Friday, August 20, 2010

in which Aunt BeaN tries to dig herself out of a hole

I'm a middle-of-the-road sort of liberal, but I live in one of the most conservative areas of the conservative heartland.  An area where if you're even willing to have the word liberal used in your general vicinity, folks are pretty sure you're plotting with the United Nations to take over the world.  Around here, it is more common than not to be anti-government, anti-Democrat and especially anti-Obama, anti-choice, pro-gun and whatever other similar adjectives you can think of to string along there (though not necessarily Republican-- there was a lot of support for Ron Paul around here during the last election).  I've lived here for 18 years.  I have a lot of experience with being a liberal who lives in the midst of conservatives.  We moved here from an area that was drowning in universities-- I heard once that the town where we lived had the second highest per capita number of PhDs in the country.  So we were in the middle of the sort of academic liberalism that thrives in that kind of community, and we were part of it.  But when you move out of that environment and into the hinterlands, you discover that a lot of the stuff that makes complete sense in an academic environment doesn't make any sense at all to those who haven't been indoctrinated to think that way.  (Although I detest many of the things that Ann Coulter says, she has a point about liberal academia that I don't think you get while you're in the midst of it, because you're so caught up in how right it is, how things should be.  Or at least I was.  I guess I shouldn't speak for anybody else.)

So anyway.  The point I'm trying to make here is that there are things that have become commonplace to say among feminists/liberals that just don't play in the rest of the world.  And when you say them, you leave yourself wide open for a Glenn Beck follower or an Ann Coulter devotee to make mincemeat out of you.  and I think this is one of them.  If you say "There is no biological basis for gender differences," all they have to do is point out that women have wombs and men have Y chromosomes, and many physical characteristics (like strength and height and muscle mass) have definite bell curves that tend toward one gender or the other--all of which are things that are going to have an effect on behavior.  Not to mention the fairly well documented evidence for what happens when you pump lab rats full of testosterone or estrogen, each of which is more prominent in one gender or the other.

So if you want to say that "the genetic state of being male (or female) has so many infinitely different ways of being expressed in any individual person's life that there's really no point in trying to define a set of biologically based gender traits," you've made a good, valid observation and one that is worth thinking about.  Your conservative friend might disagree with you but you could have a really interesting conversation about it.  But that's a different thing than saying that gender traits have no basis in biology.

Does that make sense?  I'm honestly not sure about this issue, and I am fascinated by it.  Let me know what you think.  You can always comment anonymously, or you can e-mail me or call if you don't feel comfortable posting.  I think there is going to be a follow-up to this sometime in the next couple of days because I didn't say everything I started out wanting to say, but I think this is all for now.

1 comment:

  1. And just to be clear. This is only tangentially related to the original post on lucymarch. The question posed there was something to the effect of, "Since men are (usually) stronger than women, does a man have a moral obligation to help a woman, say, at the scene of an accident where both of their lives are in danger?" or more generally, does a strong person have a moral obligation to help a weaker person? which is different than what I've talked about here. it was the discussion that ensued that prompted this post.