See, this is why gender essentialism is essentially sexist

Reader Audra submitted this article, Confessions of a Young Anti-Feminist, by Josephine Asher. I’ve long maintained that sexist arguments are rarely rational, and usually represent intellects that are more privileged than trained, but rarely have I seen an article do a better job of inadvertently making the argument for me. Asher’s failure to separate rationalized emotion from rationality begins here:

Instead of harnessing the different qualities of men and women to energise us, we are striving to make men and women equal.

I long ago banned gender essentialist arguments from this site. Gender essentialism is the idea that men and women are inherently different, and therefore any woman claiming not to like pink and babies is either lying, rebelling or deranged – and likewise, any man claiming not to care for sports or want to spend time with his kids even if it means changing diapers is similarly deranged. The assumption of inherent biological differences completely lacks scientific foundation, and I make that case more thoroughly in the article linked above. But worse, what it’s founded on is an emotional desire to believe that everyone who doesn’t conform to gender “norms” is defective and can therefore be discounted as a representative of humanity. If we want to be taken seriously as thoughtful human beings, the desire to believe any large group of people defective is something we must all struggle to avoid, not struggle to legitimize with pseudo-intellectual chatter. Unfortunately, Asher missed this memo.

More women are joining the battle for the CEO’s chair and pursuing dominance in their homes and communities. But in the process they’re becoming more like men. And men are becoming… well, less like men.

“Less like men?” And what are men like? Some claim carpenters and farmers are real men while stock traders are not. Some claim richer men are more manly than poorer ones, so the stock traders would beat the carpenters. In some cultures, manly men greet each other with double kisses on the cheek. Where I grew up, that would start a fist-fight. So, again, what does “like men” mean?

Asher has found a compatriot in pseudo-scientific emotional bigotry rationalization:

Renowned Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo believes men and women have different roles “set not only by society but set by physiology”.

“The current trend is for dads to be more hands on. But for all we know it may be proven in a hundred years time that that may be a negative thing for the upbringing of children,” he said recently on Seven’s Sunday Night program.

“They’re there to be protective. A man has to have a good job; he has to do well at school so he can get a good job and support his family. A woman has to be loving and caring,” he said.

Ah, here comes the heteronormativity – another perspective that seeks to negate the experiences of all people who don’t conform to gender norms. Even though millions of men miss the mark Teo sets for them – and many others aren’t even aiming for it – we know this is what men should be like because, um… well, let’s see if Asher has any science to clarify it. Maybe this statement?

For thousands of years men were providers and protectors and women nurturers. Evolution provided each with the physical and emotional assets to do these jobs well.

Hmm, nope, sorry. You can’t look at each trait we have now and assume evolution had a great and noble purpose for it. There is debate, for example, over whether blue eyes were actually an advantageous adaptation or merely a trait that bottlenecked in a particular population, but didn’t hurt anyone, and therefore became rather popular. We’ll probably never know for sure.

But there are additional problems with Asher’s claim. First, in hunter-gatherer societies, it’s ridiculous to negate the role of women in providing since gathering is part of that. Second, there is a history of some women fighting to protect their tribes or villages, and there are cultural reasons why women have been excluded from warfare.

But here Asher offers some statistical information. Stats can be scientific, when they’re properly gathered and sensibly applied, so let’s give them a shot.

The Annual Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey found 33 per cent of women who returned to work did so for independence, and 27 per cent for career progression.

However, a British survey of 2000 men revealed one-third of men would prefer to be the sole breadwinning traditional father while another quarter would like to be the main breadwinner with their spouse working only part-time.

When she said “however,” weren’t you expecting her to follow with something that revealed more about the women’s responses in the first survey? Instead, she counters a statement about women’s preferences with one about men’s: “Women want X; however, men want something mutually exclusive with X.” Surely she’ll explain the significance of this contradiction.

Instead, men are sporting aprons, doing their own ironing and pushing trolleys down supermarket aisles – roles that don’t exactly exude manliness.

The survey also found more than half of respondents thought 21st century society was turning men into “waxed and coiffed metrosexuals”, who had to live according to women’s rules.

Oh, I see now: her point was simply that men aren’t getting what they want thanks to feminism. You know, I kind of thought that might be her point all along. It usually is the point with people making this argument: “Feminism is making men unhappy. I don’t like that. I shall find a way to rationalize my desires into what sounds kind of like logic, and then no one can stop me!” But wait – there’s a Real Problem here:

When a man is stripped of his sense of purpose, it’s more difficult to satisfy that instinctive hunger for power and purpose. Could this be part of the reason why one in eight Australian men experiences severe depression in their lifetime?

Actually, no, no, no, no, no. Plenty of men have always experienced depression, and typically manifested it as manly manly rage. It’s not that more men are experiencing depression; it’s that more men are getting treatment for it and being counted. You can thank feminism and mental health advocacy for that: in seeking to make the culture understand that depression is neither just a bad attitude nor a factor of wacky female emotionalism, they made it less uncomfortable for men to seek treatment instead of just drinking themselves into an early grave or shooting themselves in the face, like they did back in the good ol’ days.

At no point does Asher mention how many women are depressed.

Never does Asher offer any logical foundation for her assertions (or Teo’s) that men are supposed to protect and provide for a family while women nurture. That’s because there isn’t one. That’s because the woman who could’ve been a big somebody if only she hadn’t gotten pregnant with those damn kids and had to marry existed long before feminism. The man who didn’t derive purpose from his occupation also existed long before feminism. These people and many other non-conformists are part of why feminism came into being: because millions of people have always found a conflict between their true inner nature and the supposed “norms” of their gender.

The “norms” have never been true mathematical norms: sure, many people naturally happen to conform to stereotypes of their gender, and that’s absolutely fine. But a huge minority don’t – much too big a minority to be dismissed as a fluke. Especially when you consider how the minority might be increased if we could somehow eliminate from the count people who have merely convinced themselves they conform in order to make life easier. Because it does make life oh so much easier.

If the norms were really norms, why would culture work so incredibly hard at brainwashing us all into our acceptable roles, that we have an entire collection of industries for this site to critique for that very reason?


  1. jeff says

    “Instead, men are sporting aprons, doing their own ironing and pushing trolleys down supermarket aisles – roles that don’t exactly exude manliness”

    So apparently being able to buy groceries, cook, or look professional is unmanly? Well, shit.

        • says

          Yeah, Jeff, honestly, if you can’t get some woman to be your servant, you’re a weenie. But remember, if you live in the US, you mustn’t try to look good or be attentive or thoughtful in order to woo a woman-servant – that’s gay! You should just be all “bitch, fetch me a beer and lose 10 pounds!” (if you’re blue collar, if you’re white collar, it’s more, “Darling, I expect my dinner at 6pm. Don’t make me have to hit you”) and your submissive woman-servant scurry around like a rat murmuring “Yes, babycakes” while she takes care of you. And if she does it wrong, remember to whack her real good. Then you will be a man.

        • says

          Also: Vikings were pretty boss, unless you’re talking about “Vikings” with the pointy hats, and axes, and lack of colorful clothing and bling and woman warriors and whatnot. They’re like wizards, but hornier (badumPSSH), and less likely to aid King Arther than they are to rob the ever-loving shit out of him.

          .:CLIFF NOTES:.

    • Robin says

      Yes, Jeff. As a woman who happens to hate ironing, I despise that you can and will do it yourself. A woman doesn’t want a man who can clearly take care of himself and be a true domestic partner. What, then, would be our purpose in his life?

  2. Hailey says

    I looooved this quote: “If you want real passion, you need a ravisher and a ravishee.”

    Right, yes, I forgot that sex always had to be about domination and submission. My bad.

    • says

      Oh, yeah, it’s just not fun when the passion is equal and everybody’s moaning and screaming with pleasure and unable to move for half an hour afterward. That’s just not good sex, didn’t you know?

  3. DSimon says

    Bad science article makes baby Carl Sagan cry. :-\

    I mean, sheesh, even if the article did reference actual psychological trends among men and women, that would completely miss that:

    (a) You’re still talking about two largely overlapping bell curves, such that you can’t make generalizations from the stats down to individual men or women very strongly.

    (b) Just because you’ve found some average value doesn’t imply that deviating from the average is bad!

    But they didn’t even get that far, merely referencing some polls about opinions instead of, you know, actually even trying to isolate cultural and biological factors.

    • says

      My eyes sort of glaze over when I read you talking about “bell curves” because my interest in science has a limit, and even *I* know what she’s saying is pretend science, you know?

      And yes: if no one ever deviates from the average, or it becomes punishable and has to therefore be hidden, how can we evolve socially?

    • SDM says

      Re bell curves: Yes, that’s one of the things I hate about gender essentialism. I mean, aside from the whole obviously-invented-to-maintain-the-power-structure-and-being-wrong part. Even if some of these studies were actually right and convincingly showed that men and women were somehow different on average (which I’m not saying, just to be clear), it wouldn’t matter. The variation among women and among men is much larger than any average difference between them will be, and therefore it would be just stupid to assume than any individual has some quality because she or he is a woman or a man.

      But of course, nuance and variation are not what stories like this are about.

  4. Melissa says

    “The current trend is for dads to be more hands on. But for all we know it may be proven in a hundred years time that that may be a negative thing for the upbringing of children”

    …and they call US man-haters???

    • says

      I know, right? It really read to me like he was suggesting perhaps men are inherently abusive toward those less powerful than themselves. People are fine with that – it’s when you suggest that men are perfectly capable of choosing not to be assholes and should be responsible for that choice that you get called a “hater.”

      • says

        And wouldn’t that make men the, like, hired muscle accessory gender? “Look, because ALL WOMEN WANT BABIES, we’ll take the dick as needed, and tolerate your shit so we’ll get live-in bouncers. Just try not to track in any mud.”

        OH, RIGHT, MEN WANT TO BE IN CHARGE, TOO. All good women want what men want.

        • Maria says

          All I’m saying is that this is why nobody likes bees. Bees are all MEN ARE USELESS, GIVE UP THE DICK THEN GET OUT OF THE WAY and then SF writers are all OH NOEZ IT’S A HIVE SOCIETY!!! OUR REAL GENDER ROLES WILL SOMEHOW SAVE THE DAY. (I BET THEY’RE COMMUNIST TOO!)

          :glares at Anne MacCaffrey’s Talent series. It ruined Christmas:

          • says

            What, you thought the patriarchy would be fond of a massive, intelligent, and highly successful order of insects by name of Hymenoptera? Especially when sex for men means instant, gory, entrails-ripped-out death, and for women means the penis-as-weapon metaphor is very literally true (same organ structures, hells yes) and positively destroys any argument for Freudian penis envy??

            You’d think they’d be fonder of a social structure where men’s live could be all about sex without responsibility, even if it’s in the frigid depths of the ocean, but anglerfish kind of give a new meaning to “shrinkage”.

    • Shaun says

      I know, I was like, wait, what? Haven’t men participated in raising children, to various extents, for thousands of years? I guess all of history is actually one big European fantasy movie.

      • says

        You hit on something else incredibly interesting (read flawed) about evolutionary biology as practiced today. It spends all of its time explaining modern (or 50’s) western and especially American culture as natural and mandated by biology, and by contrast, intentionally or not paints other cultures who don’t follow our paradigm as unnatural. Or that they really are following are paradigm, but their either lying or the anthropologists have it all wrong.

          • says

            Or that, poor savage dears, they were/are either on their way to where we are, the end product of the Natural Evolutionary Path, or the little primitive barbarians were bass-ackwards, as you said.

            There was a Calvin and Hobbes strip outlining that attitude, but the image is copywritten and I can’t find it online. :/

          • says

            Oh yes, don’t they realize the progression of history and ladder theory of anthropology went out with the Victorians?

            Fitting, given they want to drag our gender roles back to the Victorians too.

  5. says

    Her argument is so lacking in intellectual rigger and factual basis that I don’t know how she got it published.

    Oh yeah, she agrees with the mainstream. The only reason my mom survived my childhood is because my dad was a hands on dad. One parent just can’t handle two disabled kids alone. Does she think my dad his emasculated because he was always the touchyer feelier parent?

    Also, I wonder while she’s all “think of the children” if she’s even looked at the fact that the more isolated and powerless a mother feels, the more likely she is to abuse her kids, whereas the more time outside the home, freedom, and resourses she has, the less likely she is to abuse her kids? Of course, all of this is also an argument for a better social safety net, which she’s probably also against. I also doubt she’s done any serious study of modern hunter gatherer cultures.

    and a ravisher and a ravishee? Seriously? What is this? A 1970s romance novel?

    • says

      Does she think my dad his emasculated because he was always the touchyer feelier parent?

      I hate to tell you this, and you probably already know it, but I’ve known a lot of people who think like Asher and they would:

      –Admire your dad for helping the way people go ga-ga when a man “babysits” his own kids for 15 minutes (even if the kids end up with head injuries incurred while he was watching Nascar and forgot they existed). Above and beyond, sir, above and beyond.
      –Hand-wring because your dad sacrificed his manhood for his kids.
      –Blame your mom for being an inadequate mom because we all know every single woman ever born is born fully equipped to cope with eleventy billion kids under absolutely any conditions known to the Earth, and any woman who claims otherwise is a selfish, lazy bitch.

      I don’t know how one parent ever copes with kids alone, at least not without getting depressed. Even when kids are relatively low-maintenance, they get sick, they have accidents, they make mistakes, they get super-unreasonable and make you want to hit them or drug them – parenting is an extremely tough gig at the best of times. A woman who can’t handle it all alone without at least an occasional break = human. A man who doesn’t get this = asshole. Man who does get this and does his part = real man, in my book.

      • says

        Oh yeah, I forgot about that one. It’s not babysitting, if it’s your own kids, peabrains!

        Speaking of NASCAR, my dad also doesn’t get sports. He watches my mom and my brother cheer for the Eagles and the Phillies, tilts his head and mutters a bit about weirdos. She’d probably consider that emasculating too.

        Wow, blaming my mom sounds so much like what my hometown did! It was so obviously her fault that I was sick and my brother was “troubled” (read mentally ill, obvs cyclical depression, severe ADHD, and immune diseases are all caused by bad mothering). If she would just (somehow) do more, all would be better. If she stayed home with us instead of working to pay our medical bills, we wouldn’t be sick anymore. This is when people actually believed I was sick. When they didn’t, Mom was just a lying bitch who somehow had my daddy fooled.

        Actually, of the people I know who had disabilities since childhood with non-abusive parents, all of them had very involved fathers or step fathers. Having a sick kid I think forces both parents to pitch in.

        Having one parent doing all of the parenting is bad for the parent and bad for the kids, yet we fetishize it so strongly in the US.

        My step grandfather’s wife fell sick with cancer, which later killed her when their kids were still young, and he took care of her and the kids heroically, and moved back in with her parents so that he could give her the care she needed, and go all of his kids to healthy happy, well socialized adulthood. Yet this woman would probably consider his abusive father a better man. Okay, maybe not. His father was a Nazi. I wonder if anything could make her realize how toxic her picture of society is.

        • says

          I have actually known people who expressed approval for an abusive man who conformed to their gender stereotypes while tsk-tsking a wonderful human being of a man who did not. It’s absolutely sickening.

          And as for blaming your mother, that was an easy guess – people always blame women.

          Although the “if she stayed home instead of working to pay the medical bills, the kids would be well” rationale is a little shocking. I’m always amazed that people that mind-bogglingly irrational can hold down jobs and, you know, basically function in society.

          • says

            “I have actually known people who expressed approval for an abusive man who conformed to their gender stereotypes while tsk-tsking a wonderful human being of a man who did not.” That scares the crap out of me. I’ve been reading up about gender and crime lately (trying to prove to my very feminist mom with some odd essentialist ideas that women are just as potentially criminal and violent than men and also combat the gender essentialist views of my Crim department) and one of the fields that I found most intriguing was the one about crime as a performance of gender roles.

            After my dad’s insurance started denying my care and claiming I wasn’t sick (stupid orphan illness) my mom picked up extra hours to qualify us for her insurance. And the fact that she’s a nurse has saved my life repeatedly. My town didn’t have a problem with women working, just my mom, because her kids were defective. Yet somehow, in our science suburb (everybody worked in aerospace, who says company towns are dead?) these people managed to build careers in the hard sciences and do very well for themselves.

            • says

              You may have trouble finding proof that women can be as violent and criminal. We actually ARE far, far less violent and criminal than men – but IMO probably only because culture dictates that we can’t get away with that stuff like they can (believe me, if violent women criminals suddenly came out in droves, they’d bring back public hanging without a trial inside a month). Psychology studies have consistently found that power corrupts everyone, including women, about equally, so you might want to check out some of that to further back up your argument.

          • says

            There’s some good evidence that men and women’s offending rates reach parity when they’re raised in egalitarian households, both that women’s crime goes up, and men’s crime goes down, but since such families are disproportionately likely to be middle class or higher and have other factors limiting offending rates, like community efficacy and greater opportunity, when looked at in aggregate with other crime, the numbers are minuscule. Also a lot of female violent crime according to self reporting is domestic, particularly child and elder abuse, which is very very under reported. My mom’s argument is that women are just naturally less violent, which just galls the heck out of me.

          • says

            Oh, that sounds like promising research you’re finding!

            I can believe that in an egalitarian society, women criminals might not always be as bloody as men are, since we generally can’t rely on brute force. But if you define violence as “hurting people” – oh, yeah, we’re excellent at that. I can’t believe we’re any less good at it than men.

  6. The Other Patrick says

    Aside from all the typical bullshit you call out and that’s above me in the comments, one thing of your great post to be emphasized:

    “And what are men like?”

    You will find this idea in other contexts, too – in Germany, we just had some assclown say that due to our immigrants, our country would become less German. The notion of an idealized male or female or national person, a prototypical Man/Woman/whatever, is ridiculous. At best, you can say Men are whatever the current average male person would be if you aggregated all individual experiences – and then if those change, then the meaning of “male” would change as well. As language does. I mean, what if the prototype is wrong?

    And moreso: even if true – why is that bad? Maybe what we’re seeing is evolution at work, changing men to be better suited not to stone age environment, but information age environment? Maybe it was a flaw of evolution? Why don’t I hear those claims?

    Oh, that’s right, it wouldn’t fit the narrative.

    • Brand Robins says

      Well hell, keep thinking that way and soon you’ll be arguing that we should all be the best that we can be, rather than the most conforming that we can be. 😉

      Really, who knows what combination of strengths and potential we’d have if we were encouraged to pursue what we, as individuals, are actually good at and enjoy rather than being encouraged to pursue only that which conforms to who we are supposed to be.

      What great leaders have been kept from the world, put into a life where they were unhappy and unable to fully express, unable to make the world a better place because they had breasts? What great chefs could there have been who never picked up a pot because they had a penis?

      What have we, as a whole society, lost in potential because we were always struggling for conformance rather than excellence? And what has it cost us all as individuals?

      Oh right, I forgot. Nothing. Cause men should be men!

    • says

      Well, race (and class, and job choice, and a whole slew of other things) does intersect with gender essentialism in interesting ways.

      I recently commented on a Racebending thing that part of the Western idea that East Asian/Asian-Am. men are only sexy if they have martial arts/military/organized crime skills and power could be derived from Western standards of masculinity and Otherization firmly placing E.Asian physical features and cultural behaviors as “effeminate” and needing supplementation to become truly “masculine” and sexually attractive by Western women’s standards. No response so far, but you can see how that concept ties into concepts of national identity and “purity.” (Er, which is kind of problematic in Germany, to boot.)

      Another example: in Ancient Egypt, men traditionally did the laundry. This is presumed to be because womenfolk shouldn’t have been hanging out near the crocodile- and hippo-infested waters of the Nile, therefore making washing day Manly, but I don’t think there were anti-lady fences along the banks– Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, you know? (Whatever, I don’t do other people’s laundry except my mama’s, so I’m hanging onto this fact as relevant until it’s pried from my non-sudsy fingers.)

      • Shaun says

        That’s really cool, about the laundry.

        Also, hippos! One time I was running an RPG for somebody and her character came across some hippos, and was like, pfft, hippos, and then I revealed they’re among the deadliest mammals in the world, and then she was sorry. >:O

        /geeky rp stories.

        • says

          Yeah, I’ve got issues with hippos. That, and ever since I saw one yawning on Sesame Street when I was little, I just got the overwhelming impression that they ate babies, because their mouths were certainly big enough.

          Hippos might actually kill more people along the Nile than crocodiles do, because of their size and people not taking them seriously.

          • Shaun says

            Well the character was a badass swordswoman, who felt the hippos were not a threat and she should be keeping an eye out for lions. It ended with her shamelessly running for her life. She still has a minor grudge. ^_^

      • Nicky P says

        Something you might like from Lorber + Mencher:

        “…In a gender-stratified society, what men do is usually valued more highly than what women do because men do it, even when their activities are very similar or the same, In different regions of southern India, for example, harvesting rice is men’s work, shared work, or woman’s work: ‘Wherever a task is done by women it is considered easy and where it is done by men it is considered difficult’ (Mencher). A gathering and hunting society’s survival usually depends on the nuts, grubs and small animals brought in by the women’s foraging trips but when the men’s hunt is successful it is the occasion for a celebration…”


        • Casey says

          The thing that bugs me about this is WHAT MAKES people think that whatever men do is more important in the first place? Does it have to do with the gender stratification? Because further down in the comments Alara says that in most cultures (regardless of gender egalitarianism, I assume) most men believe their roles in society are better/more important than whatever it is women do, and the only variable is how much women think that idea is bullshit.

    • Charles RB says

      “in Germany, we just had some assclown say that due to our immigrants, our country would become less German.”

      Claims like this, in any given country, are made by people who claim to be patriotic and viewing their nation & national culture as the greatest of nations & cultures, a great civilisation compared to the barbarity of the immigrant’s cultures.

      Then, in the same breath, they tell us that immigrants and their naturalised offspring are going to stick with this lesser culture, and that when it comes to a battle the nation is going to lose. Our Western cultures are both the Best of the Best and fragile things that could never survive a cultural conflict at the same time. It’s a grand example of doublethink. (See also: the great persecution of straight white male Christians in America)

      • Casey says

        “in Germany, we just had some assclown say that due to our immigrants, our country would become less German.”

        Ew, someone on YouTube tried to friend me, I didn’t know who he was and when I looked at his channel it turned out he was a FUCKING WHITE NATIONALIST and everything on his favorites list had to do with rhetoric like that, “BAAAW WESTERN EUROPEAN REVERSE-ETHNIC CLEANSING, BAAAWWW!”

  7. Mel says

    First, in hunter-gatherer societies, it’s ridiculous to negate the role of women in providing since gathering is part of that.

    Not just “part” but the major part–numerous studies have shown that gathering provides the majority of calories, especially reliable day-to-day calories, in hunter-gatherer societies (while hunting provides the majority of protein, which is also important).

    My partner insists on sharing in the grocery shopping because then he can choose foods he wants. True, he could brainstorm at home and give me a list, but it’s a lot easier for us to both go to the store and shop together and not risk me forgetting the coffee or bacon or some other food I don’t eat myself. I didn’t realize “controlling what you eat” was a deeply unmanly desire.

    Ravisher and ravishee? What? True passion is about one person doing all the work (and possibly about dubious consent) and not about mutual desire? (Funny, the men I know get grouchy if they have to do all the work and the woman just lies there like a wet towel ravishee.)

    • Sarah says

      Your last line made me look for a Facebook ‘like’ button. Ravish. I hadn’t really used words like that since I was in fourth grade and trawling my mom’s romance novels for vocab words to share at school.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      And of course if any het couple does like ravishing, it’s impossible for the roles to be reversed from male ravisher and female ravishee.

      Same-sex couples and poly groups, of course, should not exist, and being forced to acknowledge their existence is oppression.

      • Casey says

        Yeah! That ravisher/ravishee thing pissed me off because I DO like that stuff (and I DO like to switch it up as you stated) but let’s not get delusional here and think that’s the One True Sex Act To Bind Them All(tm), amirite?
        (sorry for stealing that phrase from you Jennifer, but it’s just TOO GOOD! and great to use during discussions of heteronormativity)

  8. BB says

    “As a 29-year-old single woman, many of my peers don’t appreciate my traditionalist views. I’d rather dodge a flying pair of high heels thrown at me in anger than pin a man under a pair of mine”
    Can anyone tell me what on earth that means? I’ve been trying to figure it out but must admit I’m totally lost.

    • says

      Means she’d rather be attacked by feminists than be dominant over a man. She assumes we will throw high heels at her for her views – which is absurd on several levels – and she assumes equality is impossible, so if men aren’t dominating women, women will be dominating men.

      It’s also mind-boggling how Asher and people like her always use such jokingly violent imagery to describe the dominance feminists supposedly want over men (pinned under high heels and so on), yet male dominance has involved a fucking lot of real and terrifying violence throughout history and still now, but they always leave all that stuff out. It’s a very telling juxtaposition: it shows they consider men raping, beating, imprisoning and burning women at stakes perfectly natural, but female dominance over men a terrifying proposition. It’s frightening that otherwise reasonably intelligent people can maintain positions like these simultaneously with straight faces.

      • Casey says

        I assumed the concept of female dominance was terrifying because not unlike how ignorant white people/racists fear a black planet (PUBLIC ENEMY FTW), ignorant men/anti-feminists/misogynists fear women taking over and giving them what they so justly deserve (in this case, it’s being stabbed to death with stilettos??).

        That’s just how I always felt when I was young and naive and got “scared” of the thought that an oppressed minority group was gaining more power.

        • says

          It’s projection. They make the assumption that feminists will behave that way because they know that they would/do behave that way.

          They won’t be satisfied unless they are dominate/abusive, so they figure feminists won’t be either.

          • Casey says

            Or there’s that. That’s really what I wanted to say, but you’re much more blunt, and therefore MUCH MORE ELOQUENT!

          • says

            Some people really can’t imagine two individuals, let alone a whole society, where no one has a power advantage. Despite all the power advantages I’ve seen (and usually been on the wrong end of) in my life, I’ve had loads of relationships where no one had a power advantage. I can’t imagine what kind of life would lead a person to think someone’s always got to be the ever-suffering bottom, and it’s just silly talk to suggest otherwise.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Jennifer, I really think the attitude you describe is the fundamental reason why there’s such vicious opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples.

            They keep saying that same-sex marriage threatens their form of marriage, and it actually does. Their form of marriage is based on an innate, immutable hierarchy where men dominate women. Society recognizing same-sex marriages, where one partner is not automatically dominant, creates the deadly possibility that society might start viewing all marriages that way.

          • says

            Society recognizing same-sex marriages, where one partner is not automatically dominant, creates the deadly possibility that society might start viewing all marriages that way.

            Too right – and expecting people to work out for themselves how they’ll do things without having an automatic assignment of roles. One of the argument some Christians have made for the idea that the man must ultimately be in charge of the household is that *someone* must be. Well, yes, there are going to be times when two people disagree and you obviously can’t get a democratic majority. But what’s disastrous is the idea that the person with the final say must automatically be the MAN. Some men are wonderful, strong, admirable people… who just don’t like being the boss. Some men should be the boss when it comes to one part of the household, but they know nothing about some other aspect of it. Knowing what’s best for a household is not encoded into either the X or Y chromosome.

            Besides, grown ups should be able to work these things out without resorting to an infantile concept like, “Man in charge because he man.”

          • says

            What GG says. I was theorizing something similar to my flatmate the other day, in regards to gay panic and what I think goes on in the heads of men who are both homophobes and misogynists.

            My theory: men who disrespect women and fear/hate gay male sexuality have the notion that sexual attraction is naturally bound up with entitlement and coercion, so they assume that if they think this way about women, gay men might (horrors!) think the same way about them. Cuz someone always has to dominate someone, don’t they? Blech.

      • Elee says

        Oooh, I would gladly through the only pair of high-heels I own at her. At least they would get some use. Though she would probably choke on all the dust they have gathered. *uncomfortable footwear is uncomfortable*

  9. Azzy says

    “They’re there to be protective. A man has to have a good job; he has to do well at school so he can get a good job and support his family.”
    These are two contradictory statements. If men are there to be protective, doesn’t it follow that they should be the ones taking care of the children? After all, how can a man protect his offspring if he’s away at school or work?

    • says

      By affording a “nice” neighborhood where things like that never ever happen and providing home security systems and stuff in case it does. (In modernizing, we kind of merged the “protector/provider” role through the magic of commerce – I’m pretty sure that’s what Attackfish meant).

      Of course, once in a great while it doesn’t work, and the family gets slaughtered by a pack of roving male gender conformists anyway, but that’s okay, because that’s when the dead family goes in a fridge and Mr. Man gets his VERY OWN COMIC BOOK SERIES!

      • says

        Ah, those fridges. So many women in them. D’: It’s sad that when I look at comics and heroes and yearn to be a part of a narrative like that, what I’d have to look forward to is either death or being man-handled and kidnapped. So, being an object either way. AWESOME.

        • says

          Or, you know, raped. If you wanted to get your own storyline, anyway. See: 99% of all non-fridged female protagonists (and some antagonists) in comic books, ever.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            But don’t you know that rape is “edgy?” It’s how you prove how your comic is totally mature and not kids’ stuff!

          • Shaun says

            I read a graphic novel series recently called the Authority. I recommend you check it out*. I don’t know the comic universe it’s set in at all, but the leader of the team is the Spirit of the Twentieth Century and… she’s actually kind of an asshole. She dresses in jeans and a t-shirt, she’s a capable leader and kind of an unlikable person, all things I’m not used to seeing from female comic book characters. The other women on the team are interesting too.

            *Caveat, the first 2 graphic novels are pretty cool, but the third one is by a different writer and includes a rape I didn’t really like. The first one mentions rape, so trigger warning, but I didn’t have problems with it the way I did the third book.

          • says

            Ooh, that does sound good! And I looked it up and it’s written by Warren Ellis!! <3 <3 <3 Nextwave was amazing.

            *adds to Amazon wishlist*

          • Patrick McGraw says

            I… really dislike The Authority. Under Warren Ellis, it exemplified all of the flaws of none of the strengths found in his writing. Once Mark Millar took over, it was… well, it was Mark Millar comic, which is to say it was a bunch of horrible people doing horrible things and it’s supposed to be “edgy” and “controversial.”

            Great Rao, but I do hate Mark Millar.

          • Shaun says

            I haven’t read a lot by Warren Ellis (that I know of). I thought the characters’ powers were rather neat, especially Jack Hawksmoor and the Doctor, and I felt like everyone on there had a place–even the Midnighter and Swift, who I initially questioned.

            As far as the edgy stuff, I liked his comic at the very end of the 2nd graphic novel. If nothing else, Gena, if you read the first 2 and hate Millar’s comic you don’t have to buy the third one. Not sure what you didn’t like about it, though, Patrick.

          • The Other Patrick says

            Mark Millar is hateworthy. Warren Ellis isn’t :) Even though I agree that the Authority is the weakest I’ve read by him. Transmetropolitan is awesome. Ministry of Space has a killer ending. He does feature women characters who are just as foul-mouthed as his men :)

            And he likes science.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Basically, I feel that The Authority is Ellis’ weakest work because it lacks the things that make him great:

            1) characters who may be too flawed to actually be heroes, but who are nonetheless humanized and relatable. The Authority is made of up sociopaths who insult people as they murder them. One James Bond is bad enough, I don’t need to read about a team of him.

            2) Crazy awesome ridiculousness that you’ve never seen before. See any issue of Transmetropolitan or Nextwave. The Authority just comes across as Dark Age takes on Silver Age tropes. (Ooh, these bad guys are like the Avengers but they’re evil! Never seen that before!)

            The title also displays some of Ellis’ weakest efforts at post-modern comics, which I was never very fond of in the first place.

          • Shaun says

            I didn’t feel the characters were sociopaths at all. The books had a high body count (a more realistic way of portraying superhero fights, IMO), which may have led to that ambiance, but the team actively tried to prevent as many deaths as possible. Swift actually talks about how she and Jack used to be pacifists, too, and there’s that scene where she refuses to engage an enemy, finding a nonviolent alternative instead. She does that twice, actually. In one book.

            I haven’t read Transmetropolitan or Nextwave, but the evil Avenger storyline was Mark Millar, not Warren Ellis, sooooo I’m not sure what Dark Age versions of Silver Age tropes you’re talking about? :)

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Hmm, perhaps I’m conflating them a bit. It’s certainly possible for a later writer to fuck over a franchise so thoroughly that they poison one’s perception of the earlier work.

  10. sbg says

    Ironically, I just got in a tiff elsewhere about the “Daddy is ferociously protective of his little girl, that’s why he’s so keen to toss any and everyone (of his blood relation) under a bus. It’s all for her!” thing. Which is neither here nor there, it just brought that bitterness back up. Partly because my father made no gender distinction that I can recall in this seemingly inherent, manly protective streak of his and partly because I hate that trope for really reals. It is not always a good excuse.

    See also: what, a mother’s not just as protective of her kids? Pfft.

    This whole blasted article screams of “But what about the mennnnns?”. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how equality should make a man’s…manhood wilt.

    • Brand Robins says

      Because in a world with equality you have to have worth as yourself, rather than inherent worth as your class.

      And who knows how worthless you really are? Best not to find out.

    • says

      I find it interesting in the idea of Dads as protective, they’re protective of their daughters and just “close” with their sons (unless the sons are really, really young), but Moms as protective are always linked with animal behaviors, like “Mama Bear” or “Lioness” or whatever.

      Is it because men are naturally more animalistic, or that it’s animalistic and deviant (therefore needing to be commented on) behavior for women to be ferocious in protecting their children? And these roles obviously aren’t hardcoded into us, or nobody would talk about boys needing to learn to protect themselves, take a lickin’, etc.– at least until it’s arbitrarily convenient that those differences are genetic. Maybe it is just the “whatever is convenient” rule to maintain the status quo! WHOOOOO KNEEEEEWWWWWW? *trollface*

    • says

      My husband is a good man, and very protective of his son. We were watching a horror movie with our roommate that involved child abduction and briefly discussed how we’d react of someone harmed our kids. The roommate commented to my husband that ‘if I were the kidnapper, I’d be praying to get caught by either you or the cops, just not by her’.

      My husband inquired as to the reasoning, and the roomie responded ‘dude, you’d just shoot me in the head or something or something. They’d shoot me or arrest me. If she shot me, it would be in the kneecaps or elbows and that only so I wouldn’t be able to escape while she spend the next five years torturing me. Then she’d put me, still alive, through a meat grinder or something, feed me to the chickens, and be able to smile and make eye contact with the cops when she was done.’

      My husband acknowledged the point and asked my opinion. I responded something along the lines of five years might be an understatement. For that matter, of the two of us I am the one who has already become physically violent with someone while in protective mode. My husband’s response was to go inside and call the cops. My response was to punch the offender in the face. He’s genuinely a nice man. I’m just real good at faking niceness.

      For a lot of ‘fathers’, the protection isn’t about keeping his ‘little girl’ safe, it’s about keeping her under his control.

      • says

        For a lot of ‘fathers’, the protection isn’t about keeping his ‘little girl’ safe, it’s about keeping her under his control.

        Well said. I think it says a lot about Western culture that it’s still a frequent “punchline” when the overprotective father is out to get the oversexed boyfriend/fiance/husband in a battle over ownership/control of the unwitting daughter/female SO’s genitalia– especially when the inverse of an overprotective mother is demonized when that character trope is used. Fathers “giving a bride away” still being portrayed very literally in media featuring weddings also squicks me out.

        • says

          There was an interesting study done, I believe as part of the meet the predators study, but I don’t remember for sure which found that most of the men who said that they were going to make those kinds of speeches to their daughters’ boyfriends were the ones spending their youths as rapists and other sexual predators. Makes the whole thing even creepier, especially since all the dads who talk about those speeches say they give them because they “know what young men are like”. So they think all men are rapists, but we ladies shouldn’t dare be afraid of men. Never mind that a small minority of men actually are like them.

          • says

            If you ever find a link or book rec where I can read that portion of that study, I’d be terribly interested. Rapists don’t reform, though they can change methods to avoid being caught, and that’s making me even more curious about these particular men and where they would now be getting their power kicks.

          • says

            Damn it, I read it a couple of months ago, and I’m in the middle of finals, so my brain is mush. If I find it again, I’ll send it along. Sorry.

            Controlling their families and living vicariously though their sons?

          • Casey says

            “Men who said that they were going to make those kinds of speeches to their daughters’ boyfriends were the ones spending their youths as rapists and other sexual predators.”

            DAT PROJECTION
            I’m glad my dad never acted weird like that with any of my guy-friends/potential romantic interests, I guess I know now that he was probably never a rapist! LOLSOB

            • says

              I always remember feeling this rage when hearing a male relative wax on about how “boys are” and “stay away from my daughter”. Even male friends of mine as a young adult, who had young daughters. I realize now the rage was me realizing these men I thought I knew basically just admitted to being predatory and not sorry about it.
              Well, and also treating their daughters as unintelligent subhumans incapable of handling their own decisions.

              • Casey says

                I’ve come to notice nowadays that my dad’s REALLY dubious about letting my sister (she’s 13) do stuff like spend the night with guy-friends when he never really gave a shit with me (I guess ‘cuz he “trusted” me or something)…then again, my sister legitimately behaves/acts like an unintelligent subhuman incapable of handling ANY decision she makes. OTL

                • Attackfish says

                  My parents kept a very tight leash on my oldest brother, who was very very hormonally addled there for a few years, but were way more permissive with my other brother, my sister, and me. *shrugs*

                  The one time I brought home a guy my dad thought was creepy (turned out he was, too) Dad took him aside and said “She’s a red belt, and the daughter of a nurse. You hurt her, you’ll be a bloody smear on the sidewalk, and no jury in the world would convict, understand?” And then my mom introduced him to our chow.

                  • Casey says

                    Here’s something very disturbing on both sides of the situation, my sister does really stupid/oblivious things like put her home/cell phone number (area code and all)/home address/chool and really obvious pictures of where we live online and flirts with creeps over the age of 17 on the internetz for everyone to see, after I “tattled” on her to our parents when I found out she put all that info up on YouTube/MySpace/MyYearbook/Facebook/IMVU, my dad warned her not to do that stuff in a very cryptic, “you gonna get raped” manner…I asked him incredulously “Is that a threat!?”
                    It’s just bad shit all around. OTL

                    • Attackfish says

                      *whistles* Seriously? When I was that age, I’d get into fights with my friends when they mentioned what state we were all in online, because it could connect to me. But then, I had two stalkers at her age.

                      Yeah, being cryptic about danger is a bad idea. *shakes head*

                    • says

                      Whenever I see a teenage girl behaving in this way, I realize that she has absorbed that message that her sexuality is her most important currency and that male attention should be her ultimate goal. Mix that with the usual teenage bad judgement and you get some risky attention-getting behavors. I just don’t understand why this behavior is such a mystery to parents, when she has been indoctrinated to believe that this is what women should do/be from the cradle by tv, movies, music and Disney Princesses.

                      Feminism will solve all these problems.

                    • Attackfish says

                      Um, no, revealing intimate details of your life online is bad behavior common to teens of all genders. it’s more to do with teen feelings of immortality and omnipotence, and the more privlages they hold the more they feel that way. Feminism will do many good things. Eliminating this type of teen risk taking? not so much.

    • says

      Do you remember Heroes? And how one of the biggest story-lines was how the Glasses Guy (I forget what his nickname was) was SO IN LOVE with his daughter Claire, that he gave up everything for her–and it was hardly mentioned that the guy had a natural son, and was married, and neither his wife nor his son questioned (much) his excessive devotion to little Claire the Cheerleader.

      Frankly, as endearing as his love was, it also went too much into obsessive psycho-sexual territory for me, even though the actors tried their darnedest to NOT let that creep into their acting.

      I would have been more “okay” with the characters obsessive love if he’d only shown as much for his son and his wife.

      • sbg says

        I try not to remember Heroes…

        Seriously, though, there’s a difference between loving your daughter the mostest and She Is The Only Important Thing In The Universe.

        • says

          I recently rewatched Alias, and was struck at how they got the right balance with Jack Bristow. He’s VERY focused on Sydney, and making things right for her, and making things up to her. But the focus isn’t obsession: he just doesn’t have anything else honest and real in his life to give it meaning after all these years of being double-crossed by country and friends. He’s just a somewhat tragic character who’s decided if he can’t have the life he wanted, he’ll do what he can to make sure his daughter gets the one she wants.

          And I dunno, there may be some old, tired tropes bound up in that – I rarely watch anything involving families, so I’m likely not attuned to them. But it worked for me.

          • Maria says

            And he does it while still respecting her professionalism. That’s one of the things I really liked about the show — he’s never like, oh noooo don’t take this dangerous job!! MY BABY!

  11. Samus says

    “When a man is stripped of his sense of purpose, it’s more difficult to satisfy that instinctive hunger for power and purpose.”

    Every sentence in this article bothers me, but this one in particular is so poorly written that it makes me wonder if the piece was ever edited by ANYONE. Did the author herself even give this a cursory glance? Why is “purpose” in there twice? The sentence basically says: “When a man loses his purpose, it’s hard for him to have purpose.” What does that even MEAN?! Was she trying to make word count and couldn’t manage it? Were her editors drunk?! I know lots of publications get complacent around the holidays, but this is ridiculous.

    I suppose this only proves how difficult it must be to find someone who is intelligent, good with stats, AND ALSO willing to write and submit an article in favor of misogyny.

    • says

      Ooh! Ooh! Let me try and break it down!

      Okay. If men’s one purpose is the be a Manly Man doing Manly Things, then deviations from that purpose are either of said men’s own volition or are thrust upon them. Since, clearly, we can assume no man would choose a life without Manliness, women’s purpose is to Do Everything Else Unmanly. Therefore, women’s strayings into Manly Castle at the center of the Manly Realm are willfully deviant, suggesting either that a) women’s minds are not to be trusted and Go Against Nature and women’s true purpose, but they just don’t know it yet and we have to tell them; or, b1) women’s minds are to be trusted, and their purpose is whatever they decide it is, but that b2) women’s purpose is of less importance than men’s, and to prioritize them otherwise Goes Against Nature.

      …Um. My head hurts, actually. Ow.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      When I went into kidney failure and have to stop working, most of the “how to deal” stuff was male-oriented, and mostly about dealing with a loss of purpose due to no longer working. The second-most commom “how to deal?” Dealing with a loss of being physically fit and doing sports. It was all about “You can no longer do the things that define you, but that’s okay.”

      It erased me. I never identified by my job, and was never athletic. I’m a nerd who reads books and paints little plastic space elves for wargames, and neither of those were affected by my disability. My purpose hadn’t changed, but there was no real help for my other issues because they didn’t fit the gender-essentialist profile.

  12. Finbarr Ryan says

    Ugh, I hate gender essentialist arguments with a fiery passion. I’ve lately been reading Pink Brain Blue Brain by neuroscientist Lise Eliot. Eliot argues that while there are innate brain differences between young boys and girls, the differences are actually rather minor. Cultural conditioning and the fact that the brain physically restructures itself according to our experiences are much more significant factors in the gender gap. She proposes that we combat this by promoting healthy development of universal human virtues in all children, rather than limiting their growth with the restrictive bullcrap of ‘celebrating our differences’.

    Incidentally, I’ve seen people who know all about neuroplasticity argue gender essentialism. That’s just… no.

    • says

      *adds book to Amazon cart* I anticipate awesome reading! I heard a soundbyte or something that may have been about that book – talking about how the instant we recognize a baby’s physical gender, we start treating it differently than if it was the opposite gender, and the brain is already restructuring and shutting down pathways and so on AS WE DO IT. So from the beginning, the conditioning takes a biological toll, but the conditioning itself is entirely cultural. Why this is so important to understand is that it suggests all those studies that find different brainwaves in men and women when they look at pictures of pickles or whatever may not be revealing as much about biology as it would appear. It is really, really possible that there is virtually no difference between a male and female brain until we start the lifelong process of culturally screwing with them, and I think it’s a foregone conclusion that what differences exist are minimal and insignificant.

      Neuroscience is a beautiful thing, but the press prefers to interview those neuroscientists who make the mistake of assuming everything they note in their biological studies indicates something biological in origin.

      • JMS says

        Another good recent book on the same topic is Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca Jordan-Young.

        • SDM says

          And while we’re on the subject of books, I’ve really been wanting to read Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine. Here’s a bit of the review from Booklist: “In a methodical and devastatingly effective manner, Fine eviscerates the recent trend in attributing society’s gender-based differences to biology. The sheer girth of her analysis is staggering as she addresses everything from scientific studies going back more than a century to the latest assertions of “Mars and Venus” author John Gray.”

      • Patrick McGraw says

        Reminds me of how everything we knew about wolf social structures was based on studying wolves in captivity, and it took decades for someone to go “Shouldn’t we look at how they actually live in the wild?”

        • says

          Or how we’ve just now decided to check on that link between saturated fat and clogged arteries that doctors have been preaching about all my life, only to find, whoops, it’s actually refined sugar and corn products doing the real damage, and in some cases sat-fat even boosts the good cholesterol.

          We do this crap in the name of science ALL THE TIME. Honestly, it makes astrology look reliable.

          • Shaun says

            Or the idea that testosterone is a “male” hormone (even though women have it) and estrogen is a “female” hormone (even though men have it), and all manly traits come from testosterone… even though aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, and it’s all over human brains, so it would therefore follow that men’s brains are SWIMMING in estrogen, but no, testosterone is the only thing that could ever possibly affect aggression, even if some studies show that’s not the case.

            • says

              And isn’t the actual hormonal level differentiation between men and women really, really slim to begin with?

              According to these theories, shouldn’t people with hormone imbalances either defy ALL gender stereotypes, or resemble their opposite gender in terms of loving pink and babies or Nascar and fart jokes?

          • DragonLord says

            I seem to remember reading an article about a study where they did a double blind agression study using testostrone. I believe that what they found was that the people that thought they were getting testostrone became more agressive and impatiant regardless of whether they were actually given testostrone, and those that didn’t think they were but were given it became calmer, and more able to focus.

          • Shaun says

            I’m not sure, offhand, what the actual difference is. I do know there have been a lot of studies that disprove the testosterone = aggression link, just by way of small example. For instance, that male inmates do not have higher levels of testosterone than other males, that people with high levels of testosterone are not super-aggressive, etc.

            Along the lines of this sort of stuff, one of my college friends learned about a study where, since gay men are obviously too womanly, they were artificially given testosterone in the hopes it would make them want to have sex with women like real men. Instead it just made them want to have sex with men more. (I am a little bit skeptical of studies about gayness in general, mind).

            It’s also interesting to me that it was decided *testosterone* is what causes the perceived differences, and not estrogen.

            • says

              *consults wikipedia*

              Male adult bodies make 10 times the testosterone of female adult bodies. Women have “significantly higher” estrogen than men.

              But then, this same source says: “Falling in love decreases men’s testosterone levels while increasing women’s testosterone levels. It is speculated that these changes in testosterone result in the temporary reduction of differences in behavior between the sexes.[26] It has been found that when the testosterone and endorphins in the ejaculated semen meet the cervical wall after sexual intercourse, females receive a spike in testosterone, endorphin, and oxytocin levels, and males after orgasm during copulation experience an increase in endorphins and a marked increase in oxytocin levels. This adds to the hospitable physiological environment in the female internal reproductive tract for conceiving, and later for nurturing the conceptus in the pre-embryonic stages, and stimulates feelings of love, desire, and paternal care in the male (this is the only time male oxytocin levels rival a female’s).[citation needed]”

              Citation needed, indeed.

          • says

            Well, my sister and I have hormone imbalances. She is a big fan of kittens, puppies, scorpions, Tom Hardy, and Kingdom Hearts. I’m a fan of fart jokes, zombies, Star Trek, fairies, and unicorns.

            WELP. *shrugs*

          • DragonLord says

            re: shaun

            I suspect it’s because testosterone has been proven to increase muscle mass in people (it’s why men are typically stronger than women lb for lb), and so a “causal” link was made between that and aggression by the observation (false as it is) that men that are more aggressive tend to also have more muscle

          • says

            The link to testosterone and aggression is probably also “supported” by people’s observation of “‘roid rage,” but I suspect that’s more because of uncontrolled, variable-quality, self-induced hormonal imbalance associated with steroid use rather than that testosterone on its own = CRAZY MAD DOG ANGER.

            I’m not sure if HGH has similar side effects, or if changes in mood when using tes’ have been compared to, say, cisgender women and transwomen undergoing hormone therapy. (I know for a new study, you could use a random population, but it just seems odd that the data would be out there already and not looked at critically, you know?) It would be interesting to compare, anyway.

            But I can say that when my hormones were all wonky and unsuppressed, I was getting into physical fights, was incredibly irritable and ready to argue with people over nothing, mood-swinging, eating uncontrollably, and feeling suicidal two weeks out of every four. Just saying.

        • says

          And isn’t it a disappointment how *valued* those cock-eyed studies of warped captive wolves have become in Urban Fantasy werewolf tropes?

          You can hardly find a werewolf based UF that doesn’t feature Alphas, Omegas, submissive females, and all that–all based on those excessively human-filtered reports.

          Frankly, I find the delight shown in that model by various genres & writers to be…beyond not to my taste.

          • Patrick McGraw says

            What drives me even more crazy is when I run across people writing online about how the occasional well-researched werewolf story is DOIN IT WRONG because they didn’t hammer the character’s personalities and relationships into the captive-wolf social model.

          • says

            There might be something to that. Canines are very observant, and while wolves are not as in tune to what humans are doing as dogs, our dog pack has developed a family structure almost identical to our family, with a strong, protective, worried alpha female, a quiet, easygoing alpha male, and a four dog gaggle of everybody else, including one dog who is both the pest and the doting older brother, and a permanent puppy who tries to get everyone to get along. It would be an interesting study in cross species socialization to study family and dog family dynamics right beside each other.

          • Alara Rogers says

            You know what bugs me about that whole “werewolves can’t control their violent nature and men dominate and women are submissive” thing?

            Werewolves are half-human, half-wolf. But humans are merely highly socialized primates. If wolves had human intelligence, they would likely have the same range of behavior as humans. WE ARE BOTH PACK ANIMALS. The only major difference between the social structure of chimps and wolves is that wolves are predators and chimps mostly aren’t (they do eat tiny animals, but they don’t have lives that revolve around hunting game.)

            I would love to do an sf story about the caninoid species who have legends of were-apes. :-)

    • says

      Hmm. I’m reading this book now, and I’m so frustrated. She’ll spend a chapter taking down everyone else’s evo-bio arguments (based on animal studies that can’t be applied to humans, for example), then spend a chapter explaining through anecdotes how Since Gender Differences Is Obviously All Fixed Now and kids still do gender-biased stuff, and monkeys do, too, it’s obviously hard-wired and we shouldn’t try to fix it TOO much, because that would be tampering with nature, but we could fix it some, and, oh, obviously there is something wrong with kids who deviate from their gender norms (“Tomboys” and “Sissies”, she says researchers call them), and it’s sad how they’ll suffer throughout their tragic lives.

      So, basically, her foundation is that gender bias is extinct and yet, wow, kids still choose gender-appropriate toys, therefore it’s hard-wired. Isn’t that precisely Larry Summers’ approach?

      If gender bias is extinct in Chicago, I’ll go pack right now. Sure remains alive and healthy everywhere I’ve lived!

      Honestly, I think she’s just freaked out that she grew up a tomboy (she shares anecdotes about her kids, husband and herself at the level of a mommy blogger), and has a daughter who is more “girly”, and wants to justify how that can’t possibly be something she did wrong as a mom. That’s what it feels like the entire book is really about.

  13. audrabelle says

    Thank you so much for deconstructing this article Jennifer. As soon as I had read it, I wanted everyone to read her ridiculousness, and get talking about it. The discussion is great.

  14. Melanie S says

    Just to pick on the “science” in this article a little more….

    1. It’s way more likely our earliest ancestors were scavengers, not hunter-gatherers.

    2. We didn’t magically stop evolving* when we stopped being hunter-gatherers.

    * (You could make a case that we’re not undergoing natural selection any more, what with advanced medical care, the social safety net, etc etc. But that is very recent.)

    • Patrick McGraw says

      But if you assume that evolution continues past the hunter-gatherer stage, then “Evolutionary Psychology” loses its entire basis. And then the gender essentialists will have to come up with a whole new fake science.

    • SunlessNick says

      And since it’s generally women who do the gathering in hunter-gatherer societies, they don’t have much of a leg to stand on when saying that evolution says women shouldn’t go out and work. (And when we factor in that gathering provided 75-80% of the food, our Neolithic ancestors become even less cooperative to the evopsych position).

  15. says

    I was actually just having this discussion in the LGBT Resc. Ctr. at my university. The conversation was going that part of what enables the “if you’re not being penetrated, it’s not gay” attitudes that some men have is that the male sex experience is simplistic and all about friction, etc., while women are more psychological and emotional. I brought up how kids seem to masturbate pretty equally between genders, and that the emotional-vs.-detached-sex argument is brought about due to social conditioning and reinforces the false gender dichotomy, but, uh, everybody else disagreed. Then started talking about how it’s not a negative thing, just that female sexuality is more complex and naturally fluid than male sexuality, as if cultural standards didn’t also dictate acceptability of even accepting that fact about oneself. *facepalm*

    ANYWAY. More to the point.

    I’ve said before, my dad’s not good with gender roles. I had to shut down a conversation we were having about how men have a certain role different from women’s, because men are physically bigger and stronger as dictated by God, and women are hardwired to consider babies central to their lives while men can view them as add-ons to their lives. I evolutionary-biology’d the crap out of that argument, as follows:

    I went over species in which females are larger than, socially dominate, or outnumber males, rendering the male-as-protector role moot; and that, actually, women can get as strong as, fast as, and fierce as men, but within the human societies I’ve observed it’s pretty actively discouraged, even among athletes, and that different physical strengths between genders don’t suggest inherent superiority/inferiority in those differences; that male decorations/size-shows can be attributed to females choosing mates and therefore having more power within pairing relationships, and that the concept of femininity-as-visual-prop is actually biologically male in most mammals, ie not “metrosexual” or “faggoty;” monogamy vs polygamy vs polyandry in the animal world, and how community child-rearing vs likelihood/unlikelihood of the male parent sticking around re: central/accessory role a child takes among humans’ and other animals’ lives ties in with that, and the psychological and emotional health of parents who feel like their children HAVE to be the center of their lives to the exclusion of their own passions, and the circumstances that bring that about; and how, actually, because Homo sapiens are relatively new to Animalia and are having such a dramatic impact on the biosphere, we should either look at longer-running species for our rules or toss them out entirely. Also, animals like seahorses, which do relatively well for themselves despite being tiny and the males being the ones who get pregnant and raise the young.

    • says

      Most of this ties in with heterosexual pairings, btw. Non-heteronormative pairings and gender-identity and -expression in both humans and other animals is a whole other conversation. *melodramatic sigh*

      • Casey says

        When you refer to “femininity as visual prop” do you mean males gussying themselves up to look nice for potential mates? I’m so ignorant I thought that stuff only happened with birds.

        • says

          It’s actually the basis of intersexual selection, where male display, either individually or en masse, is used to try and sway females into choosing the best male as a sexual partner (vs. intrasexual selection, where who gets to reproduce is based on combat within one gender and without the influence of the other).

          The practice is very common among birds, but is also prevalent among other animal groups (real-life Rainbowfish!). Notable mammalian examples include mandrills’ coloring, Elephant seals’ noses), lions’ manes, uakari monkeys’ coloring, orangutans’ cheek flaps, gorillas’ silver backs, siamangs’ throat pouches, etc.

          Basically, this and this. :)

          • says

            Hey, was there ever a time before the 20th century when women dolled up WAY more than men? From what I know of history, which is thorough in some places and lacking in others, there have been times when men got way fancier than women, and times when both were pretty fancy (at least in certain classes), but this concept that women must go to a lot of trouble to fix their appearance to attract men (who are supposedly horny over linoleum, but apparently won’t notice a woman without full makeup, the right hair dye and a special brain) is rather new. (I meant “special bra” – it’s ludicrous of course to think men want women with brains! *wipes away tears of hilarity*)

            That was a long and torturous sentence, but I have a migraine so I can’t be bothered to edit it.

          • says

            Honestly, none that I can think of. Most of the examples that stand out involve either religious ceremony or performers, which is more a separate job description than a gender divide. The impression I’ve gotten even in looking at costume design is that, even now, self-ornamentation is heavily linked to socioeconomic class, and the higher you rank, the more you’re allowed and can afford to do, including, in some cases, men being in a position outranking women. For whatever reason, recently in the West, the range of acceptable dress and carriage for men has increasingly narrowed (I suspect it’s because of greater allowance for male upward mobility and to maintain a camaraderie between men through uniformity and a more universal, simple expression of one’s place in the social hierarchy) while women’s appearances are more linked to impressing men while simultaneously impressing each other. Men dress for men, women dress for men first and for other women after.

            I know for a really long time, women weren’t considered as beautiful as men even in the Christian churches, so angels were universally depicted as male and women weren’t allowed to sing in church choirs (the Alto vocal range got its name from initially being the highest natural voice range that men would reach; Soprano was added after), and castrati were more common because of that. I know castrations to retain a contralto/mezzosoprano vocal range were common in the 18th century, but I’m not sure on the timelines for everything…

          • Patrick McGraw says

            Castrati were relatively common in the same time periods and cultures as upper-class men working to attract women by wearing makeup, wigs, and pads used to create the impression of shapely calves.

      • says

        while women are more psychological and emotional

        See, for me, sex is all about orgasms. I guess the emotional part would be “I really like orgasms” and the psychological part would be “I am most interested in sexual situations where I’m likely to have an orgasm.”

        I’m glad to know I’m so ladylike!

        • Casey says


          I guess my sexy-tiem!girly-brain kicks in (if I’m not fappan, which I mostly do ‘cuz vibrators are awesome) when I’d like to have an orgasm with someone I like/am attracted to. HERP DERP

          • M.C. says

            if I’m not fappan, which I mostly do ‘cuz vibrators are awesome

            Yes! I’m so sick of everyone telling me that women must have sex with a partner. It’s like the whole fucking world wants us to have sex with a man so that we can please him with out lady bits. But if I want to have a really good orgasm then I can take care of that myself, thank you very much.

        • says


          And, “I am more likely to choose partners who can ensure an orgasm” apparently means I am looking for a deep psychological connection or something.

          Plus, God forbid the context of being in a lower-class social group by nature of my squishy bits (and the ever-present dangers presented to me by consequence of possessing said organs) affect those choices. Choosing to have sex with someone I trust since I have to be constantly aware of not getting drugged/raped/beaten/kidnapped/sold/etc. is not the same as “women won’t fuck anything with an appropriate appendage like men will because they just don’t want to fuck as much as men do.” Or, hey, maybe I don’t want a fucking human being growing inside of me if I’m put into a situation where preventative controls are taken away from me. Or maybe, since ladyparts point inside, some STDs/STIs can be more complicated than when they are on a penis.


          Not to mention the clit is a 100% sexual organ, which apparently developed as a sexy times gateway drug to lady feelings.

          It was just such a stupid conversation.

          • says

            I need to find this thing I read from one author within another author’s book, but she lists all the ways women are made to fear their sexuality, along the lines of “If having sex made a man a whore instead of a stud, maybe men would be less obsessed with sex” only MUCH MUCH more eloquent, with many more similar points. While I can imagine not wanting to get pregnant or worrying about STD’s might always make women slightly more cautious in general, even in a totally egalitarian society, we are HEAVILY programmed to fret over when to have sex, and how often, and with who, and whether to tell anyone, and so on, in ways that just don’t really apply to men. Even when men make sexual mistakes, i.e., getting someone pregnant, it’s still evidence of their manliness (which is a positive) and after all, you can’t expect a horny guy to use his brain, can you? Oh, but women must! At all times!

            So yeah, we’re cerebral about sex. IF WE’RE NOT, WE GET PUNISHED SIX WAYS FROM SUNDAY. Men need to try that on and see if they’re still uncontrollable horndogs after a few centuries. Hint: THEY WON’T BE.

  16. Lavode says

    Articles like that one always surprise me a bit, because that argument – that men aren’t manly any more, either because of *gasp* FEMINISM or because it’s too easy to survive in today’s decadent society – has been made so many times before. It’s why the Scouting movement was founded a century ago. And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen articles from the 1950s complaining about the same thing – the same era when supposedly Men Were Men (and women knew their place).

    I mean, haven’t we been over this already?

  17. lilacsigil says

    Charlie Teo is known here in Australia as a brilliant brain surgeon. His thoughts on gender essentialism are about as relevant as any other person’s, so that particular appeal to authority by Asher seems rather random. Or are we expected to believe that “neurosurgeon” = “knows everything about everyone’s brains ever and also he’s a MAN and we should just shut up now”?

  18. Shaun says

    A friend of mine is taking a scientific constructions of sex and gender course, and it’s been fascinating to hear the various… rationales for sexism (biology, neuroscience, hormones) and gender essentialism. When I took Bio I got an outline of why males exist, and certain gender essentialist traits therefore logically followed, but a Christian friend once told me Why God Created Women, and outlined male and female traits from that paradigm. I don’t believe any of it, but I have to admit it was a completely logical construction. I’m also discovering there are many, many theories as to the original roles of humans, women, and men in past cycles, each of which can make its own case for what women and men are supposed to be like. I’m wondering now, what if there IS gender essentialism, and it’s COMPLETELY different from what everyone thinks it is? And even if there is, how could you even test for it?

    Mostly a rhetorical question(s). Also, apologies if that violates the rules–I’m not making an argument for gender essentialism, but it’s probable that isn’t a new question for you either.

    • says

      You’re fine because, like you said, you’re not actually making a gender essentialist argument. And you raise an interesting point. One of the big problems with gender essentialism is that it relies on everyone sharing the assumption that evolution necessarily leads to a “right” conclusion. The “survival of the fittest” might be better described as “that which doesn’t kill anybody before they can reproduce sticks around for a bit.” Why aren’t gender essentialists also hand-wringing about teeth straightening and cancer treatments and medicine? Evolution GAVE us crooked teeth and disease: surely, we shouldn’t mess with it.

      The more you push a gender essentialist to get specific, the more they start sounding like a theist, and that’s where the real disconnect happens. Gender essentialism is an intelligent design theory. It presumes that things are the way they are for a reason BEYOND humanity’s control, and there’s no scientific basis for that. Essentialists claim (for example) men can’t help but be logical, and women can’t help but be emotional, and any deviation from that is the result of cultural brainwashing. But it doesn’t hold up because there are too many exceptions to every rule they state. They don’t realize their arguments are unsound because, bless them, they just aren’t even smart enough to realize they’re not being remotely logical.

      • SunlessNick says

        Evolution is also about adaptation to new circumstances – change or die, fitness isn’t a constant. In which case, since the world we (the “we” who blog and argue about evo-psych) live in has changed a lot since hunter-gatherer times, simple evolutionary theory implies that we ought not to try being just like hunter-gatherers.

  19. Alara Rogers says

    I actually trained in what was at the time called “psychobiology” and referred to the general biological basis of human psychology, not specifically gender differences. The main problem I have with evolutionary psychology as it’s practiced today is that it’s laughably bad science.

    In order to say anything about human beings’ evolution, you need to remove the confound of culture. So you have to look at anthropology, and you have to look at the great apes, because otherwise you’re going to be very much confounded by culture. And it turns out that there are very, very few human universals, and the very few that there are have a huge number of exceptions.

    The few human universals that exist are:

    – women are always more involved with child care than men are. However, the amount to which men are involved varies widely.

    – men are always more aggressive and more likely to be warriors/soldiers than women. However, the amount to which women are aggressive or warlike varies widely. There have even been societies where all the warriors were women, although that was generally done because women were forbidden to have power, so it protected the power structure by preventing military warlordism.

    – men almost always believe that whatever role their culture assigns to men is better than the role assigned to women. However, the degree to which women agree or disagree with that assessment varies widely.

    Everything else is up for grabs. Women are more emotional? Not in some cultures, where women are considered to be hard-nosed and practical, while men are weepy and expressive (of course, in those cultures men value being emotional highly.) Women are less interested in sex? Um, try reading some fanfic sometimes. Women dress up to be attractive to men? Among the Maasai, young warriors wear elaborate makeup to look fierce because fierceness is considered to be attractive to women… women don’t wear makeup. In Japan, men make the money, but women manage it and hand their husbands an allowance. In Russia and even Iran, women are found in high numbers in the hard sciences, mathematics and programming. In bride-price cultures, men pay women’s families to marry women, but in dowry cultures, women’s families pay men to marry them… which sounds a lot like male prostitution, when you think about it.

    In fact, in our lifetime, the stereotype has changed from “women are flighty, silly and irresponsible, and kind of dumb, while men are smart, focused, and responsible” to “women are smart, focused, and responsible, but total joykillers who don’t know how to have fun and don’t want anyone else to, while men are irresponsible, goofy, and kind of dumb, but they’re funny and they enjoy life and they’re fun to be around, and that’s what counts.” While the I Love Lucy stereotype may still exist in some people’s minds, what we see reflected in pop culture much more often is the model from Everyone Loves Raymond or Family Guy, where a responsible woman cleans up the messes left made by a funny, irresponsible guy. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that whatever the men do is presented as better than what the women do, even though exactly what they do has undergone a complete reversal.

    So this whole “men should act like men” or the idea that there is one natural way to be a man is a crock, as is most so-called “evolutionary psychology”. I did a reductio ad absurdium on one of Steven Pinker’s arguments once, where in response to his argument that men are artists because women are attracted by beautiful things and therefore men create art to attract women, I pointed out that this would suggest that women are uniquely evolved to appreciate art, otherwise women have just as much motivation to create art to attract men… and if women are uniquely evolved to appreciate art, this means that men cannot appreciate art. So when men make art they are just mindlessly trying to attract women, without actual artistic or aesthetic appreciation of their own; only art made by women is made for purely aesthetic reasons, without the factor of trying to sexually attract a mate. This is obviously ridiculous because plainly, men do appreciate art… but it clarifies the point that sexual selection goes both ways and anything men do to attract women, women should be doing to attract men as well, unless there is some reason imposed by culture why it doesn’t work that way.

    • says

      Alara, your whole comment was wonderful reading, and very informative, but this bit:

      In fact, in our lifetime, the stereotype has changed from “women are flighty, silly and irresponsible, and kind of dumb, while men are smart, focused, and responsible” to “women are smart, focused, and responsible, but total joykillers who don’t know how to have fun and don’t want anyone else to, while men are irresponsible, goofy, and kind of dumb, but they’re funny and they enjoy life and they’re fun to be around, and that’s what counts.”

      Really grabbed me. That’s exactly why the stupidity of Raymond does NOT mitigate any female stereotype, as so many people suggest (“But but but white guys are portrayed as fools, so it’s okay when women are portrayed with stereotypes!”). Because it’s ACCEPTABLE for these guys to be lovable fools, it’s not actually a negative stereotype. It’s like arguing, “But men are portrayed as promiscuous, too!” when you complain about a woman being stereotyped that way. It’s not at all the same, because the standards for each gender differ so much.

      Your example about art is awesome too. Also begs the question, where on earth were all the gay artists coming from? 😉

      • Casey says

        “Where on earth were all the gay artists coming from?”


      • Alara Rogers says

        Yeah, and also, it’s generally white guys who are perpetrating the portrayal.

        If Sandra McFarlane was making a comedy about an ugly, stupid, insensitive jerk of a man who is cruel to his wife and daughter, who’s friends with a date rapist, whose wife is beautiful, smart, sexy, and came from a wealthy family, that would mean something different than in the real world where Seth McFarlane makes that comedy and plays the man in question. White men make comedy about white men who suck all the time, but part of the reason they’re comfortable with it is that everyone understands that it’s that particular character who’s a jerk, not white men in general.

        As for the gay artists, um, uh, plainly their brains are miswired because they have no evolutionary purpose, being that gay men don’t breed, so, uh, actually they don’t exist. Our model doesn’t account for gay men, so there really aren’t any. Hey, we managed to make physically unattractive women disappear in our model and there are a lot more of them than there are gay guys!

        • Casey says

          That bit about gays having their brains mis-wired…this is a bit off-topic, but it DID take place on DeviantART so, yay!
          There was some guy who submitted something called the “Perfect Girl Meme” where you draw in the body parts of your ideal woman, this was already problematic enough, but the fact that he had a giant silhouette of a stripper in the background (which implies what sort of woman he thinks is perfect), AND that he got super defensive and started spewing out factually inaccurate evo-psych rhetoric to justify his submission was REALLY AWFUL. He said to me that if a woman is sufficiently hot enough (and of course by hot enough he means conforming to current beauty standards of tall, tan, peroxide blond and huge fake boobs) they could turn a gay man straight and give an asexual a sex drive (he also said that all asexuals are damaged sociopaths who need to be fixed), and that STUDIES HAVE PROVEN HOT WOMEN CAN RAISE THE TESTOSTERONE OF GAY MEN BY 20%!! Just…what the fuck are you talking about, my boy?

        • Charles RB says

          “If Sandra McFarlane was making a comedy about an ugly, stupid, insensitive jerk of a man who is cruel to his wife and daughter, who’s friends with a date rapist, whose wife is beautiful, smart, sexy, and came from a wealthy family, that would mean something different”

          I wonder what would happen if Sandra McFarlane did the exact same show but with all the genders flipped? I’m betting a lot of people who laugh with Peter Griffin getting quite confused and uncomfortable over Penny Griffin, when she keeps coming out on top and being right all along despite dumping on her husband and son.

          (Mind you, I’D like to see an all-women The Young Ones with the exact same amount of violence.)

      • jennygadget says

        I just read an interview with the authors of Packaging Girlhood – and now Packaging Boyhood – (both on my to-read lists after reading the interview). They said they saw two main stereotypes of boys in the media. One is that boyhood meant being aggressive and always on top, king of the hill. That seems to be the one that gets talked about a lot. The second, though, was boys as slackers or lovable losers. Which I think is closely related to what people are generally talking about when critiquing the stereotype of woman as nag and man as fun-loving.

        I don’t know if they make the connection more explicitly in the book, but the interview implied that the second is a result of the latter. If boyhood means being on top, but life dictates not everyone can be one top, boys then begin to fear genuine ambition and instead value not caring.

        the interview can be read here:

    • The Other Patrick says

      Well, a professor of mine still said that any artistic endeavor was just sublimation, i.e. caused by a lack of sexual fulfillment

  20. says

    Your prof didn’t go to the art school I attended, then, I guess. There was sex going on all over the place, and I do mean, *all over* the school. The staff wasn’t immune to all the sex going around, either!

  21. Charles RB says

    “And men are becoming… well, less like men … The current trend is for dads to be more hands on … Instead, men are sporting aprons… and pushing trolleys down supermarket aisles ”

    So men were traditionally meant to raise their sons and provide food for their family, and now men are being less like men because they’re raising their sons and providing food for the family.

    Well, I’m convinced!

  22. Jenny Islander says

    I think I have figured out why the teacher in my long-ago Anthro 101 course spent a class period talking about gender roles among the pre-contact Inuit. I don’t have my notes anymore, but IIRC he went on at length about how the skill set needed to survive in the Canadian Far North using only local resources is too big for any one person to master AND many of the skills have to be taught as early as possible for full mastery (something about how most kids’ toys were working miniatures of adult tools) AND ALSO the local resource base was so scanty that even highly skilled people were forced to live in small isolated groups for most of the time, AND SO the culture depended on the partnership of a fertile couple, with the man and woman having complementary skill sets, plus their children, plus possibly an elderly dependent or two if they could still work and there was enough food. At the time I thought he was trying to explain how putting Grandma on an ice floe could be the least evil of a limited set of options, but some of his turns of phrase were odd. I think that he was also speaking to, and disagreeing with, the gender essentialists in the classroom. He kept calling out the Inuit situation as waaaaay on one end of several different bell curves.

  23. FireLord says

    Actually…men and women ARE different. I’m not saying men are hardwired to fight and women are hardwired to make children. But what I AM saying is that you can’t say men and women are identical except for anatomy. It doesn’t work that way. Men and women think and relate to each other differently. Yes, culture influences that. Yes, culture often dictates gender roles. But no matter what the culture is those roles are always different. You don’t have to have one gender superior than the other in order for the two to be different. Even if you have a man and a woman doing the exact same job, they will do it differently because they are different people. I recognize your point, and even agree with you on some of it. But I do think we can recognize that men and women are different without being sexist.

    • says

      Your citation-free, sourceless assertions are not persuasive. Read Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot who totally agrees with you (that there are biological differences between male and female brains), and still finds herself debunking nearly every study she thought would support her thinking. And even those studies that do hold up pinpoint differences so negligible they couldn’t possibly make a difference without culture working to broaden them throughout human lives.

      Of course, you shouldn’t have needed to read Eliot – she’s just a good example. I had figured all this out myself years ago by just looking critically at the studies and seeing that most of them are simply bad science (in many cases, appalling science), and those that are at all decent don’t indicate anything substantial. I’m wondering why you didn’t figure it out for yourself. It might be that it suits your worldview, so you didn’t look too hard at it, in which case you are being sexist. Or it could be you just don’t realize the importance of critically questioning sources before embracing their results or interpretations of results.

    • GardenGoblin says

      If you have any two people doing the same job, they will do it differently because they are different people. Expecting the divide to be along gender lines is sexist and frankly stupid.

      Some folks subscribe to the typical ‘feminine’ stereotype. Some of those people happen to be female. Expecting that just because someone is female that are going to fill a particular role is sexist and frankly stupid.

      Pretending that there are actual gender roles is sexist and frankly stupid. People are people, and one shouldn’t be expected to conform to a particular role in life just because of what chromosome they happen to be born with. There is no job/role out there that cannot be performed by someone with XX chromosomes with the exception of sperm donor, and with the exception of egg donor, no job/role out there that cannot be performed by someone with XY chromosomes. And when it comes to actual parenting, a man can raise a child just as well as a woman.

      • says

        Yes, this. Here’s the nutshell version of the whole mess:

        –Both culture and biology are acting on us from before we’re capable of thinking. It’s impossible to separate their influence without getting, I dunno, alien robots not programmed by humans to raise some human kids and see what happens. There’s no way to raise kids to survival age without exposing them to human culture, so you really can’t isolate biology in any seriously scientific way.
        –This hasn’t stopped neuroscience/evo-psych from trying anyway. Unfortunately, most of the science is just terrible, but the results sell books to sexists. I’m shocked at how continuously this branch of science proclaims unfounded assumptions like our commenter here: “If it starts really early in childhood, it MUST be biological! If it happens in every culture, it MUST be biological!” No one ever bothers to prove those statements, because they think they are self-evident. Well, get a grip, people: every culture we know well is patriarchal because patriarchy is based on violence and domination, so every culture that’s NOT patriarchal will be wiped out or well-hidden. So the fact that all patriarchies have certain things in common says jackshit about biology: it’s a reflection of the power of violence, and perhaps suggests more cross-pollination among earlier cultures than we yet recognize. That’s it. As for stuff that starts early among infants – slightly closer to convincing, even though culture must already be powerfully at work there, but even these studies end up in Bizarro World. For example, some quite decent studies show that girls are slightly more risk tolerant than boys when they’re toddlers, yet women end up generally more risk averse than men. So does neuroscience chuck this one over to culture and let it go? No, they’re determined to find dopamine structures in the brain to explain it! They, um, haven’t yet BUT THEY WILL! (And of course, THAT difference is really insignificant, unlike the ones proving that males are naturally like .0003% more ambitious than females, which must be released to the press urgently!)

        That’s not science. That’s a cult.

        I don’t have a problem with someone observing that if one gender is typically significantly shorter and physically weaker than the other, that gender might look at the world a little differently. That’s a reasonable supposition. But this determination to find brain differences between men and women that will explain away cultural gender roles only a few decades after science stopped seriously teaching that women are less intelligent than men, couched as science? Not buying it.

        • Attackfish says

          And there’s also the fact that the brain is structurally flexible. Even if some physical difference were found between the brains of (most) men and (most) women, it would be nearly impossible to tell whether they were born genetically pre-programmed for the difference, or whether the needs of their cultural, gender differentiated environment caused their brains to grow that way. This is also what makes biological proof or the origins of transsexuality and non-gender conformity almost impossible.

          And for those suspicious as to the influence of the external cultural environment on brain structure, we already have good proof that things like PTSD change brain structure, and that’s purely external and non-biological in origin.

          The truly bizarre thing is how the traits associated with each gender is inconsistent across culture and time, and even inconsistent within one culture and time. The only consistent element is that the feminine traits are devalued.


        • says

          I don’t have a problem with someone observing that if one gender is typically significantly shorter and physically weaker than the other, that gender might look at the world a little differently

          But even this bothers me, when men trot it out to “prove” that men are superior and justify keeping women out of certain jobs (and then complain that men HAVE to do all the HARD jobs to protect and provide for our lazy woman asses. LOLHipocracy!)
          I look at it this way: from day one women are taught to be small, to be dainty, to take up little space, to be quiet. They must not get dirty or physical or muscular. Boy infants, if they are really big, are “strapping big boys” who are encouraged to eat big whereas big girl infants aren’t praised for that and their families hope they’ll grow into their “baby fat”, and then are encouraged to eat less and stay slim.
          All these little differences result in a society were the females ARE physically weaker than the males, because they were trained to be and shamed if they are big and “manly” in any way. If we truly lived in a society were girls being big and strong and taking up space was celebrated, the difference there would not be so large. Like in the book Beauty Bites Beast, the author notes just how thoroughly “domesticated” human females have been for centuries.
          I do agree that that is the way it is now, but I highly doubt it is as an “innate” a difference as these guys say.

          • SunlessNick says

            I certainly find it hard to believe that back when our ancestors were dodging cave lions, being small and dainty was valued in anyone.

            • The Other Anne says

              It’s a fairly recent thing, as well–and not universal. In Zambia, last month, I found out early on that it’s considered a compliment to be called “fat,” which I was called. (I’m about 150lbs and 5’3-4″–i.e. way curvy, I guess.) For many men it’s attractive because it means I have the means or ability to provide for myself. It means I look like I can pull my weight.

              And the modern obsession with thin, “underweight” women only came around in the last couple hundred years–so yeah, that’s obviously cultural. Looking at art from earlier than the 16 or 1700’s and I see many, many more women who have bodies looking like mine over, say, Paris Hilton.

          • says

            @SunlessNick, yeah I think it’s mainly a result of “civilization”, which gave us patriarchy. I too can’t imagine any of my cavewoman ancestors waiting around to be protected by a caveman when the lions attacked! 😀
            To bring up Beauty Bites Beast again, the author also notes that, in animals, being female does not make them any less potentially vicious. Sometimes, like with bears, females can be more dangerous! Humanity has done its females a disservice by breeding/training all the viciousness out of the female. And it has resulted in rape culture with a steady stream of victims for the predatory, as well as an excuse to keep females subservient and thought of as “inferior”.
            It really burns me up when some douche bloviates all over about womens’ “inherent weakness”. Yeah, like your forefathers had nothing to do with making THAT happen.

            • Attackfish says

              Watching the trailer for the in-progress movie version of “Beauty Bites Beast”, I was once again reminded how very much higher rates of rape and abuse are for people, especially women with disabilities. A quick google search of the online copy of the book found no hits for the words “handicapped”, “Handicap”, “Disabled”, or “Disability” as noble as the goal of teaching women to fight is, as amazing as martial arts can be (and I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of martial arts enthusiasts I know have disabilities) not all women can ever physically fight back, which breaks my heart.

              I’ve mentioned this before here, but there are a lot of guys who are really turned on by the fact that I’m disabled. Even guys who aren’t disability fetishists dig the fact that my disability leaves me frailer and more vulnerable, and inflicts a certain level of dependence on me. That’s obviously clutural, because there is no way men would have evolved to be particularly attracted to girls who are too weak and sick to even survive without modern medicine and technology, or reproduce even with it. I fit the same archetype as the Victorian idealized consumptive, dying woman, the extreme version of the cultural value of feminine physical weakness. And I get asked out more when I’m at my sickest.

              I’m also a weight lifting martial arts practitioner with a five minute mile, but I’m lucky my disability allows that at the moment. It doesn’t always.

            • says

              Most definitely, I do not want to be ablist! There are women and men with disabilities that preclude them from getting very strong.
              The weakening of women is a symptom of patriarchy and rape culture, and it most definitely needs to be dismantled.

              • says

                I will agree that muscle distribution is different. But one has to wonder what a woman would look like growing up in a world where she was encouraged to eat and be big. Where she never did a crash diet; such an idea would be absurd! Where she was encouraged to put on muscle and be fast and strong. Where “girls” weren’t assumed crap at anything physical; indeed, female athletic prowess was celebrated. Where their clothing was designed with comfort in mind and high heels did not exist.
                (I am not advocating for the reverse of oppressive masculinity for girls, btw! In my perfect world, those bookish types who do not want to be physical, male and female, would be left alone. And there would still be naturally small/thin men and women. Without patriarchy/rape culture, they would not be victimized or ridiculed!)
                Maybe there would still be a gap in the way musculature develops, but would the gap in actual strength be as wide? Or should I say, *perception* of strength?
                And then there are also many kinds of strength. Not only “large muscled typical male”, which seems to me the only type these essentialists label as legit. Some people can deadlift 300lbs, but they’d be rubbish at running a marathon. The marathon runners probably couldn’t bench press a bunch of weight.
                I also think society OVERestimates general male strength, too. It’s also a part of patriarchy: make your victims believe that men are superhuman supermen who cannot be defeated, so don’t even bother. I’ll never forget one blog I was reading, where some MRA douche was dominating the conversation with all his “men are superior because women would be shit as soldiers and firefighters!” I wish I could remember what it was, but I can’t. Well, this old army sergeant finally posted (or so he claimed) and told this douche to shut his face, because in his time he had whipped MANY a weak, lazy man into shape and seen women who could run circles around them. And even though these guys ended up passing the standards, they remained weak! BUT, it didn’t matter, because the army (and firefighting, too) is about *teamwork*. No one expects a lone man to Arnold Schwarzenegger his way out of any situation. Brute strength actually matters very little. And then the sergeant said if this guy really believed that it did, the army wouldn’t want his entitled, sexist ass who couldn’t be part of a team that might include female soldiers and weaker male soldiers.

                • says

                  yup! I worked at an office of mostly women and like, 2 guys, and aside from those 2 guys, I was the only other one that could lift that water jug and flip it over when it needed changing. The ladies would scold me and want to get one of the guys, and the guys used to try to stop me from doing it and take over. As if my bones would break!

                • says

                  I just now saw this somehow. There are cultures where women are encouraged to be bigger, such as many parts of Africa (the western thin standard is slowly taking over). Unfortunately, no data on how strong they are. You’re raising interesting questions for sure.

                  The thing about women in firefighting or military type work is such bullshit. Even if you demanded precisely the same physical fitness requirements from both genders, at least SOME women would still qualify. And a lot of men don’t! At all! Like, not even close! So the gender discrepancy even now isn’t nearly as big a gap as they make it out to be.

                  • The Other Anne says

                    I said it somewhere else maybe in this thread, but when I was in Zambia I was called “fat” and it was a compliment–from a 16 yr old girl in Livingstone. Unfortunately, it was also very apparent that western ideals were taking over because even though she meant it to compliment me she felt she had to explain that it was a compliment and why (though I already knew some people would call me that before I went–I was with someone who spent over a year and a half there working in Congolese refugee camps.

                • Sally says

                  During WWII, approximately 800 000 women served in the armed forces of the USSR — as tankists, fighter- and bomber-pilots, sailors, partisans, medical personnel, front-line infantry and cavalry, and especially as snipers. The Soviets found that sniper duties fitted women well, since good snipers are patient, deliberate, have a high level of aerobic conditioning, and normally avoid hand-to-hand combat.

                  Soviet military theory held that women make better snipers than men because they are less prone to posturing. When a man gets in a fight, he is typically satisfied to see his opponent cry “uncle” or run away. War, of course, is not about scaring people, it is about killing them. Some, though not all, men will subconsciously fire over their enemy’s heads in the hopes of scaring them off. But women typically just get busy killing.

            • GardenGoblin says

              It’s amazing how often I take crap for being able to pick up two 50lb bags of feed and lug them out to the barn. Yeah, I’m female, and yeah, I’m not particularly tall, but is it really that outrageous? I’m expected to cart around a 40lb kid, but it’s somehow amazing that I can lift a 40lb box? I’m expected to be able to lug around a stroller, diaper bag, and child, but it’s impressive that I can strap on a 75lb backpack?

              In school, I was regularly carrying 50-60lbs of books. And yet, the principal who approved doing away with lockers thus forcing us to cart around all these books would yell at me if I picked up a 30lb box and tell me I should get ‘one of the boys’ to do that.


              • The Other Anne says

                Yeah, I never got that either. I mean, I’m not the strongest of people. It takes a LOT of effort for me to lug a shipping box with a seven reel movie in it (like I did the other night with “The Rite”). Those are over 40lbs sometimes and awkward to hold with a little plastic handle. But I can. And I do. And thankfully I have awesome non-essentialist coworkers–five men–who not only don’t coddle me as though I can’t handle it, but expect me to do it and don’t do any patronizing praise for these simple things. That’s almost worse than people telling me “let one of the boys do that!”: when people say things like “good for you! Carrying that box all by yourself!” LIKE WTF. How is it so expected for us to lug around 10lbs of fetus for months and then push it through a little teeny hole and undergo all that pain and work…but doing menial labor is somehow, like, totes beyond us or exceptional of us. Blah.

          • says

            Hmm, I hear what you’re saying and like it, but men and women don’t develop muscles the same way, and that’s down to genetics that can’t be influenced on a case by case basis with diet or anything else cultural. Or so I thought? I totally get that how girls are encouraged to eat and idolize frail little thin bodies makes the difference sharper than it needs to be (there are certainly some strong, strapping women in my line). But I thought the differentiation in how muscles develop was more truly innate than that.

            • Sally says

              Not necessarily. I tend to think that biology and society are not, in the end, conceptually separable from each other, but that they are related in such a way that each partially constitutes the other. Human biology has permitted the development of certain types of social organization at the same time as those particular forms of social organization permitted and encouraged a certain direction in biological evolution. I omit argumentation in support of my position, but I can provide it if asked.

              In relation to the question of overall ‘body shape/type,’ we could argue that the fairly exaggerated gender dimorphism that we see in contemporary society seems to be at least partly a result of social factors. In some ethnic groups, there is little physical differentiation between men and women. Women are as tall as men, have equally broad shoulders and narrow hips, and have breasts so small that it is often difficult to tell an individual’s sex even when seen from the front. The relatively smaller size of females in other ethnic groups is often due directly to the fact that their nutrition is inferior because of their lower social status. Differential feeding may also have resulted in selection for shorter females, since taller women would have found it harder to survive on minimal food. Similarly, the cultural preference for shorter and more slender women in modern industrial society may have resulted in more of these women being able to reproduce than their sisters. It has even been suggested that the sex distinction itself may be in part a social product, because ‘intersex’ individuals were less likely to be preferred as marriage partners.

    • sbg says

      That’s exactly what two of my male coworkers “explained” to me today about why there were so many strip joints geared to (het) men, but practically no strip joints catered to women. “Men are built different. We’re visual… women are beautiful to look at and men aren’t.” Blah, blah, blah.

      It never occurred to them to consider that had women not been made objects by men for centuries and/or had the same entitlement in reverse, then perhaps having more strip joints geared to (het) women would, in fact, exist right alongside the Deja Vu down on Whatever Street.

      And neither of them believed me when I said that women can be and are visually stimulated as well. Nope, it’s alllllll because we’re not built the same way.

      • says

        That’s one of the many evo-psych myths that’s been shredded, but where’s the press on it? Curiously silent.

        Here’s a pretty good article on it. The researchers measured actual brainwaves as they showed pictures – ranging from erotic to very non-stimulating. They expected men to react more than women to the erotic images, based on men *subjectively* reporting more arousal to erotic imagery in many studies. But it turned out that when you actually monitor brain responses instead of asking people to give you (culturally filtered) responses, women reacted just as much to the erotic images as men.

        Anecdotal: when I was 11, my girl friends and I would frame-by-frame through clips of certain male rock stars swinging their asses on stage or wearing Speedos. We wore out one video tape. No one had encouraged us to do this. I even had the idea you weren’t supposed to look below the neck when evaluating male beauty, that it was dirty to do so, but I kept finding my eyes drifting to shoulders and butts and… oh, my, I just went to my childhood happy place.

        And I’m actually NOT a particularly visual person, because I’m much more tuned into sound. But I still react powerfully and sexually to the sight of beauty in a man.

        But in any case, that’s not actually what men are reacting to in strip clubs. Men are conditioned to find displays of sexual vulnerability sexually stimulating. Women are conditioned to feel averse to having much power over anybody ever. The erotic reaction to feeling you have power over somebody has its roots in predation and rape culture. That’s why a lot of exotic dancers and strippers actually aren’t anywhere near beautiful – it’s the vulnerability of nakedness, not the eroticism. If they truly found it erotic, they wouldn’t want to be sitting at a table full of other guys, if you know what I mean.

        • sbg says

          Yeah, it was about two minutes at the end of a very quick side session in an all-day work event. If I couldn’t get them to understand the first point, they would never have gotten the second re: vulnerability and power. Heh. I might point them here instead and be done with it.

          • says

            *nods* And a lot of times in conversations like that, the party supporting the status quo view isn’t really even listening to the party making an argument against it. They’re just trying to correct the thinking-for-herself’s person’s obviously confused brain work.

            • Karakuri says

              YES, I can relate to this so well. I’m told by everyone around me that women are naturally this way and that. It ought to be obvious to them by now that I’m not any of the things they tell me I am.
              This place helps me stay sane.

              • Karakuri says

                Oh, and I live in Japan, where I don’t dare disagree. Openly. The topic is pretty much untouchable, even if I were a native Japanese speaker (which would make things MUCH easier).

      • says

        And, of course, if they were correct about women not being visually stimulated (wtf is with that??), then there would be no need for hot young actors on television shows. And actors starring as sparkly vampires, or Egyptian archeologists, or dream idea planters (Inception) wouldn’t exist. They’d be schlumpy, average, pit-pocked, scraggly, chubby, muscleless shlubs. It’s either they are cast to appeal to women, OR hot, handsome young actors are cast because they turn other men on.

        You’re co-irkers aren’t thinking the implications through. Of course, guys like that never do. I would next time you’re in a conversation like that, you could point that out.

  24. BetterUserName says

    Generally, I find engaging in discourse with gender essentialists and evo-psych nuts to be a waste of my time, mainly because they’re so offended and outraged by science and facts that I wonder if they’re rotted and decayed upstairs. I mean seriously, how could anyone believe that biology, medicine, and basic facts like, “In many Asian countries, math is for girls, and so women perform better on math tests and comprise the majority of STEM workforces” are politically biased?

    My mere existence offends them too, because I’m an American woman who’s never wanted kids, has always been interested in solely STEM pursuits, screws up domestic tasks every time, loves black and hates pink, and prefers woodworking to planning a wedding. Engaging with gender essentialists reduces them to sputtering out nonsense like, “You must have been exposed to high levels of testosterone in utero,” or “You probably are hormonally a man.” Nope, and nope. In their hearts, gender essentialists know this crap isn’t true. This is why they carry out concerted campaigns to make life difficult for me and other women like me who don’t fit the role of the Perfect American Woman. It’s why my state is rated an F on abortion access by NARAL. It’s why my year and a half job search in a highly gender-segregated workforce (my town is rather 1950s-ish and old-timey) has yielded zilch, zip, nada in the way of offers, and why when I did work at my STEM jobs previously, I endured a disproportionately high amount of bullying and sexual harassment for a disproportionately low amount of pay.

    Above all, though, evo-psych and gender essentialist nuts wage their war against science, feminism, and basic human dignity by silencing anyone who questions the gender binary. Discriminated against at work? We love being victims. Angry we don’t have access to abortions? We’re whores, and women who don’t know their rightful place as docile virgin-mothers. Sick of pink Disney princesses? We’re joyless hairy legged lesbians who hate the idea that little girls enjoy being Real Females(tm).

    My misanthropy is typically sky high, but these goons send it to the Milky Way, for real.

  25. says

    I love you for specifically using cultural differences to explain why someone’s sex does not say what they like or have a talent for.

    If it was merely biological like so many would like to believe, it would occur across ALL cultures. But gender norms, are not standardized everywhere.

    So thank you for this! This belief is my serious pet peeve with some people.

  26. says


    Human beings are deeply oblivious to their own psychology, from which culture emanates. They’ll think they’ve raised their kids exactly the same way, and yet the boys turned out boyish and the girls turned out girlish, therefore GENES! But in reality, they’ve conveyed strong gender role expectation without even realizing they did it. I read a book by a PhD a year or two ago where she told this kind of story about her own daughter as proof that GENES!, and at no point did she even try to argue that she’d carefully reviewed all the influences on her daughter to make sure they were free of gender messages (yeah, because school NEVER imparts gender messages, nor does TV, nor do other relatives…). Apparently she thought by not buying the daughter dolls, she’d erased all cultural gender messages! I was literally embarrassed to read this.

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