Strange Brouhaha

Friday, April 29, 2005

Male-Female Brain Differences Again

They're doing still more research into the attempt to determine whether gender differences are neurological or cultural.

In a way, this question is dumb. The answer is obviously a resounding "Yes." Here's Savannah's Theory of Gender: First, biology. Here come the hominid females, having those babies and shit. Out on the African savannah in the year fuck-all, you ain't got much in the way of day care, bottles, and disposable diapers, so these baby things inevitably *become* the full-time jobs of the creatures to which they are attached. And since children (until recently) were an economic plus instead of an economic minus, "job" was very literal and remunerative. So, as the newfangled upright hominids stumble along, the females start adapting to their job (which, since corporations and armies haven't been invented yet, is still an important and central one rather than a marginalized and infantilizing one).

So then society is invented, and the fragile male ego runs totally rampant for the next several thousand years (which they spend hitting each other and knocking each other down over various "crucial" issues like who's got more gold, who's got more women, and who's got more God). There is not much place for women in this world, based as it is upon brute force and the labor of underlings (which are amassed by brute force). The thing is, the system really isn't *that* great for men either, who do not like being broken on the wheel over money or God any more than women like being burned at the stake over sex (disguised as God). So everyone inches and struggles and labors towards Enlightenment and the rule of law. Slowly, as the rule of law permeates the richer and sovereign societies, it becomes clear that under these circumstances, women do not need to huddle at home sewing handkerchiefs and (if ambitious) writing Gothic novels which codedly express their desires and frustrations. They can get on the trolley and go to an office just like the men. The advent of reliable birth control really gets the whole thing speeding along, as women can now (sorry, Pope Benedict) control their own fertility and hence their destiny.

This causes happiness and liberation, as women finally get a taste of freedom, but it also causes confusion, because the traditional self-reinforcing loop between biology and culture has now been broken. People start to get dumb. They start to feel threatened that women can be highpowered lawyers; they also start to feel threatened that little girls seem to like dolls and ruffly dresses.

These fears are symbolic. No one would care if girls liked dolls--or whether that liking was "cultural" or "innate"--if the IDEA of dolls didn't mean something to grownups. To some people, it's frightening for little girls to like dolls because it seems to indicate that "all" girls want to do is nurture and reproduce. To others, it's reassuring--for the same reason. (See, she doesn't REALLY want to be a lawyer. That was just an idea someone put in her mother's head.)

Unlike seemingly everyone else, I view toy choice as mostly meaningless, and the vaunted "relationships-versus-machines" thing (girls focus on people, boys on objects) much the same way. The real question is whether girls are learning to be self-respecting, positively assertive, and to expect a free and fulfilled life in which they will choose what to do. None of that has anything to do with toy trucks or whether you can mentally rotate a trapezoid accurately in your head. But the issue of life-choice brings us to the real question about girls. Will most of them choose to become mothers?

Here's a concept: who cares? Hey, it's not like men are out there innovating the shit out of their life choices either, folks. And who said that having a baby, and wanting to spend time with it and nurture it, means you can't ALSO want to get back in that courtroom sooner or later and kick some corporate-malfeasance ass? The only reason these two desires seem to be "opposed" is because you can't do them both at the same time, and the reason for *that* *is* largely cultural (sucky day care, blah de blah--don't get me started). Instead of being rational about all this, we fetishize it onto toy choices.

So I don't like the fears and reactionary hopes that underlie these sorts of studies. At the same time, I do find them interesting. The tail-shock study in this article, for example, was neat. Researchers found that shocking the tails of rats during learning sessions actually helped the male rats learn, whereas it upset the females and disrupted their learning. When I read that, it made me remember something else I had read, years ago, about the old Soviet ice-skating machine. The Soviets were highly dominant in men's skating, pairs, and ice dance--but not women's. I remember reading a quote from a Soviet male skater who said it was because Soviet training methods were too harsh for women. Have we got a tail-shock scenario there? I wonder, because it's not like Russian women can't skate--as a parade of Soviet dance and pairs champions would indicate. And since the Soviet Union collapsed, we've seen the rise of female champions like Oksana Baiul and Irina Slutskaya. Were Baiul and Slutskaya coached somewhat differently than they would have been under the Soviet system? Or was this actually some kind of bizarre statistical thing, like flipping a coin thirty times and getting all heads, and the Soviets never had a female singles champion because They Just Didn't? Would Baiul and Slutskaya have arisen under the Soviet system too, simply because it was time? After all, those same harsh Soviets never had any problem producing female champion gymnasts. Neither did the Romanians, who made the Soviets look like Santa Claus.

One thing *is* truly freaky and neat, though--apparently, some psychoactive drugs work totally differently on men than on women. "Trauma blockers" reduce emotional perception for men, but only detail perception for women. Isn't that odd?

Well. Anyhow. Whatever.


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