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To pray that smug mothers of little girls are ...

(301 Posts)
ReallyTired Sun 28-Jul-13 23:22:34

....sent a beautiful bouncing baby boy torando as their second child.

Those of us with two children realise that nature has a huge affect on a child's personality and ablity to behave.

I have two children and both of them are lovely now. However my son was permamently on the move as a two year old and we used to call him captain chaos. He was the sort of kid who would be into every cupboard, had the wooden spoon in the baby olympics or baby ivory league. (ie he had no desire to read Pride and Prejudice at the age of 2)

My daughter has a very different temperment. She is far more compliant, loves drawing jigsaws and isn't a muck magnet. I am sure that if she had been my first I would have been unbearably smug.

Boys take longer to grow up and my son at the age of eleven is lovely most of the time. He is still a muck magnet, but he has plenty of friends and doing well at school.

ZingWidge Wed 31-Jul-13 20:17:30

OP a friend of mine has 5 girls who are not at all easier than our 5 boys, so she is far from smug!

and our 15 months old DD is no different from the boys at this age - you know, braking stuff, climbing on stuff, eating her own poo...

OP if you think boys are worse/harder work than girls than why would you wish more struggling for anyone? that's not nice

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 20:00:37

If you meant that to me Parma, that wasn't what I said. And I do spend much more time with mums than with dads. But I do notice a lot of stereotyping coming from other parents.

Parmarella Wed 31-Jul-13 19:54:37

Mums are always to blame for everything, even accrding to other women.

So fucking depressing.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 19:48:18

No, it isn't. Society is parents and teachers and everyone else. Though I agree that other parents (sadly, most commonly mothers) are often the worst offenders. I seem to spend a lot of my time shock at the things other mothers come out with.

larrygrylls Wed 31-Jul-13 19:42:48

Society is parents and teachers. And it is frequently intelligent women who are the worst offenders. Plenty of my Cambridge educated female friends are quite happy to claim that science is boring and similar. They are the ones setting an example to their daughters.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 19:27:12

As I've said quite a few times, I'm willing to believe that we're hard wired in some ways. I just don't think any of the supposed 'proof' out there actually proves it.

But my bigger issue is that parents and teachers can't do this on their own. Society has to do the things you say. Society has to stop boxing our children in with assumptions and stereotypes.

larrygrylls Wed 31-Jul-13 19:12:55

I think there are two discussions going on here. Firstly, how differently are girls and boys hardwired. Personally I suspect more than most on this thread would believe.

However, and it is a big "however", I think a parent and teacher's job is to engage all children with a whole spectrum of different ideas and allow the child to be the guide as to where they want to go. There is no reason to change these ideas due to the sex of the child. It would be great to see more female physicists and we have to put girls in place where they see this as both possible and desirable. And this does need to take place from an early age.

inde Wed 31-Jul-13 19:11:23

I'm not talking about encouraging women into engineering. I am talking about, at a wider societal level, trying to wipe out gender stereotyping and bias.

Yes I know but the Scandinavian countries are (apparently) far ahead of us in their efforts to wipe out gender stereotyping. You would have thought that this plus encouraging girls to take up jobs in engineering would have started to bear fruit. Even the minister for equality had to admit it wasn't working. In fact they closed down the Nordic gender institute which was funded by millions of euros a year after a backlash due to lack of progress. So if we assume for a moment that gender differences are real from birth. And that they are probably exaggerated as we reach our teens by hormone levels then that would mean that trying to achieve a society free from gender differences is doomed to failure.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 18:43:36

I'm not talking about encouraging women into engineering. I am talking about, at a wider societal level, trying to wipe out gender stereotyping and bias.

I agree that intervention at such a late stage is very unlikely to be particularly effective for any but a small number of people. But the idea that we can think that women are 'hard wired' for nursing and caring when they've been trained for it since the day they were born makes no sense to me. It seems that, if there is such hard wiring, we will find it difficult to know against that background. And also that that background explains, at least in part, why intervention at A-level, etc is so weak.

We need to focus on the stereotyping in early childhood that many people have described here, alongside a lot of other things.

I think that the way we treat boys and girls currently is rather Brave New World TBH.

inde Wed 31-Jul-13 18:35:29

The idea of saying 'well we're different but equal' is very problematic for me. It gives a massive get out to not making enough attempts at eradicating gender discrimination and bias. Because you can always fall back on what's left being nature. I would rather that we worked to establish gender equality and then, if and when we succeed, what's left might be nature. Nature is a get out clause - not enough women in engineering, oh well, you tried, they were programmed from birth not to like mechanical items..

The problem is though Amanda that in Scandinavian countries, which are supposed to be way ahead of us in promoting gender equality, they have apparently found that encouraging girls into engineering doesn't work. If they actively try and push them into "male" professions they found that any small increase in those taking up those jobs fell off as soon as the encouragement stopped. There is a theory that girls are more hard wired to take up jobs in caring professions like nursing etc.. I know this is anathema to most feminists but lets assume for a minute it is true. What that means is that fighting to get equal numbers of males and females in different jobs is doomed to failure. It also means that by fighting to get more females into "male" professions, feminists are making it seem that jobs males do are more important than those women do. I know the answer will be that female" jobs are already undervalued and that is certainly true. Suggesting that jobs in the building trade or engineering etc. are of greater importance doesn't help women though if most of then are unwilling to take up those jobs.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 17:46:42

No, I agree that you have to have a basic founding. But that doesn't have to be bloody cars every single time. As you illustrate, balls, sky, etc can all be used in their place. But it was cars. And cars on ramps. Every. Bloody. Time. I'm glad you are thinking more broadly smile

And we could spend a bit less time investing cars with a gendered preference.

It really wasn't, in my case, a dislike of the theory. I loved pure mathematics and statistics. I am sure I could have loved mechanics had it been taught better.

larrygrylls Wed 31-Jul-13 17:42:28

"Larry - I wasn't guided away from science by my school per se. But I was definitely guided away from physics by the way it was taught. It was all cars and vehicles and gears and cogs. Things that, as a girl, I had spent a lifetime being conditioned away from. I wish they'd spent more time teaching about space and the wonders of the universe. I might not have dropped it like a hot coal then. It makes me sad sometimes to think of the careers I might have had."

I find this really interesting.

Unfortunately, you just cannot study the wonders of the universe without studying basic mechanics first. It is just too difficult.( You can now do an astronomy GCSE but it is really qualitative, and even the A level is quite simplistic quantitatively). If you do, it will be more like geography than science. There are ways (and some amazing new tools, as I recently found out) to make basic mechanics more interesting. However, as someone who studied physics, I am curious as to why some basic questions just don't seem as interesting to some as they do to me.

I do wonder how many parents (who may have been put off physics in their turn) discuss really basic questions with their young children, such as asking them why they think a ball comes down if they throw it up, whether if they threw it hard enough it would still come down (theoretically it would not, although you could not throw that hard), why the sky is blue, why cars cannot keep going faster and faster but have a top speed etc. I have discussed all the above with my 2 and 4 year old boys and had some interesting (and some bizarre) answers. However, hopefully I have at least made them feel that the way the world works (which is intrinsically what physics is) is a fascinating subject. I hope that, as they grow older, and develop the mathematical tools to understand the above better, they will have various "aha" moments and find the subject exciting. I do not have daughters but cannot imagine not having exactly the same conversations with them. Of course, I really like physics! However, I do think that far more girls would also like it if they realised what it consisted of in essence and had their parents set an example of finding it interesting and exciting.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 17:31:58

I did correct the typo regarding his career in my next post - I meant to say his popular publishing career.

For many people Baron-Cohen is not considered cutting edge of peer reviewed research in this area.

I am afraid I don't agree with his conclusion. I agree far more with Fine's. You might have to flick through the pages to get to her letter

The idea of saying 'well we're different but equal' is very problematic for me. It gives a massive get out to not making enough attempts at eradicating gender discrimination and bias. Because you can always fall back on what's left being nature. I would rather that we worked to establish gender equality and then, if and when we succeed, what's left might be nature. Nature is a get out clause - not enough women in engineering, oh well, you tried, they were programmed from birth not to like mechanical items.

hothereinnit Wed 31-Jul-13 17:27:59

There is a lot of mumbling and grumbling about Simon Baron-Cohen within the autistic community (and I mean both amongst people with autism, and also amongst people who research into autism).

I think Amanda's summation is not too far off, tbh - that he has a hypothesis, and he has built his career since on that hypothesis (a hypothesis which ignores a very large part of the subject he is hypothesising about, but hey <shrug>).

inde Wed 31-Jul-13 17:23:51

Having read your reply I admit I went to far with my "dead in the water " comment but I still find it easier to believe someone at the cutting edge of peer reviewed research.
You say he has a hypothesis and built a career on it. I think I'm correct in saying that his career is based mostly on research into autism.
My belief is that we might think, and every right thinking individual might think that girls and boys are equal and should be given equal opportunities. Nature doesn't see it that way though. It's only concern is the continuation of the species. Nature through evolution prepares males and females for different roles in life. It makes males taller, more muscular. It even gives females softer voices. It would be amazing if it didn't also create gender differences in our brains. Of course in a modern society that doesn't give us any right to dictate to females (or males) what their role in life should be.

The last paragraph of Baron Cohen's book is right I think.

Quote
Ultimately, for me, the biggest weakness of Fine’s neurosexism allegation is the mistaken blurring of science with politics. Her book reads as a polemic about the implicit political bias underlying the science of sex differences. However, this ignores that you can be a scientist interested in the nature of sex differences while being a clear supporter of and a firm opponent of all forms of discrimination in society. One endeavour need have nothing to do with the other. Fusing science with politics is, in my view, unfounded.
End of quote

Believing that males and females are different (other than the obvious physical differences) doesn't mean you should be treated with less respect or to have less opportunities.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 16:53:04

No, the coding of the video wasn't her criticism.

Baron-Cohen is saying that it was an independent panel who coded where the baby was looking. They did this from video tapes. That is a panel who are not involved in the experiment recording where the baby looked.

Fine is saying that the experimenter was not blind to gender. I.e. the person making the faces and waggling the 'mobile' often knew whether she was doing so to a boy or a girl. She's saying that the influence potentially came at where the baby was looking, not how it was later coded.

Put bluntly, it doesn't matter if the person coding the videos doesn't know the gender if the person making the faces has already influenced where they looked.

The two are talking about two totally different time points in the experiment and Baron-Cohen's answer doesn't leave Fine's criticism 'dead in the water' at all. In fact, it purports to answer it, but much like politicians purport to answer things on Question Time- he answers a totally different issue to the one she raised.

inde Wed 31-Jul-13 16:47:26

As I said earlier though Amanda, Baron Cohen said in his review of her book that Fine's criticism was inaccurate. I was saying that from memory but i have now had a fresh look. This is a quote from the review.

Quote
Secondly, she argues that the experimenter may not have been totally blind to the baby’s sex because there might have been ‘congratulations’ cards around the bed* (‘Congratulations! It’s a boy!’).
However, she overlooks that it was precisely for this reason that we included a panel of independent judges coding the videotapes of just the eye-region of the baby’s face, from which it is virtually impossible to judge the sex of the baby. Fine is right that our newborn baby study needs to be independently replicated, given its importance establishing a human sex difference in the mind at a point in development before culture has had a chance to have any influence. But it is an example of where Fine’s scholarship shows some shortcomings, where details are overlooked in order to fit her biology-free theory of human sex differences.

end of quote

So if Baron Cohen is telling the truth, and it's impossible for me to imagine that he would lie about such an important and easily corroborated detail, then that criticism is dead in the water. If true it also brings into question how much fact checking Fine does before criticising gender research in her book.
Link to review is here. www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm/volumeID_23-editionID_194-ArticleID_1750-getfile_getPDF/thepsychologist%5C1110book.pdf

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 16:16:19

Sorry, words missing 'built a popular publishing career'. Although I know nothing about his status as an autism expert, I'm not intending to negate that aspect of his work.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 16:15:27

No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that Baron-Cohen has a hypothesis and has built a career on that hypothesis. So he's bound to be dismissive of anything which argues against it.

I don't have my copy of Cordelia Fine with me (slightly concerned I've lent it to someone and forgotten actually as I can't find it anywere!). However, the biggest one was that the experimenter was one of the author's studies - ie. she knew the hypothesis. Also, she was also almost certainly aware of the gender of the babies she was testing. The tests were carried out on post natal wards. When he was tackled on this Baron-Cohen has stated that they were gender blinded in 95% of situations, but it's not clear where he got that figure from and has offered no evidence of how that was the case when the babies were just tested on the ward around all their belonging and without control clothing. It's really odd not to make greater efforts to blind such a study if you are going to then rely on it so heavily in the future (fine as an initial study with a lot of caveats, but that's not how he has used it since).

Bearing in mind we are talking about dangling two items in front of a baby, it is massively easy to influence (including sub-consciously) the baby's response by being a bit more 'bouncy' and lively with one item rather than the other. And the face was the actual human face of the experimenter, so there's masses of room for differences. There is no suggestion of intentional fixing of the result, but equally why did they not 'blind' the study as to the gender of the participants and have an experimenter who didn't necessarily know what was being tested. Baron Cohen's response was that it was hard enough to get a newborns attention in any event so they didn't use computer faces, but didn't really respond to the rest as far as I'm aware. Baron-Cohen's response was also that they knew about this so an independent panel coded the baby's gaze. That is no help if the baby has already been influenced by the behaviour of the experimenter.

There were also issues to do with how the items were presented. And that much cited 'mechanical mobile' was, IIRC, actually a ball with an abstract face on it. So all the much hyped preference a mechanical mobile wasn't what most of us would think of as 'mechanical' in the first place. It could show that the boys were more confused by the ball as much as showing preference for it. The mere fact of a newborn looking doesn't tell us why they were looking.

I simply don't accept that Baron-Cohen's controls were good enough for the reliance he has since placed on, and the prominence he has given, that study. His responses don't negate the criticisms in a lot of important areas.

I'll look for the testosterone/age 8 stuff. Thanks.

inde Wed 31-Jul-13 15:04:56

What are the behaviour differences attributed to testosterone at birth? Are you talking about a study on newborn behaviour, or later behaviour with newborn testosterone levels? I am interested in having a read

That was actually taken from an interview with Baron Cohen. He said his studies had shown that males with lower testosterone levels at birth had greater empathy when tested at around eight.

What you seem to be saying Amanda is that we can thoroughly discount both Fine and baron Cohen as being biased. I'm not sure that is actually true. Baron Cohen has authored over 250 peer reviewed papers and is a world renowned expert on autism.
Also why do you say his study was badly designed? I know that Fine says it was but he disputed that in his review of her book in the Psychologist. In fact from memory I think he said that he had put checks and controls in place that negated Fine's criticism.

muddymarvellousdarling Wed 31-Jul-13 14:51:25

My boys were / are a lot easier than DD has ever been. She is bloody hard work at times.
DD is more "boy" like I hate that saying, sorry than my two DS.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Wed 31-Jul-13 14:37:32

Simon Baron Cohen has built a career and a publishing catalogue on arguing that there are sex differences. He was a co-author (iirc) of the very badly designed 'newborn gaze' study which is trotted out so often. He is very much someone with a political agenda on one side of the argument. Yes, Cordelia Fine also comes from a political viewpoint, but Baron-Cohen is very entrenched. I've now read his exchanges with Cordelia Fine in the Psychologist (assuming I found the full lot with my online search) and I still feel Fine is the more balanced approach.

I don't agree that neuroscience has shown no differences between male and female brain - in fact, differences have been shown. Where I disagree is that we are at any point to show that those differences are innate, especially given what we now know about brain plasticity. And we tend to over-assume that differences on scans show certain things, when in fact those pretty lights could mean one of half a dozen things about how the brain is working.

Inde - What are the behaviour differences attributed to testosterone at birth? Are you talking about a study on newborn behaviour, or later behaviour with newborn testosterone levels? I am interested in having a read.

ConstantCraving Wed 31-Jul-13 14:09:57

YABU. DD is without a doubt TWICE as demanding and exhausting as my easy going happy-go-lucky DS. BUT that has nothing to do with their gender - its to do with their personalities.

20wkbaby Wed 31-Jul-13 13:59:41

I have two girls but by your standards my DD2 is actually a boy!

My DD1 is no angel either...

Totally agree Inde.

You can question the methodologies but that doesn't mean that there are no biological differences like Cordelia Fine would have us believe. It is easy to pick holes in objective scientific research for failing to control variable but such criticism doesn't really work if you are using purely qualitative methodologies yourself and can't hold your own work up to the same level of scrutiny.

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