If you have a vagina, you might be pleased. You might, it's true, not be all that happy that it seems to be the rudest, nastiest thing footballers can think of when they yell at each other on a pitch. You might, it's true, not be all that happy that having one doesn't seem to boost your chances of high office, or high pay. But if you have a vagina, you can take some comfort from this: you may well be brighter than someone who doesn't.
If, like me, you read that women are getting brighter, and wanted to find out more, and Googled "women getting brighter," you might, it's true, find quite a few entries saying that "Millions of Women are Getting Brighter Washes." You might read that if they use a particular washing powder, which I'm not going to mention in a column, it "restores linen to snowy whiteness." You might, like me, think that if your linens ever had a "snowy whiteness" it's a bit late to start trying to restore it now. But if you started again, and swapped the word "brighter" for the letters "IQ," you could get rid of all the washing, and learn that a world expert (who doesn't have a vagina) has done tests that show that women are more intelligent than men.
Before, we weren't. For the past 100 years, in fact, which is how long they've been doing the tests, we weren't. Before, to call a spade a spade, which some of us can't remember newspaper articles on the subject ever doing, we were more stupid than men. But now, according to the tests, we're not. Now, according to the tests, men are more stupid than us.
This seems to have cheered quite a lot of women up. "I was stunned," said a woman called Polly mentioned in a newspaper. "I just automatically presumed," she said, that "t'was always thus." How hard, she said, could it be "to remember to put a toilet seat down"? A woman called Helena mentioned in another newspaper, who said she was a "consultant," but not in what, said she thought women "probably always knew deep down that they were the more intelligent ones." But, she said, we "let men continue to believe they ruled the world."
The trouble, Helena and Polly, is: they do. The trouble, Helena and Polly, is that you don't need to be able to put a toilet seat down to run a country, or a bank. The trouble, Helena and Polly, is that only a fifth of MPs are women, and less than a quarter of the Cabinet, and only 15 percent of board members of FTSE listed companies, and only about 2 percent of chief executives of the top 500 companies in the world. The trouble, Helena and Polly, is that the statistics are so damn depressing they make you think you'd rather be reading websites that tell you how to get your linen snowy white.
Helena and Polly don't seem to have asked all that much about the tests, or exactly what kind of "intelligence" they measured. They don't, for example, seem to have wondered if they might have been the kind of tests that made you think about lots of different things at once, rather than, say, the kind that made you think about how you should fix an interest rate to increase your profits. They don't seem to have wondered if the tests were telling you anything you really wanted to know.
Helena and Polly don't seem to have wondered whether perhaps what you needed to get on in the world, and particularly in the bits of the world that seemed to have the most influence, like politics, and business, and banks, wasn't the kind of intelligence that was measured in IQ tests, but something that, if you wanted to be like a footballer and talk about bits of the body as if they were other things, you might call balls.
The expert who did the research doesn't talk about balls. There doesn't, in fact, seem to be all that much research about intelligence and balls. There doesn't, for example, seem to be much research about how testosterone helps you make your way, in politics, and business, and banks, but how it doesn't always help you do your job well when you're there. There doesn't seem to be much research about the risks it seems to make people take, and how it makes people think they're playing a game when they aren't.
If there was research about testosterone, it might show, as some studies do show, that female traders do better than male ones, and female doctors are safer than male ones, and that you can, as Christine Lagarde, who runs the IMF, and knows quite a lot about being a woman in a man's world, has said, have "too much testosterone in one room." But it might also show that you can have too little.
It might, for example, look at teaching, and social services, and big chunks of the public sector, and think that the culture in them was often a culture that people thought of as female, and that this culture didn't always get the best results. It might think that what these areas needed wasn't always more of the things that people thought of as female, like listening, and smiling, and being, or seeming to be, nice, but less.
If you have a vagina, you can certainly be pleased that women are getting brighter, if they're getting brighter, but you might also think that what the world needs isn't more studies showing that women are brighter than men. You might think that what the world sometimes needs, and particularly if it wants to get a better balance of power, and money, and washing, is for men to be more like women, and for women to be more like men.
This piece was originally published in The Independent.
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