If male's brains turn out to be larger, that will
be portrayed as another "proof" of intelligence
by those who have a vested interest in doing so.
If female's brains turn out to be larger, that
will be portrayed as another "proof" of female
loquaciousness which causes brains to expand, and
of male brains being "tight", "compact," sleek and ready for action.
I am posting here Gloria Steinem's great article,
"If Men Could Menstruate," which dissects this whole approach.
IF MEN COULD MENSTRUATE
(from her 1986 book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday
Rebellions, which is an update of the original
article she wrote for Ms. in 1978)
by Gloria Steinem
Living in India made me understand that a white
minority of the world has spent centuries conning
us into thinking a white skin makes people
superior, even though the only thing it really
does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and wrinkles.
Reading Freud made me just as skeptical about
penis envy. The power of giving birth makes "womb
envy" more logical, and an organ as external and
unprotected as the penis makes men very vulnerable indeed.
But listening recently to a woman describe the
unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red
stain had spread on her dress as she argued
heatedly on the public stage) still made me
cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she
explained that, when finally informed in whispers
of the obvious event, she said to the all-male
audience, "and you should be proud to have a
menstruating woman on your stage. It's probably
the first real thing that's happened to this group in years."
Laughter. Relief. She had turned a negative into
a positive. Somehow her story merged with India
and Freud to make me finally understand the power
of positive thinking. Whatever a "superior" group
has will be used to justify its superiority, and
whatever and "inferior" group has will be used to
justify its plight. Black me were given poorly
paid jobs because they were said to be "stronger"
than white men, while all women were relegated to
poorly paid jobs because they were said to be
"weaker." As the little boy said when asked if he
wanted to be a lawyer like his mother, "Oh no,
that's women's work." Logic has nothing to do with oppression.
So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men
could menstruate and women could not?
Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event:
Men would brag about how long and how much.
Young boys would talk about it as the envied
beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious
ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.
To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful,
Congress would fund a National Institute of
Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about
heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally
protected, but everything about cramps.
Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and
free. Of course, some men would still pay for the
prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman
Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John
Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- "For Those Light Bachelor Days."
Statistical surveys would show that men did
better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.
Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious
fundamentalists would cite menstruation
("men-struation") as proof that only men could
serve God and country in combat ("You have to
give blood to take blood"), occupy high political
office ("Can women be properly fierce without a
monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be
priests, ministers, God Himself ("He gave this
blood for our sins"), or rabbis ("Without a
monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean").
Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist
that women are equal, just different; and that
any woman could join their ranks if only she were
willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual
rights ("Everything else is a single issue") or
self-inflict a major wound every month ("You must
give blood for the revolution").
Street guys would invent slang ("He's a three-pad
man") and "give fives" on the corner with some
exchenge like, "Man you lookin' good!"
"Yeah, man, I'm on the rag!"
TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy
Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie
that he is still "The Fonz," though he has missed
two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues: The
whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would
newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens
Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In
Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)
Men would convince women that sex was more
pleasurable at "that time of the month." Lesbians
would be said to fear blood and therefore life
itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.
Medical schools would limit women's entry ("they
might faint at the sight of blood").
Of course, intellectuals would offer the most
moral and logical arguements. Without the
biological gift for measuring the cycles of the
moon and planets, how could a woman master any
discipline that demanded a sense of time, space,
mathematics-- or the ability to measure anything
at all? In philosophy and religion, how could
women compensate for being disconnected from the
rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of
symbolic death and resurrection every month?
Menopause would be celebrated as a positive
event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough
years of cyclical wisdom to need no more.
Liberal males in every field would try to be
kind. The fact that "these people" have no gift
for measuring life, the liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.
And how would women be trained to react? One can
imagine right-wing women agreeing to all these
arguements with a staunch and smiling masochism.
("The ERA would force housewives to wound
themselves every month": Phyllis Schlafly)
In short, we would discover, as we should
already, that logic is in the eye of the
logician. (For instance, here's an idea for
theorists and logicians: if women are supposed to
be less rational and more emotional at the
beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female
hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it
logical to say that, in those few days, women
behave the most like the way men behave all month
long? I leave further improvisation up to you.)
The truth is that, if men could menstruate, the
power justifications would go on and on.
If we let them.
At 07:49 AM 7/6/2007, you wrote:
>At 01:25 AM 7/6/2007, you wrote:
>>In the thread on sociobiology, I said in
>>response to Ivan that I think we must
>>acknowledge the possibility that our opponents
>>in various debates are right, otherwise we are
>>not doing science. If there are differences in
>>male and female brains, and if those
>>differences reflect some differences in
>>cognition--emphasis on spatial versus verbal
>>talents, that sort of thing--what of it? Must
>>the fight for equality between men and women be
>>based solely on the conclusion that there are
>>no differences between the sexes nor their
>>brains? If so, our ideology might be resting on
>>very fragile ground. In other words, special
>>pleading is something that both left and right can be guilty of.
> Probably, in contrast to some on this
> ListServe, I agree with what you say in this
> paragraph in principle. But, I could also say
> how do we know the "Intelligent Design" people
> aren't right. Shouldn't we take them
> seriously? I am sure there are differences
> between male and female brains, but at this
> stage of knowledge, we know nothing about what
> those mean for issues of gender differences in
> behavior. And we don't know, if the
> differences have some significance, whether
> those differences are fixed (unlikely) or
> subject to change. We certainly don't know
> enough to even consider what those changes
> might be, at least on the basis of structural
> or other differences. So exactly what is it
> that we are supposed to take seriously?
> So, at that stage of a "science", so
> much speculation or worse on "we now know" that
> women are different from men with implications
> of fixity, goes way beyond the science and,
> whether consciously or not, reflects the bias
> of the researcher. I ask again, give us some
> instances of science in this area that we
> should take seriously. I look at the
> occasional paper that seems to attract
> attention on this issue, and I can't see the
> evidence for the claims that are made. (I do
> it, because I am willing to accept that
> something may come out of such studies.) They
> are mainly of the sort, there are differences
> in brain structure or brain responses,
> therefore, women can't do math as well as men,
> etc. Do you know of any better arguments than
> these blatantly (if subconsciously-driven) ideological arguments?
> Again, I accept the possibility that
> there are differences, differences that may or
> may not be remediable by better teaching
> methods, etc. The differences may be even in
> the opposite direction from what is being
> claimed on the argument, for example, that
> women have been so discriminated against that,
> if given better socio-cultural conditions they
> would be "superior" (whatever that means). The
> sociological, psychological literature on
> issues such as parental and teacher
> expectations, etc. etc. etc. influencing
> male/female differences in different test
> performances is vast, probably orders of
> magnitude larger than those on biological
> factors. (Numbers of publications doesn't
> prove those arguments are correct, but in this
> age of the genome the very weak, at best,
> biological arguments receive far more attention
> than the numerous sociological, cultural, psychological arguments.)
>Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
>Harvard Medical School
>200 Longwood Ave.
>Boston, MA 02115
>e-mail [log in to unmask]
>Recent books and articles:
>My book, a memoir entitled: Making Genes, Making
>Waves: A Social Activist in Science, Harvard
>University Press, 2002. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/BECMAK.html
>Copies conformes ou copies qu'on forme ? J.
>Beckwith. Sciences et Avenir Hors-SÚrie #149, p.71 (2006)
>Should we make a fuss? A case for social
>responsibility in science. F. Huang and J.
>Beckwith, Nature Biotechnology. 23:1479-1480 (2005).
>Whither Human Behavioral Genetics, J. Beckwith in Wrestling with
>Behavioral Genetics: Ethics, Science, and Public
>Conversation, eds. E. Parens, A. Chapman and N.
>Press. Johns Hopkins University Press (2005)