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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

ksavoies Icon Posted by Keely Savoie

April 11th, 2007

The NYTimes has proven again you can’t have too much of a good thing– in this case the ever-popular idea that women are hardwired to be gold-digging bimbos who can’t fend for themselves, so spend their mating lives searching for big men with even bigger wallets, and men are just out to bed as many hot women as possible: Viva la difference!

This week’s Science Times is all about desire. “Desire between the sexes is not a matter of choice,” writes Nicholas Wade. I happen to think that the idea that sexuality is immutably fixed at birth is in itself an incredibly narrow idea, but well enough, for now– my bar is set low for the Times’s understanding of nuances involving gender and sexuality. Then he goes on. “Straight men, it seems, have neural circuits that prompt them to seek out women; gay men have those prompting them to seek out other men. Women’s brains…”

Wait. I know what he’s going to say. Women’s brains, if they’re straight, seek out men, right? And if they’re lesbians, they seek out women? (Never mind we’re missing the entire universe that falls outside of gender and sexual orientation binaries– I’ll let it go just to see where you’re heading.) Nope.

“…Women’s brains may be organized to select men who seem likely to provide for them and their families. The deal is sealed with other neural programs that induce a burst of romantic love followed by long-term attachment.”

Sound familiar? In other words: Breaking News! Men just wanna get laid, and women want to fall in love, have kids, and settle down.

Now, there’s a novel concept!

The article goes on at length to describe the various differences between female and male brains, citing research that suggests that desire is a fundamentally different thing for each gender. It’s not a misogynist idea in and of itself. But what is interesting is that Wade spends the middle of the article citing evidence that men and women’s brains function in wholly different ways (for example, women prioritize emotional memories with the left side of the amygdala while men tend to rely on the right side for that) to get to the idea that differences in brain function are irrefutably set at birth. Okay…Again, I am expecting something that never comes. I am expecting him to tell me the ways in which female brain function differs on a practical level from male brain function; how which side of the amygdala performs what task determines something essential about maleness or femaleness. Instead, Wade claims that the fact that maleness and femaleness are essential and distinct in every way is best demonstrated in the cases of boy babies who have lost their penises, “some of them in circumcision accidents,” he says. (But let’s be real: Wade is dancing around the fact that most intersex babies have their non-gender-binary-conforming genitalia lopped off to aesthetically conform to femaleness and are raised as girls.) These XY babies are raised female, and have external genitalia that look female, but grow up nonetheless to sexually desire women.

Wade quotes an “expert on sexual orientation” to drive the essentialist differences between male and female brains homeargument home:

“If you can’t make a male attracted to other males by cutting off his penis, how strong could the psychosocial effect [of bring raised female] be?”

Huh? I thought we were talking about differences in male and female brains, but in one deft move we’re talking about sexual orientation and castration?

We know the Times is no good at nuance, particularly around gender and sexual orientation, but is it really so bad that Wade has to perform the journalistic equivalent of the doctors who lop off intersex babies’ ambiguous genitalia, excising inconvenient nuances altogether?

But it gets better:

Of course, no NYTimes special sexist section would be complete without John Tierney weighing in. You may remember him from this space, but in case you missed it, Tierney’s earned a name for himself by cherry-picking scientific data that supports his unapologetically neanderthalish viewpoints. Some of my favorite Tierney quotes:

The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And …the happiest wives…were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.

Suppose you’re the head of a school whose students belong to two ethnic groups, the Alphas and the Betas. The Alphas get better grades and are more likely to graduate….

How much time would you spend worrying about the shortage of Alpha jocks?

Not much — unless, of course, the Alphas were women, the Betas were men, and you were being sued for not complying with Title IX. Then you would be desperately trying to end this outrageous discrimination.

Last Sunday, The Times published an article [that] provoked an outcry … but not from men. For every letter from a man, The Times got 10 letters from women….

It could be argued — I can already anticipate the deluge of letters from one sex– that men are blasé because they have so many other advantages, and that women are worrying because they still face so many kinds of discrimination. Maybe. But to me it looks more like another type of gender divide: the Complaint Gap.
[emphasis mine]

I’ve slogged through enough reports from the National Academy of Sciences to know they’re often not shining examples of the scientific method. But — call me naïve — I never thought the academy was cynical enough to publish a political tract like ‘’Beyond Bias and Barriers,'’ the new report on discrimination against female scientists and engineers.
This is the kind of science you expect to find in The Onion…

And, what has to be the best-ever illustration of Tierney’s bias: “…Hoop skirts gave a graceful hourglass curve to any woman. The women were subtly sexy.”

So, Tierney, a confirmed misogynist and self-styled scientist (though according to his bio, his college education was in American Studies) likes nothing more than to delve in to pseudo-psycho-social-science that shows men’s fundamental superiority to women. What better opportunity than a whole section on sex?
Here he jumps in with both feet, highlighting two studies that bolster his main premises in any discussion abut women: 1) they’re gold-diggers, and 2) they’re too fussy. In this article Tierney cites Natalie Angier’s article on the physiology of desire. As usual, Angier writes with grace and precision, and a curiosity rather than a point to prove.

One Response to “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before”

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