In our exciting first episode of High Noon, Inez Stepman talks to Dr. Debra Soh about the biology of sex differences, how to tell if the science you’re relying on has been infected with politics, and the courage it takes to stand up for scientific truth in a world gone woke.
Dr. Debra Soh is a neuroscientist and sexologist specializing in gender, sex, and sexual orientation. She is the author of The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society, as well as a columnist published everywhere from Playboy to the Wall Street Journal. She is the host of The Dr. Debra Soh Podcast.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future.
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Welcome to High Noon where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. I’m your host, Inez Stepman and I’m beyond pleased to kick off the inaugural episode of this podcast with this discussion with Dr. Debra Soh. Dr. Soh is a neuroscientist specializing in gender, sex and sexual orientation. She covers that subject and many others in her book, The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society.
I also asked her as a scientist who left the academy because she felt she couldn’t do the type of research that she wanted to do whether science even the hard sciences in universities have been corrupted by ideology or bias. And unfortunately, she seems to think that it has, but she gave us some really great practical tips on being able to tell whether a scientific study has been compromised by ideology which I think will be really useful for us all as we all read those headlines that say, “Study says …” To be able to tell whether or not the authors of that study were subject to ideology or bias, or whether the study wasn’t done according to the scientific method.
We also talked a lot about what I think is going to be an ongoing theme of this podcast, the courage that it takes to stand up for the truth regardless of some very real social and professional consequences. Unfortunately, we live in a time when free speech seems increasingly confined to the letter of the law and the Constitution to the courtroom, rather than being a living breathing part of our lives and our political discourse. Dr. Soh is a critical voice in the increasingly fraught debates over biological sex, something I never thought, frankly, that we would have to debate.
She provides scientific rigor to the gut instincts so many of us have that we’re being taught to ignore, that men and women are actually different, and that those differences matter. Dr. Soh also hosts her own podcast, the Dr. Debra Soh Podcast, and she has published as a columnist everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Playboy which is a unique and fantastic resume. I hope you enjoy this very first High Noon conversation with Dr. Debra Soh, I know I did. Welcome Dr. Debra Soh to High Noon.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s so great to see you again.
Absolutely. So I want to just kick this off. You construct your book as a series of myths that you then bring scientific evidence forward to debunk. And one of those myths actually is myth number two is what you call the social construct myth. And I immediately thought of Simone de Beauvoir is the second sex where she says, “One is not born, but made a woman or women depending on your translation of that feminist seminal work.” Actually, that’s funny, because apparently, in the academy, you’re not supposed to use seminal work anymore because that’s a gendered language, but it is indeed a seminal feminist work.
And you see this idea that sex and gender, but even biological sex is somehow socially constructed. And we see that myth pervading in all kinds of ways in society, and yet here you do list it as a myth. Is sex constructed? What is the relationship between sex and society and how much does biology play into sex and gender and how we relate to our bodies?
Dr. Debra Soh:
So sex and gender definitely are not socially constructed, and for whatever reason, it’s become hateful nowadays to talk about biology and I don’t think it should be. So as you mentioned in The End of Gender, I go through nine different myths and these are myths that are commonly taken at basically face value in our society today. So myth number two is gender as a social construct. And this is something I find really disturbing because the way this is presented now, there’s never two sides of the conversation. It’s very much especially in mainstream news, it’s reported on as if this is fact even though it is very much not true.
Gender is biologically driven. This is the case for people who are gender typical or atypical, and this is the case for people who identify as their birth sex or people who are intersex or transgender. So it’s not helpful for us. I think the underlying sentiment was that this would help to lead to female emancipation if we say that female gender roles are separate from the female sex, but what I think is it’s actually just made things much more confusing for women. It doesn’t help us make more enlightened choices and if anything, it’s actually, I think, hurting our ability, especially for those who truly believe it as a social construct, it’s actually hurting their ability to make meaningful choices in life.
I’m so glad that you mentioned that because one of the other aspects of your book you talk about, for example, some of the realities, the biological reality is particularly heterosexual dating. I find these biological realities empowering to know the truth, and then to be able to respond to the truth. And to organize my life in such a way that I take into account certain biological truths about womanhood. I actually find that incredibly empowering, but it seems that so many people today find it somehow offensive, or they find it constricting, or they find that it somehow disallows them from being an exception from some general gender trait.
Have we lost the ability to just embrace exceptions? There’s that old cliche, what is it? The exception that proves the rule. It doesn’t seem we believe in that anymore. We want the exception to totally swallow the rule, we seem wholly uncomfortable with the idea of outliers, exceptions, every unique instance or counter example is taken as proof that the rule doesn’t exist, particularly when it comes to sex.
Dr. Debra Soh:
And I do feel there is an underlying sentiment of sexism in that and that some feminists who are really pushing this mandate, I think it comes from this idea that there is maybe they on some level feel some shame about being feminine or about being women because I don’t think it should be considered inferior of women to be feminine, or to be different from men. No one’s saying that, that value judgment is being made … It’s not being made by the biological sciences, but it’s being made by people who are interpreting the science that way.
So like you said, I think just because there are some women who are not stereotypically feminine, or who maybe do not represent what you would see on average among women. And, of course, you can’t speak for all women, as I as a woman cannot speak for all women. But there are some averages that we see and to point to the outliers and to say that that should be the rule is again, not going to speak to most women. And in the case of say dating or sex or courtship, young women, especially are being told that they are no different from young men if they date men. And so I don’t think that’s helpful to them because then they don’t understand, “Well, why is it they don’t enjoy casual sex as much? Or why is it that sex is a great investment for them that their male peers are not invested in the same way?”
And if they are being told, then they believe that evolutionary psychology is just a myth or it’s outdated. It’s not going to bring them happiness, because they’re going to essentially be fighting what’s internally wired in them and what has been actually beneficial to their ancestors for however many millions of years.
Yeah, we have such an allergy to talking about biology as in any way guiding our lives. But as I said, I find it empowering because then you can plan your life in such a way to account for biological realities like for example, the one you mentioned about men and women having different biological imperatives when it comes to sex that then show up in for example, how much they enjoy casual sex or honestly, it breaks my heart because I hear from young women when back before COVID when I used to speak on college campuses and speak to college women.
The dating atmosphere now is one in which you’re terrified, actually, particularly if you are a woman of “catching feelings” after sex, that women are like talking themselves into the idea and that it’s bad somehow to be emotionally invested in sex. And ironically, it’s women who have to talk themselves into this because of course, as you write in your book, women have evolutionary reasons for being more invested in sex, for being the choosy sex. And again, to the idea of exceptions, right?
That doesn’t mean that there are zero women out there who enjoy casual sex and take pleasure from it. But it does mean that on average, women are not going to be able to play the same game as men. Do you think that young women today are held back in some way? Do you worry that they will force themselves in this and a thousand other ways, and we can talk about the rapid onset transitioning issue as well which you touched on at length in your book, but do you worry that young women are being pressured? It almost against being feminine, being feminine is itself something to be ashamed of or means that you’re weak or unambitious or any number of traits that we discourage a society.
Dr. Debra Soh:
I do think that and going back to your point about young women, that’s what motivated me actually to write that chapters because I would get so much feedback from young women who’d send me messages and say that they feel so conflicted. They get all sorts of mixed messages from the media, but that does not seem to represent how they actually feel or how they feel they should approach dating and young men or not sitting there trying to convince themselves not to have feelings when they go into a casual sex situation, they’re just not.
So that speaks to the difference already and I think for young women to have to deny that, it’s really quite heartbreaking I think because as you said, I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of, and we shouldn’t have to change who we are in order to find a compatible partner. So in terms of do I think society devalues femininity? I do. And we see this in terms of as you were saying rapid onset, gender dysphoria, the larger non-binary trend that we’re seeing where young girls who may not be stereotypically feminine think that because they’re not girly girls, this must mean they’re actually really men, or that they should be a third gender or for maybe some young women who do not want to experience sexism, or they see that their male peers are having an easier time and whatever other capacity, they think I’ll have a better life if I am like that.
And so they decide to transition or, essentially … They don’t want to identify as female. And we’re not having so much of a conversation to say just because you feel different, or because you feel uncomfortable in your body, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a woman, or just because maybe you are different in some way, there should be no shame around being female. So a lot of this I think on some level, there is, of course, I’m in favor of people being able to do however they want, being able to express themselves however they want and pursue what they find meaningful and how they want to live their life, but my issue is when it starts to become dogmatic, and I say this as someone who I still consider myself to be a liberal, and in the book, I read about how very feminist.
And it makes me really sad to see how far … It’s become a total train wreck now in terms of the way liberals are left leaning, people feel that they need to talk about gender, or in terms of the science denial, how bad left leaning science now has become when it comes to issues around gender identity.
I’m glad you mentioned the science denial because you dedicate quite a bit of your book. You have a number of examples in here of either studies that were pulled from journals without a clear explanation as to why people in academia who were essentially hounded out, you yourself, of course, left academia when you realized that you wouldn’t be able to pursue the truth or through your research in a way that was not Cognizant or didn’t kowtow to, whatever the shibboleths, the ideological shibboleths were at that time. And it seems like they’ve only gotten worse since then.
As a scientist, do you worry that there will be a backlash to this whereby people stop trusting scientific institutions altogether? I find this to be a really relevant conversation given that we’re in the middle of this COVID pandemic still, hopefully at the tail end of it. Here in the United States, I know you’re Canadian. The CDC has waded into political questions. So for example, they blessed the large gatherings last summer in the name of Black Lives Matter protests after previously telling people that they couldn’t even get together with family for a funeral. That kind of politicization of scientific institutions really tanks public trust in them.
Do you worry about two things? One, how much harder is the case that you’re making that biological sex is real that you make in this book, biological sex is real, that it’s binary, that it influences our lives in a myriad of ways that are really important to who we are? Do you worry that the case is going to get that much harder given the fact that they’re unlikely you say this pretty blatantly in this book, they’re unlikely to be any more studies that confirm your perspective on this because those studies just won’t be published and they won’t even be submitted because they won’t get money for grants.
The professors and researchers will be too afraid to touch the subjects. How are you going to make this case when somebody is going to point to a mountain of recent studies, let’s say in 10 years that show the exact opposite of the science you’re pointing to in this book?
Dr. Debra Soh:
It is terrifying. People should not have to ever question whether science that’s being published. The thing is science if it’s rigorously done, it goes through the peer review process. So it goes through other people in the field, other experts in the field are going to vet it and make sure that the study was done properly so that whatever the researchers found is hopefully as close of an approximation of the truth as possible. So by the time it reaches publication, the public sees it. Ideally, they shouldn’t have to question whether the findings are accurate or if they’re ideological, but that’s not the climate that we’re in right now. And as you mentioned, we see this across a number of domains.
It’s not just in gender and biological sex, it’s also as you mentioned, COVID, there’s quite a bit of hypocrisy in terms of policy there. It’s basically everything nowadays because I think everything has become so political. So I do worry about that. In my book, I list all of the citations of legitimate research. So if people are interested in learning more, they can look up the studies themselves and I would just say for new studies that come out, in the book, I have a chapter that goes into what you can look for in terms of determining for yourself whether a study is biased or not.
Again, ideally, I don’t think people should have to go to that length of investigation to find out what’s true or not. I think people ideally would be able to just read about something in a news outlet and say, “Okay, this is what they found, great.” But now you have to go to this other extra length, and then with biological sex, it’s crazy to me, because I see some people, some prominent so called experts saying that biological sex doesn’t really exist which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially in the context of transgender rights.
I’m fully in support of equal rights and legal protections for trans people. But if you start saying that biological sex doesn’t exist, does that not invalidate the existence of transgender people because what are the [crosstalk 00:16:13].
Right. What’s the point of transitioning?
Dr. Debra Soh:
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:16:15]
… If biological sex doesn’t exist.
Dr. Debra Soh:
So I think also people have a gut sense when something does not seem to sound quite right, and especially issues around gender or biology or biological sex. Most people know already that these are hotly politicized issues. So you can bet that if something comes out now, or if a study comes out now, I would say 99.9% of the time is going to be something that has a little bit of a political flavor to it.
Yeah, you give some great pragmatic, practical advice. One of them was the depressing note that in the realm of sex and gender, that you’ve put way more weight on studies that have been done at least 10 years ago than more recent studies, because you worry that those studies were politicized, but you also have a number of other good tips in there and some of them are depressing. They’re kind of depressing tips.
Like for example, you mentioned that we should check whether if somebody is publishing in a scientific field, the hard scientific field like sexology or neurobiology that you should check to see if they also co-author studies with folks in philosophy which was my major or in the “studies fields”, women studies, queer studies, so on. Again, these are depressing. You shouldn’t have to investigate someone’s political bio. A friend of mine, Katya Sedgwick wrote a really great article a couple weeks ago, both of us have roots in the former USSR, her directly, but my parents were in the Soviet Bloc in Poland, and I was born here, thankfully, but it almost makes the USSR in some ways, it was obviously way, way, way worse.
But in some ways, in this particular way, it was almost better because they had to actually build wealth. They were not an incredibly wealthy, prosperous country the way that the first world is today, Canada and the United States. So things like mathematics and engineering to some extent, at least to some extent where these free zones where you could actually pursue the truth because it turns out at the end of the day, if the plane doesn’t stay up, the Soviet Union had no planes and that doesn’t mean that there weren’t politicization of who could get into university and so on. It was obviously terrible there too, but once you were actually doing the work, they did tend at least to some degree to leave you alone.
In that sense, it almost seems like our regime today is worse that it’s politicizing even a field like mathematics or neurobiology, things where the right answer could very well be the difference between engineering failure and success or could very well in the realm we’re talking about here could very well be the difference between irreversible damages. Abigail Shires book is called allowing people to take on interventions, surgical interventions, hormonal interventions that have lifelong consequences.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Yeah, and I do want to say that not every scholar obviously from these disciplines are suspect when you’re saying about philosophy or disciplines with word studies in the title. But I would definitely say there’s a pressure even for faculty who don’t go along with it or don’t feel that this aligns with their personal goals. They feel pressure to go along with it because they don’t want to be ostracized. They don’t want to be singled out as someone who’s not going along with it and also because it does help their careers ultimately.
So in terms of … It’s really crazy to me that this is happening in academia because you would think because we are so fortunate to be doing so well in Western society that we would want to continue prospering, but I think this is what happens when people have too much time on their hands. And a lot of these academics are sitting around creating problems when they could be solving important ones. So yeah, I do think this is … The children I have an entire chapter devoted to why young children with gender dysphoria shouldn’t transition and we’re going to see the ramifications of this in a really devastating way in a few years.
Yeah, I’m going to ask you a really hard question now and I’m sure that it’s one that you’ve thought a lot about. It’s obvious in the book that you thought a lot about it, you actually framed one of your chapters surrounding one of these encounters with parents, but what would you tell parents who might have a child who is coming home at the age of 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 and saying, “Mom, Dad, I don’t feel comfortable in my body, I think I’m gender dysphoric and I want to be treated as the opposite sex and eventually to transition.”
What advice would you give a parent in how to support their child, but also protect them from potentially life-changing consequences, negative consequences that they’re going to have to live with for the rest of their lives?
Dr. Debra Soh:
There’s a lot I would say to those parents. I would say, number one, don’t feel bad about questioning it, do not feel that that makes you a hateful person or a bad parents because you know your child. In many cases, there has been one study to show this by Lisa Lippman that these kids will go on the internet. This is what they’re being told that this is what you say to your parents in order to get them to let you to transition. Whether or not the child actually has gender dysphoria whether or not transition will actually benefit them in the long run.
So all of the research literature shows that the vast majority of kids will desist. So they’ll no longer feel gender dysphoric by puberty. So these are kids who are basically from the womb, they are gender atypical, they’re more like the opposite sex, but even so, if they’re left alone, they’re likely going to grow up to be comfortable in their birth, sex, and in the body they were given. We see this newer wave of predominantly young women who have no signs of gender dysphoria up until the point when they say they want to transition and in many cases, it’s very startling to parents because again, there’s no history so they’re wondering, “Well, where is this coming from?”
And then there’s this larger narrative that of suicidality. So saying that young people who don’t have access to transition are at a greater risk of suicide. We also have so called conversion therapy bans for gender identity which basically forces clinicians to take a gender affirmative approach in therapy. So conversion therapy for sexual orientation is different from conversion therapy for gender identity and that conversion therapy for sexual orientation. So attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation do not work, they’re not ethical. But gender identity is flexible in young children.
So to ask a child and try to understand where their feelings about their gender are coming from, that’s been conflated as harmful even though from a research perspective, it’s not and I don’t do clinical work anymore. And I don’t work with these kids, but my colleagues will tell me that they cannot do their work ethically anymore. In Canada, we have a bill that’s about to go into law that will criminalize any of these therapeutic interventions that are not facilitating affirmation in children with regard to their gender. So the larger thing to take away from that for parents is just know that a lot of what you’re seeing presented about this is not the full picture.
In chapter five, I go through all of the criticisms that I have received since I started talking about this issue. All the criticisms of the desistance research literature, a lot of the so called things that people say are myths that are not myths. And I would just say, there’s another piece that I was going to add to that, and I’ve lost it now. Just basically, this is something that kids are being exposed to everywhere. Now, it’s an education, it’s on social media, it’s in their friends and I think it’s important to try to get ahead of it if you can with your kids, and let them know that they’re going to be exposed to these things. And just because they might question the way they feel about their bodies or about the sex they’re born as doesn’t mean they’re better off transitioning. That would be the main thing.
There’s just so much to say about this because I feel like every week there’s something new and people are being bombarded with this. And it’s just not helpful.
Who doesn’t feel it? And we can only speak as women, not for all women, obviously, but we can speak as women. What young girl going through puberty isn’t uncomfortable with her body? I would say that’s more the exception than the rule. Is there something? Because obviously, when we’re younger, we’re uncomfortable with our bodies, especially as we go through transitions like puberty. Is there something about the female experience that we lose when we lose this idea of the gender binary is not socially constructed, not a series of sex stereotypes imposed by society. But as rooted in the biological body.
I’m thinking now even as adult women, we are being told that we can’t talk about uniquely female experiences, right? Like menstruation or giving birth or being mothers. These are experiences written in the natural female body, and it’s becoming offensive. You get a lot of backlash to it just to say that, for example, women experienced pregnancy, and men do not. The female experience is almost becoming a taboo or something that people are afraid to talk about.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Yeah, and actually, to your point about puberty being a difficult time and menstruation. It’s very, very normal for young women to be uncomfortable in their bodies going through that process. For everyone, it’s been uncomfortable, but in the context of this conversation because that’s something that they’re also not being told. They think that because they don’t like having their period, or they don’t like that they’ve developed breasts, that that suddenly means that they’re not female or that they should seek interventions to change that about themselves.
And so I think that’s really unfortunate because the message should be that like you said, it’s totally normal to feel that way. It doesn’t mean you’re not a woman and it’s something I would almost say to take pride in. So yeah, with regards to language around women, that has become verbal for whatever … Well, I do understand why because activism, trans activism has become so militant that any reference to being female that is not inclusive of trans women is deemed hateful and I’m all in favor of being inclusive and being sensitive with language, but I don’t think that requires us forbidding talking about female bodies or female physiology entirely or that doing so is bigoted because, again, there are certain things that from a very factual standpoint, women who were born women experience that trans women do not.
And I have a chapter in the book talking about how there are differences between women who are born women and trans women. And these differences play out in meaningful ways with regard to, as you mentioned, say medical decisions, or women’s spaces or prisons and sports. And to deny that is really harmful to women.
Yeah, here in the US, we have this huge debate now over the Equality Act, the Equal Rights Amendment which will functionally do a lot of the same things. And then of course, over women’s sports and whether boys, biological boys who transition to being girls, whether that’s a fair competition, and again, we always have this battle about the science, something that should be completely common sense. I feel like every person if they’re honest with themselves knows that there’s a difference in strength and speed between boys and girls and even larger difference the older they get, as they get into college, that men are bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster and therefore, the competitions are sex segregated when they’re reliant on those kinds of skills.
There are a few sports that aren’t and therefore, those sports are often integrated by sex. So for example, horseback riding or sometimes sailing, or there’s a couple other sports where it’s been integrated, but now we’re seeing this huge fight. We had a Republican Governor Kristi Noem actually veto a bill that would have forbidden boys, biologically born boys from participating in women’s sports. And we actually had the NCAA tried to assert influence which is the sports league to try to assert influence over a state to say, “No, no, no, there are no biological differences. This is purely a matter of fairness and inclusion.”
Let’s say that somebody does take hormones, and maybe not go through full surgery, but taking hormones for a long time because we’re hearing that there was some study out of UCLA a couple years ago to your point about recent science that said, “Oh, after two years of taking cross-sex hormones, there are no more physical advantages for boys on the track and field.” Is that true?
Dr. Debra Soh:
No. No, but amazingly, there was another study that came out recently. It’s cited in my book that shows that … It’s a miracle that this was published showing that after being on cross-sex hormones for a year, there are no differences in terms of muscle strength or size, but even outside of that, the way this issue is being spoken about is as though cross-sex hormones are going to completely eliminate any differences that are brought about by undergoing male puberty and that foundation that is set and that’s just not true.
But I think what’s even scarier is that some people actually genuinely believe that there are no biological differences.I guess because of what they’re being taught in their education and so they genuinely think this is an issue about discrimination only because I will see people saying, “How come the critics, so someone like myself, is not concerned with trans boys? Why are they only picking on trans girls?” And I’m thinking, “If you had any understanding of biology, that would be a self-evident answer.”
But that is one area I am just astounded at where we are, and the fact that it’s pretty clear I think to most people. Most people will bite their tongue when it comes to things like children transitioning or gender neutral language. But when it comes to sport, it’s such a visceral reaction that you have when you watch the competition. And the fact that when you listen to the young women who are being affected by this, who are having their scholarships essentially taken from them, they train their entire lives for these opportunities and that’s not fair to them. So we’ll see what happens. There’s just so much back and forth with this, but I really do hope that in the end, fairness wins out.
Yeah, and fairness includes fairness to girls, of course. And it does seem that women and girls are taking the brunt of this push to eliminate sex differences or to pretend that they’re socially constructed, and therefore can be undone by a different social construction. When it comes to prisons for example, we’re now increasingly, I believe the state of California recently decided that it’s not going to collect data on inmates that claimed female identity, male inmates who claimed female identity and then were placed in women’s prisons.
They’re not even going to collect that data. So we’re seeing this across the board and to me, and I think your book really lays this out beautifully. The most important aspect of this conversation, of course, sex and gender are interesting topics in and of themselves. And they’re fascinating and I assume that’s why you decided to go into the kind of research that you have. It’s a fun conversation, these differences are interesting and relevant. But to me, what disturbs me the most about this whole conversation that we’re having is this demand to accept things that seem on the face of it to be obviously untrue.
I think that’s why sports as you mentioned is such a flashpoint because people can just use their eyes and see, they see that boys are faster. They you see that in Connecticut, but the top one and two finishers in 19 track meets have both been trans girls, biological boys competing against biological girls. And they can see this with their own eyes and yet so few people are willing to go ahead and see it. I guess I would ask you as somebody who went ahead and stood up and left academia so that you could continue to pursue the truth as you see it and to speak about the science as you understand it, how do we get people to stop being silent on this issue that they know they are being fed a false said. I don’t believe that the vast majority of people believe there are no biological differences between men and women, but they just won’t say it.
Dr. Debra Soh:
People are understandably afraid because there are serious repercussions potentially from saying these things especially if you say it in any public forum. Even if you say it in a private conversation, or if you were in an area of work that is completely unrelated, you can still lose your job and be ostracized for it and be mobbed on social media and have people going after your family and your loved ones. So I understand why they don’t. I think it comes to a point where that people feel incentivized, and they realize that the negatives or the risks that come from speaking out are far outweighed by the benefits that are going to come from do so.
And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to help bring that about because where we are right now, that’s definitely not the case. People are getting canceled, pretty much left and right every week. And I would say for people who are living in fear or maybe who do want to speak out, take a very practical approach. I would say start saving your income so that you can take care of yourself. If you do lose your job for saying something, that should not be deemed hateful over speaking your mind and seek out people in your life who will support you regardless of what your views are and you don’t necessarily have to agree, but just have that mutual respect and that support regardless of political view, and it’s gotten so ridiculous at this point, I do see a turning point coming, I just don’t know how much longer that will take because I’ve set up my life in a way where I can speak about these things very openly, but it’s not for everyone and it’s definitely not fun to deal with the harassment.
But I think the feeling that you get after you go through it especially going through a cancellation, once you’ve gone through it, you realize you can do it. And it’s I think much scarier thinking about what it’s going to be like versus actually going through it.
Yeah, I’ve often joked with liberal friends or more liberal friends that to be a conservative is to be pre-canceled. It’s interesting how the burden of these social cancellations in particular has fallen on those people who are left of center who hold some progressive views, but have dissented it whether it’s on sex and gender or on some of the critical race theory stuff. It seems like the most opprobrium is actually poured on people who are otherwise liberal but find this particular strain of the left to be pernicious and dangerous and contrary to what used to be bipartisanly held positions about free speech and open inquiry.
So I guess another question would be where do you think the future of this alliance between the liberal left, that’s what I’m going to call you guys, the liberal left and the right can go because, for example, there was that Harper’s letter that Thomas Chatterton Williams circulated, and some of the people on and I was very supportive of that letter, I thought it was a great thing to do and I’m actually a big fan of his work, but some of the people on there had encouraged.
It was a cancellation of people to their right and I understand the impulse because there always are some boundaries around what is considered mainstream conversation. It’s never been good for your employment prospects to have a Swastika tattooed on your forehead. So we are talking about now what deserves to be in the mainstream and one of the things that concerns me is that we have this increasingly powerful part of the left, not only in this country, but in Canada and some European countries increasingly, that believes that 80% of the country, or 80% of the political spectrum deserves to be canceled. As you’re saying, all things that must come to an end eventually end, they can’t possibly cancel 80% of the country, can they?
Dr. Debra Soh:
We hope not. But I do have an entire chapter dedicated to cancel culture and academia because as you said, anyone who dares to go against orthodoxy on these issues, they face really serious repercussions. And it’s really scary because I see things growing increasingly politicized. And the right and the left for the most part can’t really speak to each other. And I think I do sense and this is something I’ve been grateful of from conservatives is that my sense is my friends and colleagues are conservative, they’re much more open-minded to the differences that we have. And they know that we don’t agree about everything, but they’re still willing to have a conversation, and even debate the issues.
But my sense from the extreme left is that there’s no debate, debating is considered being complicit, the only option is to shut people down. And so I’m not sure how we’re going to get around that because if you can’t speak to people you disagree with, there’s no understanding that’s going to be made there, you’re going to continue seeing the other side as the enemy or not even the other side, it’s people you disagree with are going to be seen as the enemy. So that’s a real problem. But I would say for the 80%, that’s the thing. We are the majority of people, we are the same people in this situation.
So there’s no reason to feel ashamed or afraid or to ever question I guess because that’s the other thing I find really unfortunate is that people sometimes think by questioning it, that makes them a bad person, or especially for progressives, I find, they feel that to be a good progressive, you have to you have to go along with this agenda, even if you personally disagree with it because that’s what it is to be a good person. And I would say, “No, you can question this and you can go against it. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Let me ask you then a conservative question because I know that you’re always having to fend off from your left accusations that you are too conservative. So let me make that clear that I’m to the right and I’ll ask you a question from the conservative direction. I’ve increasingly come around to the idea that it might actually be a positive thing for society to embrace certain sex stereotypes as long as to circle back to an earlier point of our conversation, as long as there is some room for essentially weirdos, that it’s fine to be a little bit strange to be the exception rather than the rule.
But how do we balance those two things? Because I worry that societies flip the opposite direction in terms of young women as we discussed, I’m almost pushing them away from their femininity, and telling them that it is bad, for example, to prioritize interpersonal relationships over the career ladder and that’s somehow unambitious or it’s bad or, but I worry that a lot of women and if you look at the data on female happiness, both female and male happiness have been declining, self-reported for decades, but female happiness since the 1970s has declined more precipitously.
I would think that from knowing you and reading your work that your answer would be society should be neutral, hands off and just let biology and individuals develop as they will and there should be no stigma or from society in any way. I wonder if that’s a realistic idea in that [inaudible 00:41:26] always has something to say about our sex, especially about how we express gender or sex. And to my mind, it seems a bit of a libertarian impossibility to me that society has nothing to say about something as important as sex and that perhaps as a conservative, it seems like it would make more sense to me to for the societal messaging to be essentially the dominant, the majority.
That we should expect girls, and the societal message should be that we expect girls to be and turnout feminine. But of course we don’t ostracize them or certainly we don’t legalize or create laws to force them into being in particular gender roles, but that there should be a soft establishment, if you will, in favor of traditional sex roles. I’m wondering how you’d respond to that.
Dr. Debra Soh:
I guess the progressive in me would say, “See, this is the thing, it’s gone. This messaging which I think at the core is good has gone so far in the opposite direction which is that there should be space also for those people who are not stereotypically feminine, who do not feel that they are stereotypically, that they align with necessary stereotypical female roles.” And to let them know that that’s okay too. And I guess my concern would be that if we’re going in one direction or the other, either if we’re going in the direction of say traditional roles versus what we’re doing now which is in the extreme in the opposite direction and pushing for this idea that men and women are completely the same or there are no differences or that women should be like men.
Ultimately, it’s not giving … I think people, individuals at the end of the day are going to do what’s right for them regardless of messaging, whatever they’re going to gravitate toward, and how they want to live their life, I think they will to some extent, find their way there anyway. But I guess I’m more so like you said more hands off. And I just think that it’s good to at least leave some room for the outliers, but we don’t have to completely center everything on them as well.
Yeah, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that there can be no at least exciting and vibrant counterculture without there being a culture, i.e. it almost makes the exceptions more exciting. It means that they can find communities and I know you write a lot about how enmeshed you were in the gay community growing up and continue to be, I’ve heard this from some of my gay friends as well that because now gay pride parades are a matter of let’s say, deltas rolling afloat down the parade and it’s become corporatized and standardized and mainstream that actually, there’s something in some sense lost there.
Obviously, the many things are much better that the legal recognition is better, that the legal protections are better. But that there was something beautiful about a counterculture that flourished in strong opposition to the dominant culture and I’m wondering if we can make this biological sex a little bit like that, that we have some general societal standards, we expect generally that women will be feminine and men will be masculine. We actually encourage those attributes in a healthy way in boys and girls respectively, but that we leave room for these vibrant counter cultures or people who don’t fall into those stereotypes, but perhaps that’s just as a pie in the sky as I think that perfect libertarian neutral societal messaging might be, so.
Dr. Debra Soh:
The crazy thing to me is that I feel traditional views on gender have become a counterculture in a way. I think it depends on where you are. But that’s something I’ve definitely noticed and when I talk about say gender neutral parenting in the book, and how you have some parents who are so progressive, and they’ve just taken it so far in that direction that I’m thinking, “It’s almost become a counterculture to say you’re going to let your kids be gender typical and play with gender typical toys.”
Yeah, absolutely. And I worry that by pushing, particularly women I think, I worry about men in a whole different way and you talked about this in the book as well about the idea of toxic masculinity, that masculinity is somehow dangerous, or bigoted, or negative, and we’re messaging this all the time to young boys. And I do think that’s damaging, but just being a woman, and then being a former girl, I can definitely see myself even as it is, even without the transition, the specter of transition and solving my insecurities about being a woman.
I can see in my own life how many decisions I’ve made because that was just, it was bad. Somehow it was looked down on for me to make a more feminine decision that it was irresponsible in some way. And I worry about how many … Obviously, I’m fine. I’m making it through, but I worry about how many young women are going to make, perhaps not even as large a decision as surgical transition would be that is completely irreversible, but even smaller decisions, the decision to go to a more prestigious college versus staying in a town where you might still have connections to friends, family, boyfriend, those kinds of decisions that change the trajectory of our lives. And sometimes we wake up and realize that our lives didn’t go as we expected them to or worry about that. Obviously, that’s always the case though.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Yeah, I guess it’s hard to matter in various contexts in terms of knowing whether you made the right decision or not, but I do hear you in that way because I do worry about young women and I do think that their concerns today are not being addressed in a way that’s actually helpful to them. It may superficially seem that way, the messaging may be positioned that way. But whether it’s actually fulfilling and useful to them in terms of the information they’re being given is something completely different.
So for our final question here, I’m going to circle back to the idea of bravery which you’ve obviously displayed. And James Damore’s memo, you referenced and you defended in a column. It talks about how to encourage more women into STEM fields. So he actually has some really interesting ideas about how to do that, make it more interpersonal, make it more collaborative. So I’m going to ask a similar sounding question with a different meaning.
How do we encourage more Debra Soh’s? I.e. not more women in the STEM field as you are, not more female scientists which I’m not worried about. But how do we encourage more truth-tellers, especially in the sciences, especially in academia with those high consequences that we’ve discussed, you discussed in your book, we discussed today. How do we encourage more scientists to speak out about sex and gender about things that they know to be true from their research?
How do we get people to actually do the research that you did want to do? Because you left, I know you talked to other friends, your tenure doesn’t really protect you if they really decide to come after you. We need this research, so how do we encourage the next Debra Soh who is studying a medical field or a neurobiological field as you did or sexology field? How do we encourage them to go ahead and do that research? How do we get it funded? How do we publish it? Do we have to … As Barry Weiss says, you’ve just got to build new institutions and make a place for these people. How do we go about doing this?
Dr. Debra Soh:
I would say just stick to your guns and do what you want to do and face the backlash if you’re going to face it when it happens. I do have colleagues who are still doing amazing work in academia and they’ve faced a lot of pushback, but they keep going and I do think it’ll come to a point where all the good people are going to either quit, get fired or hopefully, other people will grow a spine and defend them and that’s the thing because for me, I was very, very fortunate. I gave a talk at the Oxford Union recently and there was a huge push for that talk to be de platformed and canceled.
And the President James Price said that, “No, the talk is going to go ahead.” And I thought, I couldn’t believe it, I was so, so thankful that he made that decision and we just need more people like James Price will say, “These are petulant children for the most part, these students who were petitioning, calling me all kinds of names, but they couldn’t actually address any of the points I was making. They don’t have a point. It’s one thing if you actually have a point to counter someone’s argument, but if you’re just going based on peer pressure, and bullying someone and calling them like making personal attacks, you have no ground to stand on.”
So we just need more people to collectively and be brave I think, and stand up against this because what happens is then the bullies see that we’re not going to take it, they’re going to have to go somewhere else, and eventually, they’re going to give up, they have to give up.
On that optimistic note, I’m going to wrap this up, but please buy and read Dr. Soh’s book, The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society, which you can find for now. Anywhere books are sold as you did have a little bit of a hiccup with Target, but we managed to get your book relisted on Target. So for now I believe, you can buy it that book anywhere at Amazon, Target, and so forth.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Sorry, it’s actually not on Target’s website anymore. I would say get it back down. I would say get it at Barnes & Noble if you can, because they’ve been so supportive of the book and please get it before it’s gone for good because I do worry that it’s going to be taken off the shelf completely at some point.
So go to Barnes & Noble then, and absolutely get this book. You can also check out her recently launched self-named podcast, the Dr. Debra Soh Podcast. Debra, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on High Noon and thank you so much for coming on.
Dr. Debra Soh:
Thank you so much for having me.
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