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37.7 Seconds, Part IV
Reading "feminism" and women's power after menopause
In Parts I and II of this series I looked at the scientific claims made about women in Dianne Haless book Just Like A Woman. In Part III I began examining Helen Fishers book The First Sex, published by Random House and widely reviewed, fascinating according to the New York Times. Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, basically says that because of (1) gender divisions of work in deep history, as well as (2) gender differences in the prefrontal cortex of our brains, and (3) estrogen, women have evolved certain behaviors and innate tendencies, which have kept her as a second class citizen (through no fault of anyone, and no coercion, apparently) until now. But womens traits are exactly suited to what Fisher claims will be a more team-oriented, egalitarian, information-driven economy.
In her chapter on Womens Words. Fisher says that the ability to communicate with the written and spoken word is essential in the information-age workplace. Women, she contends, really dominate in this skill. How does she explain why men are the famous writers, poets, and speakers? Well, men speak in more formal, mixed groups; women speak at home or among other women. Why?because of our female brains. Women have 11 percent more neurons in areas specializing in perceiving different sounds associated with language. Of course, Fisher mentions that we need ro know more it is difficult to count neuronsbut the evidence is mounting that women use both sides of the cerebral cortex of their brains. Also, womens language centers are located in safer placestoward the front of the left hemisphere. This doesnt explain why women exhibit their incredible verbal skills only in the home, but no matter.
Estrogen, according to Fisher, also helps triggers a womans swift rejoinder by facilitating the flow of information among neurons. Also a womens capacity to pronounce words increases during her menstrual cycle. Plus, researchers have located genes on the X chromosome that inform language, but due to certain unknown factors related to inheritance, this is active only in about 50 percent of women and is silenced in all men. Women also evolved this skill from ancestral women millenniums ago in Africa through the process of educating their young.
Fisher refers to a survey of 186 societies. Fathers, she reports, had regularly close relations with infants in less that 2 percent of them. So, mothers, the designated educators of the young, would naturally have verbal skills built into the female brain.
Proof of the above claim can be seen in the fact that women are now invading radio and TV (!?). Fisher reports that more than half of NPR reporters are women; many radio anchors and producers are women; 25 percent of the jobs in radio in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia are held by women; in 1994 25 percent of TV writers and announcers were women, 50 percent of primetime series has at least one female producer; 52 percent of all American TV viewers are women.
If women excel in the talking/writing department and they apparently are way above men in thisthen why dont they hold 95 or 100 percent of all communications jobs, as men do in the jobs they excel at? Fisher says that for 3,000 years men have been the most celebrated authors, poets, speakers, etc., because women havent had the time or the education to pursue their love affair with words. Its not clear why we have the time now but, according to Fisher, women are now 54 percent of book authors and 25 percent of reporters, correspondents, and editors. Plus, women are better at gossip and the demand for gossip will grow in the new millennium. Huh? Women will be schmoozing in cyberspace, and they will be hired to explore ways to use the Internet more effectively. Plus, women are better educated. By the 1990s, according the Fisher, 89 percent of American women aged 25-29 had graduated from high school (86 percent of men); 29 percent of women to 26 percent of men had college degrees; women earned 46 percent of the doctorates (mostly in education).
Fisher concludes that, For millions of years our forebears lived in small egalitarian groups where clever, charismatic, industrious individuals rose to leadership. But just about everybody had access to knowledge and could convert it into power.
We are returning to these prehistoric times and women are grabbing opportunities.
Just how capitalismwith markets, competition, and the profit motivewill become more egalitarian and like prehistoric times is hard to fathom and never explained.
In a chapter on People Skills and Mind Reading, Fisher says that women will dominate the service occupations. (This is news?) It seems women have superior hearing and sensitivity to touchfrom their deep history of raising babies. This natural talent can help women evaluate and be sensitive to their colleagues in the workplace. Women can use their superior sense of smell to recognize oders in the workplace. Plus women evolved a more subtle sensitive sense of taste from having to test brackish water millions of year ago. Fisher says this skill will help women read personalities in the office cafeteria.
Good grief. Is this what anthropologists get paid for? How does that smelling thing work? And why are we sniffing out office personalities, anyway? Why not use us like dogs to locate drugs in peoples suitcases or to determine levels of toxic waste in the landfills under our schools?
Women see better at night and have better peripheral vision, skills we can use to evaluate coworkers during office meetings, says Fisher. Really?
Women are better at distinguishing colors, especially shades of red. This skill may have helped them heal their infants because they could judge their childs health by the color of its lips and cheeks. Says Fisher, Thats why women wear rouge and lipstick: to advertise their vigor to friends and suitors. What!? Besides this being yet another inane claim, how are men going to distinguish anything about womens health from a face that is masked by shades of a color that men have an inferior ability to distinguish in the first place?
Women also have better location memory, Fisher reports. This ability is apparently linked to estrogen. In a memory test women remembered 70 percent more of the articles in an office than men did. This female location memory emerges at puberty when estrogen levels rise. It also evolved from remembering where the water hole was, says Fisher. Unbelievable. How can a serious academic write stuff like this, a major mainstream publishing house publish it, and the premier mainstream book review outlet in the United States praise it? Easily, it sells and it is serviceable. The harder question is, why do any women take this stuff seriously?
Returning to Fisher, men, on the other hand, navigate by distances and cardinal directions, which are associated with male hormones, particularly testosterone. This evolved from primordial hunting. Dont ask why or how.
Women have tact, says Fisher. They read people, then use this to fathom what you want to hearand they manipulate you with words. This allows them to excel as interpreters, police officers, detectives, therapists, social workers, advertisers, financial advisors, and mediators. This aptitude for executive social skills resides in the prefrontal cortex, in that same cluster that is active in 50 percent of womenallowing them to perceive nuances of social give and take. Of course, women have not excelled as police officers or detectives or advertisers or financial advisors or executives, but I guess thats because they were the 50 percent who didnt have that cluster.
Mens brains, with their smaller connective highways between hemispheres, may be less agile at interpreting nonverbal data, and less gifted at executive social skills. Then why are CEOs all men? In fact, why are men of any use at all? Fisher writes: Womens innate people skills will be a valuable commodity in almost every sector of the 21st century economy. Yippee.
The Service Industry
Next we discover what Fisher means by every sector of the economy. She mostly means the service industry. Fisher finds it a sign of womens growing power that today some 239,000 people, mostly women, are licensed nail techniciansthey paint your toenails while you read and chat. Other entrepreneurs sell you hot meals in train stations, return your library books and video rentals, fill your prescriptions, redecorate your living rooms, plan your vacations, edit your manuscripts, and even clean out your closets.
In 1994 Americans spent 44 percent of their cash on food cooked outside the home. (Now that is something to think about...) In the 21st century economy cooks, bakers, manicurists, bellhops, drycleaners, laundries, and nurseries selling houseplants will be in demand, i.e., many people will be self-employed in the small service industry as a professional servant class. Sixty percent of these people are women and women own 52 percent of the 4 million businesses in the service industry. In 1995, in 174 of developing nations, women held 50 percent of all clerical, sales, and service jobs.
Thus, Fisher concludes that, women around the world are converting their ancient people skills into cash. Is she for real? How does continuing to hold the lowest paid, least prestigious jobs as professional servants lead to women being poised for power?
Fisher then points to one woman who decided to become a detective as proof that women will be especially suited for that job. Why?because women rely on cunning. Women are also making their way onto police forces (13 percent are women) because police departments have begun to realize women are outstanding at coaxing perpetrators into squad cars. Also, women can sweet talk criminals into confessing.
Women are particularly suited for mediation because of their evolutionary heritage. Female chimps, says Fisher, were skilled at settling disputes and she guesses that ancestral women were too. This explains, I assume, why 26 percent of lawyers, 80 percent of legal assistants, and 50 percent of law students are now women. It does not explain why 90 percent of judges are men or why women are only 13 percent of the partners in the largest law firmsbut no matter.
Next, Fisher looks at the healing professions. She says that in the new economy more and more people will be looking for hands on curing. She doesnt say why, but guess who is suited for this type of healing: women.
Fisher writes that the female talent for healing has been overlooked. (Thats any interesting way of describing the history of women healers and their treatment by men and the powers that be.) Yes, folks, women are bringing their innate assetsemotional expressiveness, nurturing, patience, and the physical ability to manipulate small objects, such as a surgeons scalpel to the healing professions. How does Fisher know this? Well, in 1995, 95 percent of registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in the U.S. were women (do nurses perform surgery?); women are also 90 percent of speech therapists, occupational therapists, and dieticians; women are 99 percent of dental hygienists and 75 percent of physical therapists; women are 36 percent of pharmacists and 79 percent of home health care providers.
In 1960 women were 1 percent of dentists, in 1990 they are 15.4 percent (in 1995 they were 37 percent of the dental students). In 1990, 25 percent of U.S. doctors were female; in 1995 45 percent of medical students were women. This means (says Fisher) that women are reclaiming a role that we never lost in more traditional societies. Could it derive from womens struggles, from the womens movement. No, dont be silly. Its genes expressing themselves in a new world.
Women have a superior ability to express compassion88 percent of Americans think that women are more emotional than men. Now thats a surprise.
Men, it seems, internalize their feelings. They have emotions, they just dont express them. This could stem from biology. John Gottman at the University of Washington has an explanation: emotions like fear, jealousy, and anger activate the autonomic nervous system (ANS), getting the heart pumping and revving up the body to fight or flee. Chronic ANS arousal is harmful and men get aroused at lower levels and recover more slowly, so psychologists hypothesize that men unconsciously withdraw from conflict for health reasons. (What? Isnt this one of mens prime areasconflict?)
Fisher also suspects (no proof mind you) that gender differences in the brain play a role. Mens compartmentalized prefrontal cortex helps them divorce themselves from feelings. It also evolved from deep history, because men couldnt feel pity for the baby gazelle, or fear of the leopard, or compassion for the enemy whose camp they were raiding. That certainly explains it.
Women also are better at manipulating small objects and this skill may be related to estrogen because the skill increases during womens monthly cycle when women become better at putting pegs in the right holes.
Most men, writes Fisher, are at a serious disadvantage at performing fine motor chores. Try asking almost any man to unfasten your necklace; then wait five minutes while he struggles with the clasp....Men are generally built for strenuous action and power instead of fine, precise work.
So how come men dominate as surgeons, dentists, tailors, chefs, and many other jobs requiring fine motor skills? Fisher writes: It is difficult to see how mens gross motor abilities will be useful in the many desk jobs that are coming to dominate the workplace. (no desk jobs for men?) They are certainly of little use as doctors, dentists, or most of the healing professions. (What!?!?)
Men do have an outstanding spatial sense and a mechanical ability. They excel at predicting the path of a moving object. It seems when testosterone floods the male at puberty, boys generally outstrip girls in geometry and mechanical drawing (but doesnt the latter require an ability to do fine, dexterous tasks, a skill that Fisher claims for women?) This spatial ability is in the brain architecture created by fetal testosterone. It also evolved from millions of years ago when men were tracking zebras and wildebeests, thereby giving them the advantage in stringing telephone cable and getting to the moon. I am not making this up.
Fisher says that in the future men will design and operate complex computers and high tech medical equipment. (Doesnt that require sitting at a desk using fine motor skills? How does tracking a zebra enable men to do this?) Men will also run hospitals because they are technically proficient and concerned with rank. But the art of healing will return and women will bring to the curing arts a compassion, a patience, a precision touch, people skills, and interest in healing as a team, a tendency to seek holistic cures, and a view of the patient as a whole human being with social and psychological needs. These feminine aptitudes for curing come across the eons from ancestors who roamed the plains of Africa millions of years ago. oon they will dominate many sectors of contemporary Western medicine as well. (But not apparently as heads of hospitals with the power to determine policy and to hire and fire.)
A1996 Gallup Organization poll of men and women in 22 societies found that the people in Japan, China, Taiwan, and France thought men were a great deal more ambitious than women. Spaniards thought women more ambitious. Thirty-seven percent of Americans considered men more ambitious while 26 percent thought women were more ambitious and 37 percent thought the two were equally eager to get ahead. Why then are women almost universally excluded from leadership positions in governments? Well, it seems that women and men are ambitious in different ways.
Women will achieve access to power through their leadership in non-profit, nongovernmental organizations, charities, and foundations. Fisher says that Americans volunteer over 20 billion hours annually and by 2010 more than 210 million Americans will volunteer at least 5 hours a week of their time. So civic organizations will be the third sector of society, after the corporate and government worlds. (Fishers foresight is marvelous, isnt it?) Women will predominate here (havent they always?) as the civic organizations tend to have less hierarchy and more collaboration. Women like them because, Fisher believes, women are inclined to think contextually and in the long term. This, combined with people skills, i.e., a preference to cure ills, heal, and nurture rather than make money, will put women in the leadership of this third sector.
A 1998 report by the Council on Foundations canvassed 667 major American Foundations and found that, of 4,580 staff, 75 percent are women. Ninety-two percent of the support staff are women; 68 percent of program officers and 50 percent of all CEOs are women; whereas less than 5 percent of CEOs and board members of Fortune 500s are women. Fisher determines from this that clearly women are more likely to be in the foundation world, not the corporate world.
Fisher writes: Arabs call women the grave diggers of dynasties, presumably because women can undermine established political orders with their facility for meeting, talking, and planning outside officially approved channels. This will increase. According to Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the concentration of power in the hands of states, which began in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, is over, at least for awhile. We are not told why or how. But this is, conveniently, good news for women. You see women are not drawn to this form of poweras leaders of governments, perhaps because women are less comfortable than men in rigid, hierarchical formal settings.
Women have never held more than 9 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate or more than 12.6 percent in the House. Women have never occupied even 10 percent of U.S. governors mansions. They fare better in Scandinavian countries where they hold 25 percent of the seats in the lower houses. Under communism, women held 20 to 55 percent of the seats in the lower houses. After communism half of those seats went to men. In Cuba, South Africa, and China women hold more than 20 percent of the seats. In Japan they hold 2.3 percent. In 1995, women held 6 percent of the cabinet posts around the world, except in Scandinavia and the Netherlands where women held more than 30 percent. Only 22 women have become heads of state in the 20th century.
Fisher says that womens lack of participation in national governments cannot be explained by a countrys stage of development (female leaders are hard to come by in all societies, even traditional onesin 82 out of 93 hunter/gatherer societies the leaders were men); nor can it be explained by voting behavior (statistics show that women win as often as men, when they run and in a 1996 Gallup Poll, many more women and men thought that things would improve if women held political office. In 1991, 90 percent of Americans said they would vote for a woman president, if she were qualified).
So how do we explain the lack of female leaders in government? Well, according to Fisher, women run for office to improve society, men to gain business connections or climb the political ladder, so women probably wont achieve parity but will sway governments through civil organizations.
In other news, women wont become preeminent in the military because (a) we dont like hierarchies and (b) men are more violent and aggressive by a rate of 9 to 1. Also, men have learned to be the protectors during deep history: they fought to win mates, and fought to protect the mates they had won. So women are partially responsible for mans aggressiveness since they chose the most aggressive males.
Also, neurosurgeon Rube Gur placed 37 men and 24 women in a brain scanner. The men registered more metabolic activity in the action-oriented emotional centers in the brain. Women registered metabolic activity in an evolutionary way, that is, in the newer regions of the brainwhatever those are. This apparently explains why women argue with words and men get physically aggressive. But didnt Fisher say earlier that men tend to avoid confrontation as bad for their health? Men also have a natural weapon for combat: their testosterone. Having too much can cause rage. Having too little can also cause rage. Go figure. Men have seven times more testosterone than women (thats all?). Fisher concludes that men will continue to be the worlds top military leaders. She feels that the only way women would become involved in the militaryeven a high tech oneis if the military became less hierarchical.
Then Fisher speculates on whether women and men will ever achieve job parity. Fisher finds that the gender division of labor has been a hallmark of humanity and it is still with us: women are 95 percent of childcare and kindergarten teachers, nurses, secretaries, dieticians, dressmakers, bookkeepers, bank tellers, housekeepers, information clerks, and physical therapists. Men still do 95 percent of the manual labor (as if the above wasnt manual labor) such as garbage collection, loading machine operators, well drillers, roofers, plasterers, bricklayers. Men are 96 percent of the car mechanics and 97 percent of carpenters, construction workers, and truckdrivers. Men are still the protectors (97 percent of firepeople, 90 percent of police).
True, Fisher says this is breaking down a bit in the U.S., but most women and men like these traditional genderized career paths. How does she know this? Because our choices are due in part to our genderized brains. Researchers (Who? Where? How? Are they as careful and astute as Fisher?) discovered that most men and women in male typical jobs (carpentry and bricklaying) had male organized brains. Men and women in nursing tended to have female organized brains.
Does this seem like an unbelievable crock of shit? Even if true, what on earth would be so daunting that a woman couldnt wield a saw and hammer and men couldnt change a bed pan?
Anyhow, this division of labor results in a two-tiered economy: nurturing vs. rank. The 21st century will see men in higher paid jobs, women in more part time hands-on jobs (lower paid, presumably, since women arent in it for the cash, which is strange since Fisher traces womens rise to power in traditional and industrial economies through her ability to own land and earn some cash).
Fisher gives a quick historical review. It seems that women were economically and socially powerful in many societies before the European farm based economy took over (you would think that women being gatherers would give them more power in farm based economies than men who were hunters and of no value to farming societiesbut apparently not).
Fisher visited a Navajo tribe where a single mother of five did all the traditional work that women usually do but no one looked down on her. Where women have owned land, livestock, fishing rights, or have provided special services like making beer or healing, they have had prestige and power (although not as leaders). In these two tiered economies, women were equal because the jobs that Western society considers inferior arent really inferior. With the advent of Western colonialism, womens status became depressed around the fourth millennium as men came to own the land and protect it. This farming life, according to Fisher, spawned many myths about women (why? how?)that they were frail, vain, dependent, less sexual, less intelligent, less ambitious, and dependent on men as their possessions and property. Oi.
Then, with the industrial revolution, women gained some wealth and property. Soon globalization will shift us to an economy based on goods and services and will open things up even more to women (as a professional servant class?).
Now we come to the best part: ...a quirk of 20th century demography, the baby boom (World War II as a quirk?), in conjunction with the reality of feminine physiology, menopause, should accelerate this trend: the emergence of economically powerful women. Menopause, says Fisher, causes levels of estrogen to decline, unmasking womens natural levels of testosteronea hormone regularly associated with assertiveness and a drive for rank.
Evidence for this can be found in traditional societies where after menopause women gained some power. In fact, older women are often viewed as being like men. So when women are perceived to be like men then we gain power? But I thought we were poised for power because of our innate skills as women-different from mens?
According to Fisher, by 2050 15 to 19 percent of the population will be over 65. Most of these will be women. We will become a voting block, and will favor social programs. Also ads will be more elaborate to suit the female mind (!?) and home office equipment will be in a range of colors and the climate in the office will be more egalitarian. Women will enter management ranks of the police and group healing practices will flourish. I can hardly wait.
In Part V, Ill look at the feminization of lust and Fishers conclusions about family, kinship, marriage, divorce, sex, and polyamoryan intimacy network. Let me leave you with another astute Fisherism: ...although the traditional patriarchal family had some merits, it was not an institution that was necessarily good for women. No! Youre kidding. Z