Tired of feminism; saved by fruit flies

Last Friday, I went to a deeply depressing “is feminism dead” type discussion. The normally male bastion of Prospect Magazine rang with the sound of high heels, and… Oh, wait, most of the people there were feminists. Scratch the high heels, then.


Yes, yes, I’m playing to completely unjustified sterotypes. Except that they are not completely unjustified. Could I have predicted that we’d have to listen to a rant about the evils of porn, the fact that lapdancers have post-traumatic stress, the fact that women still don’t get paid enough? Yes. Did I know that when my guest introduced herself as a prostitute and dominatrix there would be brows beetled in fury that one of “them” had managed to infiltrate? Yes. The Cat among the self-righteous pigeons did (just as predictably but with much greater humor) defend her right to be heard; those who seek as good feminists to silence her pulled the normal “she’s too traumatised to know she’s traumatised” nonsense. The whole discussion was old, tired, and without obvious point. (Except to appeal for more “grass roots feminism”. Grass. So last century.) The question of whether women might be paid less because they often choose, perfectly sensibly, to spend less time at work and more time doing other things, was raised, and rather rapidly dismissed. The question of whether we might, actually, be better at some things and worse at others than men was dealt with through the curve of normal distribution. At the mean, the sexes basically have the same capacities. It’s just that men are more scattered than women, so there are more male geniuses, and more male morons. But that doesn’t mean we’re fundamentally different. Our reproductive organs are different, our hormones are different, but our brains (apart from the map-reading bits) — no way.

Then today I went on-line at my new day job. I’ve been hanging around the Wellcome Trust so much lately that they’ve given me a desk. And what’s the lead story on their website this very day? New research shows that the appropriately named doublsex gene sculpts not just the body of males and females, but also the brain. It’s just in fruit flies so far. But mammals have the dsx gene too…

This post was published on 22/03/10 in Men, women and others, Science.

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  1. Comment by wds, 23/03/10, 02:22:

    First, it’s of course a well known fact that the male and female brains are different. For one, they differ in size. I think most of the resistance to viewpoints supporting major differences between female and male cognition are based on the way this particular fact and others were misinterpreted till at least the middle of the last century.

    Second, working in the tech industry, I’ve heard a lot of arguments along the lines of “women just can’t work with computers” (that’s honestly a pervasive attitude). People with preconceptions about what women are capable often grasp for results such as the above, assuming they somehow nullify the environmental impacts. Sure there might be a difference in cognition (a hard to measure one, but still), but on the other hand the environmental aspects are clear and well known. People really only disagree on the size of their impact, but whatever it is, it seems substantial.

    It’s not an either-or situation of course, but debates often make it seem so. It’s like one side is saying it’s all biological and the other it’s all environmental, while really what we should be wondering is how big the environmental problem really is, and how to solve it.

    (I think old-school feminists have the wrong end of the stick more often than not, but in a roundabout way, they do have a point)

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