One does have to wonder if gender feminists and transgender activists are undermining science. One does, I guess, if one is going to properly apply critical thinking to these question. Unfortunately, that article by Debra Soh doesn’t seem to be interested in doing that, but instead on throwing around mischaracterizations of her critics. She fully embraces a tactic that Steven Pinker used in his book, The Blank Slate: let’s accuse those damnable “blank slaters” of believing that genes and biology play absolutely no role in brain and behavior, so that every bit of evidence that brains are made of meat refutes the cartoon extremists he is babbling about. He could have gone further, you know, and argued that the “blank slaters” believe that the skull contains nothing but cotton candy and whipped cream and meringue, so that any photograph of a brain in a bucket is a thorough disproof.
Debra Soh does the same thing. Let the strawmanning begin!
Gender feminists — who are distinct from traditional equity feminists — refuse to acknowledge the role of evolution in shaping the human brain, and instead promote the idea that sex differences are caused by a socialization process that begins at birth. Gender, according to them, is a construct; we are born as blank slates and it is parents and society at large that produce the differences we see between women and men in adulthood.
No. See, this is the difficult thing about dealing with these people: they immediately make a stark dichotomy, trying to pretend that one side, theirs, recognizes the importance of biology to the human mind, while the other side simply denies any role at all by biology and genetics. It’s annoying. I just have to say that the nature:nurture debate is fucking dead, that all influences are significant and inseparable in generating the complexity of the organism, and that these people with an inflamed notion of the black and white nature of the contributions to development belong back in the 19th century.
Gender is a construct built around probabilities in the disposition of traits associated with sex; most of the stereotypes are nothing but cultural impositions. There is no biological basis for girls wearing dresses and having long hair; boys don’t have a genetic predisposition to wearing pants and having their hair cut shorter. But there certainly are biases in brain development generated by hormones, for instance, biases that can also be overwhelmed by cultural influences. Could girls have a lesser potential for doing higher mathematics, on average? Maybe. But the evidence isn’t available, because social constraints have discouraged women from pursuing math for generations. Women could be better, on average, than men at math, but we wouldn’t know it because of all the baggage they’ve been forced to carry.
By the way, she does include a link to her claim that gender feminists refuse to acknowledge the role of evolution in shaping the human brain — again, I don’t know anyone who would make such an absurd claim, but it’s a staple of the kind of false characterization constantly perpetrated by the biological determinists (see? I can use misleading labels as well as they can). You might imagine it would be a link to some feminist claiming that brains are made of cotton candy and whipped cream and meringue, but no — it is to an evolutionary psychology journal article that also claims that feminists
fails to consider evolutionary accounts of psychological sex differences. No evidence given.
I will tender the hypothesis, however, that gender feminists have evolved to avoid circle jerks.
Let us continue to see the caricatures drawn…
The idea that our brains are identical sounds lovely…
What? Why? I like the fact that people are different. And also, I don’t know anyone who argues that all brains are identical.
but the scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Many studies, for instance, have documented the masculinizing effects of prenatal testosterone on the developing brain. And a recent study in the journal Nature’s Scientific Reports showed that testosterone exposure alters the programming of neural stem cells responsible for brain growth and sex differences.
Yes, yes, we all know this. These facts are only relevant if you’re arguing with your cartoon feminist who thinks brains are not influenced by genes or hormones.
Gender feminists often point to a single study, published in 2015, which claimed it isn’t possible to tell apart male and female brains. But when a group of researchers reanalyzed the underlying data, they found that brains could be correctly identified as female or male with 69% to 77% accuracy. In another study, published in 2016, researchers used a larger sample in conjunction with higher-resolution neuroimaging and were able to successfully classify a brain by its sex 93% of the time.
Warning sign again: she doesn’t link to that
single study which we
often point to. I don’t think I’ve ever pointed to such a study. I participated in a histological study of mouse brains way back when I was a student, and we found a measurable, statistical difference in the size of cells in a certain area of the brain between males and females. The curious thing is that I spent month staring into a microscope measuring sections — I was the data collection grunt — and at no point could I have sexed a mouse brain from looking at it. I did trust that the statistics were valid, though.
So I’m a bit doubtful about their claims of accuracy. I believe there are statistically detectable differences, but that they’re not as absolute as claimed.
But even if as accurate as claimed, there’s a problem. Even if you can classify a brain successfully 93% of the time, what about the other 7%? Those ambiguous brains? What do they mean? When the estimates of the size of the transgender population range from 0.3% to almost 0.8%, saying that your magic MRI machine has a wobble of 7% leaves a lot of leeway.
Further, I would not claim that the 0.8% is embedded somewhere in that unclassifiable 7%; I suspect a lot of transgender individuals, when scored by the anatomical metric of their brain, just as if we scored them by their genitals, would be ranked as solidly male or female…on that one metric, which says nothing about how their brains function. What are you going to do, deny that someone’s sexual orientation is valid because their nucleus magnocellularis lit up on one MRI reading?
That’s the whole problem with this approach: deny the whole because of your interpretation of a part. You have a Y chromosome, therefore you are male. You have a vagina, therefore you are female. You like football, therefore you are male. Your brain has this particular shape, therefore you are female. It’s ridiculous. Just the fact that there are a thousand easily measured parameters for gender, and they are only loosely correlated with one another, ought to tell you that trying to find the one, single, infallible metric is a fool’s errand.
Soh has more shoehorning to do, though.
In my experience, proponents touting the “blank slate” view are willing to agree, in private conversations, that neurological sex differences do exist, but they fear that acknowledging as much publicly will justify female oppression. This is backward. As it stands, female-typical traits are seen as inferior and less worthy of respect. This is the real issue the movement fails to address: Nobody wants to be female-typical, not even women.
Wrong again. There are no “blank slaters”. There are people who will publicly assert that there are both cultural and biological elements to sex and gender — they’re not going to whisper that as a dirty secret to you in private. And the claim that we see
female-typical behaviors as inferior is false. What is objectionable is the belief, so blithely taken for granted by people like Soh, that you can tell someone what is
typical. No one wants to be
female-typical, as defined by the determinists, because they stuff that definition with a lot of crap, so that they can have it both ways: If you’re
typical, you’re weak, passive, a good help-meet to your spouse; but if you’re strong, assertive, and independent, you’re not
typical, that is you are bad at being a woman. You cannot win.
Unlike gender feminists, transgender activists firmly believe that gender is a biological, rather than social, reality — but of course they don’t believe that it’s necessarily tied to sex at birth. They also believe that gender identity is quite stable early on, warranting a transition not only for transgender adults, but also young children who say they were born in the wrong body.
I give up. Has this person actually talked with any transgender activistås? Because they’ll have a range of perspectives, and will almost always recognize that these issues are complex — there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all formula for how people manage their gender identity. Yet here is Soh, acting as if they’re a uniform ideological bloc. It’s dishonest and demeaning.
But then, this kind of dishonesty is exactly like what comes out of right-wing think tanks: cast doubt on the complexity of the real science, while insisting that their bogus, overly-simplified version of reality is the True Science. We also get that from creationists, claiming the scientific high ground while puking up total bullshit. That’s what makes these kinds of claims galling:
Distortion of science hinders progress. When gender feminists start refuting basic biology, people stop listening, and the larger point about equality is lost.
Yes, Ms Soh, distortion of science hinders progress. So stop doing it, OK?
You also punch yourself in the face when you try to imply that gender is merely
basic biology. It’s not. It’s advanced and complex neurobiology, psychology, and sociology, and it’s your reductive attitude that it’s simply biology that is the grandest distortion of science.