August 29th, 2010
|12:20 am - Musings on Gender, Socialization, & The Perception of Aggression|
It seems that there may be growing acceptance of the idea that most psychological differences that are gender based are learned.
It is a case backed by Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School. "All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong," she told the Observer.Given that it's been proven that learned gender differences are evident within a few days after birth, all of this makes a great deal of sense to me. If fact, I think that sexism is largely the reason that all this wasn't widely accepted at least two decades ago.
"Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children's intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don't inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be."
Thus boys develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and are encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents.
However, reading this article also called something else to mind – the fact that even when a man and a woman exhibit the exact same behavior, it is perceived differently by people around them. I've seen some discussion of this, but never in the case of the clearest examples that I've seen – when transsexuals transition.
One case I've seen particularly clearly is how people perceive with aggression in women and men, and in particular in the same person, depending upon whether they are seen by others as a woman or a man. I have been close friends with my friend Aaron for both more than a decade before his transition, and now more than a decade after it. He has discussed how his transition affected his life, and I also watched it happen. Before his transition, when he was socially female (ie everyone he interacted with reacted to him as a woman), Aaron was exceedingly butch as well as having an exceedingly forceful personality and manner and had a bit of a temper. This gained him a moderately high degree of respect from many people and while some people (mostly women) reacted to him as if he was unstable, he did not receive most of the dismissal and other sorts of everyday sexism that most women regularly experience.
After his transition, all this changed, because he went from being seen as a forceful and somewhat aggressive woman to being seen as a forceful and somewhat aggressive man, which caused most of the respect he had previously received to transform either into fear (mostly from women) or returned aggression (mostly from men). I spent a lot of time with Aaron during his transition, his behaviors and manner initially remained the same, but people's reactions changed significantly. Before his transition, he had rarely had to deal with people being afraid of him; afterwards, it was quite common for a while. He eventually learned to change his behavior, and to come across as considerably less aggressive and forceful.
I saw this again with amberite. Being genderqueer, a few years ago, she explored using testosterone, and worked at passing. After a few months, she managed to occasionally pass as male. Prior to this, she had often experienced not being taken seriously and got fairly angry when this happened and also had problems with anger when frustrated. When she was perceived as male, people reacted far more strongly, and negatively to her anger.
At least to me, it seems that women's aggression is often dismissed or ignored if it's not exceedingly obvious. If it is exceedingly obvious, then I've seen one of several reactions. In most cases, it's either taken as a sign that the woman is unstable or a nasty person, but it's not considered threatening. Alternately, if the woman is sufficiently butch (or at least non-femme) in presentation, and is also of at least moderate social status in a given situation, this aggression may cause others to treat the person with respect. The only exception to this dynamic is if the woman is in a position of significant authority. In this case her aggression is sometimes treated almost as seriously as male aggression, which seems to me yet more evidence that a large portion of typically feminine behavior is subordinate behavior.
In any case, male aggression is treated very differently. At low levels, it's a wonderful tactic for gaining respect. However, above that level it's treated as frightening and dangerous. The only major exception that I know of is if the man is clearly in a significantly subordinate position and is not at all physically imposing, at which point the man's aggression is considered pitiful. However, a physically imposing low status man who is angry is exceedingly threatening to most people. This differential reaction has absolutely nothing to do with actual behavior, but merely with how the exact same behavior is perceived by others – the same level of aggression that is ignored in women is the level that grants respect in men.
Current Mood: thoughtful
In evo psych's defense, I'd note that this same article has scientists saying there *are* gender differences. Small ones, "one month earlier", "3%", but still there. Which, especially in societies with gender-based division of labor, can provide the raw material for more 'learned' differences, magnifying natural advantages.
Did amberite notice any psychological effects of taking testosterone?
If you haven't heard it before, I strongly recommend this funny, fascinating episode
of This American Life
, which deals subjectively and anecdotally with the roles that testosterone can play in both behavior and others' perceptions of the meanings of one's behavior.
I think you make an important point in noting that the way people perceive and judge behavior is strongly influenced by gender, and that's as true when parents and other authority figures respond to chidren as it is adult society.
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)|| |
However, above that level it's treated as frightening and dangerous.
Because when a man starts shouting, chances are a lot higher that the aggression is going to rise to a physical level than when a woman starts shouting. And a 6'2" guy built like a bouncer, like my husband, is a lot more threatening than I am at 5'9" and 120 pounds.
Edited at 2010-08-29 04:10 pm (UTC)
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)|| |
This regularly happens with men who are not in the least bit physically imposing.
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)|| |
Eh, a 5'7" guy who weighs 150 soaking wet is still socialized to be more violent than a woman of the same build is. It's the whole "men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them" thing.
Yeah, it's a social construct, but a broken nose doesn't care if the difference is nature or nurture, y'know?
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)|| |
I wonder about the methodology in these. I've read some articles arguing that there are no sex-based psychological differences based on studies on very young children. That makes sense, since if socialization is a big factor, you'll want to study children before socialization has had time to affect them. But if there are initially no innate differences and they start to manifest as we age, then this approach risks classifying effects of maturation as socialization. In particular, we know that puberty causes huge sex-linked physical changes, and it would seem reasonable that it might also cause sex-linked psychological changes. Studies concentrating only on children would miss the effects of puberty entirely.
A friend has also pointed out that men have larger brains than women, but while IQ is correlated with brain size there's no corresponding IQ gap between men and women. That suggests some sort of neurological differences.
None of this is to argue that the basic claim of "most differences are due to socialization" would be false, though. I agree that social factors are probably bigger than the biological ones, but I wonder about whether it's more accurate to say that biology has a 10% influence or that it has a 30% influence.
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)|| |
The way to remove the uncertainty there is to test people from a culture that lacks the gender stereotype one's attempting to research. For instance, Chinese culture expects both men and women to excel at academics.
They've done at least one study with bilingual Chinese-American women who were thoroughly exposed to both Chinese and American cultures growing up. Before administering a math test, the researchers had the volunteers read an essay. One batch read a Mandarin version that reminded them of their Chinese heritage, and a second batch read an English essay that evoked their American heritage.
The group who read the English essay had the expected results for a group of women--ie, lower than the expected results for a group of men. The group who read the Chinese essay had scores statistically indistinguishable from the male average scores.
Google is failing me on digging up the citation right now, but it's Eldar Shafir of Princeton.
In general, when you remind an American woman that she's a woman before giving her a math test, her scores will be lower than if you primed her with something unrelated. This study has also been done, but I can't even remember enough about it to formulate a search string.
Men tend to be bigger than women too. Between species, brain/body ratio matters at least as much as brain size. Bigger body needs more brain to sense and control it.
Perhaps you explained this long ago and I missed it or forgot it, but may I ask why you refer to amberite
as "she"? I notice that amberite
don't seem to do that.
|Date:||August 29th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)|| |
Two reasons. Part of it is the lack of usable gender neutral pronouns. I find all of them that I've seen confusing (sie & hir) or ugly (zie & zir). However most of it is that socially Alice has decided to present as female, and so I go with that.
|Date:||August 31st, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)|| |
I can sympathise, so hard, with wanting a standardised pronoun. It's the most awkward thing about talking about someone who isn't gendered; the language just isn't set up for it, and if you care about language it's awfully hard to grapple with. I try to use "they", but I'm just much more comfortable when I have a pronoun that sounds good in sentences and doesn't stand out awkwardly. So I tend to be like, "Do you want me to call you 'he' or 'she'? I don't mind which, but I'd like to be able to use one or the other, if it's okay with you." *sweatdrop* And then again, I know plural people where I end up using "they" anyway because they are a group. But at least they really are a group.
I have noticed that small-to-medium-sized white women can get away with a level of aggression, even violence, that would cause a man employing the same level of aggression or violence to get arrested or otherwise sanctioned. I think it's because white women are perceived as nonthreatening, unless they are perceived as large. For the record, I am a medium-sized cisgendered female who has pulled some truly horrid stuff when I was younger and skated only because of white-woman privilege.