Many readers may well remember the publication of two books which became very popular: John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus from 1992, famed for selling 15 million, and Allan and Barbara Pease’s Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps from 2001, which only sold 4 million copies but was translated into thirty-three languages. 

I readily recall the central ideas in these books even though I now wince somewhat at the admission of their probable influence. I mean, it’s always tempting to pander to stereotypes rather than think critically or scrutinise evidence-based research! I wonder how many other men who were thus influenced (subliminally or otherwise) attributed those tetchy (or full-blown irascible) moments in the car while driving in pre-SatNav days to her supposedly gender-based inability to navigate with the aid of a map. If this was a conference, and I asked that awkward question, I am sure that many male hands would be raised in confession. And that reminds me that one of the other difficulties mentioned by Allan and Barbara Pease was ‘why women make such a mess of parallel parking’, something I readily confess, to my shame, to having opined more than once. 

My mention of the SatNav raises further questions about the way in which reliance on technology is degrading the very map-reading skills of spatial intelligence in which men have been stereotyped as outperforming women. I know of many men who rely on the SatNav to get them from A to B but who often have no idea where they are in physical space at any point on the journey. It often surprises me how few young men are able to identify even the approximate cardinal direction in which they are facing by reference to the daytime position of the sun, or the stars at night. This is hardly a difficult matter given the southerly direction of the sun at noon, and the northerly position of the pole star. If spatial orientation can become deficient in men so readily, we might well ask whether it is likely to be hard-wired in their brains. It stands to reason that various social, cultural, technological, and environmental factors may hasten its degradation. It is doubtful map-reading is included as standard in our school curriculum, not to mention identifying constellations in the night sky, which is in any case rarely dark enough to make them out given the widespread artificial light pollution. 

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