Sunday, July 23, 2006

La Petite Difference

I keep my nails short so they don’t bother me when I’m typing. I don’t polish them either, and I don’t wear rings. The other day I was at lunch with two men from work and at one point chanced to notice our three pairs of hands resting on the table, all with ringless, unmanicured fingers.

Despite my complete lack of the decorations or frills you will often find on a woman’s hands, there’s no way anyone would have trouble guessing which ones on the table were attached to a female body. And it’s not just that my hands are smaller, either — subtle differences in things like the contours of the fingers would still have made it obvious even if you altered a photograph so that all hands appeared the same size.

The same holds true for the arms, legs, throat, even feet — these are completely gender-neutral, non-sexualized parts of the body, yet men and women still get different models. Clearly, sex hormones don’t just affect the naughty bits but every bit of you.

Some people insist that the brain is the one exception to this rule.

Okay, when I say “some people” I actually mean “those moonbat-style feminists who insist on giving a Harrison Bergeron flavor to the phrase ‘gender equality.’” You know the ones I’m talking about: The only reason there are any differences at all in the way men and women behave is because of culture and upbringing. If you give your son nothing but Barbies to play with he’ll grow up to be a warm and nurturing kindergarten teacher, and if you give your daughter nothing but toy cars she’s guaranteed to be a politically emancipated lesbian.

God forbid you’re ever in the presence of one of these feminists and utter some generalization like “Men are stronger than women.” They’ll swell up like a poison puffer fish and snap “Jill Mills is a woman and she can squat-lift over six hundred pounds! You could never do that.”

The only way you can talk to these people is to tack disclaimers onto every comment, as in “Although men in general tend to be stronger than women, there are many individual women who are stronger than many individual men and I fully support a woman’s right to lead her own destiny and women only want to be wives and mothers because the patriarchy tells them they want to and I — I envy women their ability to create new life.”

Anyway, I found an article about a neuropsychiatrist named Louann Brizendine who’s going to have a lot of second-wave feminists yelling at her next month when her book The Female Brain hits the shelves:

Women and hormones has long been a marital minefield and the subject of innumerable off-color jokes, but Brizendine has made it her medical specialty. For 20 years, first as a medical student at Yale, then as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, then as director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF, she's been developing what she describes as a female-centered strain of psychiatry focusing on the complex interplay between women's mental health, hard-wiring and brain chemistry.… Brizendine realizes she's going to take some heat. "I know it's not politically correct to say this," she says, "and I've been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. But I believe that women actually perceive the world differently than men. If women attend to those differences, they can make better decisions about how to manage their lives."

Certain psychiatrists who would never deny that brain chemistry creates things like sadness and happiness and arousal and fear still have no problem insisting that even though men and women spend their lives with their brains drenched in completely different hormones, these chemicals lead to no, I mean no, differences in the way men and women think.

[Brizendine’s] ideas are certain to spark controversy from some doctors and social scientists who think books like this undercut women and reinforce old gender stereotypes. Examining the biological underpinnings of gender difference is bunk, these critics say, because there aren't many. Last year prominent psychologist Janet Hyde examined decades of studies that compared the emotional and behavioral lives of men and women and concluded that most differences between the genders were statistically "close to zero." "There is no gender-difference phenomena to explain," she says.

The article goes on to discuss some of the advances in neuroimaging and neuroendocrinology that Brizendine describes in her book, but when worldviews are at stake, science must be discarded:

Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging expert at the University of Iowa's medical school, says nurture plays such a huge role in human behavior that focusing on biology is next to meaningless. "Whatever measurable differences exist in the brain," says Andreasen, "are used to oppress and suppress women."

Ah, yes, oppression and suppression. That’s what the anti-science hysteria (pun intended) boils down to here: fear that scientific proof of gender differences will lead to legalized enforcement of gender differences.

And let’s admit that’s a legitimate fear. To deny that women historically got the short end of the gender-relations stick (and still do in many parts of the world) is as bad as to deny that women and men might have any differences at all.

But proving “women are more likely than men to want to raise babies” doesn’t have to cause “every woman's required to have a baby.” For that matter, saying “men are more likely than women to be aggressive” doesn’t mean “every man's going to be a bully.”

We probably still have a long way to go before we have a world that grants fully equal legal status and opportunity to two unequal (as in ‘not the same’) types of people. But we will never get there if we deny facts we don’t like.

14 Comments:

Blogger rhhardin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:57 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Trying again (cut and paste weirdness into the 1"x3" comment window)

The big mistake is not being _interested_ in the differences in men and women, a poetic failing. It's something you want to find the right words for.

Vicki Hearne says that men and women differ in what sustains their interests. In fields where sustained interest to the point of delusion is vital for top level work, say math for men, you find mostly men at the top. ``At last, finally, in this small corner of the universe, something will be settled once and for all.'' But women are happy with open questions.

http://home.att.net/~rhhardin9/vickihearne.womenmath.txt

Fundamentally, she says, women are content with unsettled relations, where men try to nail things down, one at a time.

Stanley Cavell has it that men are driven mad by skepticism, wanting to know things even beyond the human conditions of knowing.
Women are driven mad by fanaticism, wanting to love beyond the human conditions for loving.(Relating to two of Kant's errors of reason.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Differences in the personalities and preferences of adults is not evidence that these preferences can be associated with differential gene transcription across the genders. Designing and conducting experiments that can demonstrate such differences, using very young children, is very difficult and seldom accomplished.

The research on sex differences ranks somewhere below education research but above criminology, in terms of how well theory can be turned into meaningfule experimental designs.

As such, unless the book is all about babies and sex differences in preschool kids, it's meaningless.

8:30 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

If you like experiments, I recommend Thurber and White's _Is Sex Necessary_, the chapter on the feminine types.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I have a copy of "Is Sex Necessary" at home; I'll definitely have to check that out.

I would seriously like to ask some people what they think it is about the brain that makes it unique, in being the only part of the human body to be completely unaffected by sex hormones.

11:52 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

I wrote a usenet throwaway on one of the types, long ago, here not thrown away, as you can see. I hope it doesn't put you off it.

http://home.att.net/~rhhardine/thurber.qt.txt

Just to claim that Thurber is serious about it.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Timothy said...

Well, what's interesting to me is that the very same 2nd wave feminists (who are much inferior to 2nd wave Ska, let me tell you) who deny that there are any hormone-based sex differences that make women more likely to want X will gladly, in the same breath, tell you that sex-differences make men innately aggressive and dangerous. Hence, the whole "the patriarchy" deal.

1:33 PM  
Blogger marsha said...

There has been some very careful research on differences between males and females to successfully solve spatial learning and memory tasks. Sure, there are always exceptions to any rule, but in my opinion it's been fairly clearly shown that there ARE differences.

When women are tested in in different phases of their menstrual cycle, so that hormone levels and spatial learning ability can be correlated, spatial learning ability changes across the menstrual cycle.

The birth of new neurons in the hippocampus is also affected by changes in hormone levels in female animals.

But yah, that's crazy, differences between males and females? What a silly idea.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

Synchronicity abounds for me lately.

Jen, after I read the "humans as domesticated apes"> thread over at Hit and Run, I did some follow-up research and stumbled upon this research story.

You've probably heard that even very young children show "gender-biased" preferences in toys, even in resolutely non-sexist households. It turns out that even monkeys have similar preferences.

"...researchers put a variety of toys in front of 44 male and 44 female vervets, a breed of small African monkeys, and measured the amount of time they spent with each object.

"Like little boys, some male monkeys moved a toy car along the ground. Like little girls, female monkeys closely inspected a doll's bottom. Males also played with balls while females fancied cooking pots. Both were equally interested in neutral objects such as a picture book and a stuffed dog....

"Alexander speculated that females of both species prefer dolls because evolution programmed them to care for infants. Males may have evolved toy preferences that involve throwing and moving, skills useful for hunting and finding a mate."

I also found the reponse of feminist-scientist-blogger Kambiz Kamrani. Kamrani (further research indicates he is a male) finds that he can't "buy it," for the following reasons:

1) He knows at least one woman who likes to escape home-making and drive fast cars sometimes. So there. (Apparently finding even one single exception disproves any theories about general tendencies.)

2) What about all those human cultures where men are the nurturers and women are the hunters? (Okay, there aren't very many. But there are a few. So there. Let's not ask why there are so few. Also, see item #1.)

3) How do we know that the monkeys weren't picking up patriarchal gender roles from their biased human keepers? Monkeys are famous imitators, you know. (Although, according to this article, "Although one often hears the expression "monkey see, monkey do," there is very little evi­dence that monkeys or apes ... learn through imitation."

Personally, I'm very surprised to find such human-like toy preferences in monkeys, but the researcher's explanation seems to make sense to me. I'm not at all surprised to see a feminist-minded scientist reject the notion out of hand.

(By the way, by "feminist" here, I don't mean someone who believes women should be able to vote and get jobs as construction workers if they can hack the work. You know what I mean.)

9:41 PM  
Anonymous TC said...

A studies outcome generally will support the hypothsis of the studies archeticts!

Men and women do inded think differently, and tend to view many subjects with emotion rather than logic.

Such is proved out 10,000,000 times a day in every office upon the globe.

The problem lies with not being able t actually admit that we do think differently at times. If we can't then there must be some failing that legeslation can cure right?

NO.

It's not mars and venus, but we are indeed different, not superior or anterior, just different.

Oh and sex is not necessary, it's prefered by both gendrs! Not to mention highly desired and sought after as well.

12:55 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The problem is that a lot of people can't grasp the concept that a generalization can still be true even though it doesn't apply to every individual.

Teenege drivers in general are more likely to cause car accidents than drivers with ten years of experience. But this does not mean every teen is guaranteed to cause an accident, nor does it mean every driver with over a decade of experience is immune.

Men in general are better than women at math, but that doesn't mean all men are mathematical geniuses and all women are dunces. I am a woman who does not want babies, and if I did I doubt I'd want to stay home with them full-time. But I'd never be so arrogant as to extrapolate from myself and assume "If I feel this way, then by God every woman must feel this way!"

7:02 AM  
Anonymous Twba said...

I'll know there are no sex differences when I walk into a party and hear Bob say, "Oh my god, Steve, I love your shoes. Where did you get them?"

On a more serious note, I just read this column about the boredom of housewifery.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Breena Ronan said...

Here's why I worry about too much emphasis on scientific studies that show differences between male and female brains...Just as some feminists think that because there are exceptions to these generalizations the generalizations are completely invalidated, there are plenty of people that think that because something is generally true, there can't be exceptions. The wide range of variability between individuals is so much more significant than the small differences in the average ability between the genders. (Hopefully that makes sense.) I worry about men in power (i.e. Harvard presidents, etc.) using studies on gender differences in brain function as an excuse to discriminate against women. Then women that really do excel at math are essentially f*%ked because any jerk who doesn't like having women around can claim that they have scientific evidence to support their discriminatory practices.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

there are plenty of people that think that because something is generally true, there can't be exceptions.

So instead of denying knowledge of generalizations, we should add knowledge of how generalizations don't always apply to individuals.

I do not believe the idea that the way to lead to a wiser and more just society is to suppress information.

6:30 AM  

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