Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Crying All The Way To The Bank

Louann Brizendine is, and there are two reasons for that:

First, she is a woman and women are all about emotions and totally (like totally!) incapable of systematic thought and leadership and such (twirls hair, sticks tongue out), but we wimminz do talk a lot* so maybe she can write a book by talking a lot to a tape assuming she has a box of tissues for the tears and someone to tell secrets to.

Second, she has come out with a sequel to her femalebrainbook and it's all about the male brain. It's going to be translated to all known sexist languages and it's going to be eagerly devoured by curious women everywhere. Though not by curious men because men don't read since they have a male brain. (I added that last bit and it is a joke.)

I'm not gonna read it because I'm female and too upset and emotional to read bad books without being paid to do it. But loads of women WILL read it, and it will help them to feel, like, better and totally justified about living under a patriarchy. It will also present inaccurate information, wild generalizations and so on, but only about 3.75 people in this world seem to mind that. I'm soooo upset! Now hug me.

OK. That's enough about me tapping into my essential and unchanging female brain. Instead, do go and read Emily Bazelon's review of the book.

Then read Caryl Rivers on the topic. She points out the great influence of our old friend Simon Baron-Cohen on Brizendine. I quote from her:

Men are the thinkers, the systemizers, the rationalists. Women are the carers and the feelers.

Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen--who wrote the book "The Essential Difference" (2004)--says that males are good at leadership, decision-making and achievement, while females are suited for "making friends, mothering, gossiping and 'reading' your partner." (He has been quoted in The New York Times, in a Newsweek cover story, in a PBS documentary and in many other major media outlets.)

Baron-Cohen bases his claims on one study, conducted in his lab in 2000, of day-old infants purporting to show that baby boys looked longer at mobiles, while day-old baby girls looked longer at human faces.

Elizabeth Spelke, co-director of Harvard's Mind, Brain and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, utterly demolished this study. It has never been replicated, nor has it appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, she reported.

Spelke found the study lacked critical controls against experimenter bias and was not well-designed. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent's lap and shown, side-by-side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can't hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could well have been determined by the way their parents held them.

Moreover, a long line of literature flat out contradicts Baron-Cohen's study, providing evidence that male and female infants tend to respond similarly to people and objects. (Brizendine cites the Baron-Cohen study with nary a nod to the critics.)

Nevertheless, that mobile appears in Brizendine's book:

Take David, who at age 3 turns a blow dryer on his friend's stream of pee as it hits the toilet. Brizendine traces the causes of this mischief-making back to the first day of his life: "David was only 24 hours old, and without encouragement or instruction from anyone, he stared at the rotating triangles and squares on the mobile and seemed to find them fascinating." The image comes from one much-discussed lab experiment. Other scientists have tried and failed to replicate the finding that day-old boy babies look at objects while newborn girls look at faces. But neither Brizendine's text nor her cursory endnotes give any hint of this uncertainty. The idea, however sketchy, seems to be that boys are hard-wired to break the rules because from birth they are less interested in human emotions than in objects, and so don't respond to parental disapproval the way girls do.

Sigh and sigh.

Have you ever noticed how these discussions about male brains and female brains usually produce weird caricatures of the most extreme types of men and women we may have met in our lives and then present those as the essential nature of ourselves?

The men in them are cold calculating machines except for wanting fellatios and food and violence, and the women are jellylike mountains of feelings upon feelings, with nary a computer in sight, who only want to be taken care of, have babies and new clothes, romance and connections? Why would anyone be interested in seeing themselves depicted in such terms?

That's not a rhetorical question, by the way. And neither is the obvious question one should ask if it indeed were true that men cannot relate to empathy and other such human emotions. That one is why we would want robots without empathy to lead us into anything at all.

But then of course the choice in this weird world of male and female brainz are the jellylike quivering mountains of female emotion, and those don't sound like a good idea for leadership, either.
*Not true as you will find in the linked pieces.