A few weeks back research, scans and studies were ‘reveal’ing a hell of a lot of ‘neurosexism’. But why are scientists and click-happy media reporters so keen to spend their time evolving socially devolved theories?
“Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal”. A stunning headline followed by a tag line of such overt blandness it is as if Upworthy has taken a master class in gender paraphrasing! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were aghast when – SHOCK HORROR – scans of a sample of 949 brains “supported old stereotypes”. Obviously they were not in the slightest bit shocked.
This was what they expected and findings supported their ‘theories’. For a fact, “Overall, the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.” The word ‘suggest’ is not the same as the word ‘prove’. And the word prove does not apply to the entire global population, but a mere 949 brains (aged 8–22 y, 428 males and 521 females). And so the word fact is in itself irrelevant.
Regini Verma, one of the researchers said “I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.” Where as in my experience cooks and salon assistants are mainly female, but this is PURELY biological; completely not sociological. Women just love to stand at the side-lines, all warm and fuzzy with a Ready-brek-glow of sociability chunnering to the fellas “Ah man, I can see how much your ability to map read is making you crave that promotion, go for it poppet, I’d rather spend my time empathising with people.” Equally men, who find their family ties such a drag, cannot wait to drink beer, play darts and act laddish!
I am nowhere near evangelical enough to ignore facts just because they do not support my opinion (I am atheist after all) however I am ordinary enough to refer to a quote that does support my opinion “There’s a difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth”. Thank you Maya Angelou! Here lies the issue for me. Not the findings but the interpretation of the findings, and the stereotypical narrow-mindedness that reporters whitewash over the whole thing.
We can all agree that 949 brains do not nearly represent the grand and sliding scale of gender variation that exists within the accumulative brain of humanity. And as highlighted by Mo Costandi, studies of different parts of the brain have revealed widely varying results depending on whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual male or female male, female-to-male transsexual or a male-to-female transsexual. I wonder what the difference was in the 949?
When I did the BBC brain sex survey my results matched that of an average male. Also my map reading ability (a typically mail skill according to these Pennsylvanian findings) and obsession could rival that of any Wainwright enthusiast. Yet, and here’s the messy part, I am also very in tune with other people’s emotions! Christ on a bike, which gender am I???
I do not say this as a means of demonstrating how typically ‘ungirly’ I am – as if being typically girly is a thing to be ashamed of – but rather to showhow there is no such thing as typically anything! And I don’t need an online survey, or a full-on scientific report to tell me that! I only need to look about me.
All we are discussing here is neurosexism. A fantastic phrase coined by Doctor Cordelia Fine in her book “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference”. Now there’s an actually useful tag line. It perfectly presents how dangerously missing the point the headline summaries we are spoon-fed are. Our obsession with so-called ‘facts’ is prioritised above absolutely every other determining factor.
Even if such results were completely definitive and representative of the whole of humanity, they do not reflect anything permanent. “We now know, however, that brain structure and function change in response to experience, so any observed differences between the brains of men and women could also be due to differences in upbringing and socialization,” says science writer and molecular and developmental neurobiologist Mo Costandi.
Which brings me onto another fantastic we-can-resort-to-stereotypes-because-science-says-so headline: “Sexy adverts turn women off, research shows”. This stunning survey opposes the adage that “sex sells”, and I am all for debunking that myth, but it does so by re-enforcing further evolution-says-so theories.
Researchers at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota investigated the differing responses of men and women upon seeing sexual imagery in advertising. Women generally show spontaneous negative responses, while men less so. This PROVES “The use of sexual imagery is inimical to women’s vested interest in sex being portrayed as infrequent, special, and rare.”
I can fully empathise with that (remember I’m good at empathy). When I see a completely irrelevantly semi-nude and highly sexualized female used to sell a watch, I do feel uncomfortable. It deeply unsettles the sanctity of sex which is a special act that should be reserved for a couple of life changing occasions; namely losing your virginity on a mountain top with your first love, and a few deep-and-meaningful shags that result in babies.
It could be that but it really isn’t. When I see such sexualized images of women I am reminded of the embarrassment felt upon seeing porn magazines in the barber shop my dad would nip into when we were shopping; of the mortification of walking past a group of lads stood by a newsstand of red tops featuring up-skirt shots, knowing full well they were staring at my newly developed breasts; of being asked into a mans car, which had child seats in the back, when I was only 16 and he, about 40; at being at parties where boys were openly bragging about what they’d done to who, and girls being certain that they had to do something with someone and of my second full-time job, where the manager asked me at a full-group meeting, if I would have sex with him.
Fortunately, I do not have those joyous flash-backs every time I see such imagery. I am however reminded by an instantaneous neurological response – a functions that has probably resulted from experience – of how the constant presence of sexualized female, never male, imagery is certainly connected to the many instances of sexism and misogyny I have experienced throughout my life; on a daily basis. And how that is connected to the way societies and systems try very hard to keep women in their so-called place, unequal to men, less worthy of satisfaction, let alone, success.
In this fantastic video Jean Kilbourne perfectly sums up just how much media advertising contributes towards this issue. Rather than some deep-rooted evolutionary instinct that makes women repel against images of sexualized women, I think it more likely that, as she explains it is the objectification of women that bothers us, and the knock on-dehumanising effects, this has.
However, should women openly voice their unhappiness at the situation, we can now dismiss that, we know women are more “emotionally involved”. While men need not even try to speak out; this fits well with their “co-ordinated actions”, they cannot possible have an issue! (please note strong sense of sarcasm here) See if you add scientific opinion to the already innocuous canon of media’s treatment of gender, you’ve a dangerous concoction of actual truth being very much shrouded with fact.
Today I listened to A.R.C. Soundtrack, released by Lil Crackd Rabbit
This image is from Noise Above Noise at The Penthouse Manchester. Rosanne Robertson‘s performances are always uncomfortably intense, and ultimately fantastic. You never go away empty headed, but inspired, enraged, provoked. I love it.