I think it depends on what research you believe. My impression is that the quantitative sciences have shown more and more, in recent years, that men and women do show some differences on average, for example, in studies of how and when cortisol is released in the stress response (ref. Marianne Legato), in styles of map navigation or spatial rotation and linguistic abilities, brain scans of men and women performing the same task, to name a few that come to mind.
Like you said, L. Wu, I think it depends on what research you believe. While studies do show that grown men and women have different brain mappings, I don't think that really proves much. It has been suggested that hormones have an effect on brain development. It has been suggested that estrogen promotes mental skills while testosterone promotes better spatial skills. Still, studies on the brain show that there is a "use it or lose it" notion. Babies are born with twice the synapses needed in the brain. As the brain develops, neurons and synapses hook together to develop specific skills and abilities in humans. How these connections are made is still unknown, but due to this overdevelopment of synapses, there is synaptic pruning that takes place until the age of two. This pruning leaves only the fittest synapses in place. By the age of three, boys and girls can identify persons of the other gender, and by age 5 they have a very strong idea of what activities are for boys and which are for girls. Do boys play with trucks because they have a stronger spatial ability and are therefore attracted to trucks? Or do boys play with trucks because mom and dad give them trucks which leads to improved spatial ability? I think what I said before still stands. Men and women are different. We don't know exactly why. I'll admit, given my perspective as a female scientist, that I am more willing to believe that men and women are not wired differently, because I stand here as living proof that women can do men's work.
Something that many of the women in science fields talk about is the "Charlatan Effect" or feeling "like a fraud." They say things like,
Any minute now, they are going to figure out I don't belong here.
I wonder when they'll figure out that I'm a complete idiot and don't belong here.
In part, we feel that we don't belong in science because we are women, but as my friend H. has recently pointed out, "we aren't real women either." We code, we test specimens, we integrate, we derive, we induct, we recurse, we prove, we analyze. We don't own purses, we don't wear heels, we don't wear makeup, we don't like shopping, we don't scrapbook, we don't mother.
Which begs the question, what is a real woman? I was trying to gather up an image of a "real woman" today and could think of only Reese Witherspoon. She's beautiful. She's graceful. She has a successful career. She is a mother. She is blonde. But because I'm not Reese Witherspoon (or behave in any way that exhibits Reese Witherspooness), does that mean I am not a real woman? Like most women, I loathe my body, but unlike most women, I don't wear makeup. Like most women, I cry irrationally during my period, but unlike most women, I haven't worn a skirt in months. These are silly juxtapositions, but it asks an important question. How many women identify themselves as "real women?"
We've been taught that gender is binary. A person is a girl or a boy. There is nothing in between. But like Kinsey introduced with his measure of sexuality, my friend H. suggests that there is also a gradient of gender. A person can have elements of male or female, despite their ovaries or scrotum. A person can be more male or more female than his or her peers. While, my perspective is much different from that of L. Wu, together we are two women who challenge a huge
majority of the stereotypes of women. I am a woman in a "man's field." L. Wu identifies as a woman. In a way, I think that L. Wu and I are making the same point. Neither of us are "real women," (whatever the hell that even means) but we are women all the same.