April 2018
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gender is sexism painted over with bad science / self-educating 2009: 12 & 16


A year ago I wrote a post declaring that I do not believe in gender. Now I KNOW (as well as believe) that gender is a social construct; I am now aware that there is no reliable scientific evidence of brain differences based on sex.

Like most people, you've probably heard of the 'studies' that show that men and women are 'just inherently different' in the way they think (and therefore in the way they behave). I've been suspicious about these for a long time because out of all the people who tried to justify sex roles by biological roles, not ONE actually had done any research on the subject -- they'd just heard it somewhere, you know, and taken it as gospel. I've now done some research on the topic, which I will share bits of in an attempt to encourage you to question this hearsay -- to actually look at these studies with a critical eye.

There have been many studies which attempted to show inherent, biological differences between male and female brains. There are so many problems with these studies that it really boggles the mind; it's as if scientists forget how to do science when it comes to the concept of gender. The first and most obvious issue is that nearly all of these studies are created around the assumption that gender does, in fact, exist. They do not ask the question, "do brains differ based on the sex of the body they are in?" instead they ask, "HOW do brains differ based on sex?" Then studies which show no difference are thus considered irrelevant, and only the studies which DO show a difference are examined. Thus, if five studies are done, three of which show no difference and two of which show a sliiiiight difference, the scientist does not say, "hey, it's most likely that there's no significant difference" -- instead ze looks exclusively at the ones which DO show a tiny difference and then publishes on those! (that's not hypothetical either -- I can't remember the exact number but one set of scientists did several studies, the majority of which showed no difference, and they ignored the majority in favor of the ones that showed difference) Over and over, scientists pick something and declare "HERE is the reason women don't have the same opportunities as men (it's not sexism, it's just nature)!" Then they discover that oh, there actually isn't any difference, or worse, women have a larger ____ lobe and therefore according to the hypothesis are better, oops! and they move on to another lobe. I have not seen a single study which even allowed for the possibility that male and female brains have insignificant differences, despite the fact that each group differs more within the group than it does from the other group. It's not a question of absolute difference by any stretch of the imagination.

Trying to pin differences in the way men and women think/behave on hormone amounts is as useless as measuring lobes. Did you know that testosterone actually DROPS with increased stress? If it's supposed to make males assertive and stressful times call for assertiveness, how does it make sense that testosterone drops? The answer is -- it's not that simple and no, increased testosterone cannot be the sole or even main cause of male assertiveness.

And besides the assumptions which do not get questioned despite being unproven, we have the issue of purely bad science. Poor sample sizes, inadequate or inappropriate or NO controls, statistical manipulation, lack of blind and double-blind experiments -- usually a nice mix of all the above. And these absolutely unscientific studies are Big News and get published in national media; not sharing actual data so that the reader could decided for zirself what it meant, but simply stating their interpretation of the data. The reader assumes that the scientist did a good job with the study and takes the article at face value because it fits perfectly with the reader's world view. And thus hearsay becomes a 'well-known fact.'

I really can't explore all of the ridiculousness that is sexist science, but I'll give you a prime example. Two scientists studied 507 fetal brains and found no significant sex differences (despite the theory that brains become 'male' by being washed in testosterone in the womb) -- which they themselves admitted. Yet they ignored these findings (citing the study for some other finding) and went on to study rat brains -- noting a slight difference in the cortex and making the rather astonishing mental leap of declaring that THAT difference was the reason that human males are 'superior' in math and science.*

Also! Even socially-induced differences are not nearly so large or immutable as people tend to believe. For instance, boys and girls have equal math scores if you throw out a few outliers and control for the number of math classes taken. Men are every bit as nurturing as women; in a study* of single parents, the males were just as good at caretaking as the females (but in married couples the children usually had only one nurturer). And the males in that study became single parents through circumstance, not choice. Another study* showed that women are every bit as warlike as men (though they differ in their reasons to go to war). Women are often considered more intuitive -- to the point that it is common for people to refer to 'women's intuition' as if a vulva has anything to do with it. A study* on the behavior of men and women in leader/follower positions showed that a better term would be 'subordinates' intuition' because the follower in each group was more sensitive to the leader's cues than vice versa, regardless of sex.

* Representative example -- for more, read The Mismeasure Of Woman.

I recently finished reading two very in-depth books that examine many, many studies on the subject.

12. Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris (non-fiction) 5 stars
Written by a psychologist, The Mismeasure of Woman explores studies on 'gender', focusing on the psychological and social aspects, with a basic section on the brain studies. It took me a while to work through because it's a dense read -- there are so many studies and articles mentioned that the bibliography is 42 pages long. It's quite the emotional rollercoaster! It's infuriating and depressing to realize how much science and society have lied about and mistreated women (and men, though not in the same way); it's exciting and empowering to realize that there is so much human potential that has been ignored or repressed; and it's laugh-out-loud funny in parts thanks to the dry, sometimes sarcastic tone of the author. Despite the fact-dump, it's interesting and entertaining. Also, the author speaks in a genuinely equalist tone; ze doesn't drift into ridiculous "men are the REAL victims here" bullshit but neither does ze ignore the fact that these stereotypes are damaging to men also. Ze challenges both sexes not only to step out of their own roles but to challenge their own ideals and help others step out of those roles.


16. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling (non-fiction) 5 stars
Myths of Gender explores studies on 'gender', focusing on the medical aspects. Fausto-Sterling discusses genes, hormones, brain differences, animal behavior, homosexuality, and how science affects society. It was not as entertaining as Tavris' book but just as fascinating, and more succinct and detached. I liked reading the two very different styles on the same subject.


P.S. I'm not interested in uninformed disagreement; unless you've devoted a significant amount (at least eight hours) of intensive research to this topic, don't bother. (If you HAVE devoted a lot of time to learning about the concept of gender, please state your sources) I'm really, really tired of hearing the same disinformation over and over and I'm really not interested in discussing every single theory (if you want to ask if I've heard of a particular theory, that is fine). I am sick and tired of being told that science says that men and women are just 'wired differently' when science does NOT prove that by any stretch of the imagination.

screening new comments, will unscreen when I get time to respond!

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Comments
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wolfmare ══╣╠══
I don't think testosterone would have anything to do with assertiveness. I'm usually downright timid, and yet my level of androgens is closer to that expected for males, quite higher then it should be to the point of causing actual problems with my cycles and such. Now, adrenaline and a few other key hormones (which both sexes have similar levels of normally!) may come into play on that, but *just* testosterone? No. The way people are brought up? More likely.

And really, most assumed differences *are* the result of how people are brought up, regardless of sex. It was a running joke in my family that my dad wanted a 'boy' and got me instead... And yet I'm more 'masculine' by common assumption then a great deal of biologically male people. To me though, I'm just... me. No 'gender' in my head, or if there is what people might consider to be one, it's ever changing. And really, most of my closest friends are the same way, so I have a feeling that's a pretty common occurrence.

Erf... Bit muddle-headed today, so don't mind me. I may come back to this one when I'm feeling a bit better, to clarify what I meant here.
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
most assumed differences *are* the result of how people are brought up, regardless of sex.

Exactly!
wolfmare ══╣╠══
cunningbunny ══╣╠══
cunningbunny ══╣╠══
finding_helena ══╣╠══
I agree that all the science used to prove one gender as better than the other is BS. Though I'm not sure I think that gender is purely cultural either. I would consider men and women to have some differences but be equally talented and valuable, and I don't think anybody should be limited by their gender. I don't think that necessarily implies gender doesn't or shouldn't exist though. I'm not sure what my gender utopia would look like.
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
all the science used to prove one gender as better than the other is BS

Well, yes, but what I was really getting at is that science used to prove one sex is reliably different than the other is also BS.

I didn't really get into why gender is destructive (as this post is long enough!) but I do plan to post on that at some point.
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
brightlotusmoon ══╣╠══
I could have written this comment; thank you for this.
belenen ══╣╠══
lorelei_sakti ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
Well, you may see nothing anathemic in the idea of gendered brains, but the point is that it is a false idea.

We needn't deny that predispositions exist.

Obviously they do exist, but whether or not people choose to break them depends in large part on whether or not the individual believes such breaking is natural/positive or unnatural/negative. So people who are invested in maintaining patriarchy create myths (unintentionally, of course) to persuade society that it is unnatural/impractical/immoral to have a society without gender roles and the inequality that springs from them.
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
bluestocking
belenen ══╣bluestocking╠══
cool! ;-)
relief | glee
frecklestars ══╣relief | glee╠══
I *heart* this post sooooooooooooo much! Even in sociology, where it's a pretty widely accepted fact that gender is socially constructed, I keep meeting people who insist that there are biological differences between men and women. *rolls eyes*
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
ugh, I know, it is SO FRUSTRATING. To hear the same thing over and over when you know it is based on disinformation and prejudice!
Old Writing
oceanid ══╣Old Writing╠══
Thanks for the links, given my industry, I definitely want to agree with everything you've said. I say want because I personally haven't done enough research to determine an answer with any great certainty. I'm probably still at the stage you were a while back, I very strongly believe that the concept of gender is cultural (This was the case for me growing up, and I fought extremely hard to combat it, but now suffer from "over swing" of my thoughts, if that makes sense) and can often be destructive, but I can't be certain.

I plan to read those books and hopefully conjure up my own thoughts and perhaps find more, I'd really love to one day take this thought a step further to help motivate other people in my line of work. I could write a book on the self injustice here sometimes.
bluestocking
belenen ══╣bluestocking╠══
awesome! I'd love to hear what you think when you read them.
petite_mewsette ══╣╠══
Do you make a distinction between sex and gender?
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
sex: physical body parts -- genitals and hormones
gender: the concept that one's body parts predispose one to certain ways of thinking, behaving, dressing, etc. OR (less commonly) the idea that one chooses/discovers belonging to a certain set of patterns of thinking, behaving, dressing, etc.
kiwi ══╣╠══
Men are every bit as nurturing as women; in a study* of single parents, the males were just as good at caretaking as the females (but in married couples the children usually had only one nurturer). And the males in that study became single parents through circumstance, not choice.

I won't argue that men are every bit as nurturing as women - my boyfriend is much more nurturing than I am. (And on an astrological level, we're even the same sign.) What I'd like to comment on is that last sentence - if the males in the study became single parents through circumstance, not choice, are we assuming that the women became single parents through choice as opposed to circumstance? Also, is it fair to make a study that looks at "men who became single parents by circumstance instead of choice" and make conclusions on the nurturing nature of males in general when it's kind of specific to begin with?
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
Hm, it didn't specify whether or not the women chose to be single parents. It specified that the men did not choose it in order to emphasize that these weren't special extra-nurturing men who adopted children, but more of a random selection. Also, that was one of several similar studies on nurturing -- the author did not use that as the sole study by any means, nor did ze draw any conclusions except for the fact that such a study flies in the face of the common myth that males cannot take care of children as well as women can.
kiwi ══╣╠══
The way this was stated in your original post came across as "A study, THE response" and anytime I see that, I'm going to argue it. So KNOWING that there are more makes me wonder WHAT SPECIFICALLY those studies showed. As well as HOW one measures nurturing - that would also be interesting to me.

(Also, wouldn't a random selection involve those "extra-nurturing men"?)

On the note of the "common myth that males cannot take care of children", I actually am not terribly familiar with that myth. I was never taught it growing up, either through social circles, family, or school, and I certainly do not hear that now, especially in this day in age of the Mr. Mom.

Also, to play Devils Advocate (and do remember that I don't buy into the "men aren't as nurturing" bit because that's bull) - if a study flies in the face of a common belief, does that necessarily mean that the study is right? Studies have been wrong before - as shown by the racist bit about African-American brains being smaller than Caucasian brains.

AGAIN, I'm not saying that I buy into this - again, I was not raised around that myth - I'm just pointing out that there are a lot of factors that go into a study than meets the eye. (Also the statement "several similar studies" makes me wonder - how similar were these studies? Same participants? Same methods? Using the same methods is hardly an ideal situation - to truly test a theory, one must come at it from many angles.)
analytical
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
Well, I was trying to avoid having to copy the whole book, so I just listed one study as a representative one.

The last bit of that myth -- the as well as women can bit, is the significant part. I hear it ALL THE TIME -- the complaint that men are 'helpless' or 'hopeless' with the kids, feed them badly and learn about their lives badly and empathize badly and clean up after them badly and manage their schedules badly. (I've heard so many women refer to their husband as their extra child) Instead of assuming that these men are irresponsible parents, they're considered just incapable of being good at caretaking, so it's okay they don't bother to learn any of those things. If all or most of the fathers you know were as good at feeding, listening, empathizing, cleaning, and chauffeuring their children as their wives were then DAMN, I'd like to live where you do!!!

Well, of course the studies could be wrong. But like I said, that was just one among many. The important thing is not that there may be studies that show similarity, but that there aren't any good studies that show significant difference. It's really for people to read for themselves. What bothers me is the mindless acceptance of the mainstream idea just because it is the mainstream idea, and the idea that scientists are without bias and therefore their interpretations are always correct. Science is the new religion and questioning its assumptions is modern heresy.

By 'similar' I meant 'attempting to measure the same thing' -- the methods and researchers and subjects were different.
kiwi ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
kiwi ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
kiwi ══╣╠══
Part I
kiwi ══╣╠══
Part II
belenen ══╣╠══
Re: Part II
kiwi ══╣╠══
Re: Part II
belenen ══╣╠══
Re: Part II
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
these are the products of what I've learned/studied for years and have found no evidence questioning their validity. If you have a concrete way to debunk what the majority of the world knows then please enlighten me, but don't tell me I need to read and dismissing my points.

If you never look for evidence questioning their validity, you will never find it. When all the world believed that blacks were biologically destined to be slaves, evidence questioning the validity of that was pretty hard to find -- you didn't just happen across a study that said "hey, blacks and whites have the same kind of brain!" you had to look carefully at all the studies that said that they had DIFFERENT brains. I have found concrete ways to debunk what the majority of the world BELIEVES but I'm not interested in transcribing pages and pages and unless you are interested enough to go looking for the possibility that you (and yes, all those things you've come across) are wrong, then there would be no point anyway. And if you have never read any opposing view (by an expert such as Tavris or Fausto-Sterling), then yes, you ARE lacking in knowledge and need to read to have a truly unbiased view. If all you've ever read are "yes, men and women have different brains!" then you can't claim to have a full understanding of the subject.

I am annoyed mainly because I think that people who claim to understand while having only read one side are the main reason that this whole issue exists. I really can't stand blind denial -- I prefer people who respond to the possibility of being wrong by being eager to self-educate. But I don't think I would have unfriended you over it if we had a relationship -- however, I didn't ever have you friended so you're not currently on my flist.
reposing
ed209uardo ══╣reposing╠══
... It's thoughtful commentary like this that makes me glad I follow your journal. I feel a little smarter today... *grin*
amused
belenen ══╣amused╠══
yay ;-D
faire_raven ══╣╠══
I'd just like to point out that you demand that anyone who chooses to disagree with you must state their sources, but you did not include your sources, beyond one study and two pop-psych books.

Through all of the discussions and posts I've seen of yours you seem to be very open to intellectual discussion and learning from or at least understanding other people's point of view. All of a sudden you could care less about how anybody else feels on the subject.

I'll admit, I haven't put the time into this particular topic so I can't really say I disagree. But I do have to say that I'm rather disappointed in your closed-mindedness and unwillingness to discuss this topic. Your closing paragraph comes off as very arrogant and condescending. I've always sensed that you were rather accepting of others and to see you so adamant about belittling others' experiences upsets me. You are allowed to have your opinions on the matter, no doubt. But others have the same right.
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
Those are not pop-psych books; they are essentially anthologies of hundreds and hundreds of studies. And I demanded a statement of sources because I have put a great deal of time into this subject and I didn't want to have to correct people who do five minutes of google searching and think that they have as good a grasp on the subject as I do.

Like I said, this is different. This isn't about opinion -- I have already explored that here. I'm just not interested in seeing a ton of people re-state what I have already read many times and know to be untrue! If people want to say, "despite what science may say, I think this" that's fine. But I am sick and tired of being told that science says that men and women are just 'wired differently' it's plain bullshit, science does NOT prove that by any stretch of the imagination. I am not interested in hearing a repeat of the common myth.

This has nothing to do with experiences or feelings! And saying what discussions I do or do not wish to get into does NOT prevent anyone from having a different opinion. I don't have to listen to it for them to have it. I'm sure the majority of people read this post and thought, "no way" and didn't think anything more of it, because that is how close-minded people are on the subject.
(Anonymous) ══╣╠══
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
Well, though I stated it absolutely, I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong. It would take a very, very good study to convince me of it, but there is always that possibility. If someone started off actually questioning gender, and then performed a double-blind study with a large sample size and equalized ways of measuring and THAT study actually showed a SIGNIFICANT difference, then I would take such a study very seriously and would probably change my view. I just don't see it happening.

(ETA: thanks for pointing that out -- I edited that first paragraph accordingly)

I do intend to study this further, and I'd like to find more recent studies. I do not wish to read anything which does not describe studies in detail, however, which makes it difficult. If you know of any books which do describe studies in detail (no matter what the belief of the author) please let me know.

And as for opposing viewpoints, that is most of what I have read. These two books did not lay out their own point of view -- they responded myth-by-myth to other points of view, explaining them and describing in detail the studies on which they were hung (they also used a much more neutral tone than I do). After all, one can't prove that something doesn't exist -- one can only disprove evidence which seems to support the existence of the thing. So most of what I have read has been opposing viewpoints.
queerbychoice ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣╠══
theindiequeen ══╣╠══
I am currently reading The Mismeasure of Woman, and it really blows my mind. Especially the example you gave about the study where they looked at rat brains! I mean, really!

I try not to get so angry about it, but it just really frustrates me. A lot of people won't even stop to consider these things. They just have these ideas that nothing can change. "Women are this, men are this, that's just the way it is." "Oh, Sara, you're being such a woman." I get so mad. I wish I could make THOSE people read books like these and/or the books I read in my feminist philosophy class, but most of them won't even listen. "Oh, that's just radical, liberal, feminazi crap."

Sigh.
gender is a lie
belenen ══╣gender is a lie╠══
yeah! it really is mind-blowing.

It is SO frustrating! But the thing that pisses me off is when they say "science says" as their argument. Being prejudiced about something is bothersome but claiming something as fact which is completely unproven is just beyond irritating.
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on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.