One of my favourite cartoons of all time features a woman responding to a
man at a cocktail party: "Oh no, actually I suffer from penis ennui!"
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mitchel Cohen" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, July 06, 2007 2:53 PM
Subject: Re: Yada, Yada, Yada. Is It Him? Or Is It Her?
> 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.
> - Mitchel
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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.)
> > Jon
> >Jon Beckwith
> >Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
> >Harvard Medical School
> >200 Longwood Ave.
> >Boston, MA 02115
> >Tel. 617-432-1920
> >FAX 617-738-7664
> >e-mail [log in to unmask]
> >website <http://beck2.med.harvard.edu/>
> >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)
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