Testosterone Means Boys Will Be Boys?
Posted by BroadBlogs
Goodbye, beliefs in sex differences disguised as evolutionary facts. Welcome the dragon slayer.
So declares Uta Frith, professor of cognitive development at University College London.
That dragon slayer emerges in the form of Cordelia Fine, a University of Melbourne associate professor specializing in the sociology of science.
Prof. Fine uses iconoclastic wit to examine the widespread belief that testosterone means boys will be boys, while the lack of it means girls will be girls in her new book, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society.
Women are monogamous, men are polygamous?
In the 1940s biologist Angus Bateman experimented on fruit flies and concluded that males are naturally promiscuous while females are naturally monogamous.
Producing eggs, he theorized, involves more investment than producing sperm, so females maximize their reproductive success by being cautious and selective while competition and promiscuity aid male success. Hence, women are monogamous and domestic, while men are competitive and promiscuous.
It’s elegant, it’s intuitive, and it’s wrong (to quote the Guardian).
Unfortunately Bateman excluded data that, when included and re-analyzed, told a different story. Turns out, promiscuity brings both males and females more offspring.
Yet promiscuity won’t increase reproduction as much as you’d think. After all, women are fertile for a very short time each month, and some women are already pregnant. Quoting The Guardian again:
A man has more chance of being hit by a meteor than fathering 100 children with 100 different women in a year. The player who says it’s in his genes is missing a vital part of the story.
Men are risk-takers?
Based on survey responses men seem to be bigger risk-takers than women. Yet risk-taking activities included in questionnaires are gendered masculine, involving things like betting on sports, financial investment, and extreme sports.
Actually, women routinely take risks too. While half of marriages end in divorce women are still more likely to quit their jobs — and risk economic insecurity — to care for kids. Women risk going on dates even though they could be sexually harmed. And pregnancy is 20 times more likely to kill than skydiving is.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? Not.
Our stereotypes allow, and even encourage, men to behave in ways that create more status, power and freedom. But which also pressure men with high expectations that cannot always be met. And then men must deal with the fallout while pushed into emotional straitjackets.
It is all unnecessary.
Many might agree with an academic Fine quotes: “Psychologically, men and women are almost a different species.” Yet she points out that we are all so different from each another as to seem members of multiple species.
To the extent that we are different we must keep in mind that from the time we are born girls and boys are socialized very differently from each other. Boys are encouraged to explore more, the media role models aggression more for boys, their toys are more aggressive, boys are treated more aggressively, and they are punished less when they are aggressive… I could go on.
But Prof. Fine adds,
To be very clear, the point is not that the brain is asexual, or that we shouldn’t study sex effects on the brain. The point is rather that, potentially, even quite marked sex differences in the brain may have little consequence for behavior.
I loved Prof. Fine’s Delusions of Gender and look forward to reading her latest: TESTOSTERONE REX: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society.