Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Today's Battles

Once again, not so much against the ravening hordes of bigotry, as just trying to inform people with little or no knowledge about the situation of the facts.

Starting with the Washington Post, which asks the question about whether Gender is Nature or Nurture. Here's my reply:

A story which may cast some light on the subject.

On the planet Glorp, the TumTum tree bears particularly nutritious fruit, ripe when it's purple.

Female Glorps do the hunting, but male ones being of lighter build, gather fruit. So there's an evolutionary selection for both male Glorps having a more acute sense of colour, and for all Glorps, male or female, to prefer purple to green.

Male Glorps start wearing purple clothing, because it's more aesthetically pleasing. Female Glorps don't really care at first, Purple is better than Green, but it's no big deal.

Soon though peer pressure amongst female Glorps makes them look upon female Glorps who wear purple as being "un-Feminine", "Butch" even, as the males all do that. And peer pressure amongst male glorps soon leads them to wear Purple, and nothing but Purple, as otherwise they are accused of being "sissy", effeminate. Even though without this social pressure, all Glorps would tend to prefer Purple rather than Green - the males just a bit more strongly.

There is a biological difference between male and female Glorps, but it has nothing to do with preferring Green vs Purple. The preference is a social construct, but the social construct is based on biology.

Male and Female brains differ, and not just in overall size, but the way they're organised. Men and Women think, and more importantly, *feel* in different ways. Except it's not even that simple, it's a BiModal distribution, not a binary one. There's overlap, and some men will think in some ways in a pattern more commonly found in females, and some females will think in some ways in patterns more commonly found in males.

If Neurology was the only determinant, perhaps 30% of Engineers would be female. But in fact, it's only about 10% - the social constructs due to peer pressure dominate.

So yes, there's a biological basis, statistically speaking. And yes, what we call "gendered behaviour" is mostly a social construct, much of which is a result of the hard-wiring, though not always in the way we'd expect. And finally, people are individuals, not statistics, and should be treated as such. Most Japanese are shorter than most Swedes, but no basketball team would reject a 6'6" tall Japanese in favour of a 5' 0" Swede just because "Swedes are taller".

Yet this kind of discrimination happens all the time when it comes to gender.

For anyone who doesn't believe the biological differences lead to differences in behaviour, just ask those with radically cross-gendered neurology - the transsexuals. Such people have very strong gender differences in their neurology, more so than the average, but the polarity is inconsistent with the rest of the body's appearance.
Or, as the first commenter put it so pithily:
1. Some of the stuff is hard-wired.
2. Some of the stuff is socialized.
3. Some of the stuff is preference.

Each child is an individual.

Onto Shakesville, and the Question of the Day : If you woke up tomorrow morning and you were the "opposite" sex than you were when you went to bed, would your life be different? How? Better? Worse? Same?

Well it took 3 months rather than being overnight, but this is one question I can answer. Better (for me) but worse (for others). Different in too many respects to mention. The Glass ceiling. Being able to cry. Being part of the "Petticoat Mafia". Being talked over at meetings. Having to be careful going home alone at night.

I only mentioned the medical aspects in my first comment, so I'll have to follow up later.

Then a comment on a somewhat older post at PoopSci.com.au : Discovery of a "Transsexual Gene" Raises More Questions Than Answers.

I try to show that the evidence in this particular area is only part of a coherent whole, and that although much has been made of it, other evidence is far more compelling, even if less well publicised.

I'll be dealing with the use by a so-called "Concerned Citizens" group of what looks at first glance like a trailer for a Kiddie Porn movie to publicise their cause later. An advert that's very professionally produced, obviously by a firm with lots of practice in the area. I doubt the police will investigate this group for links with paedophile rings, and I personally think the chance is low. I also think it can't be entirely excluded. There are an awful lot of people out there so convinced of their own moral rectitude that "bearing false witness" is quite acceptable - in a good cause.


Lori D said...

Zoe, I typically find it very difficult to disagree with your lines of reasoning, even with Glorps who prefer purple over green. But I'm finding your blog more useful than ever. Thank you for being so consistent with the quality of work you put out.

Anonymous said...

PoopSci? rofl


Laserlight said...

Sight unseen, I'd pick a Watusi basketball player over a Japanese--partly because I know Watusi are on average taller, party because I expect that my Watusi will be used to competing against others who are 2m tall rather than 1.6m. Of course I may find that my Watusi is a 1.3m tall dwarf and the Japanese reject is 2.25m tall...but you can tell that at first glance. It's a bit more difficult to tell at a glance how someone else's brain is wired.
I have recently been reminded again that I'll never understand women. I'm not doing all that well on understanding men either. I'd do well with a pet rock.

Anonymous said...


The flaw in your reasoning regarding the height of the players the Japanese might be used to playing against is that it assumes that the Japanese player has only really played against other Japanese players; what if he grew up here in the States and had playing all his life?


Regarding this Concerned Citizens group; what is their name?