August 21 2006

Feminists' Five Stages of Dealing With Innate Gender Differences

Charlotte Allen

As the evidence mounts that the male and female brain are structurally different--and thus that male and female human beings are structurally different--the feminist ideologues who maintain that the sexes are exactly identical and that sex differences are entirely due to cultural expectations have been going through a process analogous to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of dealing with grief and dying.

The five stages are as follows: "denial," "anger," "bargaining," "depression," and "acceptance." The "denial" stage was represented by biologist Nancy Hopkins's case of the vapors when then-Harvard president Larry Summers cited recent brain research to make the point that innate differences between the sexes might have something to do with the underrepresentation of women as professors of math and science. Then came the "anger" stage. That's when the faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard issued a no-confidence vote in Summers, who was forced to resign.

Now, we're at the "bargaining" stage, where you hope that if you give a little, maybe the bad thing will go away. And that seems to be the attitude of feminist linguist Deborah Tannen, in a review for the Washington Post of the latest addition to the scholarly literature of gender differences, Louann Brizendine's "The Female Brain."

Brizendine is no intellectual slouch; she's a neuropsychiatrist and founder of the Women's and Teen's Mood and Hormone Clinic in San Francisco. So when she cites mountains of research showing that women's moods and thinking are heavily influenced by their particularly female hormone cycles, it's hard for Tannen, who has made her living arguing that it's culture that forces men and women to think and even speak differently, to argue. So Tannen concludes that Brizendine's book, along the mountain of other research indicating that "nature," not "nurture" has more to say about who we are, is itself a phase in a cycle.:

"In the past, 'nature' was used to maintain the status quo. A physician at Harvard University once cited biology as a reason to bar women from higher education: All that blood rushing to their brains would be drained from their wombs, he claimed, impairing their ability to bear children. Then the pendulum swung the other way. In the 1960s and '70s, nearly every aspect of human behavior was attributed to 'nurture,' including sex differences. If parents raised children the same way, giving dolls to boys and trucks to girls, they'd grow up acting the same.

"In the 1990s, the pendulum swung again...."

So really, Tannen concludes, if we give a little credence to the new researchers--do a little "bargaining," as it were--eventually the pendulum will swing back, and scholars will be telling parents to force their boys to play with dolls again:

Ideally, readers will sift through the case studies, research findings and scientific conjectures gathered in this non-technical book and be intrigued by some while questioning others, bearing in mind the caution that hormones and brain structure play a role in gender differences but are not the whole story. And if this book joins a 'nature' chorus that has swelled as a corrective to the previous pendulum swing toward 'nurture,' we can assume that another corrective will follow.

And if this doesn't happen, I'm sure we'll see the feminists swinging into the "depression" stage. But don't hold your breath waiting for the "acceptance" stage.

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