Body Wise: 'Sex Is Destiny' Revisited

By Paape, Val | Herizons, April 3, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Body Wise: 'Sex Is Destiny' Revisited


Paape, Val, Herizons


BODY WISE: `Sex is Destiny' Revisited.

The debate, over sex differences rages on, fueled not just by men trying to maintain their positions of power and influence, but also by women hoping to construct a new order for society.

As feminism resulted in women becoming competent in a broad range of activities and skills, we began to pose a threat to society's economic and power structures. Patriarchy is striking back by attempting to prove, once again, that innate differences exist between the sexes and that a harmonious and productive society depends on structuring society around these differences. But is this any worse than the proponents of matriarchy using the same tactics and arguments to do the same thing; that is, to say we should structure society around women's supposed innate superiority?

This backlash against feminism completely ignores the large and growing body of research demonstrating that gender differences in behavior are not rooted in our biological sex. Despite this research, many psychologists are trying to `sex' our brains by referring to the brain as a sexual organ and trying to prove direct relationships between anatomy, behavior and hormonal fluctuations.

Brain differences have been cited to support male superiority in mathematics and spatial skills and female superiority in verbal skills and intuition. However, studies of the execution of these skills in men and women show that they are equal in verbal and spatial skills and that men only exceed women in math at the elite levels of performance. In fact, in the general population, women actually slightly out-perform men in math.

Harvard Biologist Ruth Hubbard observes: "Sex differences are interesting in sexist societies that value one group more that the other. Differences, be they biological or psychological, become scientifically interesting only when they parallel differences in power."

It is relatively easy to put brain/sex difference research into feminist analysis. It is harder to criticize work by feminists that alleges innate sex differences between men and women to support directions for positive changes in society. In an article entitled, "Toward an Ecofeminist Spirituality" (In Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, edited by Judith Plant, 1989), Charlene Spretnak does not clearly differentiate between innate and contextually developed attributes and as a result, her article carries the strong implication of innate differences.

She writes: "...neuropsychologists have demonstrated that females are predisposed from a very early age to perceive connectedness in life;... females are more empathetic, and they remain more aware of subtle, contextual `data' in interpersonal contacts throughout adulthood." She continues: "Feed your natural tendencies toward multilayered perceptions, empathy, compassion, unity, and harmony... The authentic female mind is our salvation." (Italics are mine.) And, she states in reference to the above characteristics that women "have an elemental advantage, but men may consider that old feminist saw: Biology is not destiny.

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