Uncovering Gender

'Neutering of American Male' Is Same Old Story

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A new, not-for-Valentine's Day book offers another tired warning about the anti-erotic effects of ambitious women. Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett describe how it follows a long line of related titles and discredited ideas that just won't go away.

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Easy to Take Apart

Most of these arguments are easy to take apart.

John Gray gave barely a nod to science in his down-market, sentimental "Mars and Venus." His ideas of sturdy, emotionally clueless Martians and loving ethereal Venusians makes serious scholars shake their heads. And his much advertised Ph.D. comes from a diploma mill closed down by the California attorney general.

Mansfield's celebration of old fashioned manliness and love of war in "Manliness" sounds positively Victorian. It's hard to take seriously. It could have been written by Rudyard Kipling--though Kipling did not celebrate rape in his patriotic poetry.

Baron-Cohen did attempt to bring science to his ideas about male and female brains, but the single study on which he based his ideas was soundly trashed by scholars. Parents held up their day-old babies and it was noted whether they looked at people or mobiles. Boys, the study said, looked at the in animate objects and girls looked at people.

A large body of literature contradicts Baron-Cohen's study, finding that male and female infants respond equally to people and objects. But Baron-Cohen's ideas still are widely circulated and he is sought after for public speaking.

Sullivan's contention that testosterone makes men leaders oversimplifies. Does "T" cause aggression, or does aggressive behavior trigger the release of testosterone? We don't know. In social groups, males with higher testosterone levels are not necessarily more aggressive. In a major review of the literature, John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire in England casts doubt on any direct relationship between blood levels of testosterone and aggressive behavior.

Women Aren't Wimps

When male and female leaders are compared, women do not emerge as wimps.

Business Week reported that a 2000 study of 41,000 executives--25 percent of them female--at 5,000 companies found that women are slightly more high-handed than men when making decisions. Women chose "my-way-or-the-highway" 35 percent of the time, men only 31.5 percent.

"If your boss is a Ms., don't automatically expect her decision-making to be warm and fuzzy," Business Week advised.

Many of these simplistic, hardwired ideas about the sexes have been strongly refuted. Psychologist Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne (who wrote "Delusions of Gender," 2010) looked at 650 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that social expectations, not gender per se, accounted for most observed differences between the sexes.

The idea of the aggressive uncaring, warlike man is way out of date.

Boys are naturally just as caring as girls, notes Harvard psychologist William Pollack, author of "Real Boys." "They may have different patterns of behavior and learn and communicate through action, but they are as capable of being sensitive and empathic as girls are," he writes.

Male infants, Pollack says, are more emotionally expressive than baby girls, but boys, as they grow, too often learn to display a "mask of masculinity" that hides their inner feelings.

Let's not tighten the screws on that mask with outdated and incorrect arguments.


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Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett, senior scientist at the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, are the co-authors of "The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About our Children" (Columbia University Press).

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--submitted by webmaster for reader--

I'm an anthropologist (and mother of 3 sons).  The study about newborn boys and girls looking at objects or people fails to note that girls are more mature at birth, and for lifetimes.  That  means that  at birth, a full-term girl's brain is more ready to notice faces than is a boy's.  The difference continues and critically at around first grade, when girls are experiencing a hormone shift in adrenaline that helps them sit still longer and gives them finer hand-eye coordination, while boys do not experience this shift until they are 7 or 8.  This is a major hormonal shift comparable to puberty, which is similarly earlier, age-wise, in girls.  Failing to take account of difference in maturation between males and females flaws most studies.

Wysong as a Christian writer is propagandizing Fundamentalist evangelical Christian Right dogma.  (I recently finished a book on the militant Christian Right.  So far, it doesn't have a publisher --trade publishers will have nothing to do with academics unless they have an agent, and agents aren't interested in academics, think we can't write.  Academic publishers are afraid to publish "political" books.)   As the Republican candidates are now displaying, the militant Christian Right is determined to take over America.


Alice B. Kehoe, prof. emeritus, Marquette U.