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Broken Chromosomes and Damaged Brains

I really appreciate Cristina Rad recording and posting some of the panels from SkepchickCon/CONvergence this year. In addition to providing one more place where new people can see for themselves the Rebecca Watson Evil Cootie (Ugh!) Effect, this exposes us to audiences we don’t get at the convention itself. That, in turn, brings up questions and criticisms we don’t get at the panels themselves.

A prime example of this has been the reaction to two statements on the “Vive le Difference” panel, which covered gender and sex differences. (You can view the session itself here. If you like it, consider giving it some YouTube love. That RWECU Effect I mentioned above means that this hour-long video already had several downvotes less than an hour before it went up.)

The first statement, called sexist by many viewers, was Heina Dadabhoy’s comment that the Y chromosome is a broken X chromosome. The other, called outrageously sexist, was Greg Laden’s statement that the male brain is a female brain that has been damaged at various times throughout development by testosterone. The question is, however, are these statements true?

Heina’s statement is the easier to address. A number of people did so in the YouTube comments, but I’ll do it here as well. Yes, the Y chromosome is definitely a broken X chromosome. A good write-up of the evolution of the Y chromosome makes that clear.

Part 3. Comparison of sex-chromosome recombination in males and females

After our lineage diverged from the ancestors of the monotremes, such as the duck-billed platypus, another inversion further scrambled the genes on the proto Y. In males, only the tips of the Y chromosome were left able to recombine with homologous genes on the X chromosome. In contrast, in females, recombination continued to occur across the full length of the two identical X chromosomes.

Part 4. Autosomal expansion of X and Y chromosomes

About 130 million years ago (Ma), an autosome donated a block of genes that extended the length of both the X and the Y chromosome. The X and Y were able to recombine in these expanded regions of the chromosomes. Subsequently, inversions rearranged the order of genes on the Y chromosome. Additional rearrangements occured almost exclusively on the Y. Without recombination to preserve its integrity, the Y continued to lose genes and, over time, shrank.

This has undesirable consequences for male humans as well, at every stage of development. A short sex chromosome means that males have only one copy of some genes. Sex-linked hemophilia is one of the specific vulnerabilities of males caused by this arrangement. There are plenty of others, and there are a number of vulnerabilities that we’re still not sure to what degree are sex-linked and to what degree our screening processes and social expectations make it more likely that males will be diagnosed. Some of those may also turn out to be attributable to having a Y chromosome.

So, yes, the X chromosome is the original in this situation, and the development of the Y chromosome both depleted the X chromosome and did so in ways that are not helpful to those who carry it. It is a broken X chromosome. If it weren’t for the fact that the Y chromosome also causes masculinization, and our society highly values masculinization, we would talk broadly about how unfair that is. But it creates our semi-science-literate society holds the Y chromosome responsible for creating boys and men, so it’s all good, and the commenters say that calling it broken is very sexist of Heina.

Now for Greg’s statement. Does testosterone damage a female brain on the way to making it a male brain? This is harder to answer only because it is very difficult for us to tease out what causes the differences observed between male and female brains. There does seem to be a role for testosterone (used generically for androgenizing hormones) during gestation in the establishment of gender identity.

After birth, however, things get much more complicated. Perceived gender leads to different treatment. Stereotypes are enforced with social sanctions. Gender identity may interact with societal gender roles as early as two or three years of age. A mother with high testosterone levels may interact differently with her children. Acceptable behavior differs by gender and can lead to different educational and developmental opportunities (see this pdf of the study Greg mentioned about gender, spatial processing, and video games for one example). Testosterone levels fluctuate in response to some of the very behaviors we are interested in studying.

As I said, complicated.

The best information we have suggests that any differences between the function of male and female brains tends to be quite small and unimportant relative to the vast similarities in the capabilities that we find when we compare the two. It is decidedly not enough to account for the large differences we still see in opportunities and performance between men and women.

Now, all this doesn’t mean that there is no tiny grain of truth to the words of those who insist there are some innate differences between the genders. There may, in fact, be some skills that men are better at than women by virtue of masculinization of a female brain due to the presence of higher levels of testosterone in males.

However–and this is a very important however–Greg’s statement about testosterone damaging female brains to make them male is true to exactly that same degree.

I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in, but do not start a comment until you’ve composed yourself and read the rest of this post.

All set? Okay, on we go.

If you have a complex system that is capable in a general sense, and you retool it to specialize, you lose some of that general capability. In other words, you have damaged the ability of that system to generalize.

To make this more specific to hypothesized sex-related differences, if you take a cooperative system and retool it to be more competitive, you have damaged its ability to cooperate. If you take a highly verbal system and retool it to a more spatial system, you have damaged its verbal abilities. If you take a “female brain” (whatever precisely that is) and, through the application of testosterone, retool it to act like a “male brain” (whatever precisely that is), you have damaged its abilities as a “female brain”. How can you have done anything else?

That the people who present these differences as innate present their evidence to demonstrate some superiority of the male brain doesn’t change the fact that construction requires destruction. It just means that when they start calling statements like Greg’s “sexist”, the irony is delicious, much like the…er, arguments put forward in this comment thread. “Oh, no. It’s not innate/valid/well-measured if it makes us look bad.”

Could Greg’s statement have been a little more complete? Sure, but the format of the panel is limiting. Take a race and gender course from him sometime if you want the full story. But as with Heina’s statement, the outrage over Greg’s is directly attributable to challenging our societal notion that “male” equals “good”. Without that, we’d all already be able to see that if masculinization gains you something, it loses you something as well.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t know how well the video portrayed it, but I was playing for laughs with my comment. I didn’t intend to insult men or masculinity as a whole, and my apologies if I did.

  2. karmakin says

    If someone said something similar about women, there would be lots of (justified) rage. I don’t think this is any different.

    I am disappoint, mostly that a lot of MRA’s got their wings, so to speak.

  3. karmakin says

    I should add, that I’m someone who thinks that there are lots of really messed up things about modern male culture that should be fixed pronto. But there’s a huge difference between talking about culture and talking about inherent differences, the latter of which I think is a massive minefield and generally shouldn’t be done on a casual baasis (and even an academic basis) ever.

  4. says

    karmakin, the people who say anything “similar” about women are not poking hard at the unexamined assumptions of our value systems in order to get us to rethink them. Those statements are meant to add to a complacency, not challenge it in a way that results in greater understanding of the world. They are not similar, even if the wording looks familiar.

  5. quietmarc says

    Pfft. Anyone who seriously takes offence at this probably HAS had their brain damaged by testosterone. The brain is basically shaped by orchestrated cell die-offs throughout our early development, and (I bet PZ can talk more about this) the basic body plan/template is the female one. That a possible cause of gender differences is due to sex hormones killing off brain cells is incredibly plausible given what the science says right now, and it works as a reasonable possible cause (one of many) for the wide variability we see in gender and sexuality across our species.

    I mean, maybe you could use different words to describe the same concept but you might sacrifice accuracy to do so. And since men still have higher pay, more access to power and authority, and are not subject to nearly as much abuse as women on average, I figure we can take the punch.

  6. karmakin says

    Let me put it this way. This sort of discussion justifies the view of “feminism as female domination” as opposed to “feminism as equality”.

    I simply don’t want this type of discussion anywhere near feminism. Period. Maybe it would be acceptable in a different discipline. (but I still think it’s problematic) As I said, it justifies a lot of MRA talking points and pushes people on the fence in the wrong direction.

  7. says

    Nope. If I’m not talking about the science behind this stuff, that won’t stop any of the people with a sexist agenda from talking about it. Ditto with the clusterfuck that is racially motivated IQ research. Me shutting up only means that just the motivated reasoning gets reported.

    I do understand that you find it upsetting that this is being talked about. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be, however.

    And there’s nothing “female domination” in this post.

  8. anoncoward says

    How about altered instead of damaged?

    I’ve also seen the term testosterone poisoning.

    These sound like terms a political speech writer uses to sway opinion.

  9. anoncoward says

    So the male gender could be called a genetic defect.

    Who would host the telethon?

  10. mildlymagnificent says

    “Testosterone poisoning” was originally just a joke by Alan Alda in an item he wrote for Ms magazine in the early 70s. I laughed like a drain at the time.

    Later the expression was picked up and used in various not so witty ways by other people.

  11. anoncoward says

    I read the words damaged (I know, jokingly) and broken and didn’t arrive at positive.

    I’m going to stop because this is just me being unhappy on your blog.

  12. Jean says

    I don’t see what the negative connotation of using broken and damaged brings to anyone.

    All of our chromosomes have been ‘broken’ in one way or another to get to where they are now. So using mutation would seem more appropriate and saying that it does have negative genetic side effects would also be accurate.

    As for the idea of a damaged brain, are you calling all the variations in gender identity and sexual orientation different variations of brain damage since they seem to be influenced by testosterone in some way? I’m not sure that would go well with the LGBTI community so why would it be ok for men?

    That we all start as female is a very interesting thing that needs to be told and explained but I don’t see why it has to bring anything negative to those who don’t end up female.

  13. says

    Jean, that’s exactly the point, to stimulate that thinking. Now, take it further. Why don’t people say the same things when we’re talking about those who don’t end up male?

  14. tigzy says

    When something is retooled from one sphere of functionality to another, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to call it ‘damage’ when change would suffice.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Color vision is another major example of the genetic defects accompanying the accumulated deterioration of the Y chromosome: hardly any women have color-blindness, because they have backup genes if those from one parent are defective.

    Likewise, only women are tetrachromatic (having four types of color-sensing retinal cone cells, instead of the average three), and thus able to perceive a much more varied spectrum than can the great majority of humans.

  16. says

    Of course it would suffice. Calling it “damage”, however, highlights that what it’s usually called instead is “improvement”.

    This isn’t a hard concept. Stop. Think. Allow yourself to work a little bit at it.

  17. Cello says

    Fwiw, I was a bit chagrined about the use of words too (damaged) but then I read the post more carefully. What was actually said was not what I thought was said on my first quick read of the post. There really isn’t any dominance or superiority going on upon a more contemplative reading.

  18. tigzy says

    If people need to understand that what may usually be called an improvement is in fact a change, then it needs to be highlighted that it is in fact a change, and not an improvement.

    Referring to it as ‘damage’ is an inaccuracy that highlights little more than the foolishness or dishonesty of the person making the claim. Lying for reason isn’t going to bring people over to the fold at all.

  19. Jean says

    I’m all for stimulating thinking but just saying the original statements from the video doesn’t seem to me to be doing that. And as I mentioned, the use of words with definite negative connotations could lead to collateral damage even if the intention is to attack the notion of the male superiority.

    And I’m not a fan of negative advertising.

  20. Jean says

    Oh and just so there is no misunderstanding, Jean is the male french name and not the female english name.

    So I am biased…

  21. says

    Jean, everything leads to collateral damage when attacking the notion of male superiority.

    tigzy, how many classes have you taught on the subject? Also, “damage” is not an inaccuracy. I explained in the post what it damaged. Are you suggesting it is not?

  22. steveschulers says

    It’s not a hard concept at all. Greg was clearly being gynocentric in his choice of language, several times referring to the “damage” that testosterone does to a developing brain. No big deal, though. Just another sexist ass, nothing to worry about.

  23. says

    Yes, of course “sexist ass” is the only possibility, because a teacher would never, ever present only part of some bit of information in order to spur students to do part of the work themselves. They always lay out the entire picture at once. Always.

  24. tigzy says

    @24

    You’re using far too broad a definition of ‘damage’ here, though. Damage, in the context of the human brain, involves an impairment of functionality to the organ as whole. When the retooling occurs so as to induce equivalent functionality in a different sphere, that’s change.

    Take the engine out of your car and never put it back, that’s damage to the vehicle. Replace it with one which might be slower yet more fuel efficient, that’s change.

  25. says

    Damage, in the context of the human brain, involves an impairment of functionality to the organ as whole.

    Uh-huh. Nice assertion.

    Also, there’s only one engine. If you change it to do something different, you first have to damage it’s ability to do something else.

    Really, this still isn’t hard. You damage one functionality. You improve another. The whole process is change. You preferring one perspective doesn’t invalidate the others.

  26. steveschulers says

    Come on now Stephanie, you know full well that Laden is not so indiscriminant or unskilled in his choice/use of language that in this instance he was being deliberately gynocentric in his statements. Whatever, like I said already, no big deal. Everyone has clay feet.

  27. Jean says

    The whole process is change but why do you insist in calling it damage. When you bake a cake, do you say you damaged the flour?

  28. says

    Of course he’s being gynocentric in his statements. I explained that in the post. Acting as though I’m trying to deny it is stupid. (Don’t act stupid.)

    Your assertion that he did so because he’s a “sexist ass” is hardly the most likely reason for someone who has taught a course on the topic, however. There is pedagogic value in making people challenge value-laden statements about gender, and that’s easiest to do when using (1) unusual statements and (2) statements that contradict the assumptions that go unquestioned in our society.

  29. tigzy says

    @28

    Yeah, but Greg’s assertion that testosterone damages the female brain in order to make it male implies an impairment to the functioning of the organ. This statement is only tenable if one assumes that a male brain has been functionally impaired in relation to its former state – i.e., that it is not as effective as a female brain.

    If it is only ineffective in certain spheres, yet more effective in others, that is not a functional impairment, simply a functional difference.

  30. quietmarc says

    When an artist takes a slab of marble and knocks off chunks of it to make a sculpture, isn’t that artist damaging the slab? When a gardener cuts off branches from a tree or bush, isn’t that gardener damaging that part of the plant? Even if the results are positive, “damage” is still an appropriate word, depending on context.

    Synaptic pruning is a natural part of development in the brain. About half the neurons we have at birth don’t survive to adulthood (per the wiki page on synaptic pruning – which, despite it’s name, refers not just to the synapses, where dendrites meet axons, but inculdes neuronal death as well). We don’t understand very much about how gender affects this process, but evidence suggests that there are differences in how and where neurons die during development based on the presence of certain sex- and gender-linked hormones and other factors.

    The male body has a few little…er…quirks? Because we all start out “female”. Inguinal hernias are far more common in (cis-)men than women, for example, because of the way our testicals descend through the abdominal wall. Does acknowledging this mean I’m being sexist?

  31. Cello says

    Read the post again. The word damage wrt the brain is being effectively applied both ways – to both male and female brains. It is just highlighting it in one direction to illuminate the default assumptions made in the other. It is challenging the notion that one “brain type” is better than the other. It at no point makes any claim that one type *is* better than the other.

    It is actually a clever post but I still wouldn’t want this on CNN as most Americans, male or female, couldn’t handle the nuance.

  32. julian says

    I’m of two minds on this. Damaged seems a perfectly normal way to talk about mutations and body development in no small part because it removes a lot of the “everything works for a reason” nonsense that tends to follow it. But it’s also a word with a lot of negative conotations and I can see it becoming problematic when discussing people and groups.

    Damaged X chromosome doesn’t bug me at all and it seems detached enough from the living person to not be problematic. Think I’ll use it in the future.

  33. Jean says

    Stephanie, I actually realized after my last post that the intent was to emphasize that there is a loss in the brain masculinization. I guess this is one example (whether from testosterone or culture).

  34. says

    No, I don’t mean like “damage”. I explained exactly what that meant in this context. You’ve done nothing of the sort. At least, you haven’t since I explained why you were wrong about “sexist ass”.

  35. Jean says

    Yeah, keeping an open mind is not enough. You definitely have to consciously get out of your comfort zone (for a lack of a better term).

  36. F says

    Chromosome-wise, it might help some people to get a grip on the fact that different species have different ways of determining sexes, X and Y chromosomes are hardly universal, nor is chromosome layout in general. The Y is a messed-up X, and certainly wasn’t an optimal change and “method” for sex differentiation and information storage. It is way broken in some respects, genetically.

    I haven’t listened to the panel, so I don’t have all the context, but male brains are essentially testosterone-altered female (“default”) brains. This hardly translates into some political bullshit about who is better than whom at what. The differences are real, but we are software programmable, you know. Yeah, I do understand the sentiments of people who wish this and some other topics of research or conversation to be verboten (because it’s fuel for people who want to misrepresent the facts), but I can hardly agree. This is a bit like the supposition that sex education causes promiscuity. Thanks for ideologically policing the facts, but no thanks. You’ll just have to argue against liars who misuse the facts in a world where sexual dimorphism is real. Keep trying to bury it and then they have even more of an argument against your position.

  37. F says

    julian:

    I’m of two minds on this. Damaged seems a perfectly normal way to talk about mutations and body development in no small part because it removes a lot of the “everything works for a reason” nonsense that tends to follow it.

    I would agree. Humans are damaged apes who don’t really fit properly through a birth canal due to an oversized head without better compensation in the size of the birth canal, take too long to mature, and have lots of back and foot and knee problems because genes were damaged resulting in a weird version of bipedalism. These broken things also have their advantages, quite obviously. Like a paintbrush with the handle broken off will fit into tight spaces, but is less useful in the general case.

  38. machintelligence says

    Likewise, only women are tetrachromatic (having four types of color-sensing retinal cone cells, instead of the average three), and thus able to perceive a much more varied spectrum than can the great majority of humans.

    I’m not sure how many women ate tetrachromatic, but this would certainly explain why they perceive more “shades” of white.
    Also, men who are colorblind and also have synesthesia (perceiving numbers in color) report that some numbers have “Martian” colors; ones which they have never seen on earth. So they apparently have the hardware to process tricolor images, but are missing one set of functional cones.

  39. shockna says

    Reading your post, a lot of the negative reaction (mine included) essentially came down to poor word choice on Greg’s part. From the description, as another commenter notes, “altered” is a much better term to use.

    Some of us who are either LGBT or (and dear god do ever I hate using this term) aneurotypical tend to perceive “damaged” as a pejorative term, more analogous to “inferior” or “broken”, rather than “different”, as the case seems to be. Watching that panel sure as hell brought back a lot of really, really bad memories in that regard.

    Of course, I think people who had a negative reaction like me are in the minority. Most of it appears to be dipshit MRAs who have a violently negative reaction to everything a feminist says. I doubt there’s anything Greg can (or would want to) do to appease them, but a little improvement in word choice would go a long way.

  40. says

    It’s funny how up in arms these (probably male) commenters are about the idea that homo sapiens defaults to female instead of defaulting to Default Person — oops, I mean male. Given that males are de facto default people in every other aspect of society, female being the actual biological default until testosterone changes the brain structure is an inversion of what they obviously expect. Thus the loaded word “damage” is ZOMG MISANDRY.

    Really, the science behind this is enough to suggest that there’s a kernel of truth at the heart of the played-for-laughs jokes. They’re jokes because everyone knows exactly how male-centric society is. It’s punching-up, and no more damaging to men than suggesting that humans are damaged apes per F@49. If you’re chafing over this, the question is raised: how much are you doing to stop the plenary punching-down that women experience?

    @50: Tetrachromatism is an interesting phenomenon. I almost wish it was possible to induce synaesthesia safely and reversibly so we could better study these Martian colors.

  41. says

    Will watch the video soon, did anyone mention the book “Brain Storm – The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences” by Rebecca Jordan-Young by any chance? I’ve just started reading it. It takes a look at all the evidence for the main theory of sex difference research, which is that prenatal hormones affect the brain in-utero and set males and females on different paths for life, and finds that the evidence does not support the theory.
    Here’s one review of the book in Slate:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/10/the_last_word_on_fetal_t.single.html

  42. Rob says

    I prefer to think of men and women as being ‘differently specialised’. Specialisation is good, in general.

    Now, if only there weren’t so many women who can beat me at all my damn so-called specialisations! :-) I love the fact that at times we’re like different species, and yet so damn similar.

  43. bad Jim says

    The fact that male and female brains are visibly different and yet nearly indistinguishable in practice ought to tell us something.

    The idea of the tabula rasa is untenable in the light of our knowledge of the development of the brain and the example of our nearest ancestors, so it must necessarily be true that males and females are profoundly different, but unfortunately it has so far proved impossible to discern what, precisely, those cognitive differences are.

    Like all mammals, we need nurturing and education after birth. We’re an extreme case, needing years after birth for our brains to complete their development, perhaps decades. Perhaps uniquely, we’re socialized before our brains complete their wiring, which makes it damned difficult to distinguish nature and nurture.

    This makes the tabula rasa the null assumption, like it or not. It’s guaranteed to be wrong, but probably still better than our ancient habit of assuming sexual differences that don’t exist.

  44. b-lar says

    I understood the point of the post, and the use of the word to provoke a response.

    Selecting inflammatory words to elicit your particular chain of thought in the reader is surely only likely to engage those who already think like you. Clarity is always superior when you are speaking to a large audience, and I dont think team MRA are the only ones who will misinterpret this post.

  45. says

    I’m amused. Everyone throws a shitfit sbout Teh Ebil Misandry because for once the “it’s just science, what can you do, lol” is phrased in a “gynocentric” way, but when anyone dares to point out and criticize the ever-present opposite situation, it’s “oh, you hysterical feminists”, “oh stop whining, that’s just how it is”, “this is why no one takes feminism seriously”, “you’re sooooo ideological and amti-science!” etc.

    no capability for self-reflection. none.

  46. Magnus Hirschfeld says

    I guess in the same way that Christians have their obnoxious liars for Jesus, reactionary feminists have their “liars for misandry” as Ms. Zvan quite unequivocally reveals herself to be here. It’s nice of her to subtly and deceitfully rephrase Heina’s comments in effort to make it appear to the uncritical viewer as if she was making an innocuous if clumsy statement about human genetics in the video referenced. However, the actual quote from the video, after an audience member makes a reference to hemophilia (in effort to give an example of differences in specific disease incidences), reveals that not to be the case at all. The direct quote is: “That’s the Y chromosome, it’s broken! hahah”.

    Heina is not a scientist, by her own admission, and it’s perfectly obvious she is certainly not making the detailed and nuanced assertions that a geneticist might about the Y chromosome which are being made on her behalf in this blog post above. In fact, it is clear that what she is saying is that she thinks hemophilia is a cause of the Y chromosome “being broken”; and haha, isn’t that funny because Men, derp-de-derp. To which the audience and panel members alike predictably laugh along in assent. Strange, how if it were actually the complicated and nuanced argument above relating to the Y chromosome which were actually being made then there would be nothing obvious at all to laugh at. Funny, that. Hemophilia, by the way, isn’t caused by anything on the Y chromosome, it’s caused by a fault in a gene on the X chromosome. Nice try though, Heina.

    Any doubt about the depths of duplicity to which the “freethought” bloggers are willing to sink in effort to apologize for their sexist bigotry should be well and truly erased by the content of the rambling casuistry on display by Ms. Zvan here.

  47. says

    My impression was that Greg was parodying the typical assumptions that men are the default, bur, as we all know, the misogynist squad has no sense of humor unless you count telling women to make sandwiches as a joke.

  48. Hazazel says

    I don’t understand the use of “damaged”, “broken”, and “poisoned” instead of “change” and “alteration”.

  49. says

    ronstrong, Inorite? There’s an irony in the fact that a surface reading gives you almost exactly the opposite meaning that thinking about the statement in any detail does. Isn’t it such a good thing that skeptics are dedicated to performing more than just surface readings?

    Sunil, I don’t remember anyone mentioning the book by name, but I may have missed it.

    b-lar, are you talking about the post or the panel?

    Magnus, your mind reading powers are astonishing. You should get those checked out. All the more so because you’re wrong in a lot of the basic assumptions behind your ideas of what Heina was “clearly” saying.

    Hazazel, that’s been explained, in detail, in the comments. Which part don’t you understand?

  50. says

    If you want to compare male and female brains fairly, you would have to compare the brains of newborns, not adults. Learning affects brain development, and we know that boys and girls are to all intents and purposed raised in separate countries.

    See Cordelia Fine, “Delusions of Gender”, 2011.

    I’d lay money that the same processes would be able to identify differences beteeen rich and poor people’s brains.

  51. karmakin says

    While yes, I am a male, that shouldn’t disqualify from pointing out that I think that real harm is being done to the feminist movement here.

    I fully support feminist ideals, I simply don’t think that they have inevitability. That is, I do not believe that there’s a 100% chance that we will continue moving towards them. The argument CAN be lost in other words. As well, I also think that the quality of life, so to speak, in terms of winning can vary greatly. As with everything else, there can and will be a backlash. The size of that backlash is important because it causes very real pain and suffering for very real people. Not everybody enjoys the fight.

    Of course, this isn’t unique to the feminist community. This mirrors my experiences in the animal welfare movement.

    I think that situations and messages like this can and do result in more opposition to feminist ideals and goals, for very little (if any) gain. This is an own goal folks. It’s not that I disagree or I’m denying the science. I’m saying that the science simply has no place in terms of feminism, and should be kept far far away.

    In the end, quite frankly, it was trolling. Old-style classic trolling. That’s what I think. And defending it undermines pretty much everything that people were talking about for the last month.

  52. says

    karmakin, no one has said that you being male disqualifies you from talking about this. I’m not sure, however, why you think that a variety of approaches–some that are placating, some that are flatly factual, some that are invigorating and require further discussion–should be off limits for feminism when it isn’t for anything else. Yes, some people getting all worked up over this has costs. So does people ignoring that we only talk about this information from an andro-centric perspective for the overwhelming majority of the time. And that’s the current situation.

    Also, if you think anything can be done right when the subject is feminism, go read the comments related to Cristina even participating in something that Rebecca Watson is associated with. If you think there is actual damage being done by Heina or Greg’s comments, you need to understand that that reaction is your baseline. You can’t just look at people saying, “Ah! Ah! Ebul sexist feminists!” and think that their reaction has anything to do with what just happened.

  53. JohnS says

    This whole “damage” thing seems too cute by half for me. The word damage means, in the minds of pretty much everyone, to be negative change. The justification (as far as I can tell) for using this term is that people who are smart enough to “get it” will puzzle out this is was designed to not insult masculinity, but to cause people to think about how maleness is too often put on a pedestal as the best way to be. I.e. as a response to the font from which BS like “women are too emotional and illogical” spring from.

    I think a lot of people watching and hearing those statements are just flat out not going to get that. The fact that two throwaway sentences had to have pages of text written to justify them, seems to be an admission that most aren’t going to get it on first blush. What of the people who hear that line, but don’t get the benefit of this massive footnote explaining the language choice?

  54. says

    I just find it hilarious that for the most part the guys getting so bent out of shape on this are the same ones who attack women for reacting to being actively and personally harassed and insulted by them and their buddies. Maybe they need to chill out, stop being so emotional, and try to be logical about the science.

  55. efrique says

    > The first statement, called sexist by many viewers, was Heina Dadabhoy’s comment that the Y chromosome is a broken X chromosome.

    Not sure why people would imagine this to be sexist; it’s a straight factual claim that’s either true or false (though we may not know for exactly certain), and unless it’s intended to carry additional implications to that, it has no bearing whatever on what it means to be male.

    Either it would have to be said in a particularly tendentious manner, or a person would have to be astoundingly precious to find it bothersome.

    It seems an odd thing to bring up, perhaps, but I can’t find *any* way to regard it as sexist.

  56. says

    @68: It’s fairly clear if you actually saw the whole panel instead of depending on quote-mines. Context isn’t just something that’s provided to explain away bad stuff people said. Context was present, then stripped away by people looking to score points against the speakers.

  57. says

    I think there is an aspect to this that few people have pointed out.

    Greg Laden said that testosterone damages the brain and that men are broken women – while sitting right next to a transgender man.

    You know – a transgender man – someone who is injecting testosterone into himself once every month or so.

    …and he just said that essentially causes brain damage and that transgender men are therefore “broken women”….which is some stupid shit that they get told all the time by bigots.

    Seriously – check your damn selves.

    Sure, the actual “MRA goons” are all over this – and Cris is getting a whole lot of flack from asshats who are all about guilt by association and can’t even stomach someone being in the same room with Rebecca Watson. That’s messed up. There are people mounting criticisms that are just extensions of perpetual attacks and that’s not cool and is just the same-old same-old.

    However, the existence of invalid criticism and attack does not invalidate ALL criticism – or put anyone with valid criticism (or even invalid but sincere ones) into that camp.

  58. karmakin says

    @Stephanine: So your argument, in a nutshell, is that the “baseline” is proscriptive and is something that is entirely impossible to change. Or to put it a different way, everybody already made up their minds on all these issues entirely and cannot be changed.

    That’s the essence of what you’re saying, I think. Needless to say I entirely disagree. I mean don’t get me wrong. I hope I’m wrong on this. I hope that feminist goals cannot be avoided and it’s just a continued march towards them. I hope this video doesn’t do any damage. I simply don’t think that’s the case.

    I’m really not trying to undermine feminism, no matter what a lot of people say here.

    If you don’t see it as problematic, replace “male” with “black” and see if the same statement doesn’t come off as problematically racist, regardless of the scientific evidence for it.

    Step out of the frame, and see how someone who is on the fence might see and read into something. Yes, I know, someone who is on the fence is still just worthlessly sexist but still. For progress, convincing..or at the very least not pushing away that person is KEY.

  59. says

    I wrote a detailed criticisms of this post in an article called Some Falsehoods about the Y chromosome and Male Brains. Some of the main points are:

    – The Y chromosome contains 86 unique and functional genes.
    – X-linked recessive disorders signify a problem with the X chromosome, not the Y one.
    – Lack of large-scale recombination is sometimes a good thing. If X and Y where able to recombine everywhere, it would lead to males without the necessary sex–determining or sex-influencing regions in their Y chromosomes and females with harmful genes only found on the Y chromosomes.
    – The Y chromosome has not lost any genes for 6 million years and only one gene in 25 million years.
    – The Y chromosome can “recombine” with itself using gene conversion
    – Specialization does not mean broken. Also, neuroplasticity ensures that the situation is more complex than “specialized means you have damaged the ability to generalize”.
    – When certain forms of feminism is shown to be without scientific merit, we should abandon them for more evidence-based forms of feminism, not zealously defend them as obviously true by substandard arguments.

  60. quietmarc says

    Wow! 86! 86 whole genes! And they’re functional! Golly gosh! 86 is bigger than, like 3! or 52, even! The Y chromosome is pretty great after all!

    /sarcasm

    For the record, the X chromosome has about 2000 functioning genes. Also, when you put both the X and Y chromosome side by side, the Y chromosome is really, really tiny. Not that that means anything.

  61. says

    This is an own goal folks. It’s not that I disagree or I’m denying the science. I’m saying that the science simply has no place in terms of feminism, and should be kept far far away.

    The science should not be kept far, far away – the pseudo-science should be.

    Yeah – the Y is tiny and men suffer genetically for it, because they don’t have two copies. That doesn’t mean it is broken as in “non-functioning”.

    However, it seems that the only way to defend what Laden of Dadabhoy said is to creatively define, or strip away the connotations of, the words they used. Which means – their word choices were not good.

  62. Hakim says

    This neatly summarizes things:

    http://i.qkme.me/3q6t6y.jpg

    In other news, I’m glad that the drama and hypocrisy of certain elements in the skeptical community is beginning to catch up with them. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

    Cheers!

  63. says

    Hakim, which part of “to exactly that same degree” did you fail to understand? Also, what do you think in this post argues for any sort of genetic determinism?

    M. A. Melby, perhaps you want a definition of “broken”? Also, you seem to have completely failed to grasp that Greg’s point in using “damaged” is to evoke rejection of the idea so that other, unquestioned ideas are also undermined.

    Emil, if you want to avoid an appearance of motivated reasoning, you might want to avoid arguing that harmful sex-linked recessive genes are only a problem of the X chromosome. After all, people who have those harmful genes but have another X chromosome experience no problem with the harmful recessive gene.

  64. julian says

    Oh grand. Another volley of “you’re all just hypocritical misandrist!”

    I’m out.

  65. says

    M. A. Melby, perhaps you want a definition of “broken”? Also, you seem to have completely failed to grasp that Greg’s point in using “damaged” is to evoke rejection of the idea so that other, unquestioned ideas are also undermined.

    Both the speaker and the listener have a responsibility in communicating effectively.

    He failed. I didn’t.

    If that’s the point I “failed to grasp” it was obfuscated beyond recognition. If he was trying to “evoke rejection” of unstated and non-articulated “unquestioned ideas” he failed.

    I can stomach the idea that it was something he said, that with 20/20 hindsight, he wished he had made more clear.

    However, referring to men as “broken women” whose brains are “damaged by testosterone” is completely indefensible. It’s insulting to men – and incredibly insulting to transgender men.

    If that’s not what he meant – he was being a bad communicator.

    For goodness sake, I just went several rounds with a TF supporter that defended TF’s pathetic Look! Amy Surly CRIED!! post. What was the defense? Well, TF starts conversations and has the courage to attack popular ideas by being awful – and somehow that’s okay?!

  66. Mike says

    Stephanie,
    Sneaking in connotations. http://lesswrong.com/lw/ny/sneaking_in_connotations/

    Agree with the post in factual content. Liked the Panel.

    Greg was sneaking in connotations and trying to defend that by going to a dictionary definition is disingenuous. And M.A. Melby had a point. If it hurts trans men, you are no longer punching up. Just because some scumbag MRAs are going to tone troll does not mean that you are right here.

  67. says

    Also – when I said “men” up there, I meant people with XY as opposed to XX. I know that not all men have XY.

    See – look what I did there. I realized that my wording was problematic and I fixed it.

  68. says

    As I’ve already pointed out in the post, a panel like this was not the ideal place for what is usually a statement made in a classroom, because Greg didn’t get to control where the discussion went from there. That, however, wasn’t the assertion I was arguing against. Don’t think I’m defending this as perfect. I’m continuing the educational part of the panel. And now that explanation has been provided, I expect that this explanation will be part of the context for any further discussion here.

    Also, I’m a little disturbed by the idea that a trans man who deconstructs sex and gender isn’t going to understand the point of challenging our andro-centric outlook on development. Benny has exactly the background to understand why such a statement is being made in an educational (if not ideally so) environment.

  69. Mike says

    Clarification. I apologize for implying that Benny would not understand. I know that intent isn’t magic. I am saying that the same technique, and wording Greg used, can be used to attack trans* men and therefore should be avoided, not defended.

    Don’t think I’m defending this as perfect. I’m continuing the educational part of the panel. And now that explanation has been provided, I expect that this explanation will be part of the context for any further discussion here.

    Thank you for clarifying, and for providing further educational materials.

  70. says

    Benny is not the only transgender man in the world. He seemed a bit taken a-back, but not upset by it (at least not that I could tell from the video). He did correct Laden when Laden said that women have babies and men don’t (which is also sort of a stupid thing for him to have said.)

  71. julian says

    He did correct Laden when Laden said that women have babies and men don’t (which is also sort of a stupid thing for him to have said.)

    Very. It’s way to easy to slip into that form of binary when discussing sex and development.

  72. says

    HE could have just as easily “challeng[ed] our andro-centric outlook on development” with several othr words.

    “A male brain is a female brain altered by testosterone”

    “A male brain is a female brain changed by testoserone”

    All would have served to do that equally well. He chose a word that carries a negative connotation, one of being inferior in some way. One that goes beyond merely saying “Women’s brains are the default, men’s are a change from that template” and adds a little “therefore men are just inferior copies of women” to his meaning.

    I have a lot of difficulty beleiving that choosing a word with this connotation was unintentional.

  73. says

    ronstrong, what about those formulations would have caused you to challenge anything at all? In what way does providing descriptions that make you comfortable constitute a challenge? Of course the connotation was intentional.

  74. says

    All I can say is this. If I want to get people to look into the possibilty that “X is true”, the very last thing I want to say is “X is true, you asshole” because it tends to make people focus on the “you asshole” part rather than the “X is true” part. The only reason I can think of I might ever want to phrase it that way is if what I REALLY wanted to insult you, without really caring what you thought of the “X is true” part.

    And that’s what Greg effectively did. And, IMO, he did it strictly to insult, not just to get people out of their comfort zones.

  75. Cello says

    Since I am new here, are most posters scientists? It seems to me people are getting caught up in the literal meaning of a word with respect to something that was just used as a literary technique. I mean, when Jonathan Swift suggested that the Irish sell their children as food – you know, he didn’t really mean that.

  76. Nepenthe says

    Pfff… turnabout is fair play. It’s not like I, through my “elite” liberal arts education, didn’t spend three years in required classes reading from authors who pretty much universally considered women defective men–if they acknowledged our humanity at all–with the expectation that I admire their great wisdom. A few scientists point out that sex-determination in mammals didn’t exactly make males the default and stronger sex and that’s a fucking emergency. Get over yourselves.

  77. says

    I am going to assume the part of Post 80 you refer to is the dictionary definition of broken. And I assume by that you wanted to point out that broken doesn’t necessarily mean inferior.

    If I were to make a post referring to a gay person as a “faggot”, I sincerely doubt I would be let off the hook by referring to the dictionary definition of faggot and pointing out that it has other meanings besides the disparaging one. And rightly so. And even if I really did, for some inexplicable reason, merely want to non-insultingly imply that he/she was a bundle of sticks it would have been an incredibly poor choice of words.

    As for him wanting to “evoke rejection of the idea so that other, unquestioned ideas are also undermined”. Maybe its a failure of imagination on my part, but I can’t even imagine how that would work.

  78. says

    #95

    So the way to combat the notion that women are inferior to men is to say that men are inferior to women? Seriously?

    I’ll remember that next time a woman claims that all women want is to be considered the equal of men.

  79. says

    Fighting fire with fire usually doesn’t work so well.

    If you frame what he said as some sort of parody of misogyny, you’d think that the proper response to criticism wouldn’t be defense, but agreement.

    I mean, “…the fact that construction requires destruction.” ?!

    What now?

    I mean, if you’re saying that Greg is right to the same degree as those that use the concept of gender-typicality to maintain or bolster the supremacy of men. That sort of means he is really intensely wrong.

    So, I’m not sure about this:

    I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in, but do not start a comment until you’ve composed yourself and read the rest of this post.

    All set? Okay, on we go.

    If that’s what you were trying to say, why would you expect a freak-out reaction? Or…was that a parody too?

    I find the rationale really strange.

    Frogs are broken tadpoles. Butterflies are broken caterpillars. Post-pubescents are broken pre-pubescents. Worker bees are broken queen bees. Smith is a broken Tennant.

    ?

  80. michael says

    Yes Men are defective women, gays are defective men, masculine women are damaged and need repair….

    I would suggest not describing any of the members of our community or any other as damaged just for being who they are. I mean with this type of talk you are going to piss off many masculine women, feminime men, transgender people, men and women. I know a few perfectly healthy rational women who have high levels of testosterone and I invite you to tell them that they are damaged in some way or form. – its as bad as telling feminime men that they are lacking in some way, its just as insulting and ignorant

    Why do we get upset when Ann Coulter refers to jews as damaged christians that need perfecting?

    The idea that we need to counter act generations of ignorant views on women with ignorant views on men is not a very well thought through plan.

  81. Nepenthe says

    @97

    Yes, I think that men need to be occasionally treated to a bit of their own rhetorical violence to understand, even for a moment, the shit that women have been putting up with for thousands of years. (And yes, this is merely rhetorical. I mean, do you really think that Greg Laden literally considers himself a broken woman?)

    Hurts, don’t it? Now that you’ve had your little hissy fit in reaction to a few statements by a few minor scientists/bloggers–the opinions of whom will have exactly zero real effect on your life–try dismissing it when feminists, say, object to uncritical teaching of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Freud and the rest of the gang, all of whose theories of women as defective men have had and still had actual impact on the status of women in society.

    Or even more general statements of “gosh, it hurts to be considered sub-human”, because that little sting you felt when you heard one person say that the Y chromosome is “defective” instead of “different” or whatever feelings-sparing wording you prefer is precisely fuck-all compared to being told you’re defective, stupid, and a thing every day for your entire life.

    Are you this much of an accomodationist when it comes to atheism, or do you hold the feelings of men as an oppressing class in higher regard than those of theists? I mean, “The God Delusion” is such a strident and mean way of putting it; how about “The God Little Mistake” instead?

  82. karmakin says

    Because it’s not the same thing at all. There’s a huge difference between talking about inherent characteristics and between talking about ideological stances. They’re apples and oranges. This isn’t difficult…this is 101 level social justice stuff.

    (There are other differences as well, but I won’t get too far into them)

  83. says

    I too thought it was a harmless winking nudge not meant to seriously imply that men are broken – until I heard it properly mansplained.

  84. says

    Yes, I think that men need to be occasionally treated to a bit of their own rhetorical violence to understand, even for a moment, the shit that women have been putting up with for thousands of years.

    FFS

    NO – the actual “MRA goons” are salivating at this sort of tactical idiocy. The ones *actually* upset by Greg Laden obnoxious word choices, instead of enthusiastically using them for political fodder, are several other feminists collectively *face palming* and a handful of transgender men (and their allies) blinking in disbelief at Greg haplessly parroting bigotry.

    If this was parody or pay-back – it was not framed that way.

    That is the problem here.

  85. quietmarc says

    To the straight guys who are presuming to use gay men as counter examples? Please stop, you’re doing it wrong.

    Greg made a comment about his own demographic, a demographic that by all reasonable metrics is clearly NOT inferior, at least insofar as having access to wealth, power, and an expectation of being treated with dignity. I’m sorry that you feel threatened that a man is calling out men as perhaps not being perfect, but he’s allowed to do that. He’s “attacking” the big guy.

    If someone uses “faggot”, they are NOT attacking the victim.

    As someone who is both cis-male AND gay, I can promise you that the two situations are different. I have NEVER been (and never expect to be) physically assaulted because of my chromosomes, but I HAVE been assaulted – and must be careful in certain contexts lest it happen again – because of my sexuality.

    In a perfect world, Greg would have crossed a line. This is NOT a perfect world, and the line you think he crossed is actually a long, long way off in the distance.

  86. shockna says

    @Stephanie Zvan:

    you seem to have completely failed to grasp that Greg’s point in using “damaged” is to evoke rejection of the idea so that other, unquestioned ideas are also undermined.

    Serious question; is there any reason to believe that this is an effective tactic? It seems to me that people, already having been predisposed against feminism by a culture that subjects it to unfair scrutiny, would likely see his choice of words as validation of anti-feminist claims that all feminists are female supremacists, who seek reverse inequality, rather than full equality.

    I’m a relative newbie to feminism, so it’s possible there’s something I’m missing, but I’m having difficulty seeing an upside to his type of rhetoric.

  87. says

    shockna, Greg has taught Race and Gender at the college level for a number of years. I’ve talked to former students of his. There is good reason to think that this works there, where the discussion continues in a guided fashion. I can’t tell you whether it could/would work for anyone in a less formal situation like this panel discussion, however. Part of the point of this post is to give people that opportunity to continue to mull the topic.

  88. says

    I agree – it is not the same as attacking an embattled group. It’s not.

    However, that does not make any and all manner of ridiculousness (as long as it’s aimed at the “the big guy”) somehow okay.

    Also, as I mentioned earlier, in this case that’s not even true – because he is saying something that is told to transgender men that marginalizes and degrades them within the movements that SHOULD be allies.

    My nephew has complained about this attitude, among some feminists, well before Laden spoke at the panel.

    Even without that aspect, it’s counter-productive in a variety of ways. One of those ways is that it has the potential to buy into the power differential. Since you’re essentially saying that the other party is SO powerful that anything you do is justifiable because its ineffectual (not because it’s fair or actually justified – mind you – cause calling men damaged women is not).

    Under the noise, it’s just – “You’re so big and strong that I can’t hurt you.” You know – you’re the “big guy” so you’re invincible.

    That’s 1) not true 2) injects moral weakness into your stance and 3) props up the very thing you’re trying to tear down.

  89. says

    Very. It’s way to easy to slip into that form of binary when discussing sex and development.

    It’s not just the binary nature of “women have babies” men don’t. It’s reminiscent of valuing women as incubators. A woman is not valued – is not a “real woman” – unless she can reproduce. Not all cis-women and no transgender woman can become pregnant – and the go-to argument for transgender women not being “real women” is because they can’t get pregnant. When a woman was “barren” back in the day, it essential meant she was worthless. When she was too old to become pregnant, she was also devalued.

    That is probably one of the reasons that older male actors generally have a longer viable career than female actors (even though that seems to be changing for the better in recent years; even though they are still expected to look young beyond reason).

    But no, I don’t think Greg was thinking when he said that, and when he was corrected, he stood corrected.

  90. says

    As far as I am aware, Greg teaches a class from an anthropological stand-point. He is not a developmental neurologist or an endocrinologist.

    I’m not saying that means he doesn’t have expertise enough to have an opinion about that sort of thing, only that he is not teaching a class in the subject he was speaking about when he talked about the broken-ness and the damages. He does not do work in that field, or anything like that. He isn’t even a biology for goodness sakes.

    I guess that sort of bugged me too. I try to be very careful about using my credentials. Scientists are generally extremely specialized. I go outside of my tiny little patch of understanding too far, and I might as well have majored in underwater basket weaving. People ask me about the Higg’s all the time – hell if I know. However, the average person is not going to realize that. That’s how you have surgeons telling people about vaccines – as if a surgeon necessarily knows more than your average tent post about the subject.

    So, even if many people heard what he said as just some sort of weird “barb” that he indiscriminately threw out there for whatever reason (more than once), he was speaking as the person with the most academic authority on the panel (at least that was the impression).

    I thought the information he had about the two tribes and how they dealt with the concept of masculinity was very interesting. I wish he said more about that sort of thing. Many cultures define more than two genders, and that would have been interesting to get more information about.

    However, I realize that “innate” gender-typical traits was what the audience seemed most interested in – so we ended up with spotty neuro-pyche, bizarre and problematically stated (possibly completely wrong) developmental endocrinology, and blanket dismissals of psychology (especially evo-psyche). *sigh*

    Saying that, however, it was an interesting panel. A panel format is not always easy to navigate – I can imagine.

  91. Nepenthe says

    @karmakin

    Because it’s not the same thing at all. There’s a huge difference between talking about inherent characteristics and between talking about ideological stances. They’re apples and oranges. This isn’t difficult…this is 101 level social justice stuff.

    That’s a very nice assertion you got there. Care to actually make an argument, rather than alluding to how obvious it is?

    Here’s mine: we’re not talking about inherent characteristics at all, we’re talking about the discourse surrounding inherent characteristics. The effects of testosterone on the brain are, in themselves, neutral; they’re chemical reactions and really have nothing to say for themselves. It is our valuations of them–which are ideological stances–that are important for “social justice stuff”.

    Statements that are not precisely true are not off-limits for discourse about ideological stances; it is not literally true that theists are deluded, not in the generally used “the television is speaking to me” sense. It is also not literally true that the Y chromosome is broken (what would that even mean?). Statements like this serve to widen the discourse around theism and maleness respectively, acting both to shift the Overton window and to directly shock the complacent.

    Granted, it doesn’t work for everyone. Obviously MRAs will seize upon this sort of thing as evidence that the crazy feminists are out to cut off balls or something, but the statement “kittens are adorable” would probably elicit the same response from the scented-candles-are-misandric crowd. “New Atheism” also turns a lot of people off, but we accept that collateral damage because a) shifting the discourse and b) some people do respond to it.

    And again, the counter statements–that women are defective men, that men are the human default, etc.–are pervasive and have a profound impact on the daily life of women as well as cultural and intellectual discourse surrounding women (and female people generally), right down to literally killing us because males are considered the default in medicine. I think a bit of challenge to that–even in the “objective” discussions of science–is worth risking some mens’ precious feelings and contingent ally-ship.

    @M.A. Melby

    Yes, because feminists (and other social justice activists for that matter) can never be stupid in their assessments of how other feminists’ stridency or lack of deference toward the dominant class is “hurting the movement”. See Betty Friedan and the “lavender menace” for a nice example. Clearly, lesbians talking about their issues loudly in the context of feminism just made men and straight women who totally would otherwise be allies and activists think that feminists are all ugly, man-hating dykes. The proof is that a lot of people still think that feminists are all ugly, man-hating dykes. QED, lesbians should hush up and if they must speak, perhaps make sure to say how much they love men even if they don’t want to have sex with them.

  92. says

    Greg is a biological anthropologist specializing in evolution.

    The only “blanket dismissal” of evolutionary psychology was a joke made before the question could even be asked. A full answer, including some pointers for spotting evo psych that can’t address evolution, was then given.

  93. says

    In the OP, Stephanie said:

    If it weren’t for the fact that the Y chromosome also causes masculinization, and our society highly values masculinization, we would talk broadly about how unfair that is. But it creates boys and men…

    This is highly problematic language. It is, in fact, not the presence of a Y chromosome that causes masculinization, but the presence of androgens. An XY person with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) will not have a masculinized body, and a person with XX chromosomes can masculinize their body using hormones.

    Also, neither Y chromosomes nor androgens “create men and boys.” Those are social categories, not biological categories. Men and boys are created through social interactions. Saying that men and boys are created through the presence of Y chromosomes is cisnormative and has the effect of erasing transmen.

  94. says

    Yes, Will. A better way to say that would have been to make it more explicit that I was talking about general societal attitudes toward the function of the Y chromosome rather than technical accuracy.

  95. Mike says

    I feel like I need to further clarify my above statements in light of some recent comments. I do not care about the hurt feelings of cis men. They need to get over it. It might do them some good. Punching up is not the same as punching down. I only care about how it affects the trans* community. That would be punching down. I agree with Stephanie that it is probably very effective in a classroom setting with additional guidance. And no I don’t care if Greg Laden’s statements drive off some potential feminist allies. If it drove them off, then they would not be very good allies.

    Stephanie, I apologize for continuing after you asked us not to do that. I felt like my comments were being misconstrued. I do not want people to use my remarks to defend the cis men whose feelings were hurt.

  96. says

    Yes, because feminists (and other social justice activists for that matter) can never be stupid in their assessments of how other feminists’ stridency or lack of deference toward the dominant class is “hurting the movement”.

    If you going to write “@ M.A.Melby” could you at least be on the same planet as me? If you want to talk about radicalization and assimilationist tensions in large social movements, we could totally do that.

    However, I was talking about something Greg Laden said at a sci-fi convention.

  97. says

    I don’t know how well the video portrayed it, but I was playing for laughs with my comment. I didn’t intend to insult men or masculinity as a whole, and my apologies if I did.

    You’re quick snip didn’t seem so bad (and in a way is actually true), but Greg just took it and went with it. It’s like that awkward friend that picks up on a joke and doesn’t know how to gauge it, perhaps?

    At least you called him on the dog analogy! :)

  98. says

    M. A. Melby, knock it off. You’ve already been told Greg wasn’t running with a joke. You’ve been told what his point was and how it works when he teaches a class on this subject. You don’t like the word he used. You’re upset by it. I get that. Don’t let it make you dishonest in your comments.

  99. shockna says

    shockna, Greg has taught Race and Gender at the college level for a number of years. I’ve talked to former students of his. There is good reason to think that this works there, where the discussion continues in a guided fashion. I can’t tell you whether it could/would work for anyone in a less formal situation like this panel discussion, however.

    Got it. I suppose we’d need a bit more than just one offhand remark at one convention to really determine it’s effectiveness either way. Either way, good food for thought. Thanks for the reply.

    @ 115:

    And no I don’t care if Greg Laden’s statements drive off some potential feminist allies. If it drove them off, then they would not be very good allies.

    -sigh-

    I can’t see how this attitude is conducive to progress. The LGB community (I say “LGB” because trans people still seem to have it much, much worse than gay/bi people) didn’t make the strides it has by not caring how effective their message was, or how many people they were driving away.

  100. says

    M. A. Melby, knock it off. You’ve already been told Greg wasn’t running with a joke. You’ve been told what his point was and how it works when he teaches a class on this subject. You don’t like the word he used. You’re upset by it. I get that. Don’t let it make you dishonest in your comments.

    Sorry, I wasn’t trying to being dishonest. I was conjecturing which is what I thought you were doing.

    Have you discussed it with him? Is your explanation in the original post how he described his intention?

    If so, sorry about that.

  101. says

    You thought I was just making all this up? *headdesk* Yes, in fact, we’ve had several discussions about breaking through to people on these topics. It happens to be a strong common interest of ours.

  102. karmakin says

    @Nepenthe: Well, actually I was talking about the actual sparking comment itself, which IS about inherent characteristics, and not at all about how we talk about them. I was trying to avoid that part of the discussion, you know, being nice and trying to be fair and constructive and all that. (And yes, there are different standards for inherent characteristics, race, sex, gender identity, etc. than there are for non-inherent characteristics. Religious belief, political ideology, etc. And I don’t even see why this is up for debate)

    Quite frankly, I see all this as one thing. It’s a massive failure of the concept of “Don’t Do That”. To explain to people who might be reading, and not understand what I’m referring to. It’s the concept that one of the best weapons we have in the social justice arsenal, is social pressure. The ability to tell friends, family, people we know that we disapprove of what they are doing. Sometimes gently, sometimes not so much.

    Generally speaking we, myself included, have at times demanded that other people do this “Don’t Do That” thing.

    But it’s tough.

    We act like it’s a very easy thing to do, but situations like this really show how tough it is to call out one of your own and tell them “Don’t Do That”, even gently. Instead, people tend to double down.

    So maybe that weapon isn’t the weapon we should be relying on, if we can’t drink our own kool-aide.

    The other part, while I was thinking about this, is there was something bothering me about the whole Punch-Up/Punch-Down dichotomy in terms of this. This is something that generally I agree with, however it didn’t fit right here, and I wasn’t sure why.

    PU/PD, was really brought to the forefront by Jon Stewart, who was describing why he could get away with doing the stuff that he does. However, that’s not all of his show. There are segments, that if you look at them do look an awful lot like punching down. The “interviews” (I’m actually not sure how much of them he does these days. They’ve moved away from them). Not with the guests with Jon himself, but with…lower people, with the “correspondents”.

    Anyway, those were justified because those people were basically blowhards and people who generally thought they were above everybody else, and they were being brought down a level. Thus, still punching up. And all is good.

    Statements like the one were discussing here, quite frankly, present feminists and feminism as that blowhard. It turns feminism into thing for more people to punch up at. Are they right? On the whole. No. Of course not. But from their point of view, it LOOKS that way.

    I do not think that presenting feminism as a punch-uppable target is good for feminism. Not for a second. I think it encourages increased amounts of conflict. And if people enjoy that. Hey, go for it, I guess. But I don’t think it’s fair to people who are more or less hit by the splash damage.

    I don’t think it’s possible to completely avoid situations like this of course, nor should we aim to. But it’s how we HANDLE the situations that’s important. The last thing we should do is double down on them, especially when we don’t approve when other people do it.

  103. says

    So (if I’m getting this right) – Greg uses these phrases as a means of essentially getting his students to consider female as positive-default, then shifts the discussion in nuanced ways that eventual end in the students coming to a more reasonable place when they may have come into the classroom with a more male-centric view?

    Greg, used these phrases in a panel discussion where no such follow-up discussion took place, so the phrases lacked the type of context that he usually gives them?

    Close?

  104. says

    Closer to say that Greg presents these statements as an impetus to get students to argue against the fairness and reasonability of using a single sex as the default. They do this before they would get to a place in the material where they would talk about differences where our society would code male as the default and, thus, the preferential state of being. The argument is very much part of the point. It did not happen during the panel, though it may have happened afterward during the time between panels.

  105. Mike says

    @120 I am curious as to your feelings about the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance are. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots#Gay_Liberation_Front
    And people saying that they won’t be your ally because you are being hostile or angry is a classic derailing tactic.
    http://www.derailingfordummies.com/complete.html#hostile
    http://www.derailingfordummies.com/complete.html#notlistening
    For further clarification I think all us GSRM folk need as many allies as we can get, especially since none of us have equality in the U.S. and it is much worse many places world wide, but if someone says that they will not stand up for your rights if you don’t act like they want you to, then they are not supporting you in the first place. They are trying to control you. And no I will not go into which letters of LGBT apply to me here.

  106. says

    Thanks for the further explanation.

    Still not keen – no surprise – but I can see more clearly what he may have been up to.

    It’s an interesting rhetorical tactic, but, as my computer-music comp instructor used to say – “There is a very small window.”

  107. Mike says

    Some Genderqueer people do not identify as Trans* and some Pansexual people do not identify as Bisexual. LGBT also leaves out Asexual folks as well as people who simply identify as Queer.

  108. says

    I like it. The “QUILT BAG” tag is a little much.

    …but if someone says that they will not stand up for your rights if you don’t act like they want you to, then they are not supporting you in the first place.

    I agree whole-heartedly. I hope you didn’t get this impression off of me.

    Greta Christina had a talk about tactics and the “angry atheist” that was on-target. There isn’t just ONE tactic that everyone should fall in-line with. Multiple tactics – on multiple fronts – is an effective way of accomplishing social change. Not everyone has the same personality, skills, or perspective.

    Too much energy shouldn’t be placed on trying to get everyone to share the same tactics – and certainly NOT on forcing conformity. However, that doesn’t mean that we should never be critical of the actions or words of those with similar goals. In fact, allowing those divisions to be transparent can sometimes be useful in asserting the inherent individuality of the members of the group.

  109. says

    Have you heard “QUILT BAG”? I don’t even remember what it stands for, but it was one attempt at being more inclusive. I very much prefer GSRM. I’ll have to suggest it to a few folks.

  110. votecaboose says

    I really don’t see a problem with the use of ‘damaged’ when discussing this change at the genetic/molecular level… To state that this is sexist is about as accurate as when someone who hasn’t read ‘the selfish gene’ claims that RD is arguing that we are all selfish beings.

  111. shockna says

    @120 I am curious as to your feelings about the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance are. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots#Gay_Liberation_Front

    The GLF was an organization that was more effective than past groups, because of its willingness to be direct. Previous LGBT advocacy groups, as I’m sure the Wikipedia article will mention, tended to be too discrete about their purpose. The GLF made progress by not mincing words, though the GLF itself provided only a spark. The fact that it was consumed by infighting after only a few years says quite a bit about the problems in its organization.

    The GAA, though, I take a much more positive view on (Though I’m still positive on both). They seem to have had a much more effective strategy in their political moves (The “zap” concept was brilliant), and lasted a hell of a lot longer than the GLF did.

    And people saying that they won’t be your ally because you are being hostile or angry is a classic derailing tactic.
    http://www.derailingfordummies.com/complete.html#hostile
    http://www.derailingfordummies.com/complete.html#notlistening

    People outright -saying- it, sure. Terribly sorry, should have been more specific. I’m thinking more in terms of people who haven’t had much, if any engagement on feminism outside of the propaganda our culture churns out. If the very first thing they hear out of a feminist is a claim worded to imply men are inferior beings (I’m aware he wasn’t actually saying that; but to someone with no prior information in feminism, they wouldn’t make the connection), they’re not likely to be sympathetic.

    Anyone who’ll directly say “I won’t be your ally because X”, especially online, is likely to just be attempting to derail a discussion.

    The perception of being attacked off the bat tends to shut down the “listening” part of the brain for many people. For comparison, I don’t think as many people would be friendly to the LGBT community if they answered all questions with “Shut up, you stupid breeder”, or opined that non-LGBT individuals were so because of brain damage.

    For further clarification I think all us GSRM folk need as many allies as we can get, especially since none of us have equality in the U.S. and it is much worse many places world wide, but if someone says that they will not stand up for your rights if you don’t act like they want you to, then they are not supporting you in the first place. They are trying to control you.

    In this example, I don’t think it’s so much of a “because you won’t act like we want”, as much as it is, “because I don’t trust you.” When advocating for equal rights, I find a little politeness tends to go a long way, even though this can require that some language be toned down. By way of analogy, it’s good to teach someone how to do algebra before teaching them calculus.

  112. Mike says

    M.A. Melby @132
    QUILTBAG: Q= Queer, Questioning U= Undecided I= Intersex L= Lesbian T= Trans* B= Bisexual A = Asexual, Ally G= Gay, Genderqueer it still leaves out pansexual people and everybody else who are GSRM who don’t fit those letters. Try telling a pansexual person who doesn’t identify as bi that they are; you will probably get the same reaction that you get from someone telling bi people that they are really gay or lesbian in denial. Also some people simply identify as nonmonosexual. Just trying to continue to add more letters will wind up with a meaningless acronym. GSRM is inclusive, promotes intersectionallity, and simple. I don’t know how long it has been around, but it is really common in the online places I frequent. I have also seen GSM which stands for Gender and Sexuality Minorities, but that left out Heterosexual, Homoromantic people, so most of the time I see GSRM. LGBTA or LGBTQ are also popular because people outside of queer spaces usually have never seen GSRM. I have heard that it is more common in Europe, but that could just be an internet rumor.

  113. Kevin Alexander says

    I tried to link to a Youtube by Susan Pinker but it didn’t work so you’ll have to google it. It’s very interesting.

  114. Mike says

    Shockna @ 134,
    I am just now seeing your comment. The reason I brought up the GLF and GAA was that they were both confrontational, where previous groups tried to be assimilationist as to not anger the people they were trying to get rights from. My point was that if you spend all your time worrying about who you are going to anger, you won’t get any of your goals accomplished. Relating this back to atheism. When I tell people that I am an atheist, some people get angry immediately, as if it is a personal attack. Sometimes, people just won’t listen when you are calm, and anger and confrontation will get through to them. I was completely misinformed about feminism and due to the angry confrontational horde at Pharyngula, I completely reevaluated my stance. That being said, I am not the angry confrontational type because it can cause Reactance. http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=65 I fully agree that the use of brain damage in the context it was used in is highly problematic, but as I stated before, I agree with Stephanie that it is probably very effective in a classroom setting. I will not further elaborate on why I find it problematic, because Stephanie has said @86:

    As I’ve already pointed out in the post, a panel like this was not the ideal place for what is usually a statement made in a classroom, because Greg didn’t get to control where the discussion went from there. That, however, wasn’t the assertion I was arguing against. Don’t think I’m defending this as perfect. I’m continuing the educational part of the panel. And now that explanation has been provided, I expect that this explanation will be part of the context for any further discussion here.

    I have a very big problem with one thing though. “Because I don’t trust you,” as a justification. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so I am going to ask you to clarify this statement. The reason being, when I hear that phrase, my mind goes straight to the racist rednecks I sometimes have to deal with who say stuff like, “you can’t trust immigrants,” or “black people.” Or the misogynists who say, “you can’t trust women.” Or the people who use the same justification towards GSRM folks.

    Anyone who’ll directly say “I won’t be your ally because X”, especially online, is likely to just be attempting to derail a discussion.

    This is specifically what I was referring to @115 with

    And no I don’t care if Greg Laden’s statements drive off some potential feminist allies. If it drove them off, then they would not be very good allies.

    My apologies for being unclear.

  115. says

    If I might present an example which is of another species, so it will be less threatening.

    Harlow did experiments where monkeys were isolated at birth and raised in the complete absence of contact with other monkeys. These monkeys were extremely disturbed. If they were put in with monkeys that were raised socially, the social monkeys would bully, attack and eventually kill them.

    In testing socially deprived monkeys, some researchers found that they had some superior intellectual abilities.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1936581

    What they found that when social monkeys were trained to associate a startle signal to one cue, they would not develop a conditioned response if a redundant cue was added. Non-social monkeys would develop an additional conditioned response to the redundant cue.

    The non-social monkeys exhibited superior ability, a conditioned response to the usual cue and also to a redundant cue. The social monkeys exhibited inferior ability, a response only to the usual cue and no response to the redundant cue.

    This was not how the researchers saw it, they defined the behavior as that the social monkeys “blocked” a conditioned response to the redundant cue and so the non-social monkeys had a deficit in that they did not “block” a conditioned response to the redundant cue.

    The researchers characterized the non-social monkey response as a deficit in blocking. That is they took the social monkey response as “normal” and termed the different response by the non-social monkeys to be a deficit, even though it was superior.

    This is typical researcher behavior. A behavior is considered superior if it is expressed by the majority irrespective of the adaptive value of that behavior.

    This blindness to superior abilities exhibited by an organism believed to be inferior is a bias that humans have. When an inferior organism exhibits incongruously superior behavior, there is cognitive dissonance and a compulsion to correct that dissonance by either labeling the superior behavior as inferior, or to put the inferior organism “in its place”.

  116. Andre says

    “Yes, I think that men need to be occasionally treated to a bit of their own rhetorical violence to understand, even for a moment, the shit that women have been putting up with for thousands of years.”

    Ahh a little payback yah? The fact this makes you happy makes me feel like you might be a little damaged.

    Listen I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and I am also used to forgiving minor transgressions. I would like to think I have thick skin. As a man I did not feel offended by his statement.

    … but as a feminist I really should have been.

  117. says

    Can I tell you why I, as a feminist and a biologist, have problems with Laden’s statements? The problem is Laden is using unscientific value laden words to describe things that do not have value in and of themselves. When we talk about something being “broken” that comes with a lot of negative connotations and baggage. If I were to discuss these things, I would call the Y-chromosome a variation of the X-chromosome or perhaps describe it as a derivation of the X-chromosome. There is absolutely no reason to be assigning value judgments to the state of human sex determination.

    Furthermore, the use of the term “damaged” is outright not scientific yet Laden is trying to speak from a position of scientific authority. Modified? Sure. I’m cool with at. Altered? Why not? Damaged? Absolutely false. This wording outright implies that the male brain is some how inferior in functioning when compared to the female brain.

    This kind of stuff is extraordinary unhelpful and benefits no one. Especially when followed up commentary such as ” But as with Heina’s statement, the outrage over Greg’s is directly attributable to challenging our societal notion that “male” equals “good”.”. I, for one, am not frustrated because of that. I’m frustrated because Laden’s language didn’t simply argue that men weren’t good, he was using language that implied men are “broken” and “damaged”. Would anyone here be ok with an MRA talking about how women are an “incomplete” version of a man? Would the implication that we are missing something as human beings go over well? Of course wouldn’t.

    Remember, I’m saying this as a self-identified feminist and biologist. I think everyone should be careful when using value-ridden language while addressing a lay-audience because people can and will take offense (in this case, justifiably so).

  118. says

    sofiarune, may I suggest reading the other comments here? You may get more insight into why problematic language was used and what it is used to accomplish.

  119. says

    Will it give me any more information than listening to the panel itself gave me? Is there any comment in particular I should read?

    Note – while I’m normally a really snarky person, these questions are sincere.

  120. says

    That’s fine it’s just it sounds like there’s a total write off of people who are irritated and that those people do have legitimate cause for concern. This panel was not Laden’s academic course and that’s why I was very intentional about adding “lay-audience” to my comment. When people come from a position of authority and they start speaking to a general audience using words that definitely come with baggage attached in a colloquial context it isn’t surprising that people take offense and gather meaning that may not be intended.

    The reaction to a panel that did not go into the same depth and detail as an academic course would have had is not bound to that context. Sure, if I were sitting in his course after all of the other instruction, maybe it could be assumed that my reaction was formed by the discomfort of having the male removed as the default. That’s not what the general public saw however and I think it’s unfair to characterize the poor reactions as such.

  121. says

    Given that the “general reaction” to sexist statements about women is not at all the same sort of outrage that you suggest would happen, I think it’s quite fair.

  122. says

    I don’t believe that Hammurabi’s code is a good one to follow. What’s the saying? An eye for an eye leaves the world blind?

  123. says

    You seem to have mistaken me. I think it’s quite fair “to characterize the poor reactions as such.” I am disagreeing with your assessment that it is unfair to observe a pattern of responses to value-laden language being applied to sex differences and to presume that this same pattern holds true in the majority response to Greg’s statement. That your reaction is different than the majority reaction in this case doesn’t change the patterns that can generally be seen.

  124. says

    Even if those who are taking issue with what Laden has said are indeed sexist themselves, how does that invalidate the concern overall? I just think we should be above score keeping with this sort of thing. To a relative outsider such as myself, the whole situation appears to be about justifying some careless and silly things said because the people who are offended are generally jerks who don’t care when the situation is reversed. How does this sort of treatment help anyone? I find it disheartening….

  125. says

    Ok… so why does it matter what the people who take offense to Laden’s statement think about other issues if this isn’t about score keeping? What Laden said was inappropriate given the context and it definitely comes off as sexist, whether he intended it or not. I don’t see how we can write that off just because douchebag MRAs are rallying the troops and having a panic attack.

    I also don’t like ascribing underlying psychological motives to people without really solid justification. RE: ” outrage over Greg’s is directly attributable to challenging our societal notion that “male” equals “good” “.

    I dunno this whole thing leaves me feeling kind of crappy about it. The us vs them dichotomy continues and nothing productive gets done. :/

  126. says

    It matters because those other issues are exactly this issue. It matters because that rejection of value-laden language is exactly the point of Greg’s statement.

    If you don’t like the attribution of outrage, then feel free to come up with an alternative hypothesis for the fact that there is more outrage over Greg’s statement than there is when similar things are said women.

  127. says

    Before I respond I think I need clarification. I read the post and I listened to the panel but I’m not sure what his point was supposed to be other than that biologically speaking, female is the default position which is contrary to the cultural view. I don’t see how that relates to rejecting value laden language (especially when one is employing it in a way that isn’t clearly sarcastic). Again, no animosity here. Just trying to figure things out.

    My alternative explanation: The MRA douchebags on youtube who have been following this issue (even if they are not doing a good job at it) are at least aware of Laden and are watching him like a hawk. I think they’re jumping on it because it’s a chance for them to harp on and on about someone who is associated with Skeptchick and FTB saying something stupid that they hope to milk. I really don’t think there’s much more to it than that. I don’t think gender roles and cultural norms and defaults really enters their minds (even the subconscious part).

  128. says

    Currently, due to the background sexism of our society, it is possible to use value-laden language about sex differences without challenge. As long as the greater value is granted to males, as long as female is treated as the incomplete or degraded sex, that language will largely go without notice. Some of us are more sensitized to it by virtue of being female, some by virtue of a lot of directed thought on the subject, but we are a relatively small minority. It is difficult to even get people to pay attention to the fact that this language is used, much less come to agree that it is an incorrect representation of reality.

    So how do we make people sensitive to this value-laden language? We take it out of its cultural context. In this case, we turn it on its head. We don’t do that to “balance” the invisible language. We don’t do it as an act of revenge. We do it because, taken out of that cultural context that we all take for granted, it is suddenly visible.

    Our reaction to something that contradicts our assumptions is rejection. When we’re talking about value-laden language used to describe sex differences, rejection is exactly the reaction we want.

    Getting people to apply that rejection more generally, including where the background sexism makes value-laden language acceptable, is harder work. It requires building the best case possible for use of the value-laden language and still allowing it to be rejected on its merits. Then, the next time value-laden language is encountered, it is less invisible, even within its cultural context, and it has already been rejected once.

    Yes, that does take much more than can be done at a panel. Greg’s statement is only the opening statement in a conversation (continued here from the panel, also happening on Twitter and in other media) that will take quite a bit of time and thinking for some people. Others will never get that far, of course, but their reactions still say something important to the people who are paying attention.

    And, yes, there are definitely people who are only out to take Greg down. Perhaps he should let that make him more careful, but he’s a teacher at heart. I doubt he’ll ever pass up the chance to reach new people, even when it costs him.

  129. says

    I was desperately afraid you were going to say what you did.

    Can I ask you how Greg accomplished his goals to raise awareness of the inequality of value laden language? From where I stand, the people who understood that continued to understand it. The people who don’t understand that feel vindicated that Laden is a misandrist. Finally, people like me are asking “what the hell is wrong with everyone?”.

    If people are going to insist on taking that tactic then at least be clear about it or else the vast majority of people who aren’t in his head are not going to get the point. Instead of teaching people about the problems with using value ridden language when talking about the sexes, he himself looks like a sexist.

    Seriously, what good has any of this done?

  130. says

    I’ve got one person in the comments here who now understands the problem. That usually means more lurkers. That’s pretty good for a blog post. So there is progress.

  131. says

    So was it worth it? A couple people now get it. Out of how many? Was it worth the vindication given to those who were waiting for something like this? All because Laden did not make his intentions clear.

    What about the cost to other people associated with him? FTB? Skepchick? I’ve had messages sent to me talking about how the lack of criticism for what Laden said looks really poorly on Skepchick and FTB because they now look like hypocrites. For every person who suddenly gets it, how many now feel that the MRAs have a point? How can you call it progress if you only count the hits and none of the misses?

  132. says

    I can’t send every single person to you because I don’t know every single person. I’m asking you bluntly whether or not you feel that this kind of tactic is really worth it? Do you seriously think the risk of allowing the MRAs to appear correct? Can you not think of a single better way to go about this?

    I’m sorry I’m getting upset but this sort of thing HARMS way more than it helps. Monitoring the comments on a blog that’s already sympathetic toward your cause is absolutely not going to give you a good idea of what’s going on in the minds of a general audience. What Laden said sounded extremely sexist and that’s the last thing most people will hear from him. I don’t care what his private reasons are. I don’t care what his academic courses are like. Most people aren’t going to be aware of this so they take his comments as stand alone and those comments come across extremely poorly. It gets even worse because it really does look like Skepchick and FTB are being hypocritical for not criticizing him.

  133. says

    This? Right here? Where you’re commenting? This is part of FtB.

    This post on which you’re commenting? This is talking about the problem. Nor have all the comments here (which you didn’t bother to read) been friendly ones.

    The people who want to talk about “misandry”? The people who want to play gotcha games with Greg? They’re never, ever going to consider any of this, and they wouldn’t even if the entire video had been Greg walking someone through this in detail.

    Nor is there a single post about sexism that hasn’t “damaged” FtB and Skepchick. We’ve been called “sexist” and “misandrist” more times than I can count. That this one pissed you off doesn’t mean it did any more damage. And if you see people talking about the panel, you can certainly send them here.

  134. says

    I don’t think you understand what I’m getting at. The vast majority of the audience viewing Greg’s commentary don’t really know about Skepchick or FTB. They don’t know about Greg’s professional life or his courses on related subjects. They definitely don’t know what’s going on in his head. They cannot be expected to take any of those things into account when interpreting his statements. When they stand alone without post-hoc explanation, they sound sexist. You are relying way too much on an assumption that people will actually look into the subject (which in itself is unlikely since they have no reason to believe he’s being deceptive) and possibly stumble onto this blogpost.

    Meanwhile, those who are out to smear FTB and Skepchick can now take an example and wave it around for everyone to see while happily pointing out the lack of criticism from Skepchick and FTB.

    What do you think is going to happen? Pointing out all of the bullshit you’ve had to endure in the past does absolutely nothing to nullify the fact that Greg exercised some pretty bad judgement that will ultimately lend credibility to the very people who are causing the problem in the realm of public opinion. I don’t think justifying it does anyone an ounce of good.

    I know you can’t always choose to but never knowingly hand your opposition a loaded gun.

  135. says

    They cannot be expected to take any of those things into account when interpreting his statements.

    They cannot be expected to remember anything about that video, including where it came from.

    Meanwhile, those who are out to smear FTB and Skepchick can now take an example and wave it around for everyone to see while happily pointing out the lack of criticism from Skepchick and FTB.

    They can lie and say this was never addressed on FtB. They’ve been lying about everything else anyway. If you see them do so, you can point them here. Or you can spend a bunch more time hand-wringing at me. Have a blast.

  136. says

    If I point them here they’re going to call this post-hoc rationalization of some pretty bad judgement and continue to think that FTB is hypocritical.

    Can’t you think of a better way to handle this?

    Do you really want the entire problem of what Laden said to rely on people happening to find your blog and then perhaps reading it in a way that you would prefer? This is a shitty subject to gamble on like that.

    I’m a feminist. Do you think I’m alone in my discomfort with what Laden said? If even people like me think what his comments which, again, stand alone were sexist, what do you think people without an interest in this think? Who is supposed to be learning from this and how?

  137. says

    @163 Just leaving a few thoughts regarding this conversation and then I’ll step away.

    First, I found this post by a link from Thunderf00t’s latest bit of awfulness on his blog (words fail). I would have immediately discounted it the way that the commenter did except that it seemed familiar from my prior encounters with Feminist Theory and conscioussness-raising (not a bad thing, just not something you see other people doing on the Internet very often outside of blogs like this one).

    Seriously, in this post and in the comments section you’re asking a very few people who are ready to receive obscure and esoteric wisdom that will (from their perspective, and only temporarily we hope) alienate them from their peers and their family, and to a certain degree, from their sense of self (such as the discovery that pretty much everything we’ve been told about gender, sex, and romance is all wrong and/or made up for the purpose of merchandising, social control, institutional habit, or what-have-you).

    Doing it in this way is something that, because of its exclusionary nature, will only reinforce the siege mentality that Feminists suffer from already (given how completely and constantly under attack we are). While it is more satisfying to see the “aha!” moment in someone’s eyes, it may be better (if seemingly more futile as you don’t see as many of the rewards directly) to work on a broader base with less of an attempt to reach for metaphorical Enlightenment. This is something that this generation of Feminists does really well, and they need all the help they can get with the Fox News-amplified Rush Limbaugh-approved definition of Feminism they (and we) are fighting against.

    I strongly suggest that, as always with Feminism (or any other area of study which requires that foundational assumptions be challenged) that you may want to examine the short and long-term unintended consequences of your actions in the context of the Internet, which preserves discussions in ways that almost always lead to surprises.

    Have a good night.

  138. says

    I don’t want to be associated with the kind feminism that is condescending, dismissive and willing to push people like me away all in the name of a very limited idea of progress. I still care about equality and achieving those goals, but I will not be part of casually writing people off, refusing to consider problems from new perspectives or even ignoring how my tactics will look in the long term.

    My dismissal is noted.

  139. says

    “I am on your side, but I think you need to consider how this will look to people who aren’t” is definitional concern trolling, sofiarune. “I know you’ve explained this, but if I look at it as though you never said any of that, it’s still bad” is pointless. Your assumption that your perspective is new to me is arrogant and unsupported, not to mention ridiculous when you didn’t bother to read the comments. Having a long conversation once but refusing to have it again when it starts over at the beginning is not “casually writing people off”.

    You give the very strong impression that you came here determined to be and stay pissed off no matter what. That’s your decision to make, but I’m really not going to take responsibility for “pushing you away” because of it. Particularly since you seem to want me to do some unspecified something about you being pissed off at Greg, which is not my job.

    Stealth Badger, I’ve been known to be a bit demanding of my audience.

  140. Nepenthe says

    Ahh a little payback yah? The fact this makes you happy makes me feel like you might be a little damaged.

    Yep, I am damaged. I was pushed out of my chosen field because I was sick of doing just as well or better, but receiving half the recognition as my male peers, plus being treated to endless explanations of how women’s brains just can’t handle the abstract reasoning needed for real mathematics. That’s just the tip of the shit-that-has-happened-to-me-personally-due-to-male-supremacist-ideas iceberg.

    I’m not really sure what that has to do with my argument, which you probably didn’t bother to read.

  141. Andre says

    Yah I looked at your argument and thought it was very clever. Useless but clever.

    Hmm Saying you were damaged seems to have upset you… odd don’t you think?

    Your sob story reminds me I had an angry skinhead tell me much the same bullshit about a week ago. He did however also keep repeating “they think they are better then me” over and over. Funny what hate can do to your perception. Sometimes the bullied little girl grows up to just be another bully, at that point she is just part of the problem.

  142. says

    This post is a blast, especially the comments.

    Dudes whose feelings are hurt by hearing experts say these things should use it as an opportunity for empathy, because even when I try to avoid seeing such messages about my gender they tend to worm their way into my life (like when I tried to read enders game long ago and got bombarded with the idea that women are genetically inferior at video games). Imagine being able to count on the fact that a lot of important people believe you are biologically inferior, not just stumble upon the idea as a new shocking thing that you’ve never had to contemplate before.

  143. says

    Heina [1] I don’t know how well the video portrayed it, but I was playing for laughs with my comment.

    Playing for laughs? What kind of feminist are you!?!?!?

    Karmakin [3] But there’s a huge difference between talking about culture and talking about inherent differences, the latter of which I think is a massive minefield and generally shouldn’t be done on a casual baasis (and even an academic basis) ever.

    Talk about minefields. I wonder what set of rules, and what sorts of inspection and implementation, would have to take place to make sure that certain conversations happened only non-casually.

    quietmarc[5] Yeah, pretty much.

    Karmakin [6] Let me put it this way. This sort of discussion justifies the view of “feminism as female domination” as opposed to “feminism as equality”.

    No, it doesn’t. What Stephanie said.

    Anoncoward [8] How about altered instead of damaged?

    Yes, absolutely, that would be correct. The term “damaged” is less accurate, but I chose it because it serves a purpose. Also, regarding [10]: horomal != genetic.

    Cello [12] How about instead of damaged or altered – “improved”.

    :)

    OK, now we are getting somewhere! Let’s try “improved” for a while

    ti ti ti ti ti ti*

    OK, we’re done. Fuck the patriarchy. Let’s try “damaged” now for a while, see if that gets a rise out of anyone

    *the phrase “ti ti ti ti ti ti” is “time passes” in an obscure Central African langauge. In this case, that would be the recent several thousand years of Humanity up until the other day.

  144. says

    tigzy [33] If it is only ineffective in certain spheres, yet more effective in others, that is not a functional impairment, simply a functional difference.

    Are you asserting that that is true? You don’t stat that you think there is a balance, an equivalence, or equality of “effectiveness” between male and female brains, but your post feels like you may be thinking or implying that.

    For decades, psychological research proved that the male, brain, intellect, moral capacity, and so on were superior to the female. For decades. Constantly. Study after study. A great deal of that research has now been debunked and to this body of research has been added other research with different results. Right now there is a pretty confused mess out there, but there is no way to claim that there is some kind of balance.

    The thing is, during that whole time (or nearly so) the assertion that male brains, intellect, etc. were superior to female was taken uncritically. I wrote a blog post a while back that tongue-in-cheek (though not entirely, I actually had some data) suggested that women are smarter than men. If I could bottle the vitriol that post has produced (by males, mostly, but not entirely) I’d… well, I’d have a shitload of vitriol.

    Certainly, there is nothing like a balance in how people react to these things.

  145. says

    quietmarc When an artist takes a slab of marble and knocks off chunks of it to make a sculpture, isn’t that artist damaging the slab?

    Yes!

    And, if you’ve seen certain topiary, and compared it to the patriarchy, then you’d be seeing exactly what I’m thinking, I think.

    Jafafa Hots [53] We’re all just hideously deformed sea worms anyway.

    Exactly! But even beyond that (and this is more severe than what Jason [52] fears): Anything that is not a bacterium is a crappy excuse for a bacterium.

    Ace of Sevens [61] the misogynist squad has no sense of humor unless you count telling women to make sandwiches as a joke.

    sudo make me a sandwich is funny, though. But yes.

    BecomingJulia[65] If you want to compare male and female brains fairly, you would have to compare the brains of newborns, not adults. Learning affects brain development, and we know that boys and girls are to all intents and purposed raised in separate countries.

    Yes. However, what a brain is, and what a brain does, is what a brain becomes. So the study of infant brains to understand humans is a little like the study of the output of a Russian paper mill to understand Tolstoy.

    (That might work for Dickens but not Tolstoy, but I digress.)

    I’d lay money that the same processes would be able to identify differences beteeen rich and poor people’s brains.

    I’d probably take that bet if I ever bet, but not exactly because I think this is wrong. Let’s just say that adult brain differences can arise for a lot of reasons.

    I do happen to think that sex/gender (and I do not accept the unproblemtized dichotomy that has become popular in postmodern/poststructural discourse) is a pretty good organizer of brain differences and work more consistently across cultures and other groups than other things do. (That sentence will be interpreted as “it’s genetic” by people not paying attention.)

  146. says

    JohnS [68] The justification (as far as I can tell) for using this term is that people who are smart enough to “get it” will puzzle out this is was designed to not insult masculinity,

    Nope. It is totally an insult of masculinity. Please don’t mistake it for anything other than that!

    Having said that, I do agree with your overall statement. I prefer to have these conversations over longer periods of time with a format other than “have a panel” followed by “factions become outraged, internet war begins”

    To be bluntly honest, I think LAST year’s sex difference panel had some very serious problems along these lines. We made an effort to make it better this year and it was. But I don’t think we are there yet.

    Improbable Joe [69] I just find it hilarious that for the most part the guys getting so bent out of shape on this are the same ones who attack women for reacting to being actively and personally harassed

    I know, right?

    stop being so emotional, and try to be logical

    /spittake

    shockna [106] Serious question; is there any reason to believe that this is an effective tactic?

    It can be. I can say this better. But also, do keep in mind that only some of the people who heard this discussion didn’t get it or became outraged or misled, and some of the outrage is manufactured by the usual suspects who hate all of us.

    It is also worth noting that these panels are part of a process and a subculture. Of the 100-300 people in that room for any one of these panels, a good half are in more than half the panels (that’s a rough estimate) and many were there last year and the year before, a good number are readers of our blogs, some are even former students of mine. Pulling some of the panels out as videos has created an out of context-ness that is actually impossible to spot because it is unusual (and wonderful, IMO)

    MA Melby As far as I am aware, Greg teaches a class from an anthropological stand-point. He is not a developmental neurologist or an endocrinologist.

    The classes that I’ve taught on this topic were part of the Mind Brain Behavior program at Harvard (one class was the required first class for all students coming into that program, which was essentially pre-neurobiology) or in a biological anthropology program at the U, or for an anthro major at BU. I am a biological anthropologist which, for my particular training, makes me more of a biologist than an athropologist. (But I also have separate training as an archaeologist, but not as a cultural anthropologist.)

    However, I realize that “innate” gender-typical traits was what the audience seemed most interested in – so we ended up with spotty neuro-pyche, bizarre and problematically stated (possibly completely wrong) developmental endocrinology, and blanket dismissals of psychology (especially evo-psyche). *sigh*

    I know. That is how these panels sometimes go.

    Maybe the thing to do is to have two panels on this topic and break it down more. Hell, we could have a “gender psychology” (history and current research in ‘sex differences’) pane, a cis-trans panel, and a brain/developmental panel that didn’t cover sex differences but went into language development and evolution.

    Stephanie [112] The only “blanket dismissal” of evolutionary psychology was a joke made before the question could even be asked.

    I must have written a post on this somewhere … if not I should.

  147. says

    Greg, I know I learned about the existence of good evo psych from you, though I don’t know whether it was in a blog post or in a discussion somewhere. I got the best idea of just how complicated good evo psych is through Kate Clancy, though, I think.

  148. Andre says

    Just to make sure I am clear, the offending comment was an insult of masculinity. However it was told in good humor?

    I don’t really understand why unless it was just a throw away comment. As a guy I really don’t care if someone calls my brain poisoned or damaged or whatever, It works for me and I am happy with it.

    But as a feminist why should I not be bothered by this? Even if your joke was meant to shake things up in a meta sort of way. Wouldn’t being bothered by it and calling bullshit be the right reaction?

  149. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I don’t really understand why unless it was just a throw away comment. As a guy I really don’t care if someone calls my brain poisoned or damaged or whatever, It works for me and I am happy with it.

    Good. There are a few things about my brain I’d like to take up with the manufacturer but I wouldn’t attribute any of them to my maleness. “Toxic masculinity” is another story but that’s cultural.

    But as a feminist why should I not be bothered by this? Even if your joke was meant to shake things up in a meta sort of way. Wouldn’t being bothered by it and calling bullshit be the right reaction?

    No, it wouldn’t. There’s a difference between punching up and punching down. Men are at no risk of being seen as lesser anytime soon. Your false equivalence is stupid and offensive.

  150. Andre says

    Punching up? You have got to be fucking with me…

    More evidence that people are
    A) prone to rationalizing their own dogmatic points of view; and
    B) stupid.

    Inequality does not automatically grant virtue to the disadvantaged. To think otherwise is the same kind of reasoning used by religious fanatics.

    punching up, what a joke.

  151. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    OK, you’ve convinced me. No one should ever use satire to attack those in power because that’s mean.

  152. Nepenthe says

    Clearly you haven’t been paying attention dysomniak. Not only is it mean to use satire, but it’s equivalent to neo-Naziism.

  153. oolon says

    @StealthBadger, Comment 166: I am the commenter interpreting this article in record time and dismissing a seemingly nutty MRA. Actually sort of relevant to the discussion and your point about ‘Unintended consequences’

    First I interpreted it as a joke as I knew nothing but the actual quote presented to me and I was too lazy to look it up. My argument was that it did not matter if Greg was wrong about that as I was picking him up on the fallacy that because Greg was ‘wrong’ about something on a particular subject did not make him wrong about everything on that subject (Seemingly an easy to grasp concept)

    My skim read and subsequent re-addressing of the comment based on this post, that you linked to above, was a mistake. Although I think Greg’s statement can also be interpreted that way I undermined my point that it did not matter if he was wrong in this case as it did not invalidate everything he says on the subject. (Sorry Stephanie – I’m back here now to re-read properly not skim! :-))

    So ‘unintended consequences’ or nut-job MRAs mis-using or mis-understanding this interesting feminist discussion. The person I was commenting with used M.A.Melbys post on this to prop up their point as she is an honest-to-goodness feminist and also agrees with them! (No offence meant to M.A.Melby – I liked your post on this subject as well as it raises some other valid ways the comment can be interpreted). Further down another uses M.A.Melby, a true Feminist, says Greg is wrong — therefore all feminists on FtBs are wrong as his argument. So my personal conclusion is that anyone trying to convince themselves they are right does not need nuanced argument to misrepresent. Just look at creationists they will use any argument even black-and-white ones that are opposed to their world view to validate their position.

    I hope Stephanie carries on making these nuanced arguments as I’ve learnt a lot from re-reading this post — and all from trying to talk sense into some nutty MRAs (And take the piss out of to be honest) on Thunderfoots blog, who’d have thunk it?

  154. says

    Oh great – yeah – I get quote mined a lot.

    Once some ass used *and she’s a woman* about eight times when using a comment I made against an FtB blogger (a very long time ago) because I dared mention that some women purposefully use their sexuality to get their way – and decided not to quote the part where I said this was a horrible tactic and worked in the opposite way systemically and in the long run.

    *aargh*

    I get that no tactic is perfect, and admitting error is sometimes seized upon much more than further discussion is, but saying men are “broken women” whose brain have been “damaged by testosterone” is going to do everything that sofiarune said it is going to do – and it’s currently doing that.

    …and NO Stephanie that is not “concern trolling” that is actually being concerned.

    If you don’t like the attribution of outrage, then feel free to come up with an alternative hypothesis for the fact that there is more outrage over Greg’s statement than there is when similar things are said women.

    That’s an interesting hypothesis. Next year. Say similar things about women to the same crowd and we’ll see what happens. I’m seriously curious. Notice that nobody at the panel (even the transgender man who would arguably be the most insulted by the statement) reacted immediately in a negative way.

    I think it’s relatively clear though, that this type of rhetorical tactic is not good in a panel discussion format. It also has some real collateral damage aspect to it, that shouldn’t be dismissed. I don’t see anyone arguing otherwise. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    For people like me, and I hazard a guess, several others judging from comments, are feeling simultaneously pushed away by two fighting camps for completely different reasons and completely different ways. Being called various types of “troll” is part of that.

    …and NO (before anyone says it) that’s not “tone trolling” when the topic of conversation is how people (especially those who share many of the same goals) should be treated.

    Because this is what this conversation is about – word choices and tactics – right?

    Cause I don’t think we’re actually discussing whether or not taking testosterone shots gives transgender men brain damage that increases their brain’s male-typicality and makes their bodies broken. – with all the negative connotations of all those words in-tact.

    (And if Stephanie was including me in the couple of people who now “get it” more, please don’t. Understanding what Greg Laden was trying to do and what you were trying to say with your post – is not understanding life or even theory better – it’s just understanding you two better.)

  155. says

    @115 The punching up vs. punching down is honestly goddamn silly.

    If you want to contribute to even further institutionalizing punching entire classes of people who you feel wronged by for whatever reason, then call it what it is.

    Pretending is justified or more acceptable because of historical wrongs to a group and/or particular wrongs to you doesn’t change that you are, advocating the permissibility of making a group “other,” and therefore permissible to stereotype, undermine, and deride.

    The big changes in behavior are much easier than changing the many small ways in which we repeatedly contribute to the problem of sexism. This would be one of the latter.

    tl;dr: it’s not ok when anyone does it; it’s just venting frustration and is otherwise unproductive.

  156. says

    I didn’t really want to comment here anymore because the last experience left me feeling so shitty but the last few comments have been interesting. Before reading my post, I ask anyone paying attention to take note of the qualifiers I use (I feel, I think, it seems etc). I do that because I want it to be clear I am not accusing anyone of anything. I don’t KNOW what’s going on in anyone’s mind. I can only describe the actions of others as I perceive them.

    I think M. A. Melby has really summed up how I feel about this well. I understand what Greg was trying to do but that doesn’t mean I agree with the tactic in that setting. I know Stephanie Zvan seems to feel like this was addressed but it doesn’t look that way to people like me who don’t follow this blog as closely. It really does feel like the feminist side of this battle on freethoughtblogs has become really insular and that seems to make it harder to understand the confusion felt by feminists elsewhere on the internet. From my view (and the view of a number of people I know), this blog post appeared very much like it was trying to downplay the problems with the tactics and indeed actually justify Laden’s statement for a greater good. For me, that is problematic because there are very real negative consequences being felt because of Greg Laden’s statements. The recording of the panel has a way broader audience than this blog post does and I think that needs to be factored into these discussions, especially when the blog post and the resulting comment section are not easy to interpret from the view of a FTB outsider.

    I think genuine and critical discussions are so important right now. I do see it as one of the major distinctions between thoughtful people and zealous MRAs. Consider this latest comment by dysomniak about the justifications for “punching up”. Does everyone here really think that’s a good position? Is it really ok to attack broad groups of people just because they often hold more social power? When we hear statements like “men are at no risk of being seen as lesser anytime soon” do we all agree on what that means? Are these conversations happening and if so where?

    Being written off as a concern troll for not fully understanding what Stephanie Zvan is trying to say is not helping anyone. I also encourage everyone to look up what a concern troll is typically defined as to understand why that term is so offensive in this context. Nor is calling someone stupid for genuinely expressing their views. We can’t do anything meaningful if we can’t even discuss the issues among ourselves without fear of being labelled negatively and socially shut out.

    I think it would be a good idea if we all stepped back from the war path for a bit. Not everyone who disagrees with you is malicious.

  157. karmakin says

    There was a really interesting and insightful (I think) comment over at Crommunist’s place the other day that described privilege as a sort of experience filter. That is, being privileged in some way means that we see the world through a certain filter that simply means that we’ll see things differently than people who are not privileged.

    Gender is not the only type of privilege in the world. Race, class, religion, etc. I’ve brought up Extrovert/Introvert privilege as well. But this is another type of privilege, of this type…the experience filter..that we’re talking about here, that I think Sofia is hitting on, correctly.

    In-group/out-group privilege.

    Not all privileges are macro/society wide. This one is more localized, but it’s none the less real. People tend to treat in-group people better than they treat out-group people. And this isn’t always a bad thing..but sometimes it is, and it’s something we should account for. What we’re seeing here is a good example of in-group privilege.

    And just like any other privilege, when challenged, the proper response isn’t to double down yet again, the proper response is to take a second, a minute, a day, a year, a lifetime to listen, realize that you have a filter in place and change your views to “fix” that filter. That’s what we expect when we’re talking about gender, race, religious privilege, and even though this is micro and not macro, in-group privilege is no different.

  158. says

    Thank you so much Karmakin. You have expressed it much better than I have. That’s exactly what I have been trying to get.

  159. says

    Andre [179] Here’s where we differ: You call it an offending comment. I don’t.

    Dysomniak [182] OK, you’ve convinced me. No one should ever use satire to attack those in power because that’s mean.

    LOL

  160. says

    I looked through the TF thread a bit (didn’t bother with his post) and as far as I can tell Wutisdis didn’t quote mine me or explicitly use my cis-female feminist “cred” to bolster his own argument (which others have done in the past). Just thought I’d be fair there.

    Someone did link “girlwriteswhat” of YouTube – who is the poster child for validating extremely negative attitudes toward feminism (in general) by (as her name suggests) being a “girl” who writes it.

    Blargh.

    Greg, I’m glad you are open to improving the panel for next year.

  161. Andre says

    “OK, you’ve convinced me. No one should ever use satire to attack those in power because that’s mean.”

    Yah satire is all well and good… now go make me a samich!
    oh sorry! I forgot you were not one of the acceptable targets for bigotry.

    Sorry this is hard… would someone show me a list of who it is ok to “punch up” at?

    Never mind. I am going to go back to arguing for sex workers rights… I know what I am fighting for there, when here I am pretty sure I am just navel-gazing.

    191 “Andre [179] Here’s where we differ: You call it an offending comment. I don’t. ”
    Maybe your brain is damaged? Anyway I will think on your comment some more, but maybe you should also think more on your comment…

  162. smhll says

    I’ll take a swing at “punching up” vs. “punching down”. A joke that punches down relies on the long lasting, longstanding “inferiority” or lesser power of the target. It’s like kicking someone who is down. A joke that punches up targets someone who is almost never classed as inferior, or someone in power (like a politician) and temporarily knocks them down, or down a peg. To me, this is much less mean. (I’m not going to claim that it is “zero mean”.)

    I’ve heard it said that in a two party political system, one party is “the movement” and the other party is “the establishment”. Since The Establishment has the advantage of the entrenched status quo, I think mockery is a necessary tool for The Movement to be able to apply to The Establishment.

    Maybe when no one is making putdown jokes about women any more, the putdown jokes about men will also sputter to a halt. That day isn’t today.

  163. says

    The problem is that you’re not “punching up” when you are punching at an entire class of people. It’s impossible to do that. In this particular instance the class of people wasn’t even well defined – and it punched at anyone who has high testosterone levels, some of which are extremely embattled to the point of having double-digit suicide rates.

    “Punching up” at men is acknowledging and supporting the ridiculous assumption that men are emotionally invincible, always on-limits due to their inherent power, etc.

    You can “punch up” at privilege and sexism without punching AT MEN in general.

    You can use satire, that attacks the value of men in the same way that some attack the value of women – to illuminate the ways in which society devalues women without even noticing. However unless it is framed as satire, you run the risk, not of making a “modest proposal” but playing the role of a real life straw feminist.

    The “punch up”/”punch down” thing is real though. It’s the reason that Rush got in as much trouble as he did attacking Sandra Fluke; because he has a lot more personal power than she does. However, very few people are up-and-arms about Matt and Trey making fun of Oprah (even though she is a black woman) because she could probably literally buy and sell those two (well, at least their creative work). It’s why the children of politicians are off-limits while the politicians aren’t.

    I think it is a misuse however, to claim that this social norm (a good one for the most part) equates to “punching up” always being okay; or that the “punching” is always “up” when the person has as a particular trait that gains them some privilege because of that trait.

    For example, when a woman gruesomely mutilates a man and “The Talk” assume that he did something to deserve it and laughs about how his penis was cut from his body and ground up – we should all think that’s f-ing terrible. Assuming that making fun of a man is “punching up” regardless can reach to pretty sick extremes.

  164. says

    @195

    “Punching up” at men is acknowledging and supporting the ridiculous assumption that men are emotionally invincible, always on-limits due to their inherent power, etc.

    You can “punch up” at privilege and sexism without punching AT MEN in general.

    I think you put it better than I did, but this is what I’m trying to get at – the idea of turning an individual into a faceless member of a group (whether that group is more or less privileged than yours in the particular context) and then using that as an excuse to attack them is what gets me. Perhaps that’s just because of the contexts I’ve heard punching up/down used in.

    The “punch up”/”punch down” thing is real though. It’s the reason that Rush got in as much trouble as he did attacking Sandra Fluke; because he has a lot more personal power than she does.

    There were levels and levels to that fiasco, including that he was making completely outrageous generalizations from small things about her, and using that straw-fluke (to abuse the concept) as a weapon to bash all single women who use contraception with (if not all women). ._. That was classic Limbaugh in action.

    For example, when a woman gruesomely mutilates a man and “The Talk” assume that he did something to deserve it and laughs about how his penis was cut from his body and ground up – we should all think that’s f-ing terrible. Assuming that making fun of a man is “punching up” regardless can reach to pretty sick extremes.

    And this exact event is an example of the context I’ve had this discussion in before, which always boiled down to “it’s ok when we do it,” completely ignoring the fact that the people making those jokes were also in a position of privilege and power that the person I was arguing with had zero access to (because of the class difference, wealth, media access, etc.).

  165. smhll says

    For example, when a woman gruesomely mutilates a man and “The Talk” assume that he did something to deserve it and laughs about how his penis was cut from his body and ground up – we should all think that’s f-ing terrible. Assuming that making fun of a man is “punching up” regardless can reach to pretty sick extremes.

    (They didn’t so much assume that he deserved it as deduced it from the statements of his wife/assailant who implied that he had it coming.)(I’m only arguing with your use of the word “assume”.)

    I have too much free time, so I actually watched the episode of The Talk, on which there was giggling about this brutal act of assault. I also watched the show the next day, in which Sharon Osborne made what sounded like a sincere apology.

    I don’t have a penis, so I’m sure I was cringing less when the jokes were being made than a person with a penis would have been. I know that dismemberment is bad, naturally, but I’m not able to relate to it fully. I’ve never even had the experience of getting my penis caught in a zipper.

    Any person who hasn’t had painful menstrual periods probably doesn’t relate much to Sandra Fluke’s friend who was taking hormonal birth control to deal with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and who ultimately lost an ovary when her condition was untreated.

    I think its more wrong to laugh about an individual who was treated badly than it is to make a joke about men as a group.

    I’m older, so I remember when there were lots and lots and lots of jokes about women being poor drivers, relative to men. I also grew up soaking in the notion that women were inferior forms of humankind. I saw the ERA fail to be ratified by enough states. I’ve heard Justice Scalia state that “all men are created equal” does not include women. I expect cis men to be able to tolerate a little snickering about male brain inferiority for, like 15 seconds. (I had not, at first, considered that it could be hurtful to trans persons, so I’m sorry about that. I assumed that Greg Laden was making a crack at the expense of cis men that he had used is his classroom to get some of his privileged students to reassess there ideas about human norms. But I was careless about not considering cis men.)

  166. Mike says

    @181 & 187 RE: punching up vs. punching down.
    It seems that I am indeed a very poor communicator. Allow me to clarify.
    Is it qualitatively different for a professional boxer to punch a child than a child to punch a professional boxer? I would say that it is. Does it make it right that anyone would attack someone for who they are? No. If you noticed up thread I do not agree with Greg Laden using the language he did in the format he did, but I did not continue on why, due to the blog owner’s request. I am not advocating punching up, just noting that it is qualitatively different from punching down due to the power differential.
    Now to take the analogy further, the group of boxers have traditionally been held unaccountable for punching the children. When the children complain, no one listens. Some of the children start punching the boxers indiscriminately, harming some of the ones that are not guilty of punching the children. Are the children wrong to do this? Yes. Am I going to have much sympathy for the boxers who complain. No. The amount, kind, and severity of harm is completely different. Also, the most vocal boxers who complain about the children punching them are usually, but not all, the ones who have been punching children.
    Again everyone here is wrong, but the power differential is different and needs to be taken into account.
    Lest I be misconstrued, I am not talking about actual violence which is sick and wrong no matter who is doing it no matter who the victim is.
    @181 Andre, yes I am stupid, but I am willing to listen. I agree that victimhood does not grant virtue. I am simply saying that there is a qualitative difference. If you feel that the qualitative difference does not exist, please explain why in simple terms so I can understand. If you have any problems with what I have tried to convey above or feel like I am being unclear, tell me where and why so that I can explain or be convinced toward your position.
    @187 Stealthbadger I am not arguing for punching entire classes of people, just taking into account the power differential. I do not think that it is ok to stereotype, undermine, and deride any group. This is the second biggest problem that I have with Greg Laden’s original statement. I also agree that it is unproductive. But it is worse to attack a minority if you are in the majority than the other way around. That was my point. If I am being unclear, or you disagree, please tell me where, and why so that I can clarify, argue against, or be swayed by your arguments.
    @ everyone I apologize for being so poor at communicating.

  167. says

    Ah, so nice to see that if I take a weekend off, I get to come back to a bunch of bullshit, most of it bullshit I’ve already addressed.

    karmakin:

    This ain’t satire.

    Satire is exactly what it is. It is an idea presented outside its context to expose its flaws. If you think it’s anything else, you either haven’t been reading for comprehension or you don’t really trust what either Greg or I has to say enough to be engaging with us on what you consider a serious topic.

    Also, please define the in-group and out-group as you see them here.

    Those of you still characterizing the statement as an attack on men are ignoring what you’ve been told in the comments here. Do you have any better reason for doing so than that it doesn’t fit the narrative you showed up here with?

    For those of you repeating that this approach to getting people to think critically about single-sex-centric views doesn’t work, why are you continuing to say that? Greg’s students attest that it does work. You’ve already been given that information. Repeating your incredulity won’t make it true.

    M. A. Melby, inventing a bunch of hypothetical injured trans men to carry the weight of your outrage for you is just as unethical as drafting Benny to do the job. You posted the one reasonable argument about collateral damage, and then you splash this shit about.

    sofiarune, I’ve read your comment. I still have no idea what you think you want out of this. Want me to give you some benefit of the doubt? Want me to engage in dialog and investigate your position in detail? Then you probably shouldn’t have put up a video in which you label Greg an asshole without giving him the benefit of the doubt or investigating his position. In doing that, you told me how you expect people to be treated. I’ve treated you better here than you treated Greg. I actually addressed your arguments until I got tired of you repeating them as though I hadn’t.

  168. karmakin says

    Or you don’t trust what other people are saying to truly engage them on a serious topic. That ball goes both ways.

    The “in-group” to be specific would be you Greg and Jason, although to be honest, I can’t see another reason why most regulars would defend what’s obviously a sexist statement. And I’m saying it’s understandable, and even a good thing some times, but at the end of the day it’s still a privilege that DOES need to be checked. (And in fact, as it’s a privilege that we all have in some place or another, we all need to do it)

    I oppose sexist statements (period) because they end up justifying and normalizing sexism. Full stop. Instead of presenting feminism as a breakdown of strict gender roles and little boxes to put us all in, it presents feminism as a force in the “war of the sexes”. Quite frankly, I’m not interested in wars.

    Yes, that does mean that we do need to be careful to temper our language sometimes. But that’s no different than what we expect everybody else to do as well.

  169. says

    karmakin, who is failing to engage? I explained to you the function of that statement. You have yet to make a single comment that suggests you have even read that explanation, much less one that interacts with that explanation in the most basic of ways. You don’t agree with it. You don’t argue with it. You simply keep talking as though I didn’t say it. Knock it off.

  170. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Yo, karmakin – if I, as a white person, make a joke about Europeans being melanin-deficient Africans, is that racist?

  171. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Yo, karmakin – if I, as a white person, make a joke about Europeans being melanin-deficient Africans, is that racist?

    Heh, that is pretty funny. The one about how only Africans are fully human (because the rest seem to have some Neanderthal mixed in) is not bad either. And neither is racist.

    But what do I know? I can’t even make myself begin to feel threatened by “Die Cis Scum”.

  172. logic says

    One thing this study definitely proves is all women are the same. The Y chromosome adds the much needed diversity to an otherwise stagnant existance. The overlap of XX is just more of the same. Nothing changes and no progress can be made without the Y.

    Clearly we can see any field, such as biology where women dominate in college graduates every advancement is still made by men. 80% of biology students are women yet all advancement is by men. Psycology is a virtual all womens club and we can see how basically it’s a validate your feelings, do nothing failure. Teaching is now an all womens club and it is now a total failure. The double XX being dominant in any field always regresses. Womens logic is circular, because it has to be to maintain the baseline. Mens is linear, because it has to be to continually improve and advance.

  173. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    :snicker: More evidence that people who advertise “reason, “logic,” or “skeptic” in their ‘nyms are anything but reasonable, logical, or skeptical.

  174. Bill says

    Hey Greg, if you are so certain of your arguments, why are you suppresssing comments on your article? Could it be that, if you don’t control the forum, you can’t prevail?

    You advertised your link on Stephanie’s blog, where a variety of opinions is allowed. Do you dare follow her example? Or, will you continue to select those comments that you think that you can refute (with highly questionable results)?

    Given the paucity of your efforts so far, I suspect that I already have my answer…

  175. John D says

    Regarding the X & Y chromosome:
    A) this seems to be porn-style view that more is better. The Y chromosome being much smaller does not necessarily = worse.

    Those with downs syndrome have a whole extra chromosome (millions of dna) but this is a *disadvantage*.

    Also, it is untrue that the Y only has a copy of 1 of any genes in the chain as the Y chromosome contains many redundancies.

    Everything about the view of a Y chromosome being broken because it has fewer genes is highly subjective and not objectively proven.

    The idea that higher than normal female testosterone damages a brain is also a highly subjective view and not an objective fact. Many FTM transgendered folk report the extra T giving them insulation against depression, confidence, better spatial and math reasoning, and a greater likelihood to speak out when wronged.

    Using this view, it is highly likely that many of the early feminist in-you-face advocates were high T women.

  176. says

    @210. It’s worth mention that ftm trans folk were depressed largely because of gender dysphoria, so of course treating that will alleviate depression.

  177. John D says

    I take umbrage that there are some on this board who think it is okay to mock men because they feel that men and women are differently situated and equate it to the oppressed making jokes about their oppressor (or those comparing it to a child instigating an argument/attack upon an adult).

    When you look to the top yes, men dominate. You know what? When you look to the bottom men also dominate. Men are seen to be individually tough, so we are ignored by society as a gender when we are victims of anything.

    Men are 95% of on-the-job deaths, 90% of the destitute homeless and 80% of all suicides. I would hypothesize it is articles like this that adds to the cacophony of voices that steal men’s dignity and humanity contributing to men’s feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that they see themselves as burdens and self-harm.

    While the vast majority of stranger violence is committed by men, it is overwhelming committed *against* other men. In prison the #2 victim of beat-downs or rapes after pedo’s is rapists. Even among thugs, there seems to be a drive not to harm women.

    There are no streets unsafe for women that are safe for men (excepting the men who make the street dangerous). Men face 4 times the level of stranger violence of women.

    Men and women are differently situated. And that difference is when men are the victims of anything they are approved targets of dismissal or mocking.

    When women are victims they largely get sympathy and support.

    For the *overwhelming majority* of men who are not misogynists and never have attacked or oppressed anybody (and self-sacrifice for others by working in unsafe jobs) this kind of article is a huge kick in the teeth.

    Raising a better crop of men won’t be done by denying men’s humanity, but by embracing it–and that should include speaking out against articles like this one.

    We keep treating men in a monstrous fashion and are *shocked* when we learn that we have created monsters.

  178. John D says

    @ 211.
    The way I read some of the articles the improvement of mood coincided almost on the dot with the extra T, irregardless of where else they were with the transition.

  179. says

    John D: While there are lots of disadvantages to being a man, it harms rather than helps your case to make up statistics like you just did. Unless you have citations for those numbers, of course! At which point, we’d have to decide whose numbers — yours or mine — were actually true.

    And I think it’s a gross mischaracterization to say anyone thinks it’s “okay to mock men”.

  180. John D says

    First off, why do you assume I made up any statistics? I don’t think you would like any smears against you, so why do you throw them around?

    I will be happy to post any stats on the societal issues I mentioned. Can you post the stats you have on homelessness, suicide, and on the job deaths? I’m not sure what stats you are stating you have or have published on this (and if I’m missing something obvious, please have a little patience).

    I would like to see what you’re actually referring to.

  181. Robert says

    Totally disengenuous & inappropriate mixture of feminist “damaged” bias speech & science. If the writer has a background in science, take her out & flog her & strip her credentials. Good science & scientists do not mix this notion. For example: “polymorphisms in the alleles of the genes in chromosome 15″ describes / defines Bipolar & OCD & Scizophrenia. These (similar DNA twists found in people with these maladies which are also atypical to unaffected individuals) are NOT damage but part of the genome.

    I (trained as an applied scientist / engineer) & any other scientist with an ounce of integrity & ethics would stand & heckle down any peer who would dare mix gender politics & such loaded language with actual scientific data. In other words, give me a tomatoe to hurl & shut this monkey up.

  182. says

    Robert, I presume you can show me where you have, in the past, prescribed floggings and the throwing of fruit for those who claim that males are superior to females (or men to women)?

  183. permanganater says

    I’m more than a few posts behind the action, but the legal definition of ‘Damage’ can be helpful: (i) physical alteration resulting in functional impairment or (ii) funtional inutility.

  184. Bob says

    So, a few genetic anomalies occur due to having one set of genes. That is indeed a misfortune. Given that you only need one working copy of each allele, it doesn’t actually have an effect other than… well… providing food for the superstitious pseudoscience crowd to dismiss reality in the name of ideology.

    Charlotte Perkins Gilman, champion of the feminist movement, tried these arguments as well to explain why we should enslave black people again and make them the property of the state – due to the fact that they – obviously – have different genes then white people and present themselves as a consistent problem to white society.

    Of course, we can skip all that pesky knowledge and information that would be necessary to prove that men are in fact inferior and damaged as a result of having a different genetic code. We would, of course, have to dismiss all the contributions men have made to science, reason, psychology, medicine, literature, and a host of other fields to assume they were, in fact, defective.

    Then, of course, you need evidence that women are inherently cooperative. I don’t really know how you can state that men are uncooperative given that they have a massive patriarchal conspiracy that has existed for centuries to enslave the weaker and scientifically deficient sex. On the contrary, men are very cooperative when they need to be – but society has worked very hard at oppression of the male sex in the past fifty years.

    I am pleased that something has relieved me of my previous advocacy of gender equality. I was very dedicated to it until I discovered that the agenda was treating men as inherently inferior. I, of course, can have nothing to do with people who live by such hateful philosophies. I hope that you reap the just rewards for your bigotry.

  185. says

    Bob, if you gave up any “previous advocacy of gender equality” over this post, either (1) you were unattached to it before, to the point that it was accidental or (2) you need irony supplements.

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