Female Brains and How That Concept Reifies Misogyny

Damn sometimes it just pays to be lucky and subscribe to the New York Times, considered by many to be one of the last real newspapers in America.

Here I am talking about how I find the concept of “female brains” as reifying the ideology of female inferiority  in the world of intellect and accomplishment.  Something I consider profoundly anti-feminist and I am blessed with the following article in the New York Times.

See complete article at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/science/22women.html?scp=1&sq=women%20in%20science&st=cse

Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences

By TAMAR LEWIN

A report on the underrepresentation of women in science and math by the American Association of University Women, to be released Monday, found that although women have made gains, stereotypes and cultural biases still impede their success.

The report, “Why So Few?,” supported by the National Science Foundation, examined decades of research to cull recommendations for drawing more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM fields.

“We scanned the literature for research with immediate applicability,” said Catherine Hill, the university women’s research director and lead author of the report. “We found a lot of small things can make a difference, like a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering, or teaching children that math ability is not fixed, but grows with effort.”

The report treads lightly on the hot-button question of whether innate differences between the sexes account for the paucity of women at the highest levels of science and math.

Five years ago, Lawrence H. Summers, then the president of Harvard, sparked a firestorm when he suggested that “there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude” reinforced by “lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.”

The association’s report acknowledges differences in male and female brains. But Ms. Hill said, “None of the research convincingly links those differences to specific skills, so we don’t know what they mean in terms of mathematical abilities.”

At the top level of math abilities, where boys are overrepresented, the report found that the gender gap is rapidly shrinking. Among mathematically precocious youth — sixth and seventh graders who score more than 700 on the math SAT — 30 years ago boys outnumbered girls 13 to 1, but only about 3 to 1 now.

“That’s not biology at play, it doesn’t change so fast,” Ms. Hill said. “Even if there are biological factors in boys outnumbering girls, they’re clearly not the whole story. There’s a real danger in assuming that innate differences are important in determining who will succeed, so we looked at the cultural factors, to see what evidence there is on the nurture side of nature or nurture.”

And of course the money quote:

Making judgments about an individual’s abilities based on his or her sex is a classic form of discrimination, said Nancy Hopkins, an M.I.T. biology professor who created an academic stir in the 1990s by documenting pervasive, but largely unintentional, discrimination against women at the university.

All the talk about female brains vs male brains somehow seems to validate way too much discrimination.  If female brains are not good at certain things such as science, engineering, biology or management and say finance then would that not be reason to exclude them?

It is like all the emphasis upon gender that has come to the forefront during the reactionary backlash against the liberation and feminist movements of the 1960s and 70s.  Gender too gets used to define the appropriate roles for men and women with feminine men considered not real men and masculine women considered not real women.

Look at the very idea of gender transgression and gender variance.  The very idea often seems to be the playground of the rich and privileged while too many of the working class are dress coded into androgynous uniforms consisting of pants of a certain color and polo or other collared shirt of the same color.  The idea being that those of the new servant economy have no individuality and are defined by function in their role of selling products or serving those with economic power.

One Response to “Female Brains and How That Concept Reifies Misogyny”

  1. Véronique Says:

    I agree that “female brain” and “male brain” is an oversimplification. I am, however, interested in scientific discoveries. I’m not going to say that some scientific discovery is false because people can use it for bad ends. If something is true, it’s true, even if it is discomfiting.

    And then again, there is nothing in what is known about brain structures that prevents us from working toward social justice and sexual equality. Some women, like some men, have the aptitude for science, engineering, or whatever. There should be no discrimination based on sex, only on ability.


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