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37.7 Seconds, Part II
Reading "feminism" and the pursuit of difference
As I said in Part I, the title 37.7 seconds refers to the average amount of time fathers spent each day communicating with their babies during the first three months of life, according to a 1971 study quoted in Has Feminism Changed Science? by Londa Schie- binger.
This statistic seemed incredible to me, if true, which I assume it is as the book seems intelligent and carefully done. I came on this statistic in the course of reading about feminism in various new mainstream books purporting to add something to "post-feminist" discourse. While I used to enjoy reading about feminism, it has been a chore in the last two decades or so, and has finally annoyed me enough to depart from satire and address what have been recurring, mostly mainstream, themes ever since the womens liberation movement of the 1960s. .
These themes are that: (1) the womens movement made many positive changes for women but they went too far by demanding to be men; (2) women are not men, they are different, uniqueseparate but equal; (3) we know this from studying other female species, our foremothers, our bodies, and our brainsalso from some statements made by friends and colleagues of the authors, plus some often inconclusive studies.
I feel that it is necessary to do this with a fair amount of detail because, when people use the behavior of red spiders and elephant seals to make claims about my "female" nature, one needs more than 37.7 seconds to deal with it
In Just Like A Woman by Dianne Hales we left off (in Part I) with Haless stated goal to find out what makes women uniquethe "rhythms we live by, the bodies we occupy." Hales writes, " Just as yin shapes yang and day defines night, women and men are designed to complete and compliment each other. The synergy that we can create together may yet lead to the greatest revelation of all: what it means to be fully human, strong, sensitive, smart, spiritual, and sexual in ways both feminine and masculine, yet not limited to either females or males."
The rest of the book fleshes out the theme of difference (sometimes referred to as uniqueness), starting out with what bugs, bears, birds, and baboons have to teach us about the 21st century woman, and about the female bodywhich Hales says we dont know enough about. This is a somewhat bizarre claim, since understanding our bodies was one of the contributions of the womens movement of the 1960s, Of course, Hales doesnt want to mention this or use any of that material since she might have to mention things like power relations and institutionalized sexism.
What do females of other species teach us?that we outlive males; that we participate in the enterprise of living (hunt, gather, forage, protect, and kill); that we occasionally dominate; that in less than 10 percent of non-human species does the mother devote herself to the care and feeding of her young; that we can be sexually dimorphic. Also, by some estimates, only 3 percent of mammals (females and males) are faithful to their mates. Why do we seek partners? Hales suggests, because it has some evolutionary advantage to diversify (get the sperm to compete, males less likely to kill an infant he thinks is his?) She never suggests that it might be because one of the parties is forced into it. It is also not clear what the fact that the "female praying mantis emulsifies the male during copulation" has to do with 21st century femaleness, except that Hales says other species behavior is relevant and revealing.
Hales then looks at the bond we have with other females of other species, different from males of the species: "What is that link? We are eggmakers." (This is news?) What else did we get from other females of the species? We are finicky. Our coveted eggs make us the courted sex, and males must win our favor. Our eggs our incredible, by the way250,00 times bigger than male sperm. Here she refutes the notion of the princess egg as hostage to the conniving sperm and puts forth that chemical signals (pheromones) from the egg may set the fertilization process in motion. In an experiment at the University of New Mexico female volunteers preferred the smell of T-shirts worn by the most symmetrical men (but they only preferred them during ovulation). The olfactory signals supposedly relay vital information about a suitors suitability. Fascinating, isnt it, as one tries to raise wages for women.
The above information is by way of refuting nonsense about how the female, by failing to compete, has evolved into inferiority. Hales says we do compete, but in a female way, and gives the example of the elephant seals that compete with each other for breeding spots on the shoreline. Female elephant seals also generate feuding for their favor among males. Hales remarkably translates this for us into behavior in the corporate jungle: brute force versus subtle jockeying. "It sounds just like my office," says an executive friend of mine. If a man wants somethingyour territory, your responsibilities, even your jobhell come straight at you with all hes got. The women dont. They go around your back and sabotage you, and thats even harder to deal with." Hmm, gender differences in capitalist competition explained by elephant seal behavior during breedinghow enlightening.
In Chapter Three, Lucys Daughters, Hales says that there is nothing in the fossil records to suggest that female hominids didnt make tools, use fire, create art, and provide much of the food for their families/kin. (Lucy is the name given to the skeletal remains of a three-million-year old female found in Ethiopia, and reportedly named for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.") So why the division of labor if female hominids could do it all? Hales explains that a division of labor grew out of necessity centered on childcare issues and the inability of pregnant females to move about. This seems pretty thin. Isnt it more likely, judging from current behavior, that men were sitting around watching grass grow or tossing rocks while women did everything: hunting, gathering, cooking, etc.? Unless, of course, females did what they did because they were forced to. At any rate, does what happened in prehistoric times, if and when we ever know, define what has to happen in current times?
But mainly what makes women unique, in this chapter, is (1) fat (we have twice as much as men); (2) our waist to hip ratio (WHR) which makes us attractive to men when our hips measure a third larger than our waists. It also makes us healthier, according to Hales: less likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, gall bladder problems, and other diseases; (3) we may have been pictured as docile drudges in museum displays from thousands of year ago, but we were busy in fact, we were responsible for the String Revolution, reports Hales. Also, most importantly, every female egg contains mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that can repair genetic defects in sperm and launch the development of the embryo. Females and males receive mitochondrial DNA from the mothers eggs, but only daughters can pass it on to their children. "Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have determined that the mtDNA in todays women is very similar to that of our foremothers. According to their calculations, we are all descendants of a common grandmother, a mitochondrial Eve who lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, probably in Africa." From this, Hales declares that we owe our female existence not to Adams Rib but to Eves eggs and their mitochondria. Is that the insight that will lead to a newer, better place for women in the next millenium?
In chapter four, we learn more about our differences. We are shorter and we weigh less. Our shoulders are narrower, our pelvises wider, our elbows and the base of our thumbs are shaped differently from males. We take nine breaths per minute, they take twelve. We have fewer sweat glands and red blood cells. Men are more prone to hiccups; women sleep more lightly and wake from anesthesia faster (seven vs. eleven minutes). Our liver oxidizes alcohol more slowly, our immune system provides extra protection, our saliva is different so that foods may taste sweeter to us than to males, our skin is thinner, our hearing keener, and we score higher on scratch and sniff tests. Our genes have gender says Hales. The male fetus is more likely to develop spina bifida; males are more prone to hemophilia, color blindness and other X-linked disorders. Hales then tells us about our chromosomes and points out that the X chromosome is essential for human life and is the largest (containing 2,500 to 5,000 genes) while the Y is the smallest (20 genes or so). She says that 130 to 150 males are conceived for every 100 females, but so many male fetuses perish in the womb that boys only outnumber girls by a ratio of 105 to 100 at birth. And I am wondering, why is any of this of any consequence for fighting to end patriarchy? The answer: there appears to be no such thing as patriarchy, in Hales world.
Hales states that our bodies do everything the male body does, but often in distinctive ways. For instance, estrogen is important to women and their well being, allowing us to live longer. Low levels of it have been linked to depression. According to Hales, testosterone levels (which have daily and seasonal cyclesbelying the claim that only women have cycles, in case you need that information to get through the day) soar and plummet depending on stress factors. For instance, under the stress of boot camp or prison, testosterone levels will fall. During tennis or chess matches, testosterone levels will rise. A loss will cause levels to sink; a win will cause them to rise. Base testosterone levels are higher in "actors and football players, lower in ministers, juvenile offenders, substance abusers, rapists, and bullies." Statistics also show that high testosterone men are less likely to marry, and more apt to divorce. High testosterone mothers tend to have high testosterone daughters who are less likely to have children (then why are there high testosterone mothers in the first place?). Low testosterone daughters express more interest in dressing up, wearing jewelry, and interior decorating. By the way, did you know that Queen Elizabeth might have had high testosterone levels? Hales points out that it is not clear which came first: hormone levels or professional preference, so we dont know what all this has to do with anything. Should we even care?
Regarding athletes: mens lungs take in 10 to 20 percent more oxygen, their legs cover more distance, they have twice the muscle mass. Women have a lower sense of gravity, better balance, and are more flexible. Females, says Hales, arent likely to outrun males because of the angle of their upper leg bone to the pelvis is greater in women, so her legs are less efficient at running. But the longer the race (or if it is in the water where women are more buoyant), the better women perform. According to a U.S. Army study in Natick, MA, after six months of working out for 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week, women who had never exercised much at all could do anything male recruits could do. From this we can surmise, I guess, that while women and men should compete separately in sports events, women can fight alongside men in wars. Yippee.
In the next chapter, Hales talks about womens health. She doesnt go into the length and depth of misogyny here, or the patriarchal control of the health professiona realm that used to interest women. It does come up, although no explanation is given. She writes: "In school in the 1970s "we learned that if a woman had chest pains she was anxious, if a man did, he had a heart problem." She points out that this occurred in spite of the fact that heart disease accounts for 30 percent of womens deaths (breast cancer accounts for 3 percent). She points out that most drug testing is done on men, ignoring that womens responses to drugs may often be different.
In the chapter on girls, Hales writes that Freud was wrong; girls are not little men but are uniquely female. How insightful. We learn about how girls and boys experience things differently. Why? Hales points out that some say its social conditioning through parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. Others say that sex differences begin before birth. Because of "hard wiring" of female and male brains in the womb girls pay more attention to faces, boys are as likely to smile at blinking lights. Girls sit up sooner, boys crawl more quickly, and both walk at the same age. Thus?
Hales consults Marc Breedlove, a neuropsychologist at the University of California and a leading expert in the study of sex differences, on this matter. (Why would one have sex differences as a field?) He used to favor nurture over nature in determining sex differences (assuming there really are any; and that they are of any significance). Then he had his third child (first daughter). Although she was born into a house filled with boys and their toys, "she wanted most to go into a her mothers closet and put on shoes She just likes dresses." (This even though her mother wears dresses about three times a year, or perhaps it is because of that...) Says Hales, "If there is a frilly-frock gene, my daughter, who lived in nothing else for years, inherited it." If this is science, what is non-science? This "evidence" is presented along side the following: "As Breedlove now sees it, theres a word for people who believe society alone molds children into sex roles: childless. I am convinced that boys and girls start out a bit different at birth, he says, but they get more different as they grow up." Uh-huh, big news.
Of course, this would indicate that nature and nurture are both at work, for those who didnt know that already, but where is the evidence that "differences" in genes or brains or blood thickness or waist to hip ratios result in frilly dresses? Or, more interestingly, that testosterone, twice the muscle mass, and a tendency to hiccup more often leads to a dislike of frilly dresses, much less a tendency to exploit others?
Hales then writes: "Differences between little girls and little boys extend beyond anatomy, showing up even in the games they play. Contrary to common misconception, girls play can be, in its own way, as competitive as boysand even more complicated. The major new discoveries just keep piling up, dont they? Its amazing to watch, says Robin Hayden, a multimedia executive in Silicon Valley who volunteers at her sons preschool. "The boys say, Give me that, and whoever can hold on longest wins. The girls play is incredibly convoluted, theres so much negotiation going on. First, Ill play with the toy for ten minutes, then Ill let you borrow it, then well share for a while. When theres a dispute, the boys will say, you took it, its mine. The girls let loose a whole arsenal. I dont like the dress youre wearing. Your mother wasnt here yesterday, and mine was. The snack you brought last week tasted terrible. Im not inviting you to my birthday party, and Im not getting you a birthday present, either."
Hales does note that some groups of girls, such as "African-Americans show remarkable resiliency. According to the American Association of University Womens landmark report Shortchanging Girls/Short- changing America, black girls have a greater sense of self-esteem than girls of any other ethnic group. In high school, 58 percent say they are happy with the way I amcompared with 30 percent of white girls and even lower percentages in other ethnic groups." Why? "Look at their mothers," says psychiatrist Kathleen Pajer who is studying teen girls who get in trouble with the law. Black girls come from a matriarchal culture in which strong women are the ones who keep the family together." (This is one of the few mentions of race, and there is no mention of class differences, although poverty is mentioned as a factor in some instances.)
Hales notes that, "the rate of teen pregnancy is actually far lower than in the Ozzie-and-Harriet fifties, when the birth rate for teens age 15 to 19 reached an all-time high of 90 births per 1,000 girls; in 1956 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) there were 54.7 births per 1,000 girls."
But basically, the information given is standard stuff leading to the questions: "what do boys need and what do girls need? The answers, despite considerable overlap, are different. Tinkering with girls so they fit better into man-made worldsremedial masculinization, as some call itdoesnt work. Girls need recognition that they are unique and worthy of attention they have to learn to believe in themselves by doing, by challenging themselves to become all that they might be." Ooops, we are back to the Army again...
In the chapter on menstruation we learn that it has no real impact on female behavior, although it is surely part of our "femalenss, isnt it?:
- When male anthropologists wrote the first descriptions of menstrual huts in various foraging societies, they depicted them as places of banishment, where women, shunned by the group, stayed in shameful exile. Yet when female anthropologists eventually interviewed women in these societies, they got a very different impression: that the women looked forward to their days off from the hard work of their daily lives and enjoyed the opportunity to laugh and relax in the company of other women. (Good grief. Is that like saying that slaves were really happy because they were well provided for? Or is she suggesting that women sat in holes and huts during menstruation of their own free will? Or that holes and huts are better than the rest, the rest being so bad? Or what?)
- In general, regardless of whether they are ripening an egg, ovulating, dismantling their internal nursery, or shedding their endometrial lining, women can think abstractly, add, subtract, multiply, divide, remember, speak, define, and coordinate their movements equally well.
- Study after study shows that PMS is not a serious problem for most women, yet the myth persists that women as a whole are incapacitated.
- The menstrual cycle has never been the real barrier in a womans life.
In the section on wombs we learn, among other things that:
- Throughout history, most womenan estimated 70 to 97 percent in various times of peace, war, plague, or prosperitybecame mothers, although not by conscious, freely made choice.
- Until modern times, one pregnancy in five was likely to result in the death of the mother. Today, almost 600,000 women around the world die of pregnancy related complications every year; in the U.S. the maternal mortality rate may be as high as 20 deaths per 100,000 births.
- Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that every minute 190 women face an unwanted pregnancy.
- Within a few years of FDA approval of the pill in 1960 an estimated 10 million women were on it.
- For centuries abortion was not considered illegal. In the 19th century, antiabortion statutes were introduced in America in the 1820s and it remained illegal until Roe v Wade in 1973. Today 50 million women around the world have abortions each year, as many as 20 million may be illegal and unsafe. In western countries, however, legal abortion has become safer than pregnancy, childbirth, or even a penicillin shot.
- The medical term for women who have never given birth is nullipara from the Latin root nulla, meaning empty, void, nothing, zero.
- According to limited data available, single childfree women tend to be better-educated, more cosmopolitan, less religious, and more professional than those in the general population.
In the chapter on menopause, Hales writes that "What women often fear most is that the change heralds the beginning of the endnot just of fertility, but of sexuality, desirability, professional achievement, and importance in the lives of those they care most about. Not so say counselors and health professionals. As they see it, while perimenopause and menopause end reproductive functioning, they also can mark the beginning of new and rewarding chapters in a womans life." We also learn that 25 percent of all postmenopausal American women use Hormone Replacement Therapy (up from 16 percent a decade ago).
All of this is very interesting, although hardly news, but, beyond health issues, why does all this lead to the conclusion that there is a female way of doing things? Giving birth is what females do, but what does it have to do, genetically or otherwise, with how we deal, as a gender, with situations in the office or how we park our cars?
The chapter "Is there A Female Brain?" provides some answers, albeit contradictory ones. First we learn that brain size alone seems fairly unimportant. Hales writes that in the past most brain research reinforced the view that the male brain is the normal one, the sole model of human intelligence. A womans brain was thought to weigh 10 to 15 percent less than a mans but further investigation revealed that the size difference was relative to overall body weight and that some women had bigger brains than many men. Suppose we had absolutely unquestionable evidence that the average size of womens brains was less (or more) than that of men. Suppose we even knew that brain size was critical to brain activity in some domains. What difference would any of this make? Would we then say women should be collectively precluded from "big brain" activity?
One of the first sex differences discovered in brain physiology, according to Hales was in cerebral blood flow. Raquel Gur and her husband Ruben Gur, conducted an experiment to determine if blood flow increased to either hemisphere for specific tasks. To their surprise, the flow of blood to one or the other hemisphere was almost 20 percent higher in women than in men. "Whatever they doeven just wiggling their thumbswomen activate more neurons in the brain, reports neuropsychiatrist Mark George, of the Medical University of South Carolina. Brain scans show neurons turning on in highly specific areas when a male uses his mind. When females do similar tasks, their brain cells light up like Los Vegas at night."
Hales says that this observation supports the theory that the male brain tends to be more "lateral" and divides tasks between its two hemispheres, while the female brain draws equally from both sides. Some see this compartmentalization of the male brain as an evolutionary essential. "A males main function is to find territory, find food, find a female he has to be able to focus in order to survive. What the female needs as a mother is to be ready to go in all directions in order to protect her young."
Does this strike anyone else as so much crap?
Hales continues by pointing out that neurologists have suspected that the sexes process language differently in the brain, partly because when women have strokes, it was noted that they tend to regain more of their verbal abilities than men. A confirmation of this came from a study by Yale professors Sally and Bennett Shaywitz. With detailed MRI scans, they showed that "in men, neurons in the region called the inferior frontal gyrus, a small area behind the eyebrows, lit up on the left side of their brains while they performed a rhyming task. In women, neurons in this same area generally lit up in both the left and right hemispheres. Such differences, which have also shown up in tests of electrical brain activity, have not emerged consistently in neuroimaging research."
Hales then goes on to tell us that:
- No one knows whether any sex differences are hard wired at birth or a consequence of experience and education
- Intelligence per se appears equal in both sexes
- Standardized academic test scores from more than 150,000 students age 13 to 17 found differences in highly specific skills. Boys were a little better on math, science, and social studies, girls were slightly stronger in reading comprehension, perceptual speed, and remembering associated concepts. Girls do better at anagrams, boys at analogies. At the very top of the math scale, boys outnumber girls by a remarkable seven to one. However in writing skills, girls showed an even more marked superiority.
- By midlife, both math and spatial scores are generally equal, by old age women score higher.
- From ages 18 to 45, in MRI studies neurons in the male brain died at a rate three times faster than in the female
- Both sexes record memory loss but womens memories are better at any age
- Estrogen seems to strengthen womens mind and memory
In spite of the above, which would indicate no significant or only slight differences, Hales finds that there is a female brain and it may bring a unique perspective to problem solving. "Women, observes cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, are peripheral visionaries, capable of simultaneously following several trains of thought . This ability to see with more than eyes alone is often referred to as intuitionwhich seems to be an innately female trait and others as a survival skill cultivated by the powerless of either sex."
Hales says that this "female brain" can be a real advantage in the office. "Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Mona Lisa Schulz, a self-described medical intuitive, regularly calls on her sixth sense in diagnosing and assessing patients." Mona Lisa, it seems, believes that women use lots of areas of the brain when making decisions. Because we are less lateralized (although, as mentioned above, these studies are not very conclusive and dont apply to all or even that many women), women may have better access to both sides of the brain. This can be a real advantage in the office. Studies of female management styles show women in business often display "similar savvy in motivating staff members."
In the "Vulnerable Women" chapter we learn that:
- By the year 2020, the World Health Organization predicts depression will be the second greatest cause of disabilities world wide
- According to the National Comorbidity Survey, 30 percent of women develop an anxiety disorder over the course of a lifetime; we are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a phobia
- Five million women are alcoholics; women make up 40 percent of AA members
- Womens brain chemistry may contribute to our vulnerability; although social conditions also contribute
- In a 3 year study of working class mothers in London, researchers found that 64 percent had experienced sexual abuse before age 17
On Gender and Emotions, Hales writes that gender may have less to do with emotions than power; that emotions know no gender. The only difference she finds is that women cry moreperhaps due to higher levels of prolactin which lowers our threshold for weeping. In a study of two career couples, psychologists at Radcliffe Colleges Murray Research Center found that husbands are as emotionally sensitive as wives to issues related to relationships, the family, health, and related problems.
Having said this, she then says that sadness saturates an area of the brain that is eight times larger in women than in men and that mens brains have to work harder to evaluate emotion. Also, apparently in some neuroimaging studies by the Gurs, they discovered a sex difference in the limbic system, a ring of structures within the brain that process the entire spectrum of human emotion. It seems most male brains idle in an evolutionarily ancient region of this systemsometimes called the reptilian brainthat gives rise to unsubtle, active expressions of emotion, such as aggression. The resting gear for the female brain lies in a different regionthe cingulated gyrus, a more recently evolved part of the limbic system related to symbolic forms of expression, such as gestures, facial expression, and words. Of course, Hales points out that these brain differences dont characterize all women and men, in fact the percentages are quite low, but no matter. From this Hales concludes that men are like wallets and women are like purses. Maybe that can become a new guide to feminist practice.
The chapter called the Sensuous Spirit is truly strange. Hales writes: "For women, the sexual often resonates into the realm of the spiritual and vice versa." How she knows this we are never told. There is no evidence given and most of this chapter reinforces stereotypes such as "For women, the process of making loveholding hands and hugging and tendernesscan be as emotionally gratifying as the orgasm itselfor even more so Orgasm, researchers concluded, does not determine a womans sexual satisfaction."
Regarding female spirituality Hales says that more women are engaging in a new feminist spirituality, which pays homage to a compassionate mother, "a female force who gave birth to the cosmos and all of creation." She also reminds us that half of the original deities at Mt. Olympus were female and that all early religions involved goddesses. These goddesses, says Hales, "remind us that we too are miraculous creatures" and that we have "ancient memories in our cells." Oh boy.
In the final chapter, Tomorrows Women there are some interesting statistics and predictions such as:
- From 1970 to 1990 the proportion of American households made up of married couples with children fell from 40 to 26 percent (whats interesting is not only the drop but that it was only 40 percent in 1970). From 1990 to 1997 the decline was 1 percent.
- Also, 18 percent of households are headed by single mothers, 5 percent by single fathers.
- Working mothers who will be married with school age children is expected to be 80 percent in the next decade.
- Women in the U.S. now earn 74 percent of what men earn and continue to work largely in a narrow range of occupationssales, clerical, nursing, teaching.
- In Great Britain, economists predict that women will win one million of 1.4 million jobs created in the next 10 years (jobs mostly in healthcare, computers, electronics, financial services).
But the main purpose of this final chapter is bring us back to Haless theme: "On the one hand, we yearn to detach from gender. On the other, we dont want to stop being women and exploring our womanly natures." (By the way, in a survey of social attitudes in the U.S. that asks women and men to define masculinity, the most common answer was "being a good provider." Is this part of their natures and, if so, isnt women becoming "providers" part of "women trying to be men" and therefore a no-no. Or are women just earning money to supplement/complement the male income?
Hales writes that back in the 1970s women thought we had only one choice: to become one of the boys but then we figured out there is a better way--though not to make them one of the gals. "We were damned whatever we did, observes Carolyn Duff in When Women Work Together. "If we acted like men, men often felt threatened by our directness and competitiveness, and many women found us alienating and difficult to work with. On the other hand, if we acted like women seeming reluctant to play power politics and insisting on bringing relationship-based values into an objective, competitive male workplacemen found our feminine behavior a sign of weakness."
This is truly annoying. Why is anybody "acting like" something. Doesnt that imply that behavior isnt natural/genetic and universal but contextual and learned, like memorizing a part in a play, or taking orders, for that matter? In the second place, its all so contradictory: there are differences, there are no differences, there are differences because of our ties to Lucy and/or because a friend of Haless said so. Sometimes stereotypes seem to be true or can be used as evidence, sometimes stereotypes should be gotten rid ofthe difference is whether the author likes them or not. Sometimes physical differences (wombs vs. no wombs) are used to define behavior, other times not.
Not surprisingly, this theme of femaleness translates into a case for our role in the technology revolution and information age. Hales writes; "as described by management professor Judy Rosener, of the University of California, Irvine, a female approach (neither used by all women nor eschewed by all men) differs from the traditional male hierarchical command-and-control model in several ways: flexibility, an emphasis on cooperation, team building, decision making by consensus, and motivation by encouraging individual growth." So is capitalism competitive because men are competitive by nature? Or vice versa?
Says Hales: "Imagine the possibilities such a combination might create (men/women together): strength working in tandem with stamina, the males laser like focus expanding to take in the females embrace of the big-picture context, the females quest for meaningful connections enriching the males determination to get things done. In theology, business, education, and communications, there is an emerging recognition of a different vision, a different voice, a different viewpointa female one, neither inferior nor superior, neither right nor wrong, neither better nor worse, but one that may open up new and unexplored possibilities for both sexes." Other than the idea that these qualities are female per se, and the others male per se, yippee.
Hales concludes that we are moving beyond the limits of "like." "We are not defying or denying our bodies, we are fightingand slayingstereotypes about female biology." Just how, she doesnt say, since all the female qualities shes unearthed in her search are the same female qualities weve been assigned for centuries. She says women are becoming themselves, but her case really points to women remaining the selves that (mainly) men have shaped and desired them to be. But no matter, Hales is hopeful about the new millennium and feels we are moving to a better time and place.
Which brings us to our next book The First Sex, by Helen Fisher. She takes this theme of femaleness further and sees the return of the economically powerful woman. "As women pour into the paid workforce in cultures around the world " women will bring their natural talents to the marketplace. "In some important parts of the economy, they will even predominate, becoming the first sex. Why? Because current trends in business, communication, education, law, medicine, government, and the nonprofit sector known as civil society, all suggest that tomorrows world will need the female mind."
More on Fishers work next time. Suffice it to say, at this point, that I find it appalling at how easily this mainstream/pop/pseudo scientific, male/female difference/duality, yin/yang thing has been accepted.
Its true that, if we ignore the nonsense and the fact that the case for difference is thin, often beside the point, often showing that there is no meaningful difference at all, then the pursuit of difference could be an interesting endeavor in our search for liberation. Perhaps it could be useful in certain areas such as health, and organizing society around reproduction as well as production. When combined with an analysis of institutions and power, the difference discussion might also help liberate men and women from imposed or imagined gender limits, or could help us transcend evolutionary habits/patterns.
But if becoming a self managed independent individual who makes some meaningful contribution to society, is a liberatory goal, and I believe it is, then all this difference business seems more reactionary than revolutionary, more limiting than liberating. To me, searching for our femaleness in Lucys DNA is a convoluted way of arguing that women deserve a place in society based on the notion that we wont upset men in the process. What better way to do that than to constantly remind men (and women) that we really arent trying to usurp their role, as defined by them, but rather to complement it, as defined by them.
As mentioned in part I, in The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir, in describing society, says that "humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but relative to him...thus she is called the sex, by which is meant that she appears to the male as a sexual being. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her... He is the Subject, he is the Absolute, she is the Other."
A primary task on the road to liberation, then, should be to free ourselves from being defined in relation to men, and from being important only as sex objects for men, and from being the Other. But the female nature theme does nothing to free us from mens orbit.It continues to define and differentiate us in relation to men and identifies us even more than ever as "the sex."
Oh, one last item: Hales mentions back in her chapter on girls that one psychologist discovered that "fathers who are more involved have children who express fewer gender-stereotyped emotions." Good heavens, if thats all it takes then we didnt need to write volumes on our female nature/difference. All it would take to render the gender difference issue moot is for fathers to get off their duffs and spend a hell of a lot more than 37.7 seconds with their offspring. Maybe the trick is for fathers and mothers to be parents, each alike, and each involved. Maybe that division of labor is what we ought to take a long look at, not genes and muscle angles. Z