This was my response to the blog on gender differences in brain wiring introduced in the last post.
I read your rant with a sinking heart, in part because I can understand where you’re coming from. I understand the annoyance and pain of feeling once more disempowered because you’re “different” from the “dominant” cultural type.
I don’t know how old you are or what your experience has been of the various efforts to bring into being greater human justice, including allowing women to have choices in careers and finances and marriage and child-bearing. So I will just try to relate my own background and experience, with the hope it may help you to be less angry about such studies as the one you linked to.
I am a biomedical scientist, trained as an anatomist and cell biologist during the 1960s, at a time when there were virtually no women in the field; those who existed were embattled, and almost all were single. When I received the Ph.D. and was introduced to prospective employers, the dominant attitude was, “What do you think the future could possibly be for a woman in Anatomy?” It was a rhetorical question, as the obvious answer was slim to none.
I did an end run around the reluctant Anatomy Department chairmen by doing post-doctoral studies – first in biochemistry and then in histo-chemistry. It was while working in this latter lab (with a very good boss) that I was lucky enough to get a faculty job in Anatomy because someone had died and they needed to fill the faculty position in six weeks or lose it. It was during one of those periods of 1970s belt-tightening. It was also in the ’70s, that the women’s movement of the late 20th century took shape, and I was actively involved in trying to help pass the ERA in my state (of course, receiving some grief from male colleagues). The ERA failed to pass the requisite number of states (including mine) and I was devastated, probably feeling even greater disappointment than you felt reading the article on gender differences in brain wiring.
However, one of the things I learned by that effort (the ERA)–and its failure–was that feminists, when they are up in arms, often don’t pay attention to reality, especially biological reality. I believe that, to a considerable extent, we–and the ERA–were defeated by other women, who felt threatened by the idea that their roles as wives and mothers were being denigrated by women whose worldview they simply didn’t understand. Many feminists of that era seemed to feel contempt for the natural, biological roles of women. I wasn’t one of those, as I was a biologist, and a wife, and a mother. And I tried to dampen some of the really negative, hysterical rhetoric that seemed to characterize the waning of ’70s feminism. But I was simply too busy with my life to be able to do much about it.
Another thing I learned after the denouement of ’70s feminism was that many of the changes that feminists were calling for actually did happen, despite the defeat of the ERA. Women now have the option of going into almost any career available to men. And women can, with enough grit and determination, become successful at almost anything they chose to do. Of key importance is that we should have choices–you know, the old “pursuit of happiness” thing.
If you had read the article carefully, you would have found several very positive comments on the skills that can come from normal female brain wiring. For example: “the left of the brain is more for logical thinking, the right of the brain is for more intuitive thinking. So if there’s a task that involves doing both of those things, it would seem that women are hardwired to do those better,”
Indeed, if women are in high positions in an enterprise, and/or if they make up a sizable minority of mid-level workers, the whole operation is likely to be more successful, both financially and in terms of working environment. Business school faculty know this–even if many of their former students don’t. Female monarchs such as Elizabeth I and Victoria in England, as well as Catherine the Great in Russia, reigned over countries that grew enormously in size and wealth while those women were on the throne, partly because they knew how to negotiate before fighting.
Males and females of mammalian species are constructed differently, and that difference includes not just genital anatomy, body size, muscle mass, and distribution of body fat; it also includes behavior, which is controlled by the brain. Look at all the connections in those brain maps, especially those cross connections in the frontal part of the female brain, the region where creativity and conscience seem to arise. Think, as a sociologist, about the differences in male and female behavior. Which gender is the most violent? Which produces the most mass murderers?
So I beg you, don’t declare war on biology. It will not do you or your prospects as a woman much good, and it may blind you to some aspects of reality you need to take into consideration when making decisions. The enemy is not biology nor the finding that the sexes function differently; it is those people (usually non-scientists) who try to use scientific studies to influence a social agenda.
I guess I was lucky as a female child. My father was a scientist; the family was not religious; and I was encouraged to do whatever I wanted to do with my life (as long as it wasn’t destructive). I had one husband who tried to reverse that trend, and another who supported it to a considerable extent. I felt that I was not locked into any stereotype or situation. The key present reality (at least in the West) is that we women have choices. We are not bound culturally or biologically to doing or being what others think we should do or be.