30 August, 2009

Nature Vs. Nurture

Caution, pseudo-scientific ramblings ahead.

I've seen this argument come up a lot. Generally, when a feminist or whatever mentions inequality (such as the gender pay gap), someone brings up the argument that
"The most likely cause of these gender-based psychological differentials is the structure and function of the male brain. Which in turn can be traced back to our genetic hard-wiring."
Yup, we're all just wired that way. Girls are hard-wired to like pink and ponies and babies and cooking. Boys are hard-wired to like race cars and combat boots and running into each other at high speeds.

Of course, I call bullshit.

I present you with some anecdata:
As a lot of you already know, I work in the childcare industry. I know, I know, a woman working in a female-dominated industry, how feminist of me ;) Anyway, I have the amazing opportunity to observe many children growing up. I won't pretend to be an expert on this, because, after all, I'm new in the industry, but there are some trends I have noticed.

Let's take the child I will refer to as G. When I started work at the centre, G was in the toddler room. G was a very sweet little toddler. He would talk to me a lot (he was a big talker) and would often play tea-party with me. He made me imaginary tea and cakes, and had great fun caring for baby dolls or pretending to vacuuming the floor, or telling me how much he loved corn while eating it kernel by kernel.

Now? Well, now G is in the kindy room. He rarely talks to me, won't accept hugs anymore, won't go near the dolls because they are "girly", thinks tea parties are stupid.
And so I wonder, what precisely is it that made him change so much? If it was simply a matter of nature, why wasn't he aggressive earlier? There were plenty of aggressive children, both male and female, that he could have chosen to play with but didn't.

Throughout the centre, gender differences become more obvious the higher the age of the children. The children in the babies room don't have the same segregation as far as interests and activities are concerned. That's not to say that they don't all have distinct personalities. Even the youngest baby will have its own personality. But they don't seem to notice the gender differences.

The toddler room? Also not segregated. the toddlers don't seem to notice gender differences, and they certainly don't act differently be they male or female. The same number of boys and girls are playing with the prams as are sitting in a corner with cars as are constantly asking me to read to them or swing them around or chase them.

But when we reach the kindy room, suddenly everything is different. Suddenly girls are playing in the home corner and boys are playing with the trains. G and T, two boys who have moved to the kindy room since I began, occasionally played with the dolls, but slowly gave it up.
This leads me to believe that Nurture, not Nature, is the reason for a lot of gender discrepancies we see in adults.

Secondly, the theory that our brains are "hard-wired" is just ludicrous! Haven't you heard? The Brain Is Plastic!
As Marguerite Holloway says in Scientific American:
"It is as if the brain is a vast floodplain. One year the water might run eastward in a series of small channels; the next it might cut a river deep through the center. A year later, and a map of the floodplain looks completely different: streams are meandering to the west. It is the same with a brain, the argument goes. Change the input--be it a behavior, a mental exercise, such as calculating a tip or playing a new board game, or a physical skill--and the brain changes accordingly."
So don't you think it's worth considering that a lot of these "scientific differences" described in books such as Why Men Want Sex & Women Need Love (Alan and Barbara Peace) can be explained by socialisation? Perhaps it is socialisation causing these differences, and not innate gender differences?

28 August, 2009

Why I Can't Just Discuss

Trigger Warning

A line from this Shakesville post has really stuck with me.
"These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that's so much fun for them is the stuff of my life."

A lot of stuff has been happening in the Blogosphere recently. There was the post I spoke about earlier; there were posts and Hoyden About Town where intelligent debate was "sacrificed" because of a "lack of emotional distance"; there was a post at Feministe where a rape apologist thought that, obviously, the posters there couldn't achieve the emotional distance necessary for intelligent debate.

This is a topic that has come up before. Why can't you just have an intelligent debate, why do you have to take it so personally? The thing is, this is personal. This is not something I can stand back from and just talk about. This is my life.

This is not being able to sleep a night because of the images in my head.

This is hyperventilating and shaking and scratching at my arms because I can't get it out of my mind.

It's flashbacks when I'm changing a pooey nappy because I need to pull apart the lips of her vagina to clean inside.

It's wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I can't just forget it, that I can't just let it go.

This is fearing for my life as I walk down an empty street at night, keys in my hand and phone at the ready.

It is the gripping fear when I'm in a crowded area, fear the he will be there, even though it's not remotely likely.

It's having a nervous breakdown in the middle of a completely consensual encounter because suddenly he's in my head.

This is my phsych telling me that it is a minimum of two years therapy required, and likely a lot longer.

This is me, at three years old, fearing the bath and toilet at night; fearing that someone would come in and rape me, a fear that to this day I don't know what caused it.

This is hating my mother for suspecting something was up and not doing anything, for letting him come back into our house.

It is fear for my younger sister, who has kept in contact with him.

Most of all, this is an intense hatred of myself, for letting it happen, for never speaking about it, for still not having the strength to tell my family, for loving him so much even after he hurt me.

I cannot escape this. I cannot rationalise this. This is my life, and it takes over all of me.

NB: This is not aimed at anyone, and is not about anyone. This is just my thoughts on the subject, which have been filling my head for a few weeks (since I agreed with my GP to see a therapist).

09 August, 2009

In which I love LM more each day

I was discussing the argument that "Women just don't write mindblowing sci-fi" with LM and he said "The answer to that argument is Andre Norton. She is the Grand Dame of Science Fiction. You can't say women don't write mindblowing sci-fi when she exists".

LM has, on more than one occasion, come out with a comment like this that has absolutely stunned me. I am reminded again and again of why I love Him so much. He is the best friend I could have hoped for, a feminist ally, and someone who truly understands me. I've mentioned before that, when discussing different things (such as the sexism in Transformers ROTF), He is, in a lot of cases, the only man I've spoken to who hasn't made some excuse or written off my arguments. He is someone who sits back, looks at the evidence, and says "Yes, you're right, this is sexist" and then throws some examples of His own down at why it's sexist, and why that is wrong.

LM also said, when I was mentioning female authors, "Oh Connie Willis! How could I have forgotten her? She's definitely in the category of mindblowing!"

And on the topic of men contributing well to this debate, I'd like to quote some comments of Alistair Reynolds in the debate:

"I'm in it and I've never met Mike Ashley, or had any contact with him beyond the usual negotiations for story use. So please can we at least excuse Mike from croneyism?

For my part, as a contributor to anthologies, I don't think I've ever been aware of the TOC until the book is well along the road to publication. However for my part in future negotiations I will strive to ensure that if there is a story of mine in a book, there should also be at least one from a woman."

and also:

"Athena: I wasn't quibbling with the problem of the lack of women in the TOC, merely pointing out that Mike didn't pick the stories purely because he was friendly with the authors. I would also find it strange if the selection criterion was anything other than "SF that Blew Mike Ashley's Mind". Clearly we can all think of mindblowing SF stories by women, but I think that point is well made by now.

Re: blind submission - that's a good point and it's how we ran the BSFA 50th anniversary short competition. I'm not an anthologist, though, so I can't say how it would work in terms of putting a book together. Even with the relatively simple set-up of the BSFA judging process it was possible for me to accidentally discover the identity of one of the authors."

and again:

""Does anyone know the name of a French (i.e. home of Jules Verne) woman SF writer? I certainly don't."

Alliette de Bodard - Interzone, Year's Best SF, Campbell award finalist etc."

Thank you Mr. Reynolds, you've made my list :)

On Reading and Stands

So after the whole TOC of Mindblowing Sci-Fi sans people of colour and women, I was having an interesting discussion with a friend of mine. I said, I will now never buy a novel of Paul di Filippo's, or any anthology where he is a contributor. I said it for the same reason I will not buy anything that Orson Scott Card has written: These men are aresholes, and I do not want to support an arsehole in any way, shape or form.

But, said my friend, just because he's (and by this stage we were talking about Card) a homophobic areshole, that doesn't affect his ability to write good stories. Are you saying his stories are bad?

I said: I will not comment on the quality of the writing, because I have never read it, so I can't.

He replies: But what if they're really good?

I don't care, I said, I will not buy any of his books, ever.

You realise you could be missing out on a lot of great fiction, right?

Yes, I do. But even if his work is fantastic, there are plenty of other fantastic authors who don't write bullshit stuff on the internet. If I can't take a stand, then what's the point of having these feelings?

This conversation has got me thinking. Should we really give authors a free pass because their work is good? Can we really say "Yes, he's an arsehole and I hate that, but I loved Ender's Game!"? I don't know if you can, but I sure as hell can't. I can't make that separation between an authors person and an authors work. I am a writer (though not a professional one) so I know that who we are inevitably creeps into what we do. And if we don't say now "This isn't good enough", when will it ever be said?

On a related note, he was also of the opinion that women just didn't write mindblowing sci-fi. Apparently it's not fast-paced enough, and delas with too much character and feeling (I heard that twice in one day, and argh!). Eventually, I managed to convince him that he was an idiot by saying "Exactly who's definition of mindblowing are you working on? Yours? Why can't it be mine?".
I also said that, being a white male, he was less likely to immediately notice these discrepancies when they happened. "So your one of those feminists who thinks that men can't have an opinion?"
No, I never said that. I said you were less likely to immediately notice because it doesn't affect you in the same way.

I have been known to throw the privilege argument out when I frustrated and upset and can't think of anything to say. And the person I did it to has since told me why that hurt him, and I have apologised and we have a new understanding. But this was clearly not one of those times. Especially since I specifically said "That doesn't mean you can't have an opinion, or that your opinion is less valid, just that you're less likely to immediately notice".

I have another post brewing about the definition of feminism, but that will have to wait, because LM and I are going shopping.