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human nature

When the Truth Hurts

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.

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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.

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Discussion

16 thoughts on “When the Truth Hurts

  1. I am in agreement with your concept of greatly increasing teacher pay and promoting training in child developmental psychology. Consider going a step further: adding some basic psychology training in to early education. I think there might be significant benefits down the road. Just a thought.

    Posted by bill | August 20, 2010, 6:05 pm
  2. Oh, I think human psychology (and therefore evolutionary biology) ought to be taught from a very early age. There’s no excuse for teenagers not understanding our basic biological drives, what they represent, and maybe more importantly, how our behavior translates into evolutionary strategies.

    But then, to teach that, we’d have to figure out some way to shut up all the theists who refuse to admit evolution.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 20, 2010, 6:22 pm
  3. I like your sports analogy. If a guy shorter than most quarter backs wants to buck a trend and be a good quarter back or whatever that is his option. If a women wants to compete then she should do so independent of her sex. Ditto with men. If I want to be a teacher then I need to build the empathy and social skills that allow me to compete. Measuring our abilities based on equivalences classes is interesting but shouldn’t effect what we allow somebody to try to do. I agree with you about paying attention to scientific facts. While I think that we should allow people to compete as they will I see negative value is not proving them with all the information about what they are up against.

    “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 don’t really see how this works as you state it. The system isn’t stationary. People will adjust and you won’t get the same result out of the system if you muck with it on the front end. If I believed that our government could be trusted I’d say tax the heck out of it on the back end and feed that into education. But our government has proven that money will only end up going down some rathole.

    To me there are way more obvious places to cut money we spend and feed it into education. As an example you don’t have to put drug users into jail. From what I can find we spend something like 8B/year keeping drug users in jail. That doesn’t include the money we spend apprehending those people or that once we put them in jail they tend to commit violent crimes once they are out and unemployable. Oh yea, we would put a lot of prison personnel out of work and the prison lobby isn’t something to mess with. Darn.

    Posted by Miles Anderson | August 20, 2010, 6:27 pm
  4. American sports would decline as anyone with ability would go to Europe wouldn’t they?

    Posted by Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life | August 20, 2010, 7:03 pm
  5. I don’t really see how this works as you state it. The system isn’t stationary. People will adjust and you won’t get the same result out of the system if you muck with it on the front end. If I believed that our government could be trusted I’d say tax the heck out of it on the back end and feed that into education. But our government has proven that money will only end up going down some rathole.

    It’s a compound problem, really. Look, I feel you… governments are by their very nature corrupt to some degree or another. But there are governments that fund education better than we do, and steal less from the public coffers than we do. So just throwing our hands up and saying it’s impossible because the government sucks… sounds defeatist.

    In my state, there’s a neat little program called HOPE. Every time someone plays the lottery, a portion of the sale goes to a great big education fund. When a resident high-school student graduates with a B average or better, they get their education paid for. More or less. There are problems with it, of course. The lottery causes problems, especially at very low income levels. And there is certainly some corruption. And let’s not even get into the standardized tests we use, and how they don’t represent the real education of students, and how teachers bump their favorites up to get them up to a B average. But giving lots of kids free education is a lot better than not giving it to them.

    So yeah, I’m sure there would be problems. But that’s a call for finding new ways to change the political environment to reduce corruption, which will in turn improve all socialized government programs.

    To me there are way more obvious places to cut money we spend and feed it into education. As an example you don’t have to put drug users into jail.

    We could also stop funneling billions — trillions — of dollars into pre-emptive wars against countries that didn’t attack us. That would work, too. Or we could put some serious corporate reform into place and actually, you know… tax corporations. There are lots of ways we can do it, and frankly, I’d sign off on all of them if they were all proposed. If the worst problem we had with education was that teachers were being paid exorbitantly high salaries… not so bad a problem.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 20, 2010, 7:15 pm
  6. American sports would decline as anyone with ability would go to Europe wouldn’t they?

    I dunno. There might be something of a hit to the overall quality of athletes, but then again, Europeans have managed to enjoy sports even though many of their best athletes have been coming to the U.S. In the end, isn’t it about the intensity of the competition? I mean, I love, love, love college football. Much more than NFL football. Even though without question, the worst NFL teams have far more talent than even the top college teams.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 20, 2010, 7:19 pm
  7. Your idea of paying all positions on a Football team exactly the same is rather ridiculous. If they all did exactly the same thing, it would make sense but many of them are out there on the field for far greater periods of time than the others.

    To be fair you should have made the RATE of pay equal. Then someone who plays just about every snap would get paid more than someone who comes in 2 or 3 times during a game.

    What I’d really like to know is what “equal pay for equal work” means, and if you could get some of the “pay equality” back into tennis where men get the same purses for more sets.

    Now we could get into your argument about education – you act as if it’s underfunding and not misspending that is the big culprit here and after nearly 25 years of hearing people who overlook the counterproductive regulations, unrealistic expectations, lack of giving teachers either freedom OR authority in their classrooms but instead claim its all money I have no more patience for arguing it.

    Of course this system will never work with free agency, and you also ignore the fact that some position players are better than others at the same position and hence should probably get paid more, but I know you were just sitting up a very simple analogy.

    Posted by clarence | August 20, 2010, 8:48 pm
  8. Now we could get into your argument about education – you act as if it’s underfunding and not misspending that is the big culprit here and after nearly 25 years of hearing people who overlook the counterproductive regulations, unrealistic expectations, lack of giving teachers either freedom OR authority in their classrooms but instead claim its all money I have no more patience for arguing it.

    Actually, no. I didn’t make that representation. Good education requires both good education guidelines and practices and money. If you go back and read what I wrote more carefully, you’ll see I also made a call for superior training for elementary school teachers, which is something that is lacking today. If you look back at the comments, you’ll also see that I mentioned problems of corruption at a government level. Might as well throw incompetence in there, too.

    So you’ll be happy to know you don’t have to argue with me, so long as you’re on board with the idea of paying teachers more and athletes less.

    Of course this system will never work with free agency, and you also ignore the fact that some position players are better than others at the same position and hence should probably get paid more, but I know you were just sitting up a very simple analogy.

    Well yes, I was certainly over-simplifying things. But teams already have to deal with salary caps, which creates an effective range of pay that they can afford for each position player. I’m simply proposing a more egalitarian system where the best quarterbacks would be paid comparably to the best linemen (both of whom are on the field for the same number of plays, after all. That’s your criteria, right?)

    But for the sake of argument, wouldn’t you say that a place-kicker is at least as important as a lineman? Without the defensive line holding the other team at bay, the kicker doesn’t get a chance to kick the winning field goal. But without a good kicker, you might as well not try the 50 yarder. My point is not that all players are equal. It is that we can restructure pay scales — they don’t have to be exactly equal, but in practical terms, there’s no way that a quarterback is say, twenty times more important than a lineman. But if all football players made similar pay, there would still be exactly as much need for great players at all positions, and I really don’t think Sam Bradford would retire from football rather than take a salary of a million dollars a year. You know what I mean?

    Consider that not so long ago — as recently as the 40s and 50s, all professional athletes were paid about the same as skilled laborers. It can work.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 20, 2010, 11:39 pm
  9. But then, to teach that, we’d have to figure out some way to shut up all the theists who refuse to admit evolution.

    From what I’ve seen the people the most against any practical application of evolutionary ramifications are the very people most adamant about teaching evolution in the schools. They want to teach that people came from monkeys and therefore religion is wrong. After that they rapidly loose all interest in the subject.

    Along the same lines, we tend to radically overestimate the power of education. Schools matter and so do good teachers, but this idea that “underprivileged” students can be magically transformed by education is pure nonsense. We know that IQ differences exist between the middle class and those in ghettos, and that no one to date has found a way to fix this. In all likelihood it comes down to genetics and (gasp) evolution. So increasing teacher salaries probably won’t help much, especially if the stated goal remains leveling the achievement across races and socioeconomic groups.

    In addition, if we increased teacher salaries significantly and started hiring based on merit, I think you would find men pushing women out of the teaching profession in large numbers, especially at middle school and high school levels. All of my best middle school and high school teachers were all men, and my wife had the same experience.

    Posted by Dalrock | August 21, 2010, 1:30 pm
  10. Hamby:

    It’s not just about training, and it’s certainly not just about money when one speaks of education. Honestly, after years of looking into this I could probably write a book. Think: there was a famous book called “Why Johnny Can’t Read” and after all these years we’ve never even gotten started to putting its recommendations into play. In short, at least some of the problems have been known for nearly 40 years and nothing has been done. A PARTIAL list of the problems, and not in any order of importance:
    A. Lack of discipline in the classroom
    B. Lack of teachers qualified in the subjects in which they teach- education degrees are too easy
    C. Teachers have little or no control over how they teach the cirricula they are handed and no ability to deviate from it in the slightest
    D. No tracking – all students considered the same
    E. Teachers Unions , while necessary to protect teachers from being political sacrificial lambs, make it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. They also resist pay for performance, though admittedly measuring that can be difficult
    F. School sexual harrasment and zero tolerance policies with next to no flexibility
    G. Practicing defensive teaching due to lawsuits
    H. School boards, Superintendents and other outsiders feel free to impose things on the schools including HOW the children are to be taught, not just WHAT the children are to be taught
    I. The path to getting a teacher certification can be ridiculously expensive and time consuming even if one has say, a PHD in mathematics, standards also vary tremendously by state
    J. Lack of parental involvement in many of the poorer school systems
    L. Related to cirricula: Vo-tech programs are practically non-existent; the assumption is college
    M Political considerations at the federal level often set state policy which affects school policy; a public school is not free to innovate
    N. I didn’t mention waste, fraud, and abuse which tend to happen to moneies in any large system..

    So no, I’m not in favor of pouring more money into education until some things are fixed. I’d gladly pay more to individual teachers.

    As for the football thing, once again, no. You forget the horrors of the past when players salaries were kept low via collusions between owners . I don’t mind caps..but there has to be floors. And like it or not, at least part of the reason that football players get “paid” far more than teachers is that they possess a much rarer skill set and yet hundreds of million of people want to see them. If I can sell the fruits of my labor to hundreds of million of people, I should be allowed to.

    Posted by Clarence | August 22, 2010, 2:13 am
  11. Well, Clarence, thanks for the input, but I’m afraid you’ve missed my point entirely. I was not trying to prescribe a comprehensive fix for the education problem in America. (Look back in the comments where I noted that this entry is obviously an over-simplification.) In fact, education was just a convenient example for the broad point that gender inequality can be largely solved by re-examining our social values and diverting money from things we’re biologically driven to spend lots of money on to things critical thinking tells us we ought to spend lots of money on. Using mind over biology.

    So… again, thanks for the synopsis of the problems with education.

    As to your assertion that football players have a rarer skill set than teachers… um… bollocks. But thanks anyway. Turns out I’ve played sports (at highly competitive levels) and taught. Teaching is much harder.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 22, 2010, 5:19 pm
  12. Yeah, Sure hamby:

    And you can run a 4.9 at the combine as well.
    I have a friend who is a teacher. He’s hardly some genius.

    Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned on my own.

    But thanks anyway.

    Posted by Clarence | August 22, 2010, 7:01 pm
  13. Heh… Maybe if you think teaching is easy, you’re part of the problem with education. Just saying.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 22, 2010, 7:52 pm
  14. A couple of quick points:

    – To fix education, money is not the issue. The problem is similar to that which our defense forces are facing when dealing with insurgency-based foes: we are spending money on things (training, equipment, personnel) that are not the correct tools for the job at hand. If you want to fix education, the first thing you must fix are the monetary incentives and methods; reward success and punish failure. Always. Don’t spend more on something that already isn’t working until you figure out what will work. It just doesn’t work right now, and it especially doesn’t work for boys, ironically.

    – When you begin to change the incentives of systems, the behavior in those systems will change dramatically. I can all but guarantee that if you were to level NFL player salaries by position, you would create strange incentives that would never be expected. To give one example that has some real world parallels: if a position is highly in demand while under-supplied (say, quarterback), and you restrict the pay to that position, it is entirely possible that other forms of compensation will take their place. So to use a current example, the team with the best offensive line, tight ends, and pass blocking RBs in the game (to create the lowest chance to be injured as a QB) might have Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees as their three quarterbacks. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s not nearly as unlikely as one would think, as if money is not the issue, these guys are going to pick teams for the other benefits they offer. Similarly, it might lead to players dramatically preferring major market teams, as a much greater percentage of their income would now potentially come from endorsements. You might see that same platoon of QBs above all playing for the New York Giants or some other high profile location to reap maximum dollars.

    In short, no matter how you squeeze the supply and demand bubble, it will bulge out somewhere. This cannot be stopped without destroying the whole system (witness the economic consequences of state meddling in communist China under Mao, for example), and that has consequences far worse. Reality is what reality is, and trying to socially engineer our way around it (rather than just accept what it is, but then try to mitigate the worst consequences in less dramatic ways) usually creates worse outcomes, weirdly enough.

    Posted by Reinholt | August 27, 2010, 6:09 pm
  15. Thanks, Reinholt. But I’m not talking about fixing education. Not directly, anyway. I’m talking about sexism in the workplace, pay discrimination, and intelligently redesigning cash-flow to at least partially correct some of the inequality issues. Education is objectively more important than sports, but we pay teachers far less than sports stars. This can be remedied, and there’s no immutable law of the universe preventing us from redirecting money from sports revenues to paying teachers. (I believe that the lack of supplies is also linked to subtle sexism, but that’s another topic.) Thus the example of the Georgia lottery funding college education. We can take money from things people are highly drawn to and redirect it to things they ought to spend money on.

    I hear what you’re saying about stacking positions, but my point was not to draw up a complete plan — only to illustrate that there are starting points for better design. To address your concern directly, we can obviously limit incentives and benefits. We can also tweak the “franchise player” rule, the draft, and so forth. Just off the top of my head, I can imagine a system in which there is a supplemental “reserve draft” in which the last place team in each division has the option to draft a player from a first place team, and the first place team would only have so many protected spots available. Thus, if New England managed to acquire Brady, Manning, and Brees, they’d get to keep them for one season, but would only be able to protect one of them. Pretty soon, St. Louis and Oakland would have themselves a mighty fine QB.

    Again, I’m not offering a concrete plan with all the kinks worked out. I’m just saying that we can regulate whatever we want to regulate, and if we could somehow do it without all the lobbying, we could genuinely work something out that would be a lot more fair and might create even more parity.

    But please realize that I’m not trying to fix sports. I’m using the NFL as an example to illustrate a broader point, which is that pay discrimination is not restricted to sex. We have proven that we can correct it with the right environment. There is room for more improvement.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 27, 2010, 7:15 pm

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