Cordelia Fine has an article in the first issue of a new, free, online journal, Neuroethics; it’s entitled, “Will Working Mothers’ Brains Explode? The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism.”  We’ve blogged about neurosexism before in a post about single-sex education, and this  article  covers some of the same issues from a more general perspective. 

One book she discusses is Simon Baron-Cohen’s 2003 book, The essential difference: Men, women and the extreme male brain. (London: Allen Lane.)  This is one of  those books that celebrates the fact that, as a matter of biological destiny, men do important things with science and public life while women take care of social relations.  Too many people take it at its word, no doubt in part because Baron-Cohen has done a  lot of highly respected work on ASD, the autism spectrum disorder.  In his view, autism is a manifestation of an extreme male brain, and so…. .

(In thinking about this, I’m reminded of my son’s nursery school, which forbid the children from playing Mommy and Daddy (or: cook-comforter and consumer).  So the children played a form  of Bambi, with the  boys wounded deer and the girls nurses.  One suspects Baron-Cohen’s more literally adult fantasy is scientist and wife.  Children:  there are alternatives!)

One of the issues is the responsibility of journalists in writing about what various people are doing with supposedly “the results” in cognitive neuroscience: 

Mark Liberman has suggested that “misleading appeals to the authority of ‘brain research’ have become the modern equivalent of out-of-context scriptural fragments.” [18]. Noting, along with Rivers and Barnett [19], that baseless neuroscientific ‘facts’ about gender differences are already having an impact on educational policies, for example, he argues that journalists have a real responsibility to fact-check the accuracy of neuroscientific claims. The need for journalists to take on this responsibility takes on an extra import when one considers our susceptibility to poor neuroscientific explanations, together with the way that biological accounts of gender, and the stereotypes about male versus female abilities that they promote, can measurably alter our beliefs, self-identity and abilities.

In response to the earlier post here on arguments for single-sex schools based on alleged findings in neuroscience, smatty referred to a Language Log post, Blinding us with Science,  from which the Liberman quote above comes.  It contains a number of references that are very useful if you are trying to think through the issues involved in evaluating the claims in favor of single sex schools.

[Thanks to JW for the neurosexism reference.]

Conference: Embodiment and Identity

Keynote speaker: Linda Alcoff
May 22nd – 23rd 2008

This conference aims to explore the role the body plays in constituting aspects of our individual and social identity. The claim that biology fixes identity has been hotly contested in recent decades, but its apparent abandonment has led to intense theoretical debate over the role of the body in constituting both individual subjectivity and categories of social identity. We will be focusing particularly on gendered, cultural and racial identity, disability and identity, and identities reached by degrees of bodily modification. In each case attention will be paid to the role of social others in constituting the meaning and recognition bestowed on bodily physiognomies. The common assumption that such categories of identity are required for social participation, political agency and constructions of subjectivity, will be subjected to critical scrutiny.

Conference webpage, including booking form, can be found here.

Gender Pay Gap Triples After 30

Some dramatic figures which illustrate phenomena probably already well-known to many readers, from the BBC.

Mr Barber [General Secretary of the UK’s Trade Union Congress] said: “We all expect our wages to increase as our careers progress. But women’s wages start to stagnate as early as their 30s.”Despite girls outperforming boys at school and at university, too many employers are still failing to make use of women’s skills.”The TUC study found that women of all ages earn less than men and that woman are twice as likely as men to be poor…Fawcett’s campaigns officer Kat Banyard said: “At every level in UK workplaces women are being paid less than men.”The paucity of senior flexible roles and the long working hours culture shuts women out of the boardroom and forces then into lower-paid, lower-status jobs when they have children.”

One thing I like about the TUC approach is the way that it highlights both the injustice to women and the loss to employers. Students all too often react to figures like these by insisting that it would be too impractical for employers to accommodate the needs to parents with heavy childcare responsibilities. It’s well worth noting what employers miss out on by not doing so.

Minister for women Harriet Harman said the government planned “tough new measures” in an Equality Bill to be published later this year.

Hope these measures really are both tough and new.(Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Sadie Magazine

Thought it might be nice to have something hopeful about gender and culture after Monkey’s well-justified Rants at the TV…. Reader Josie recently  told us about Sadie Magazine, a new magazine for teenage girls and young women. So I went over to have a look– at first glance, your typical teen girl mag. Lots of pink, an ‘I heart/I hate’ section, a cooking section, etc. A very slightly closer look revealed something much more interesting than that first impression: a rave review of a book about trans teens, a DIY section to go with the cooking section, an article on Cuban women rappers…. And ‘I heart/I hate’ contained an article about the awkwardness of seeking sexual health services in a small town. My feminist grandmother would SO have bought me a subscription to this when I was younger. But wait! It’s even better than that– it’s web-based and free. So tell anyone who might be interested. And they’re also soliciting contributions.

Lingerie Superbowl

More ranting at TV from Monkey.

Football. It doesn’t matter which kind – soccer, superbowl, or Aussie rules – it’s jealously guarded as the preserve of males, both to watch and to play. Women – we all know – can’t kick a ball, can’t catch a ball, throw like girls, and don’t know the offside rule. Well, all that has now changed, thanks to the LIngerie Superbowl. As the name suggests, this is football, played by women, dressed in their underwear. Yes, you heard me – gaze at a pitch full of near-naked beauties grappling with a ball. You might even get to see one of the players have her bra ripped off in the struggle, and run down the field, tits a-bounce, to score a topless touchdown. (This happened last week.) Would someone like to tell me when normal telly turned into one long soft porn spectacle aimed at the heterosexual male (or some socially constructed version thereof)? The equation WOMAN = SEX is writ large all across our screens, no matter which channel we turn to. You wanna be a footballer, little girl? Fine, but you’ve got to have model looks, bronzed skin, large breasts, long shiny hair, and you’ve got to play in your undies. You want to be a singer? Ok, but you need to take off most of your clothes and writhe around like a stripper. Want to be a news presenter? Sure – just keep yourself looking young and lovely. No-one wants to see some old hag reading the news. And don’t get me started on ‘Girls Gone Wild’. Hasn’t anyone heard of female talent? – Oh hang on, that means ‘attractive women’ (at least in some parts of the UK). One step forward, two steps backwards, people.

That’s Amore

The first in a series of posts where Monkey rants at TV.

I’ve watched my fair share of dating shows over the years and none has really qualified as highbrow entertainment, but MTV’s latest offering – That’s Amore – really breaks through the wrong side of the trash barrier. It’s been a while since I’ve seen anything this offensive (and as a seasoned nethead, I see a lot of offensive things). The concept will be familiar to those acquainted with your average dating show: X number of attractive young women move into a big house where they vy for the attention of one man, and perform tasks to either win a date or be removed from the competition. The number of contestants is whittled down week by week, until only one attractive young woman remains, and wins the man. Or some money. Or some money to go on a date with the man. So far, so run-of-the-mill. But That’s Amore takes it to a whole other level. Treading a fine line between mainstream TV entertainment and soft porn (oh wait, there’s still a difference?), That’s Amore is less dating show and more Lads’ Mag wankfest. The young women on That’s Amore embody the worst of a certain kind of stereotypically feminine behaviour. They shriek at each other, call each other ‘bitch’, say mean things about each other behind each other’s backs, all the while trying their hardest to impress ‘Domenico’ – the man-prize on offer at the end of the competition. The ‘challenges’ set before the bitching beauties include such gems as ‘dressing up in a sexy French maid-style outfit and cooking a chicken’, then ‘cleaning the kitchen as sexily as possible’ (cue, lots of pouting, and crawling on work surfaces with arses thrust skyward), and ‘diving into a pool of meatballs and spaghetti whilst wearing bikini bottoms and t-shirt’, which initiated a wrestling match between two of the contestants. Determined to win Domenico’s affections, a few of them have resorted to dirty tactics, which include waiting until all the other women have left the vast bedroom they share, then sneaking into Domenico’s sleeping-quarters for a morning romp in his bed. Perhaps these people are not real. Perhaps they are all actors. (I fervently wish that were so.) But real or staged, the show is a disgrace. We like to think our behaviour is freely chosen, but – heavy issues about what counts as freedom aside – that’s not strictly true. More often than not, we do what the cathode ray tube tells us. If TV says it’s normal to do x, we do x. I, for one, would prefer TV not to be telling women that it’s normal or ok to pitch yourself against other women in a degrading scuffle for male attention. I would also prefer TV not to be telling women that the way to win the man is to take part in some plastic, Hefnerised version of female sexuality that involves sexy maid outfits, bronzed tans, and housework. Finally, TV, if you’re listening, you can stop telling men to expect women to engage in bikini-clad catfights to win their affections. Life is not one big scene from Porky’s. Jeesh, people.

“Postfeminism and Other Fairy Tales”

This interesting article in the New York Times is well worth the read.  The author, Kate Zernike, tries to put together the impact of both the mysogynistic attacks on Hillary and the travesty of Spitzler on generational divides among feminists.  She suggests many young women have thought that the US was beyond gender discrimination.  And it is true that some women seem to have gotten the message that the power and responsibiity is theirs, a belief less for their convenience, surely, than for that of a discriminatory culture that does not want the blame.  (I remember uphappily a meeting at which a local young female chamber of commerce administrator insisted that women professors themselves were responsible for the fact that women hold almost no academic leadership positions in our university.  “You need to work on yourselves,” she asserted.  Ouch!)

Is that changing?

Suzanne B. Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia and director of its sexuality and gender law clinic, called the current climate “a perfect storm.”

“I’m not such a Mars-Venus person but this is one of those moments where gender is at least a partial explanation, it affects how people hear campaign rhetoric, how people see political downfalls,” Ms. Goldberg said. “Even people who were unwilling to see it before are more likely to acknowledge the pervasiveness of sex stereotypes.”

Younger women, for their part, are starting to have what Ms. Goldberg calls “the aha moment” — even if it doesn’t put them in Mrs. Clinton’s column, as some of the welter of commentary last week found.

Why don’t younger women see what Kath Pollitt is described as articulating? That is,

“The hysterical insults flung at Hillary Clinton are just a franker, crazier version of the everyday insults — shrill, strident, angry, ranting, unattractive — that are flung at any vaguely liberal mildly feminist woman who shows a bit of spirit and independence,” she [Pollitt] wrote, “who puts herself out in the public realm, who doesn’t fumble and look up coyly from underneath her hair and give her declarative sentences the cadence of a question.”

“Every woman I know who calls herself a feminist, or is even just doing well, especially in a field in which men also contend,” Ms. Pollitt wrote, “deals with some version of this.”

We’re offered a dismal explanation:

Noreen Malone on The XX Factor, the Slate magazine blog written by women wrote] “The most powerful people in the world are old white men and pretty young women.”

“During my supposedly post-feminist lifetime, the women who’ve created the biggest stir are the young women who’ve ruined the careers of powerful old men,” she wrote.

Some power.

Am I missing something?

As readers may know, I’ve been very impressed by Barack Obama (despite also being repelled by some of the coverage Clinton has received).  Among many necessary conditions for my being impressed by him is the fact that he has good positions on reproductive rights. Imagine my surprise, then, at being completely unable to find any mention of abortion or reproductive rights whatsoever in the issues section of his website.   If this is right, it’s deeply strange, and surely counter-productive, especially since we’re still at the primary stage rather than the mandatory general election shift-to center.  I very much hope someone will tell me I’m wrong about this!