There’s a scary article at Hooking Up Smart. It’s a very brief synopsis of two books by Louann Brizandine, a neuropsychologist at Yale who wants to prove that there are real, quantifiable differences between men and women (and everything in between) which must be explained by biology first and culture second.
I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to be a “liberated” feminist, especially one who has spent her whole life shouting from the rooftops that men and women are for all practical purposes completely equal, and ought to be treated exactly equally in all situations. It must be awful to have science building massive piles of hard data refuting that notion.
Granted, the results are far from final. Yes, we’ve found substantial differences between male and female brains, and we’ve pretty conclusively mapped them to differences in cognitive function. Yes, we’ve found substantial differences in the production of mind-altering hormones which account for significant differences in emotions. But we must allow for the fact that there is the possibility that some environmental factor is producing the effects “artificially,” and that there is some “natural” way in which males and females can develop into virtually identical beings.
But that’s a very remote possibility. For one thing, women develop the same brain differences across cultures. That is, women in the most egalitarian societies have the same kinds of brains as women in the most repressively patriarchal. For another, brain differences begin manifesting extremely early in development — in some cases before birth. How can we possibly explain these developmental differences as cultural?
No. The reality is that if we’re going to be scientific, we have to admit that men and women are different. Biologically. And that’s really scary territory. After all, we’re not too far removed from denying women the right to vote, and the primary argument used against them was that they’re biologically different than men. Large portions of the Fundamentalist Christian Right want to return to the days when the man was the head of the household in more than a symbolic way. And what about PMS? Are men really are better suited for positions where consistency of thought and purpose are crucial? Does that mean we’re right to promote more men than women to positions of leadership?
I’m about to go into some dangerous territory here, and I’m sure I’ll get some angry responses, but while you’re reading this, try to bear in mind that I’m a “person-ist.” I believe that even taking into account real biological differences between the sexes, it’s perfectly plausible to create a society in which neither sex is oppressed. I’m not trying to send women back to the kitchen, but I believe we’re at a very important fulcrum in history. We’ve proven that men and women are quantifiably different, and it’s not just because of the “Patriarchy.” If anything, it’s more appropriate to look at The Patriarchy as a product of the real differences.
This knowledge is understandably scary for women. Is it really possible that science will prove that a woman’s place is in the home? If it did, how would that change society? Could women really go back to being “inferior” to men?
Frankly, I don’t think so. It’s kind of a lame, patriarchal example, but all I can think of right now is a sports team. American Football requires really diverse kinds of people to make a great team. You need a quarterback with a lot of spacial awareness, very fast reflexes, excellent memory, and a relatively high degree of intelligence and snap-decision making ability. You need linemen whose primary function is becoming an immovable brick wall. Not much thought involved. Just brute force. Wide receivers may only touch the ball five or six times a game, but they have to be in exceptional condition to run much farther and faster than any other players on the field. Punters, place kickers, tight ends — each need their own special abilities.
Many of the attributes needed for specific positions are accidents of birth. And within the football world, we rarely hear position players griping about the unfairness of the game, and demanding that they be allowed to play in positions they’re not especially suited to. For the most part, they play the position they’re best at and do their best to help their team win. (Before you get mad at me, take a deep breath and keep reading.)
But it is unfair. Quarterbacks and wide receivers often make substantially more than ten million dollars a year, while lowly linemen often only make one or two million. Punters get very little credit, and place kickers often have all the pressure on them to win games, but they’re paid exponentially less than the quarterbacks. It’s unfair because of salaries and social standing. And so it is with American gender society today. There are still real boundaries to success and self-actualization for women, and waving our hands in the air and calling it genetics doesn’t alleviate our responsibility to do something about it.
To extend my analogy, football has gone to great lengths to reduce the inequality between teams. Profit sharing, free agency, college drafts, and “franchise players” have all been designed to give each team a good chance of winning if they work hard. But inequality between positions is still rampant. Rising quarterbacks today expect to be paid exorbitant salaries, but it need not be so. If the NFL just bit the bullet and restricted salaries in such a way that every position player made approximately the same salary, there would still be players with different abilities. The biggest guys would still play on the line and the smartest would still play quarterback. We would just have to get used to an enforced equality that in the end would probably be better for everybody.
To make the point directly, we treat the sexes unequally not out of biological necessity but convention. We have big brains, and we’ve managed to think of ways to level the playing field. We can think of more ways, and knowing specifically what the differences are between men and women will give us more information with which to design better and more effective ways to mold society as equally as possible. For instance, we could (gasp!) decide to limit the amount of money pro sports players make and pay teachers substantially more. Women, after all, are well suited to teaching, especially young children, and what is more important than teaching children when they’re in their most formative years? Maybe we can’t decide to feel as much admiration for elementary teachers as sports stars, but we can damn well decide to think critically about our culture and pay teachers what they’re worth, which is a damn lot. We could revamp our education system so that elementary teachers have to have the best, most cutting edge training in child developmental psychology. Cities could decide to spend a hundred million dollars on new education facilities instead of a new stadium.
I’m not promising that this will happen. But at the risk of alienating some of my female readers, I will say this as bluntly as I can: Denying science will not help the feminist cause. There are differences, and insisting it just isn’t so makes you look… inferior. It’s not fair. But it’s true. Dealing with it and working with the truth instead of against it is the only way to be taken seriously.
So let’s stop denying the science, shall we? Let’s stop trying to make square pegs fit round holes. Instead, let’s find ways to change our environment so that at the very least, we treat the genders more equally. After all, it’s what we do that counts, right? Not what we think. Wouldn’t most feminists be pretty happy with equal pay for equal work, even if most people still idolize Tom Brady more than Miss Crabapple? Seems that way to me. We can’t change biology, but we can change society. It just takes the bravery to look the painful truth in the eye and find ways to make it a positive instead of a negative.
As an aside, I realize that there are political implications in this. If it were me designing the system, I’d heavily regulate sports. I’d set salaries somewhere around half a million. I’d also keep prices high. Teams would still have to charge forty or fifty dollars for a ticket. The market can support it, and people really like their sports. I’d slap a huge tax on player endorsements. I’d ad an ad valorum tax on sports memorabilia. With the millions of dollars in excess revenue generated by sports, I’d fund education. Teachers’ salaries, educational facilities, continuing education for teachers, and so forth, could be elevated by orders of magnitude simply by taking money from something people biologically value very highly and giving it to something which critical thinking dictates is more important than what we are biologically driven to value.
Is it a lot of government control? Yep. Is it socialization? Yep. To a certain degree it is. But socialization isn’t the evil that Rush Limbaugh makes it out to be. Society wouldn’t function without at least some of it. And frankly, I’d be happy to accept a bit of socialization if it meant very highly paid teachers and an end to the nonsense that is the sports economy right now.