Stereotypical gender behavior is not genetically determined.

Today’s Guardian reports:

In fact, there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, says Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, which will be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men, added Fine, a researcher at Melbourne University, but the wiring is soft, not hard. “It is flexible, malleable and changeable,” she said.

In short, our intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility. It is a case backed by Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School. “All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong,” she told the Observer.

And about children’s play, which we discussed earlier?

[Eliot said]  “Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children’s intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don’t inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.”

Thus boys develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and are encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents.

We’ve noted Cordelia Fine’s work before.

evolutionary psychology fail: a sad story

  Prof.  Marc Hauser is a leading figure in the attempts to understand cognition in evolutionary terms.  He is particularly well know for his thesis that there in an inborn language of morality.  He had done extensive research on tamarin monkeys. 

We have had some concerns about some claims of evolutionary psychologists, but  it would be hard to be happy about the following; it is like finding out someone has cancer of the mind (this was an injudicious remark; see comments):

Marc Hauser, one of the Harvard’s hyper-professors, has been found guilty of misconduct after a 3-year investigation. 

From the NY Times:

Dr. Hauser is one of Harvard’s most visible academics, being frequently quoted in articles about language, animals’ cognitive abilities and the biological basis of morality. He is widely regarded as a star in his field.

In a widely noticed book of 2006, “Moral Minds,” he argued that a universal moral grammar is genetically wired into the human mind, similar to the universal grammar posited by Noam Chomsky to underlie the language faculty. Dr. Hauser is currently working on a book called “Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad.”

Dr. Hauser is a fluent and persuasive writer, and his undoing seems to have been his experiments, many of which depended on videotaping cotton-topped tamarin monkeys and noting their responses. It is easy for human observers to see the response they want and so to be fooled by the monkeys.

“The people who really know what’s happened are students, current and former,” said a scientist who asked to remain anonymous because of Dr. Hauser’s continuing power in the field. “They are very unhappy about how Harvard has handled this, and they feel things are being swept under the rug.”

 The details are not forthcoming from Harvard, and in particular it isn’t clear where on the list of academic sins his rank.  There is considerable concern that much work in various fields will come under question.

There’s a certain irony in his current project.

Racism in the States: Would you believe it?

You may know about the very conservative radio advice giver, Dr. Laura Schlessinger.  She pretty much outdid even her quite mean self in a recent response to a woman calling for advice.  There’s been quite a bit of discussion, and I found a longish piece on CNN that seems quite decent.  One aspect of it I like is the way in which a number of comments come back to the effects today of racist comments.  Being the stereotypically questionable or strange group creates a toll, we have pointed out before, independent of any overt discrimination.

Looking for the CNN clip, I found one of the incomparable Richard Pryor; that’s the second one below.



Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice

A nice anecdote:

When I was about 11 or 12, I asked my mom out right, “Why don’t we go to church?” Her reply? “Because they say I can’t use these,” as she held up her birth control pills. We then had a short chat about how the Church was trying to control her and other women’s lives. How she wanted to be the one to decide when and if she would have another baby (by this time, she had been pregnant 4 times and given birth 3 times with one miscarriage). And I think she ended it by saying that all women should be making this decision, not the church.

For more, go here. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)