Did this Norwegian documentary explode the idea of gender studies? The reddit sub The Red Pill have a direct link on their side bar to a thread discussing it entitled Gender Studies is Nonsense. They think that the series directly resulted in the closing of the Nordic Gender Institute, though that’s disputed by the Nordic authorities. In any event, when I watched it I thought the whole thing was absolutely fascinating, but I didn’t come away with “oh well, better buy more pink for my daughters!”
The film explores the various opinions of scientists regarding whether there are biological differences in the brains of men and women:
One in America, Prof Lippa, who did a survey of over 53 countries to find that men and women gravitate toward traditionally gendered occupations fairly consistently in all of them. He insists this means it’s probably biological. He also says that places with less freedom, like India, show women more likely to go into a career like engineering than in places with more freedom like Norway, and this is further proof to his mind. I think “Well done! You’ve surveyed 53 patriarchal countries and found that the citizens are mostly all entrenched in this patriarchy!”
A doctor in the UK who does a “play test” for babies who have been born with deformed genitals to determine appropriate gender. I shudder to think that he is choosing genitals for these kids based on what toys they choose to play with. Maybe they are playing with what they haven’t seen before. Maybe they are picking up on facial cues and body language of the doctor perfoming the test. Maybe at 9 months old the baby’s parents have already leant male or female with regards to toys and clothes and these aren’t choices at all. Nine months is not a good time to be making these decisions!
An evolutionary psychologist who says that evolution has meant that the brains of men and women have evolved to do and think different things. I have to say her thoughts on the matter are compelling, namely as there are biological differences and hormonal differences we will have adapted specific ways of dealing with our roles in the most efficient way possible. Women birth and breastfeed babies and become the “default parent,” so evolution had to equip them with different preferences and inclinations from men in order to best do those jobs. This doesn’t challenge my decision to keep my girls away from Disney princess paraphernalia. She also said that she “doubts” that environment (which she refers to as “little inflections”) can have more to do with a child’s development of gender identity. I want to know how much studying up on child development she has done. Actually, based on that statement I have to assume I know more about child development than she does. Children are perceptive, they watch everything we do and they learn who they are that way; that is settled science!
Also, a biologist who studies autism who has found that the more testosterone in a fetus, the more likely it will look longer at a machine than a face on day one of it’s birth. This is intriguing to me as well. But even he said that it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of nurture and social aspects to gender roles as well.
Finally, two Norwegian scientists who insist that there is no proof of gender difference in the brains of humans, and that we should be careful to assume a difference, presumably because humans are horrible to people who are different to them. Its quite plain to see that the film is intended to show that there are issues with Scandinavian policy, as it was only the Norwegian scientists presented who thought there was no evidence for biological brain differences, when in reality you can find plenty of international researchers who would agree with them. Also the film chose to air no explanation or research to back up the claim. They chose to cut the interviews in a way that made them look as if they were just journalists who had made a choice to believe what they wanted to, when in reality they are not alone.
All in all I’m fascinated by the content, but it doesn’t blow my mind or make me think that we should just embrace all the traditional expectations and gender roles. I once listened to a radio program about a geneticist who had found that reading ability is about 70% heritable. The interviewer went on to ask if that means we should relax all the programs intended to help kids from all sorts of backgrounds learn to read, as most of the potential is in the genes anyway. The scientist said “No! Quite the contrary, it means the other 30% is that much more important.” I found an article he wrote explaining this in a bit more detail in the Guardian. In particular he says,
Heritability is, crucially, a statement about populations, not individuals. It certainly does not mean that seven tenths of every child’s talents reside in the double helix, and that teachers hence become irrelevant. If anything, it means the opposite.
Nature and nurture always work together. Almost everything is genetic, but we usually deal with it by changing the environment.
Someone who is genetically predisposed to anger can become an angry, violent person with one environment or an intense but empathetic person in a different environment during childhood. So the idea that men and women possibly have slight differences in the brain to distinguish them apart, which incidentally I’ve always suspected, is not so big. If baby boys are less likely to look at faces at one day old, maybe instead of deciding “oh well that’s their nature,” we should be looking at them and talking to them more. Maybe they just need more social modelling than we’re giving them. I’ve seen case studies and documentaries about kids with autism, even severe autism, who can considerably improve with a huge amount of social therapy. On a much smaller scale, why not improve the social and emotional intelligence of boys just by talking to them more? As Michael Thompson Ph.D. says, “If we traumatize boys, we will produce violent young men… Boys need to experience empathy when they are young, they need to learn to recognize empathic behavior, and they need to practice it. ”
This film failed to prove in any way that gender studies is bogus. Instead, it proved even further that how we raise our kids matters even more than we thought! We need to teach our boys to be more social, and we need to teach our girls to be more confident. Deciding to instead exacerbate these differences through how we parent and generally treat children will will not only perpetuate the mess we’re now in but further entrench gender stereotypes.
Featured image original found here.