Men Are from Earth, Women Are from Earth

28 03 2014

John Gray Women Venus Men MarsRemember the whole ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ craze that swept the ’90s? Some people still believe in it. I consider it the bilgewater of popular myth. I view it as part of a larger machine in which right-wing conspiracy theorists enshrine old-fashioned ideas about gender difference through pop-culture vehicles like John Gray and Leonard Sax. Even the paranormal radio programme CoasttoCoastAM invites John Gray as a regular guest, but not people who disagree with him.

The notion that male and female brains are fundamentally different has been challenged by neuroscientist Gina Rippon, of Aston University in Birmingham, England. Rippon does not claim that male and female brains are the same—she claims that they are different because of environmental influences. In other words, she suggests, everything children learn, and everything they absorb from their youngest years, informs their concepts of gender. Isn’t that a pioneering concept? Cordelia Fine echoes the same ideas in her acclaimed book Delusions of GenderHowever, there are armchair theorists in every family who want to slap down anybody who rocks the uncomfortably comfortable boat.

At the core of Rippon’s argument is the concept of brain plasticity. She points out studies which show that the brains of London taxi-cab drivers changed after they acquired knowledge of the streets and landmarks of London. After an extended period of time, the cab drivers had created new neural networks to meet the demands of the environment. The point is that the brain is not just a ready-made piece of meat, but a tool to meet the needs of the user. Just as a Gina Rippon Brain Male Female Gender Sex Differencetaxi-cab driver moulds her brain to fit the streets of London, a young boy moulds his brain to suit the needs of an exacting stepfather. That stepfather might try to shut down dolls in a boy, or he might try to shut down cars in a girl.

It is important to note that criticisms of the gender binary do not preclude the fact of transgender identity. Just as any cisgender person identifies with one or another gender, so does a transgender person. Gender is a spectrum, and transgender people can claim any space a cisgender person does along this spectrum (or wagon-wheel/Venn diagram, as I like to think of it).

The point is that it is wrong to assign roles on the basis of gender identity. I understand that in sports we assign roles to traditionally feminine or masculine physiques–like football–but that is an exception. And besides, even then, don’t ‘women’ have a better sense of balance and a better track record of completing long-distance treks? So why do we judge ‘male’ abilities better than ‘female’ ones? All of that aside, we need to form a better standard for treating people on the basis of their gender. Because the fake idea of equality, that men are from Mars, and women are from Venus–without allowing women what men have–constitutes an insult to everybody’s intelligence.

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Women Who Like Gay Porn

8 04 2012

Surprise! No, not really. It’s quite common-sensical, actually–a lot of women like to watch pornography. You might think this strange, assuming either that pornography objectifies women, or that women are sexless emotional angels, but in fact you’d be wrong. It turns out a lot of the pornography women like to watch is gay. This actually makes sense for several reasons, and it seems to corroborate research on female lust, voyeurism, and promiscuity.

The first reason it makes sense for women to like watching gay pornography is pretty intuitive. Just as straight men are sexually attracted to women, straight women are sexually attracted to men. Hence, just as straight men like watching lesbian pornography, straight women like watching gay pornography. Now people will try to break up this neat little analysis by screaming, ‘But women are less visual than men! Research ‘n’ stuff says so!’ This is basically what Tracy Clark-Flory says in her sex column at Salon in which she responds to a woman experiencing a ridiculously unnecessary tug-o’-war between her ‘feminine’ prudery and her lust for man-on-man action: ‘It’s true that research has found men to be more visual’ concedes the columnist in a tone of tired surrender. Sigh. The all-powerful spell of biologically determined sex difference prevails once again: ‘Men are like this! Women are like that! It’s in the genes! No nuance required! John Gray! Venus! Mars! Easy as cake and commercial as shit! Tehehehe!’ But there are two problems with this: Clark-Flory didn’t even direct the reader to a name connected with the research she ‘cited’ (the curse of popular publishing), and pornography isn’t just about vision anyway; it’s about hearing and other senses, too. So, even if the research proved men to be more visual than women, women might still derive other sensory pleasure from pornography, or it might simply provoke their imagination. The point is that straight women are attracted to beautiful men by way of many senses, and beautiful men are a dime a dozen in gay pornography, hence it makes sense for women to enjoy it–despite the mountains of shame that may weigh on their conscience due to age-old prescriptions on women’s  desires.

The second reason it makes sense for women to like gay pornography is that it doesn’t involve sexual exploitation of females. We all know the formula: some ugly man slams a woman’s head into the cushion of a sofa inside some gross, overlighted Hollywood McMansion while she squeals like a stuck pig and rubs the nipples of her voluminous breasts with her French manicure.  The man’s looks don’t matter, because he is the agent, while she is the screaming lump of gorgeous, glistening flesh to be used. It’s obviously male-centred and male-dominated. It almost feels like rape. Gay male pornography doesn’t have this. It involves a man penetrating another man, so there is no man dominating and objectifying a woman. Some gay pornography does involve objectification, but there seems to be a mutual respect and understanding rather than a real-life power division. This isn’t necessarily so for straight pornography, which can conjure up troubling images and memories for many women. But straight sex shouldn’t be the way it is portrayed in pornography–there is no reason why a man and woman should not have mutually respectful, understanding, and loving sex. That’s what should be depicted in straight pornography. Until that day comes, though, women will like gay pornography. Heck, they might still like it afterward, simply because they like watching gorgeous men having sex.

The third reason it makes sense for women to like gay male pornography is that it lacks a storyline. This is curious and much less intuitive. In his blog Straightguise, openly gay clinical sexologist Joe Kort, PhD, cites an article by Elizabeth F. Stewart in In Family magazine called ‘Hot Man On Man Action (And the Lesbians Who Love Watching It)’. Kort agrees with Stewart that lesbians enjoy gay pornography for its raw nature and de-emphasis on background and storyline, but he adds that straight women may enjoy gay pornography for this reason, too. But women are supposed to like storylines, right? Wrong, according to Kort. Kort cites Stewart as saying in her article that ‘It is a myth that all women–lesbian or straight–want a storyline and emotional content in porn.’ He, too, mentions that women might enjoy gay male pornography because of the balance of power as well as the obviously real orgasm (often faked by women in straight pornography). Obviously it isn’t scientifically conclusive, but Kort’s suggestion that women like gay male pornography for its lack of a storyline, and for its mutual, egalitarian rawness, deserves a great deal of further exploration, because it totally defies the assumption that women are overwhelmingly sexless and emotional creatures. (But, then, a lot of the best gay male pornography is highly emotional and romantic, and many gay men will attest to this, citing some of the highest-quality specimens of film portraying men in love.)

But why do lesbians like gay male pornography? Because some of them do! This was surprising to me. It’s anecdotal, but I worked with a lesbian at a theatre in Vancouver, and when I asked her about this, she nodded, “Yes, it’s true.” We already know one reason, it seems: as Stewart noted, some lesbians like the rough, anonymous nature of gay male pornography. I can only speculate about the other reasons: so-called ‘lesbian’ pornography is fake, degrading rubbish made by straight men for straight men (it says a lot when lesbian pornography is so off-putting as to turn lesbians on to gay men poking each other’s anuses); lesbians may derive a cerebral pleasure watching men do each other instead of women; and you don’t have to be attracted to somebody’s sex to be attracted to what they’re doing and the way they’re doing it. This last point is important. You can be turned on by what other people do without being attracted to their biological sex per se. So, that is perfectly good reason for lesbians to like gay male pornography, especially when women are so poorly portrayed in the industry.

I should mention income disparities in pornography. Defenders of straight pornography will often argue that the industry isn’t unfair towards women, because the women, being the objects of desire, actually earn more money than men. But this doesn’t necessarily give women an economic advantage over men in the industry. For who is the producer and the director? Probably a man, and that man probably earns more than any of the female models. So even then men might have an economic advantage over women in the industry. Besides, the cost of pornography is not just economic–it is also social and psychological, given the image of women it peddles to the male masses. No wonder a lot of women choose gay over straight pornography.

One last point should be made: research doesn’t necessarily support the assumption that women are more monogamous or less libidinous than men. Self-surveys do not actually reveal how people feel, or what they actually do. The media tend innacurately to portray men as more promiscuous than women when in fact women reveal a similar level of sexual desire when interviewed privately and discreetly, as Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers explain in Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (pp. 58-9). We get a more honest picture if we look at our closely-related simian cousins. While Darwin observed female chimpanzees’ sexual swellings, he failed to notice the “12-day period around a chimpanzee’s maximum tumescence, when she typically mates about one to four times an hour with thirteen or more partners”, according to Barnett and Rivers, quoting Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (p. 53). In fact, there might even be reason for women to be even more promiscuous than men, or at least for men to be more loyal to women than previously believed. As Barnett and Rivers note (pp. 61-3), human females don’t go into oestrus, so human males don’t know when the females are fertile. It could be two or three days out of the month, but he doesn’t know which days these are. Hence, to ensure he successfully spreads his genes, it makes sense for the male to have sex as often as possible with the same female, not with many other females, since he might be killed or injured by their mates. Barnett and Rivers explain this increasingly accepted paradigm even further in their book, which is very much worth reading. What we can say based on these observations is that women like sex, and sex with a lot of different men, a lot more than we might wish to believe given our predilection for safe and secure sex roles.

To summarise, a lot of women like gay pornography, because they’re sexually attracted to men (if they’re straight), gay pornography doesn’t exploit women, it lacks a storyline (which women don’t necessarily crave), and lesbians dislike the degrading, fake portrayal of women in straight pornography (while taking pleasure in the sex acts of people despite their gender). We ultimately get a picture of women’s true desires, which is extremely transgressive. Pornography has been bad for both men and women, but it could be good for both. The point is that women liking gay porn liberates both sexes. It lets men enjoy the role of the sexual giver for once, and women, the role of the sexual agent, for, in the end, a black-and-white power-division isn’t healthy–a balance is.





A Young Feminist Decries the “Pink Stuff”

28 12 2011

A very serendipitous gift was bestowed on me on Christmas Day: a video of a little girl railing against gender stereotypes inside a toy store. I unwrapped a present, a book called Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs (given me by my wonderfully open and progressive mother), and showed everybody the book, announcing the title for all to hear and accepting family photographs of myself, of course, with the cherished tome in hand. Noting my interest in the topic of gender theory, my elder brother showed me the video, which featured a girl named Riley critiquing the use of colour-coded gender stereotypes in marketing. This girl must have an IQ of 140, or if she doesn’t, she will when she grows up. She is precocious:

I love her! She’s like Lisa Simpson, and Lisa Simpson is like me. Watch this clip of Lisa Simpson, when she was me in, like, 1985 when I was seven years old:

Riley is a real-life version of Lisa—and me! Just like me at her age, she doesn’t buy into the marketing bullshit, and she makes no effort to hide her disgust with the crass commercialization of sex roles. It’s like she’s saying, “this stupid pink shit is fucked up, and it makes me want to vomit!” But, of course, she is a five year-old girl, so she doesn’t say that. What struck me as amazing was her reasoning abilities. She was able to create this abstract symmetry between what girls like and what boys like: “Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses; some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses”. This is pretty sophisticated thinking for a five-or-six year-old.

Most amazing of all, I think, was this little girl’s ability to cut like a laser through the smoke and mirrors of the marketing industry and exclaim that “the companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of stuff that boys want”. So now little Riley has not only identified the unfairness of pressuring girls into buying princesses and pressuring boys into buying superheroes, but she has pinpointed the commercial mechanism which exploits these gender stereotypes to achieve a profit. I’m sorry, but that is a brilliant observation for a child so small.

It’s interesting to note the way in which the father relates to his daughter in this video. The father seems to insist that boys can have pink if they want, but the daughter seems to insist that, while this is technically so, girls are still pressured into wanting the pink princess crap while the boys are pressured into wanting the blue superhero crap. And, if we think about it, that’s true. Even if our children technically can buy cross-gender toys, they are very strongly admonished against doing so. There are social consequences to it, and little Riley is struggling in the midst of this gender fracas. At the same time, I commend Riley’s father for being a true father and taking the time to nurture his child by listening to her words, acknowledging her wisdom, and taking her to the toy store himself in the first place. Not many fathers would do even that much.

This reminds me of my childhood, which was raped away by the horrid spectre of a stepfather who hated women, black people, and gay people. Until 1986, when I turned 8, I was allowed to play with “girl stuff” as much as I wanted—both my parents were mild, good-natured, common-sensical people, if a bit religious and conservative—but once my mother divorced my father and married this odious troll from the American south, everything changed. She had to try to accommodate his stupid scruples, which included the immediate eviction of any gynaecoid play-thing. Suddenly, as boys, we weren’t allowed to play with anything that resembled women (or what women were thought to be). We were allowed to watch She-Ra: Princess of Power, but we were no longer allowed to play with the action figures themselves:

I thought that She-Ra was hot! And by hot I don’t mean sexually exploitable; I mean sexually confident. This woman was a sexual agent. She was in control, and for that reason she was admirable. But for some stupid reason, my stepfather hated the idea of his stepsons watching cartoons of women dodging lasers and throwing men over their shoulders. He hated the idea of boys liking “girl things”, and, on top of that, the idea that those “girl things” involved girls who wielded power. But every faggot loves that shit. It was all just too much of a mindfuck for his dessicated brain to handle. This is the type of gender-stupidity that I think little Riley is railing against in her father’s video.

Little Riley is an inspiration. She gives us a lesson. She is a tiny girl who helps us remember how both girls and boys can be hurt by rigid gender roles. Parents should not tell their daughters that they should like only princesses and pink stuff, and they should not tell their sons that they should like only superheroes and blue stuff. Because, even at an age as young as Riley’s, the stupidity and oppressiveness of these roles are apparent. And if you want to play the biological determinist card, I entreat you to read Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine (who exposes the very recent, very cultural origin of the pink/blue phenomenon in her book). Reading that might make you think twice about how you treat your children. It’s all about what actually works for us as people who have to adapt to the demands of a modern world. It’s always been about that. Nothing else.





Julie Gentron and the Lady League, Vol. 1, Ep. 1: Birth of the Plastic Demon

15 11 2011

Written by Brandon Arkell and Seth Gordon Little

A bright spotlight fell on a head deformed with a nest of wires which seemed to serve as hair. The figure worked busily on some task at an operating table, which was swathed in shadow. Soon a head rose, slowly turned, and faced its creator, who revealed a sunken, wizen face twisted into a huge, perverse grin of satisfaction. The wire-haired surgeon retreated a few steps from the table, from which a female figure slowly rose and dismounted, standing rigid like a mannequin in the stark interplay of light and shadow. His grin deepened into a grimace. A host of white-clad medical assistants emerged from the dark and stood impassive, awaiting his instructions.

“My eyes defy me”, croaked the surgeon in a frog-like voice. “At last, the labour of decades has granted me one moment—if just one sweet second—of bliss. Can it be? The perfect woman? No—the perfect human! You are my own”.

“To the contrary, hag”, murmered the patient balefully in her shoulder-padded 1980s power-suit and giant shellacked

hairdo.”You are mine. My servant-creator”.

The surgeon’s grin began to dissolve as he surveyed his patient’s face, which remained sheathed in darkness.

“And these, your helpers”, she said, pointing to his assistants with a long, green-nailed finger, “will be my minions! How well that you have so thoroughly plied them with the very substance over which I have dominion—plastic! What will you, hag? Be my proud chief of staff, or my unwilling, whimpering whelp?”

“Bow to my own creation?! Never!”

“Very well, my creator-hag. Have it your way.”

With a whirring sound, a ray of laser beams shot forth from the patient’s eyes and stunned the medical staff. Through some mysterious mental power, she took possession of them, and they suddenly became rigid and mechanical.

“This can’t be! I—I’ve calculated for every possible contingency, considered every possible backfire!”

“Not good enough, whelp! You may not know your own power—but I know mine.”

The medical staff converged on the surgeon. Under the patient’s command, they attacked him, stunning him with laser beams from their eyes and clawing at him until he crumpled to the ground in a sobbing heap.

“Yes, yes, yes, my synthetic beauties”, the plastic monster groaned to her new slaves in a fit of exultation. “Your serpentine precision pleases me well. You are quick as well as pretty”. She turned to her creator. “Though spineless and pathetic, your genius will serve me yet. I have much use for a bio-physicist of your calibre. With your service, soon I shall welcome more wayward sheep into my flock—black, white, and pink—and with such a legion, no one will stop me!” These last words were uttered with an evil cackle which resonated throughout the dark halls of the decrepit old surgeon’s secret medical facility.

Yet there was one woman who would foil the monster’s plans. In the year 2225, the galaxy was plagued with bloodthirsty criminals of every stripe, from the cold-hearted seahorse women of Titan’s methane lakes to the vicious unicorn-dragons of Vega’s great dust clouds. When all seemed lost, out she stepped from the ramshackle streets of Tower Hamlets, a hero of no ordinary stature. But a wisp of a girl, she fixed her mother’s laptop with the twitch of an eye, and neighbours gossipped about a gifted child who controlled machines with her mind.

When a secret shadow government of the United States sought to harness her powers with a vampiric alien entity known only as the Extractor, she turned the tables on them and escaped, only to discover that the radiation caused by this strange being had given her breast cancer. Desperate for a cure, she sought the finest doctors. However, during the procedure to remove the tumour, a mysterious race of benevolent alien beings appeared, placed a sleeping spell on the medical staff, and commandeered the operation, implanting in her an armoury of weapons which she could control with the power of her mind, including the deadliest weapon of all—the dreaded mammary cannon. Upon hearing of her recovery, the MI6 persuaded her to join their ranks as the founding member of a special branch of the agency called The Lady League, and they re-christened her Julie Gentron, first of the gen-trons, cyborg super-women!

Stay tuned for the adventures of Britain’s proud triad of women space-soldiers in the next instalment of Julie Gentron and the Lady League!





Are We Really “Born This Way”?

11 11 2011

I’m sick of Lady Gerber, but I have to write about her because of this song she wrote about being born with immutable sex characteristics. The danger is in how she implies that these characteristics are unchangeable.

Upon its release, Lady Gerber’s dance hit “Born This Way” instantly became a brazen vindication of homosexuality’s biological basis. The LGBTQ community revelled in the message that homosexuality was immutable and therefore deserved society’s approval. The problem, though, is that the song’s message is founded on the precepts of biological determinism, a philosophy which reinforces the social inequities that the LGBTQ community and other minorities are struggling to eliminate. In other words, the song’s message relies on a socially damaging cop-out about human nature. Perhaps what we need to do is take a fresh approach to gay and lesbian apologetics by critiquing biological determinism for the way in which it disenfranchises us, because it doesn’t necessarily liberate us.

Essentially, biological determinism states that people are born with certain immutable biological characteristics, and that these characteristics help explain the social inequities we see in society. By contrast, social determinism posits that the behaviour of the individual is determined by social mores and institutions. Since they are both forms of determinism, biological and social determinism are the opposite of free will, a philosophy which states that human beings ultimately possess agency and volition over their actions. Finally, compatibilism states that free will and determinism are not incompatible, and that both work together to influence the behaviour of the individual. And then there is epigenetics, which is relevant but lies outside the scope of this article.

One might think that, ostensibly, biological determinism would serve gays and lesbians, because it transfers responsibility for homosexual behaviour from the person to the person’s physiology, thereby exonerating that person of any claims of moral turpitude. According to this view, if homosexuality is biologically predetermined, gays and lesbians are not sinning against God, because they are blameless. A person’s same-sex affection is driven by the neurochemistry of his or her brain, and it is unfair to blame a person for neurobiological processes they cannot control, hence it is unfair to blame a person for his or her same-sex affection. In short, the idea is, “You can’t blame a person for something they can’t control.”

It seems like a triumphant final “hurrah” in defense of homosexuality, but is it really a good philosophy for human beings in general? Maybe not.

Using biological determinism as an excuse for our behaviour might inadvertently hamper efforts at achieving gender equity. The biological determinist model posits that boys are inherently more aggressive, lustful, and dominating than girls, and girls, more passive, emotional, and nurturing than boys, because of some genetically-influenced cocktail of hormones which shaped their brains in the womb. But is this philosophy scientifically sound, and does it serve boys and girls? As Cordelia Fine points out in her book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, testosterone does seem to determine which set of genitals a baby will develop, but it does not necessarily determine which toys children like to play with, let alone which types of careers they wish to pursue later in life. She also shows in the first section of the book that the scientific attempt to prove that girls are more empathetic than boys is implausible. Fine shows again and again that the “neuroscience” of hardwired sex differences use to justify gender inequity is methodologically flawed, misinterpreted, or simply nonexistent.

If we think about it, we can see the slippery slope of excuses which might be used if we embrace biologically determined sex inequity: for example, when a man rapes a woman, it isn’t really his fault, because he was being controlled by his testosterone levels. In effect, rapists get off the hook because “boys will be boys”, and girls like to please. In other words, men get to violate women because that is what it means to be a man, and women should just lie back and think of England. But biological impulse does not excuse rape, because rape hurts people. I know. Novel concept. If you’re impelled to rape, you deserve to be sequestered, medicated, and treated psychiatrically, not excused because of your testosterone levels. And if you continue to try to rape, a stable of women martial artists should be set on your ass to put you in your place, bitch.

But bio-determinism is dehumanizing for another important reason: empathy is something that defines us as human beings (or as mammals at least), and we need as much of it as we can get, but bio-determinism posits that boys are inherently less empathetic than girls, so, essentially, what it is suggesting is that half of the human race should be crueller than the other half. This is absurd if our goal is to encourage the greatest degree of empathy possible in everybody, male or female. If empathy is so valuable, why are we making exceptions for it? That’s just schizophrenic–it’s shooting ourselves in the foot. Does the LGBTQ community really want to endorse such ridiculously irrational self-limitation? I hope not.

Bio-determinism could even be used to justify racism. As bio-determinists, we might argue that black people are inherently more violent than white people in order to explain the disproportionately high number of black people in American prisons. We might also invoke bio-determinism to explain the higher mortality rate of black people, and why they need this-or-that medicine (the commercialisation of race for the purpose of lining the pockets of drug companies). This racialisation of social ills is roundly criticised by Dorothy Parker in her book Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. When we embrace bio-deterministic explanations for racial inequity in health and crime rates, we are automatically enabling such inequity to persist. Clearly, promoting the assumption that ill-health and violent tendencies are in the nature of dark-skinned people is detrimental to both dark-skinned and light-skinned people, so we should stop making excuses and figure out the larger reasons why dark-skinned people tend to crowd our prisons and hospitals. For this reason, the LGBTQ community might wish to be cautious about using bio-determinism as an explanation for behaviour.

Ironically, the “Born This Way” maxim might not just hurt women and racial minorities—it might actually end up hurting the LGBTQ community itself. Does it really matter whether or not something is natural? By using biological innateness to justify their desires, gays and lesbians are simply giving power to the oppressor, because they are sort of implying that they “can’t help doing something that might indeed actually be wrong”, as if it’s some uncontrollable disease. In other words, they’re suggesting, homosexuality isn’t OK because it makes somebody happy; it is OK simply because it can’t be helped. It’s kind of like saying that freckles are OK because they’re natural, not because they make somebody happy. Of course freckles aren’t OK just because they’re natural; they’re OK because they make somebody happy.  Similarly, homosexuality isn’t OK just because it’s natural; it is OK because it makes somebody happy.

What is taking place here is an “appeal to nature” fallacy, which states that a thing is good because it is natural, and bad because it is unnatural. But a thing is not good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural; it is good because it creates pleasure and happiness, and bad because it prevents pleasure and happiness. Clearly, rape and murder are part of human nature, but nobody in their right mind says that these things are good. Conversely, aeroplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around protesting against aeroplanes because they’re bad. So, what gays and lesbians should be doing is saying, “Even if homosexuality weren’t natural, that doesn’t make it wrong. It is right because it makes people happy. It is also your choice to be a Christian, and that’s a man-made decision, but I don’t discriminate against you because of that.” Thus, to deny power to the oppressor, the LGBTQ community should focus on critiquing the appeal to nature fallacy, not affirming it.

As we can see, Lady Gerber’s widely adored anthem ostensibly vindicates same-sex desire, but in many ways it actually reinforces damaging social inequities for women and racial minorities, as well as LGBTQ people themselves. It hurts almost everyone. Certainly, biology plays a part in who we are as human beings, but it does not necessarily define who we are in a distinct linear fashion from womb to adulthood. Absolute biological determinism, like social determinism, seems a little implausible, so perhaps we should consider paying more heed to compatibilism–the philosophy that allows for a complex interaction between the mind, the body, and society. We might even argue that we have more free will, more agency and autonomy, than we give ourselves credit for. Maybe we weren’t strictly “born this way” after all, and maybe there’s a bigger “socio-biological” picture to why we do what we do, but that doesn’t make homosexuality wrong any more than it makes, say, Christianity wrong. Maybe what we should be doing is defending minority sexual identities for their own sake, not for their basis in biology.

Of course, at the end of the day, it just so happens that there is a mounting heap of evidence defending at least the partial innateness of homosexuality, but, alas, it is exceedingly difficult to teach a religious fundamentalist new tricks, isn’t it?

Source:

The Muck of Ages





Boys Will Be Biological Determinists

7 02 2011

What do you think of this picture of Amanda Lepore? No, it isn’t a Björk album cover.

Lepore, a nightlife hostess, model, entertainer, and male-to-female transgendered woman from New Jersey, is clearly a hyperfeminine contrivance, and we could chat till the cows come home about what sort of example she sets. Some gender theorists will argue, “She only re-inforces a stereotypically feminine paradigm for women”, while other gender theorists will argue, “She does not: she transfers that expectation from women on to men”. Personally, I hardly think that she is foisting some expectation on to the average woman to be like her. Seriously? If anything, she is saying that men can be that way, too, or, simply, she is being who she wants to be, as an individual. At any rate, we must agree that her highly ceremonial physical appearance testifies to the fact that the body is a thing to be manipulated for present-day needs and desires, and not an ancestral legacy to be embalmed.

Some people–I daresay men especially–show a profound anxiety over changing things one is born with. They don’t want women to be women, and they certainly don’t want men to be women. I don’t just mean cutting off penises or getting breast implants; I mean things like hormones, hypothalamuses, amygdalae, libido, and fight-or-flight instincts. For these people, we not only are slaves to our natural machinery, but we should be. And yet, as it happens, our natural machinery also includes a capacity for self-awareness and adaptation, a drive to meet our current needs and desires. So why should we worship biological impulses which echo ancestral traits, but not those which encourage innovation?

Let us make the following proposition:

Evolution consists in the natural selection of random genetic mutations which best accommodate the novel demands of the present-day environment.

Well, if this is so, then we should be adapting to our modern-day environment, not clinging to the ancestral one. “But this requires selection of a mate with the most desirable genetic mutations”, say determinists, “and we cannot control that impulse. It is instinctive”.

I don’t buy that argument.

First, it is irrelevant whether or not one can control such an instinct anyway, because instinct itself is adaptive. That is, instinct does the work of adapting for us. For instance, if fear of insects developed as a result of some ancestral awareness of potentially lethal insect venom, then this fear-instinct didn’t exist at an earlier date, because the object of fear was not yet present to merit it. Well, this obviously means that the instinct had to have developed. So pre-existing instincts are eclipsed by newer, more relevant ones which meet novel demands, and this is just one reason why we need not cling to tradition. Determinists often argue that conscious resistance to instinct is maladaptive, but what is really maladaptive? Clinging to an obsolescent instinct which causes undue suffering, or responding to the demands of a new one? I wager the former. Anything less would be counter-evolutionary.

Second, I’m not so sure we can’t help who we choose to mate with. As explained above, we humans have a capacity for self-awareness. The fact that I am discussing it objectively with you right now testifies to that fact. Being aware of our own condition, we are aware of those choices which most suit our present-day needs. The determinist will argue, “women instinctively choose stronger men over weaker ones, because, evolutionarily, stronger men can better defend them against wild animals”. I will agree that there is nothing sexier than a big, dumb, beefy male with a dark beard, but we know that there are some women who choose a scrawnier mate over a brawnier one. But this doesn’t make them “maladaptive” or “perverse”. Men evolved to become physically stronger than women so that they could protect pregnant women from wild animals, but some women consciously realize this is no longer necessary. In one recent newspaper article I read, a man and woman were hiking in the Alaska Range when a grizzly bear appeared out of the brush and charged the woman. The man responded not by wrestling the bear to the ground, but by pulling out a gun and shooting it–something the woman could have done if she had had the gun. In such cases, male strength is irrelevant, and, realizing this, women need not seek it out. Because they are conscious of what they need and desire.

And then we get into the testosterone argument. Lordy. This has been a highly popular credo for aeons, it seems–Gloria Steinem is still trying to dispel its glamour–yet it is fundamentally flawed in terms of ethical reasoning. In its basic form, the credo states, “Men are more aggressive because of testosterone, less emotional because of the way their limbic system operates, and more libidinous because of the hypothalamus”. So, what, so what, and so what? I don’t care, I don’t care, and I don’t care. Black people are more susceptible to high cholesterol levels than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be, and Native Americans are more susceptible to alcoholism than white people, but that doesn’t mean they should be. In addition, white people are more susceptible to skin cancer than black people because they have less melanin in their skin, but that doesn’t mean they should be–we give them skin-block so that they can live in tropical climates, because they should be able to have that experience. Why, then, should we believe that it is “natural” for males to be more sexual than females? Because of some outdated need for polygyny? Ask yourself. Is that really fair? We already know that more intelligent men are more monogamous than less intelligent men, and that both general intelligence and male monogamy are evolutionary innovations. And why should males be more aggressive than females if everybody should be as kind and as nurturing toward one another as humanly possible? After all, if it is good to be kind, why should we deny kindness where possible? To say that a man sitting at home alone with his baby shouldn’t cuddle it as much as its mother just doesn’t make any fucking sense. It’s inane and full of empty, mindless automation. And if there is some neuro-biological impediment to the realization of this vision, there is a simple solution: medicine.

People think things are good if they are natural, and bad if they are unnatural. This position is called an “appeal to nature” fallacy. What makes this position fallacious is that a thing is not necessarily good because it is natural, or bad because it is unnatural. So what if male aggression is natural? Rape and murder are natural too, but that doesn’t make them right. In fact, most rapes and murders are commited by males, but we wouldn’t say, “rape and murder are manly things”. That’s just retarded and idiotic. Similarly, airplanes are unnatural, but nobody goes around saying that they’re bad. So, no, “natural” does not equate with “good”, and “unnatural” does not equate with “bad”. Therefore, the argument that male aggression is good because it is natural is entirely vacuous.

A very brilliant friend of mine, Christine (whose culinary blog Angrycherry.com, by the way, is an unparalleled source of sumptuous, gorgeously-crafted home-spun recipes), recently recommended a book to me called Delusions of Gender: How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, by Cordelia Fine. (Apparently there’s a new, much more fastidiously laid-out edition entitled Delusions of Gender: the Real Science behind Sex Differences.) The book’s thesis is that sex differences in the brain are not as fixed, black-and-white, or hardwired as the popular media would lead us to believe, and that our loyalty to sex difference may actually causes suffering. I don’t have a problem with sex differences per se, but I do have a problem with the preservation or justification of such differences in that they cause pain, injury, misery, suffering, torment, isolation, or depression. The book is quite stunning according to most reviews: it is incredibly rigorously scholastic, yet fun and easy to read. Thus, I look forward to reading this book, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the subject.

The point I am making in this prolix blog entry is that we need to start using the most of our brains. We need to start thinking for ourselves. No more of this, “Aw, I can’t help it. It’s instinct. I’m a boy” crap. Bullshit. People say that kind of thing as an excuse to be a dick–and they get away with it. They do have control over how they behave, so they need to stop using biological determinism to explain away crimes such as rape, assault, murder, and all the other horrible things they do to ruin people’s lives. Isn’t it all as simple as that? Do unto others as you would have done unto you? Why should it make a difference, then, if your ancestors didn’t care for babies because they had penises?