Sunday, October 01, 2006

Neo-Lysenkofeminism

Janet Albrechtsen gives the thumbs up for a book which debunks myths perpetrated by some feminists driven by ideology rather than the search for the truth:

ONLY a girl could write The Female Brain and walk away with life and reputation intact. This new book may be contentious, but in fact modern science is merely playing catch-up with what we know intuitively. Girls are different from boys.

…But here's the really brave bit: the unisex brain is a feminist fabrication. Louann Brizendine, an American neuro-psychiatrist, has written a book debunking stubborn notions that girls are different only because society makes them so. It's much more to do with the brain, she says. The female brain, to be more precise.

…Drawing upon advances in gene technology and brain-imaging techniques that have revolutionised neuro-scientific research, Brizendine presents a heady cocktail of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal and functional differences between women and men.

…there is plenty that will upset the old bra-burning feminists who steadfastly refuse to allow biology to get in the way of ideology. Let's start with how girls choose a mate. According to Brizendine, "our (female) brains size up a potential partner, and if he fits our ancestral wish list, we get a jolt of chemicals that dizzy us with a rush of laser-focused attention".

This ideology of which Albrechtsen refers is based on quite a few fallacies. However, these three - Wishful Thinking, Argument to Consequences and the Naturalistic Fallacy - are the ones that spring to mind (they are very similar too).

Wishful Thinking is the most obvious. People who still claim that the general differences between male and female humans are predominantly environmental wish it were this way, so they still claim it is this way, against the plethora of scientific evidence to the contrary.

An Argument to Consequences is also often invoked. It cannot be true that biology is the cause of behavioural difference as it ought not be true, as this could mean that men are inherently better (on average) at some things than women (and vice-versa of course). And that would mean men and women are not equal.

Note that the argument to consequences is almost the exact opposite of the Naturalistic Fallacy. These particular Neo-Lysenkoists do not make the Naturalistic Fallacy themselves, but they are worried that others will, if it turns out there is a difference. Ie, it is true that there are differences (again, on average) between males and females, therefore there ought to be (in terms of how they are treated and their respective roles in society).

These ideas are simply wrong. And here's a valid argument to consequences - basing public policy on flawed assumptions screws things up. Just read this wikipedia entry on Lysenkoism, or, as Albrechtsen points out:

…Ignoring the differences, and framing public policy on a pretence that women are something they are not only ends up hurting women. For instance, in the heady days of 1970s feminism, it was assumed that universal child care would free women to achieve true equality with men. We now know that many women would prefer not to outsource the raising of their children. And so we need public policy and workplace changes that recognise that biological drive.

A very similar point was made in one of my earliest posts on the blog.

Two final points.

1) No one seems to argue that physical abilities are genetically predisposed (like being a fast swimmer), yet apparently, to some, personality and intelligence aren't. I've news for those people, brain tissue is just as physical as bone and muscle tissue.

2) Much of the misunderstanding stems from a lack of understanding of basic biology, in particular human evolution, and a seemingly deliberate denial of our animal nature. We have no problems with sex differences in other species being genetic, other than our own. A good place to start with is parental investment and from that, sexual selection. I highly recommend Matt Ridley's The Red Queen (and pretty much all his books).

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Note that I haven't read the book (The Female Brain), so it could be crap... But my points still remain.

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