how they play when I need to collect them. From the age of about 6, girls and boys tend to separate out into two groups. The boys will be running around for more raucously, being far more physical. Whereas the girls might be dancing, chatting amongst themselves, or playing less physical games. The noise levels of both groups can vary a lot though, and that really does seem to down to individuals. Nobody it telling them how to play, and they can’t pick this up from watching adults, as they aren’t going to see us old farts partying, so it is largely self-determined action.

For higher level activity, such as playing with toys and games, and others interests, I see less of a difference. Both my children love playing with Lego (to American readers: Lego never has an ‘s’ on the end!), even though the sets a often gender-steered these days. They are both keen to help me cooking in the kitchen, and take an interest in how things work. There are slight differences, my daughter does sometimes play with her doll’s house, but that isn’t so different from my son playing with action figures. However, the action figures are often doing aggressive heroic things, whereas the dolls are doing more homely tasks; so there’s some clear differences there.

I certainly avoid pigeon-holing their play and interests along gender lines, and try to expose both of them to the same things. But I’ll never force them into something they aren’t interested in, and I do see some differences, but not as many as you may expect. For example, my daughter is keen on computers, whereas my son enjoys baking (although I think it is just an excuse to eat lots of cakes); so they don’t sit in the stereotypes too much. But their style of play is quite different, and distinctively genderised. If they are both playing with Lego, she’ll make a house with realistic features with the figures doing domestic things; whereas my son will be making some mad fantasy android monster thing with weapons and special powers. I’ve certainly never steering them myself towards these styles of play, but how much of that is down to their basic nature, and how much from influences such as TV and friends?

Gender Dysphoria

Gender Dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is where a person feels as if their gender does not match their biological sex. So you might be born a boy, but feel like you are really a girl. Eventually people who have GID can opt to have some transitional surgery and treatment to change sex. The most famous example is former Olympic Decathlete Bruce Jenner turning into reality TV celebrity Caitlin Jenner. Turning from a respected Olympian surround by talented athletes into a reality TV star surround by talentless fame-seekers must have been psychologically difficult to deal with.

If we watched the BBC programme, we could draw the conclusion that boys and girls are the same, and their behaviour is purely down to nurture and how society expects them to behave. If this is the case, then surely GID can’t exist? How can a boy feel like he’s really a girl, when there’s no such thing as ‘female behaviour’? So even with the most gender-neutral upbringing possible would GID exist? The Guardian’s article clearly suggests GID is a thing, and when boys exhibit speech characteristics of girls, then they may have a higher chance of having GID. So where does the truth lie?

My View

Given the evidence I’ve seen from these articles and from my own observations, boys and girls do develop at different rates with different behaviour and broad interests. However, these characteristics have a wide spread for each gender, and there is plenty of scope for movement within those spreads. It is only at the extremes do we notice unusual patterns, and this is probably where GID children fall into. Where society plays a role is in polarising those slight differences and making them large. Whereas naturally there would be a large overlap between boys and girls, the outside world forces the two apart. To get a fairer society where boys and girls can be comfortable being themselves, and not feeling they have to conform to stereotypes, we have to remove this gap and allow the overlap to occur. This will also make it easier for those who are confused over their gender identity and sexuality and allow them to have self-confidence and encourage tolerance from others.

I also think there’s a long way to go in the science of gender and how it relates to behaviour and mental attributes. There’s too many contradictory conclusions out there, and politics often pollutes the research. The media also needs to improve in terms of reporting, and not let subjective views of journalists get in the way of objective reporting. It would be good to have science reporters with an actual background in the subject too.

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Wandering Hands and Worse

I’m sure even the most reclusive hermit is aware of the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment sweeping through the world of UK politics and the film industry at the moment. Big names such as Harvey Weinstein, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey in Hollywood, and Michael Fallon in Westminster have had some serious allegations flying in their direction. The #MeToo campaign has given a voice to victims of abuse who previous felt unable to speak about their experiences, and like ma

ny a viral meme the number of accused and victims has spiralled. It hasn’t just been women who have been coming out, men too have revealed unpleasant experiences at the hands of men (and so far it has only been men) in positions of power.

Workplace Cultures

The film and entertainment industries and government are two areas of work full of people who wield tremendous power, desire fame and wealth, and have massive egos. Consequently, it attracts people who would do anything to get into these careers, no matter how compromising it might be. It is hardly a coincidence that that these fields take advantage of unpaid internships to feed a steady stream of impressionable young wannabes who lack any power in their destiny. So it must of little surprise that those higher up are emboldened to treat younger aspirants like playthings and take advantage of them. Of course, looks also play a big part in Hollywood (but very much less so in government), so add a sprinkling of glamour and you’ll be sprinkling hormones all over the working environment to spice up the mix even more.

One problem with these particular work areas is that they aren’t exactly a meritocracy. You don’t reach the top purely based on talent and hard work. In politics, it’s who you know, and of course being able to bullshit to a level that would make a second-hand car dealer blush. It’s little wonder politics is dominated by the privately educated, where the old boys (and girls) network operates and self-confidence – or maybe even self-delusion – is in-grained. The entertainment industry is also dominated by the well connected these days, but good looks and the right accent get you a long way too. Any industry where success is dependent on factors beyond the basic talent and skills at the job will encourage dubious techniques to become successful, and abuse will be natural side-effect of this. They are also very stratified work environments, where those at the very top earn great wealth, and have power and fame; but there are many levels below, way down to the bottom with people working for next to nothing with little hope of ever getting up the very long greasy pole. Those at the top know they can get away with liberties when dealing with those below them, as those below don’t want to ruin their chances of scaling the pole.

In my world of engineering, certainly from my experience, things could not be more different. To get ahead in engineering, you do need skill and talent, and it is far more of a meritocracy. That’s not to say luck, good connections and some brown-nosing doesn’t help get you ahead. But you certainly won’t get ahead on good looks and a nice accent alone! Even in older, larger companies with traditional structures, there is less of a distance between the top level engineers and the new starters. Even the most experienced engineers will know that a young new starter will have skills they don’t. So there’s a far smaller disparity of power and potential for abuse compared with politics and entertainment. We all know engineering is a male-dominated industry, but I’ve always felt most male engineers aren’t usually the macho, alpha-male types who need constantly prove their masculinity. They tend to be rather reserved and hide their sexuality under a bushel. I’ve known a fair number of gay engineers, and you would have needed a well-tuned gaydar to have been able to spot them. I suspect a fair few of my colleagues having even fallen into the much ignored asexual category. While I can’t speak for my female colleagues, I’ve never had one mention any sort of sexual abuse or harassment in the workplace. The worst they’ve ever mentioned are some simplistic stereotypes, but nothing ever lewd or nasty. Of course, I’m not going to be told of every single incident from all my female colleagues, but I’ve always got the impression they consider it a safe industry. Many other organisations have different cultures from the ones I’ve worked for, which may paint a different picture. But if you’re a woman looking for a career where sexual harassment is unlikely to be a problem, then engineering (and science in general) is a good one to choose. I also like to think that the typical engineer or scientist is highly intelligent and thus well behaved!

Educational Background

I decided to do a little background research on some of the politicians accused of inappropriate behaviour, and there was a list of ten names doing the rounds (it would have been useful to have more). I decided to look up their educational background to see whether it aligned with my suspicion that they were privately educated. Of the ten, four were privately educated, three went to grammar school, two state and one unknown. Also six of those (I think, but can’t be sure) were also boys-only schools. Now, that last figure does start to make you think, does a single-sex education distort boys views of girls?

I know those who support single-sex education like to highlight that the educational achievement is better (though I am sceptical of that claim, due the selective nature of single-sex schools), but at what cost to social skills of the pupils? If you’re in an all-boys school, you never get to see girls as equals, doing the same things as you. They become even more mysterious and treated as different beings. The result can go in two directions, one is that you become scared and in awe of girls, and the other is that you see girls as inferior or to be taken advantage of. I’m not saying all boys at single-sex schools end up at either of these extremes, but it surely must magnify any differences. When I was at university I knew a few students who went to single-sex schools (both boys and girls), and they all seemed to view the opposite sex with a certain amount novelty, and not just treat them as just another student to be an equal friend with. Many soon adjusted, but the male students who were getting all excited over being in close proximity to women were usually from all-boys schools.

Going back to our politicians’ schools, where more than half either went to a private (called public schools in the UK, rather confusingly) or grammar (free, but selective) schools. While private schools can offer an excellent level of education, they also seem to instil a level of self-confidence into most of the pupils. Of course, many of them come from privileged backgrounds, which also helps this level of self-confidence. But this self-confidence, if not restrained, can turn into arrogance and entitlement.

A Power Trip?

I’ve read many articles which postulate that the sexual abuse cases are men exerting their power over the women, and they are using sex to put them in their place. I’m not so sure about this, as there are many ways to exert power without using sex, so why do it that way with the inherent risks it carries? As I just mentioned in the educational upbringing, I see it more of a sense of entitlement, rather than exerting power. These men feel entitled to treat women (and men) as they want, and feel immune to any possible repercussions, as they’ve grown up without anyone challenging them, or questioning their actions.

I also think the fundamental aspect of sexual desire is overlooked in many articles too. We’re sexual beings, and if we see someone we find attractive, we’ll have sexual feelings towards them. Of course, the vast majority of us keep such thoughts to ourselves and not make those feeling felt. These over-entitled men appear not to have the restraint, or empathy towards the other person and therefore externalise their inner thoughts, and act on their basest instincts. Because of their lofty positions, they get away with their behaviour and this results in a power trip. So I think power is more a result of their behaviour, not really the cause.

The Police

One really glaring omission from all these reports of abuse is any mention of the police getting involved, or any of the alleged victims reporting any incidents to the law. Some of the incidents appear to be very serious, including rape, so why aren’t the police involved? I know the police have a lamentable track-record when handling rape and abuse cases, and it is notoriously difficult to convict; but you would have thought amongst all these allegations a few would have been reported? Is it really easier to reveal the abuse you’ve received to millions on social media on the back of a campaign, rather than report it in confidence to the police? While I generally believe the allegations that have been made, it does make your wonder whether some are jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage for a moment of fame. The result is those who have genuinely been abused may not get taken seriously. I wonder whether some of these high profile figures accused of rape and other abuse will get convicted, or slip through the net due to their status and access to the top lawyers?

Too Much Variety?

The #MeToo campaign has revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of allegations of abuse and harassment, revealing how widespread the problems are. Many of these particular allegations have made the headlines due to the profile of the person making them. However, the nature of the the allegations vary from violent rape down to a tap on the knee or a risqué comment. While these latter incidents may have caused distress at that time, they can end up drowning out more serious cases because of the profile of the people involved. The trouble with internet memes is that everyone wants a piece of the action, and you end up with people coming up the most trivial incidents imaginable being giving the same exposure as criminal and life-changing events. I’m not saying harassment should be swept under the carpet, but maybe dealing with the perpetrator or the organisation it happened in more directly, rather than just Tweeting about it would be more useful.

Who is Doing This?

If you look at all the articles and social media on this subject you may get this impression it is all men, and only men, doing this. Of course, many articles will state otherwise. The Kevin Spacey reports have also revealed it isn’t just women who are victims too. From my personal experience I have received low-ish level sexual abuse and harassment from women, but not men (I don’t count getting wolf-whistled by some gay guys as harassment, and was rather flattered by it as it was done in good humour). I also personally don’t know any men who have sexually abused or harrassed anyone, but that’s maybe due to the sort of people I mix with. I think there’s a very small minority of people who do abuse and harrass, but they do it a lot and to lots of people. So maybe instead of being hung up about a widespread culture of abuse, maybe really trying to deal with the abusers will remove the majority of the problems. It’s rather like when the police catch a burglar (yes, I know that’s a bit of a far-fetched idea), and the number of burglaries plummets in the area. The hundreds of break-in weren’t done by hundreds of burglars, but one burglar doing hundreds of burglaries.

Move the Line?

The last decade or so has one of most puritanical periods since the 1950s. Compared to the late 1960s to 1980s, our attitudes to sex have become more prudish. This may be due to a reaction against that more sexually libarated era, which many people enjoyed the benefits of, but also many people (and particularly women) felt threatened by. These days even the sightest hint of flirtation between people who aren’t already in a relationship seems to be frowned upon, and could lead to serious trouble in the workplace. The only way we seem to be able to meet anyone these days is via online dating, and any real-life approaches are now virtually impossible it seems. Has the line been placed to what is and isn’t acceptable too far over to the converstive (very much with a small C!) side now? Are the rules so constraining now, so when someone breaks them, they go to the other extreme and end up abusing as many people as they can?

Maybe if we loosened up a bit, and tolerated a little bit of flirting now and again, and allowed people to be adults on a equal footing, it might prevent some people going off on these extreme pathways to abusive behaviour. It may also allow people to feel more comfortable about answering back confidently without offending when they aren’t interested. Do you think the current zero tolerance attitude is counter-productive, or would a more relaxed attitude be too risky?

Dating Tumbleweed

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It’s been over 8 months since I started on this online dating mission, and things haven’t exactly turned out quite as hoped. If you’re read my previous blogs you’ll know I’ve been using Tinder, POF and happn to search for women. Since then, I’ve also added Lovoo and Badoo to the mix. As you can guess this was due the the lack of success on the original three apps. You would have also read I’ve had a couple of dates, one of which ended up ghosting me after a promising start, and the other leaving me in the dreaded friendzone. So what’s been happening since then?

To cut a short story even shorter: sod all, sweet FA, diddly squat, nada. Well, not strictly true, as I did manage one other date, and she did seem reasonably pleasant and we got on, but she lived far too far away to even consider taking any further. But apart from that, nothing.

App success

Comparing the apps in terms of getting dates directly can be a little tricky as the type of feedback varies. In Tinder you only know about mutual matches, and never about people liking you when you didn’t like them. In POF, you are informed when someone likes you, and you receive messages from anyone. happn (I wish they’d capitalise their first letter, I hate starting a sentence with a lower-case letter!) also only report mutual matches, as do Lovoo. Badoo give some indication of who’s visited your profile and those that who have liked you.

So how much success have I had? Well on Tinder I had one match from someone who lives in a different country (must have been visiting the UK at the time to appear), and that’s it. Given I’ve been swiping nearly every day, that’s a massively disappointing hit-rate. With POF I’ve managed a couple of matches, but not had any replies when trying to start a conversation. However, I had received a lot of likes and messages from non-matches, so some women clearly like me. The downside all these women seem to be at least 10 years older than me, and look at least 20 years older. I’ve also tried messaging several women who I’ve taking a liking too from the search, but haven’t received a single reply. Sending messages can be tiring, as I don’t just want to say ‘Hi there!’, and rather say something based on their profile to start a conversation; so it does need some thought, which after a day working and dealing with the kids, I don’t much energy left to do.

On happn I’ve had one match (after 8 months of nothing!), and tried to start a chat, but got no reply. Lovoo, I had a match from someone far too far away. Badoo has shown a little more promise in that I’ve actually struck up a couple of conversations on there, but they seem not to be the most articulate women in the world. One word answers are bad enough, but one letter answers?! What’s happening to the literacy in this country?

So what next?

I know I’m not the greatest catch out there, and being a man, I’m up against a vast amount of competition, but I really was hoping for better. Have I stepped over the age threshold where I’m now considered too old by most women (except for 50-somethings it seems)? Does my profile stink? Are my photos rotten (personally I think they give a good impression of me)? Is my particular taste in women not reciprocated by those women? It’s not like I haven’t put the effort in on the apps, searching on most days, so being very active. I’m really feeling like the invisible man now, without the actual benefits of being invisible.

So what do you think I should do?

Women in Engineering

I’ve been in engineering for a quarter of a century now, and have worked in a number of places, both large and small. I’ve also spent time attending conferences, meetings and workshops; and, of course my career started after attending University. Over all that time there has been a distinct lack of women in the field. Without having exact figures to hand, I would say it has varied between 20% at best and zero at worst in all those different situations.
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Can We Blame Engineers?

Clearly there’s a problem somewhere if there’s such a lack of women in engineering. I’ve never met a single male engineer who doesn’t want more women working with them. OK, there’s a lot of engineers who don’t want anyone else working with them, but they don’t discriminate when it comes to being anti-social. Even amongst my most lewd and politically-incorrect colleagues I’ve never met one who thinks women aren’t capable of doing the job. So I’ve seen very little evidence that the workplace and engineers themselves are off-putting to women. However, perceptions may differ from reality when looking from the outside. The media often portrays engineers as socially inept, introverted, either huddled over a computer, or getting themselves dirty on machinery. While there might be some elements of truth in any stereotype, engineers do come from a range of backgrounds with a wide variety of personalities and interests outside of their jobs. Some of them even shower more than once a week. But the media does have a lot to answer for when it comes to portrayal of engineers.

Who Gets Recruited?

So what about recruitment? To be honest, I haven’t been too involved with recruitment in my career, but have spoken to plenty of colleagues who have. While it depends very much on the position being advertised for, it isn’t unusual to receive 500 applications for one vacancy with only 5 women applying. So all things being equal, there’s a 1% chance a woman would get recruited. So either the problem lies in the process of job advertising or goes further back than that. Given that most job adverts aren’t placed in Loaded and Playboy magazine, we can probably discount any significant discrimination on that front. So we must step back further. My engineering course at university (a top-10 Russell group one, so a semi-humble brag) was around 95% male. Other engineering disciplines varied a bit, but still very much male dominated. So what’s holding back women from applying to university engineering courses?

Is It A School Problem?

In the UK, the traditional path into university is after taking A-levels at 18 years old, either at school or a 6th form college. Most people take 3 or 4 A-levels (it was only ever 3 in my day when they were a lot harder – but that’s another hot topic!), which are chosen at 16 years old. So at 16, you’re narrowing down your subjects to specialisms you’ll most likely be using to start your career. If you want to be an engineer one of those A-levels will be at least maths (yes, with an ‘s’!), and a science (physics being a good choice for many engineering disciplines). This doesn’t leave much space for a breadth of choices, so if you want to become an engineer you’re probably committed to that path at 16. If you want to leave your options open for other career paths, you might not be able to choose the A-levels required for an engineering career. Maybe at 16 boys tend to have a clearer idea of what career they want than girls do? It’ll be interesting to hear you views on this.

Before A-levels, there are of course the GCSEs, which are taken at 16 years old. Usually pupils take between 8-12 of them, and if I remember correctly I took 10. So there’s plenty more scope for a diversity of subjects there. I remember doing art, French, a science and geography amongst mine, so a good mix even if most of that knowledge as long since evaporated. At GCSE level there are a variety of subjects which help in the background to learning about engineering, such as maths, physics, chemistry, computer science and design & technology (I going by the names they were called when I was at school a long time ago!). From my memory, the male to female ratio did vary a lot in these. Maths was compulsory, but girls dominated the top set, so clearly not a lack of ability there. However, computer science and design & technology was pretty much entirely male. So the polarisation of the genders had already set in at that stages. I don’t remember any girls being discouraged by teachers from taking these subjects, so what put them off? Was it peer pressure, lack of interest, parental influence, or the general stereotype of gendered subjects?

Hobbies

When I was a lad, many many years ago, I was constant tinkerer. Whether making Airfix models, building machines with technical Lego, constructing electronics circuits or writing BASIC programs on my early 80s home computer; they was rarely a time where I wasn’t building or designing something. I learnt so much from this play, that it made much of my formal education much easier as I had gathered the basics at home at a younger age. In those pre-internet days, much of the information was gathered from magazines and from my dad who was also very practical. Some of my school friends also had similar hobbies, and we often swapped ideas and proudly showed off our creations to each other. However, I don’t remember any female friends or sisters really having any similar hobbies, with even Lego being considered a boys toy back then (despite it being very non-gendered in those days). They simply didn’t seem interested in such pastimes and would rather do more ‘girlie’ things.

I certainly wasn’t forced into the hobbies I did, and much of it was really from taking an interest in what my dad was doing. Having said that, I also enjoyed helping my mum with baking and she encouraged my more artistic side (which I’ve long since lost). My sisters were simply not interested in what my dad was up to, but he never said they shouldn’t take an interest in those things.

So I think if you want girls to consider engineering and STEM in general, they really need to be exposed to interesting hobbies when young. Looking at my own children I would say they really start to specialise in interests around the age of 6 to 8. Both my children (one of each) love their Lego, but do play in rather different ways. The girl is very much into building houses where her figures have distinct personalities and do quite real-world things. Whereas the boy is very much into goodies and baddies, and building things that fly or drive. However, both are actively building and designing their models, so they are both engineering. I try to ensure there’s plenty of practical things around for them to play with, but try not to force anything on them, and certainly don’t tell them they should play with something as it’s only for boys/girls. So if you have a girl, make sure there’s plenty of opportunities for her to access practical toys and technology that allows creativity and logical thinking. Also, make sure you as a parent (or friend, or relative) are seen doing practical and creative things and be ready to get them to join in with you, or at least talk to them about it.

Encouragement

There’s a fine line between encouragement, where a child is doing something willingly and enjoying it, and hot-housing a child into something a parent wants them to excel at. Children can quite easily dive into something with massive enthusiasm for a few weeks or days and then lose interest and never come back to it again. Occasionally some activities will stick and they’ll persist with them for much longer. I’m sure we’ve seen toys that are always out and others which get used once and collect dust in the back of the cupboard. It’s important to spot which activities an child takes an interest in and encourage them along, particularly if it is something which is enhancing their development. However, if you get too forceful with this encouragement, it can put them off and they’ll end up never wanting to do it again. Sometimes its difficult to tell how forceful you are if it’s something you’ve got an enthusiasm for yourself. But, never try and put children off from doing things, particularly if they start to feel it is something they shouldn’t be doing through peer pressure.

So to start to get more girls into engineering, they need encouragement at a very young age to take up hobbies and in their play. But you should never force them into things if they show no interest in them. I’d much rather see a girl who is a passionate fashion designer than a reluctant engineer. But if she does show interest in engineering and science, make sure it isn’t only in school where she gets to learn about it, give her all the encouragement you can. It becomes particularly important through the adolescent years when peer pressure and hormones can pull them away.

Will We Ever Reach 50%?

To be brutally honest, I don’t think we’ll ever see engineering being 50% female. My main reasons for this do come from observing how children play, and despite many people’s efforts to not restrict play along gender lines, generally speaking girls and boys do play differently. However, that doesn’t mean we should just give up, as there are plenty of girls how there who would take to engineering brilliantly and they should be encouraged. So we need parents and teachers to really show the way and ensure girls are given the opportunities to learn and enjoy engineering-related activities, and that they retain this while growing up. So I think we can increase the number of female engineers, but it’ll take a long time and the focus should be on the young and not on employers’ recruitment methods.

In the Friendzone

dating8So I’ve suffered the ignominy of been ghosted, and wondered what else the world of online dating relationships could throw at me. I had met another woman via one of the dating sites a few months ago and we clicked on the first date and starting meeting up on a reasonably regular basis. Bear in mind my situation of being a working parent with little spare time, so the regularity of these were every couple of weeks or so.

From day one we seemed to get on pretty well and soon seemed to feel relaxed with each other. We’d chat on the phone every couple of days or so, and talk about everything under the sun. There seemed to be a good chemistry building and we started to understand each other’s little quirks and happy to wind each other up a bit. When she’s had some bad days I’ve tried to comfort and cheer her up, and be a sympathetic ear for her. I really felt like we were in a proper relationship where both of us could be ourselves and not have to put on a ‘dating face’ for each other.

However, there was one major thing lacking. After a few months and many dates, I had never had more than a peck on the cheek from her, usually when saying goodbye. She also seemed unwilling to invite me to her place, even though she had a place of her own. She had shown some interest in visiting me, but seemed to find excuses not to at the last minute. She seemed to show no desire to take the relationship to the next level, to use baseball parlance: to first base. I’d rather use a cricket analogy being British, so I’ve just taken the first wicket, but the second wicket doesn’t appear to be coming and the batsmen have made a century partnership. Any hint of flirtation from me seems to get an abrupt put-down. In all my previous relationships, things got a lot more affectionate way faster than this (at least 5 wickets down within a couple of months!).

So it seems I’ve ended up in the dreaded friendzone and that’s where the relationship is stuck. Now, I can understand the friendzone phenomenon when you’ve met someone in ‘real life’ where there hasn’t been the pre-selection of a dating website, and the mutual attraction isn’t clear. But I met this woman on a dating website, where she has chosen me as someone she finds attractive. So have I turned out to be unattractive to her, but just pleasant company to be with? Have I done something to be be a turn-off? Is there something in her psyche that prevents her showing affection and desire?

I’m confused and dejected over this, and not sure whether to stick or twist on this one. We seem to get on well and enjoy each other’s company, but I’m keen to have more than just another friend.

My Room 101 – Shop Greeters

I’m going rather off my usual topics here and having a little rant about something in modern life I think should be consigned to Room 101*. Today’s subject will be: shop greeters.

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I’ve just come in for a banana, not a full tour of everything you sell.

In the UK this is a phenomenon that’s appeared in the last 5 years or so, and has spread quite widely across many shop chains around the country. If you go into a shop these days, you’ll be often confronted with a young (they are nearly always the younger members of staff, rarely the older ones) shop assistant standing right in front you and greeting you with a cheery ‘good morning’. If you don’t move quickly enough, they may follow up with a ‘can I help you find what you’re looking for?’. I soon got wise to that and now side-step like a top rugby winger before they can latch on to me.

So why do I dislike these greeters? I’ve got nothing against the individuals doing the job they have to do. However when I go into a shop I like to be left alone, unless I decide I need some assistance, and then I’ll ask someone. But I rarely need any assistance, as I either know what I’m going to buy, or am just having a look around has have no intention of buying anything. Also, my experience of asking for help is usually fruitless as the assistant often hasn’t a clue what I’m asking for or where it is in the shop.

One of my early experiences involved the greeter asking me what I was looking for as soon as I got through the door, not giving me any time to think or browse around. She whisked me off to the area selling what I was after and pretty much jammed it in my hand and escorted me – so very helpfully – to the checkout. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I was going to buy several other items, but I didn’t want to turn around at the checkout and go back into the shop to find the other things. So thanks to the overly helpful greeter the shop actually sold less than they would have done if I was left in peace to select what I wanted.

Another thing I dislike about it is the false sincerity of it all. In Britain, while we respect politeness and good manners, we also like people to be natural and honest. I know these greeters couldn’t care less about the customers walking through the door, and certainly really don’t want to waste their time helping them. They are probably on the minimum wage just waiting from 5:30pm to come along so they can go home. To me it just feels very American, and something we should not adopt in this country. Surely it would be more satisfying for a member of staff to genuinely help a customer who asks for help, rather than just gormlessly grinning a cheerful hello to everyone that came through the door?

Thankfully, independent shops seem to steer clear of using greeters, mainly because they often don’t have the spare staff to do such thing and are probably aware of how irritating it is. It’s shame there are so few independent shops left these days with high streets all looking identical and anonymous now.

So this is a call to the major chain stores in the UK: please can you put a stop to these greeters, and let them go back to roaming around the shop floor, discretely keeping an eye out for customers who really do look like they want to ask for help?

*For those who aren’t familiar, Room 101 is a BBC TV programme where guests choose things they really dislike and would like to be consigned to Room 101. Room 101 originally came from the George Orwell’s novel 1984, where it was a torture chamber.

Ghosted

dating7Where’s Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and the other two when you need them? For the uninitiated, ghosting is when somebody stops communicating with you and they just disappear off the face of the Earth. But unlike ghosts, who may come back to haunt you, these people never return.

It appears I’ve become a victim of ghosting and it has affected me more than I would have imagined. I’m a pretty pragmatic and realistic person, who never takes much for granted, but this particular ghosting was quite unexpected and has left my questioning my own personality and judgement of others.

The Beginning

I managed to get myself a very rare match on one of the online dating apps, and after striking up a conversation with the woman, we organised a first date. All went surprisingly well on the date, she was extremely attractive, intelligent and good company. Too good to be true I thought, so I was expecting that to be the end of things. If you’re going to get ghosted, it’ll be straight after the first date; but no, she’s kept in contact afterwards. We met for a couple of further dates, and we began to enjoy each other’s company and I began to feel more relaxed with her, and we had plenty of messaging between us on a daily basis. So things were looking good.

Busy Lives

We were both busy people, both parents with full-time jobs, so finding time to meet up was difficult. But we both understood that, and she always seemed keen to meet again once we’ve got our various distractions out of the way (usual things like winter bugs, weather, work and so on). There was even talk about maybe meeting at either of our houses, which of course would be a major step forward. That idea certainly got my interest up! It was just a case of finding a suitable day to do this, and in the meantime we kept the messages going, discussing our daily lives, and learning more about each other. Everything was going well, and I really felt we were forming a good relationship that had serious potential.

The Silence

She sent me a message one morning, which was nothing unusual in content or timing. I replied to it a couple of hours later, and said nothing particularly unusual, just something benign, but the sort of the thing that would normally be answered. We were never quick repliers to messages, as we’re busy people, so not getting a reply for several hours was normal and fine. However, I’d noticed by message hadn’t been read, which was less usual. I followed up with a couple more short messages to check if she was fine, but they weren’t read either. I was now starting to get worried, as she would normally reply within a day, and would have at least read them, but not this time. I decided to call her in the evening the next day, but it either went straight to voicemail or just rang unanswered.

The Concern for Her

After a couple of days of no response to my messages, which were still unread, or to my calls (just a couple of them, I didn’t want to appear overly persistant), I assumed she was having some problems. Maybe a family problem? One of her children was ill? Was she ill, or worse? I was now getting very worried for her. Why hadn’t she even let me know?

All I had was her phone number, I didn’t know her address, and I didn’t even know her surname (she did casually mention it, but I didn’t really mentally take note at the time). So there wasn’t much I could do. So all I could was wait and hope she’s get back to me. So I waited and waited…

The Realisation of Ghosting

After a few days, it began to dawn on me that I’d been ghosted. She clearly didn’t want me contacting her as a later attempt at a message didn’t even get delivered, so I seemed to have been blocked. Her profile on the dating app has also been blocked to me. I wasn’t just been ignored, I’d been actively blocked off from her life. I tried to recollect what may have triggered this, but there was nothing to suggest she wasn’t interested anymore. She never read the reply to the last message she sent me, so it’s not like there’s anything I said that would have caused the sudden cutting off. Maybe she had another man (or men) on the go from her dating activities, and decided to plump for one of them instead of me. It would have been nice to know where I stood, but I was just left hanging for days on end without knowing. In fact, I still don’t know the reason.

This rejection really hit me hard, as we had been on a few dates and really felt we were gelling and getting closer. On the last date, she was getting quite flirtacious, and the body language was very positive, so I things were really heading in the right direction. She was always on my mind, and I hadn’t felt that way about anyone for a very long time. I simply do not meet women like her, so I didn’t want to miss out on making something of this. So when I realised she had rejected me after such a build up, it felt like the last fish in the ocean had been hooked away from under my hose.

The Undigified End

What really rankles with a ghosting like this, is that she never had the decency to let me know it had ended. Even just a message to say “I’m not interested anymore, so will not be talking to you anymore”, would have been better. At least it would have been an instant line in the sand, and I could move on. I would have preferred an explanation, so I knew what I could work on if it was something at fault with me. To me, she is just a cold-hearted coward. Does she do this to all the men she meets? I can tolerate a ghosting after a first date, as it almost goes with the territory, but not after a series of increasingly better dates.

Even now, several weeks after I was cut off I still think about her, and wonder what I could have done to not get rejected. I’m always wanting to know more about her, but I don’t want to end up as some bitter stalker, trying to track her down. That would just be bad from every angle, and I just have to move on, and respect the fact that she’s now back to being a person I don’t know anymore.