Feminism and natural sex differences

(163 Posts)
WriterofDreams Sat 20-Nov-10 12:36:52

I am a woman, but I know very little about feminism, so this question is posed out of curiosity more than anything. Where do feminists generally stand on genetic/biological differences between men and women? By that I mean would a lot of feminists believe that they don't exist, or would they believe that they do exist but are irrelevant?

Just to give my current thinking on it (am open to having my mind changed) I do believe there are certain stable sex differences between females and males. This has been borne out by research into the way that girls and boys develop. I realise culture has a large role to play in these differences but I also believe it is not entirely the source of them.

Would like to hear other views.

motherinferior Sat 20-Nov-10 12:42:30

Have you read Natasha Walter's book Living Dolls? It is very good at analysing and indeed debunking the 'research' into these differences.

earwicga Sat 20-Nov-10 12:47:01

'This has been borne out by research into the way that girls and boys develop.'

I think you really need to read:

- Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences (which is book club here this month)

- Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism (second half)

- Pink Brain, Blue Brain (video of passage: fora.tv/2009/09/29/Lise_Eliot_Pink_Brain_Blue_Brai n

Why do you believe that girls and boys are different because of of non-culture related reasons?

earwicga Sat 20-Nov-10 12:47:36

x post motherinferior.

sarah293 Sat 20-Nov-10 12:49:14

Message withdrawn

WriterofDreams Sat 20-Nov-10 12:51:01

I believe natural differences exist because of hormones. The hormonal structure of boys and girls differs hugely and these hormones have clearly been shown to have a huge effect on the body, in terms of physical structure, strength, mood, susceptibility to illness etc.

Would feminists be of the opinion that oestrogen has no effect on the brain? What would their stance be on PMS or post natal depression?

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 12:54:47

I think that the genetic differences due to our XY (male) and XX (female) chromozones determine our life paths to a large extent.

For example, in The Equality Illusion, Kate Banyard examines research which shows how women are discriminated against in the workplace for having the potential to bear children. IN other words, a woman might not get a job on this basis. There is no way of her finding out that this is why she did not get the job.
I was looking at the trade conference EXPO last month on TV. IT was literally dominated by men, and the only women there were for decorative purposes. THis tells me that, in 2010, women are still losing out big time, and it's because of discrimination because of their sex.

I also felt an extreme need to be with, and breastfeed, my babies, which I emphatically put down to biology. Lots of mothers are obsessed with their newborns, which I believe is an evolutionary survival trait.

Gender, OTOH, is a completely different kettle of fish. THis is a socially constructed concept of "masculine-dominant" and "feminine-subordinate". This concept of gender causes problems for feminism, because it reinforces the notion that masculine and feminism identities should exist.

earwicga Sat 20-Nov-10 12:55:29

Riven - it's just basically bad science. Scary that it has been so accepted.

motherinferior Sat 20-Nov-10 12:55:31

I have yet to be convinced that hormones have any effects on cognition. Because all this Difference stuff is usually used to justify the idea that Girls Are A Bit Thick - you know, we're good at emotion, maybe even, at a pinch at words but oooh not those nasty male concepts like Big Numbers or Technical Ideas.

AliceWorld Sat 20-Nov-10 12:58:27

Agree with the book recommendations.

I think it is important when looking at any research about anything, to recognise that it too operates in a cultural context. The people who produce such 'evidence' are not neutral robots, they are hu (mans interpreting data in a way that makes sense within their cultural expectations. I'm not saying they're are (necessarily) deliberately pushing one agenda or another but they do not operate outside of our world. This is alongside the evidence that is presented in the books recommended above that show there is research that is counter to pretty much any gender difference that has been 'proven'.

Personally I think there could be some differences. None of the evidence that there is impresses me, but I don't rule it out as a possibility. (I don't rule out possibilities in most things) I am thinking pretty small differences though. However I totally don't believe that any difference there is could explain the huge difference in society between men and women. That is utterly cultural. So relating back to the original question anything there is irrelevant.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 12:58:29

I think Post natal depression is mainly circumstantial. IN other words, I don't think women get the emotional and practical support they need. Also, some experience birth trauma or are treated like pieces of meat on the delivery table. ALl this can contribute to PND.

Not sure what I think about PMS. I've only had 1 period in 5 years because of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

I can't play down the desperate need I had to be with my baby when it was born. Someone took DD1 out of the room without asking and I felt as though a limb had been amputated. I was not expecting to feel like that; nobody had warned me mothers feel so strongly towards their babies.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 12:59:53

downplay not play down!

AliceWorld Sat 20-Nov-10 13:00:57

I'm not an expert on hormones, but I do notice that whenever one thing is debunked another springs up to take its place. People used to say it was size of brain that made a difference, now not believed.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:01:13

Yes, the idea of a male/masculine brain or a female/feminine brain is just rubbish

WriterofDreams Sat 20-Nov-10 13:01:23

So motherinferior would you put the fact that women do tend to be interested in different things than men entirely down to culture? Do you believe that equal numbers of women would like football and physics as men in a different society?

AliceWorld Sat 20-Nov-10 13:03:24

Re the maternal stuff, I wonder how anyone would feel about something that had been part of them for so long, they had given birth too, and was with them all the time. Of course men can't experience it, therefore we'll never know whether it is 'innate' differences rather than a particular set of circumstances resulting in a particular reaction.

motherinferior Sat 20-Nov-10 13:04:38

How would I know? Because we inhabit a society in which those things are so very assumed, so culturally embedded, that the 'natural' and the constructed can't be distinguished.

And in any case you have to put it in its social context. Physics is for Clever People. People with a Rigorous Brain. THe fact that art, or writing, is complex and difficult is not acknowledged to the same extent.

And so, yet again, we see that Girls Are A Bit Thick. Sweet, arty creatures, but a bit thick.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:06:20

INteresting question, Alice world.
WHen DD was born, I saw that DH had an instant bond with her. I can't explain it, I just know it was real, and it was because he was her biological father.
BUt men can't give birth, so they do not have the physical experience that women have, not least the pain that comes from bringing new life into the world. I think birth is very spiritual (Am on El Vino tonight)

WriterofDreams Sat 20-Nov-10 13:07:11

The evidence around both typical depression and PND show that they are rarely circumstantial. Of course there is such a thing as reactive depression but this is a different thing to the illnesses PND and depression which are caused by chemical and hormonal imbalances. If they were purely circumstantial then anti-depressants would have no effect.

I don't want to turn this into a debate about depression but it is the "circumstantial" idea of what causes depression that made my life hell last year. I was desperately mentally ill, despite the fact that my life was perfectly fine. Others couldn't see that and expected me to cheer up. Not possible when your brain just refuses to do so.
PND is the same, it is hormone induced and no amount of practical help is automatically going to turn it off. Help will allow the mother to heal from what is a terrible illness.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:11:26

'circumstancial' in a feminist POV means the ways that women are supposed to cope in a patriarchal society. In other words, the ways that women are forced to cope under our current system. The isolation, for example. The invisibility of motherhood. The drop in status (you have to give up work). IN some cases, birth trauma or C-section. The lack of practical help (women are expected to do their own housework in western cultures). There are many factors that need to be looked at before we say PND is hormonal.

There is no way you can cheer up under these circumstances. Drugs can help alleviate the symptons and are often necessary to make life bearable.

earwicga Sat 20-Nov-10 13:13:24

Writer - sorry to hear about what happened to you last year.

It's cod science though to say there is one definitive theory about depression - I think it is a bit of both circumstantial and chemical. And the chemicals involved aren't testosterone/oestrogen - the primary sex hormones, afaik.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:14:14

In other words,PND is most likely a normal reaction to the way society treats new mothers. Expecting them to get on with it and "cheer up" is just the tip of the iceberg

WriterofDreams Sat 20-Nov-10 13:16:06

So what about PMS? That's hormone related and changes the way you think and feel about things. I definitely get PMS.

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:20:09

Not sure about PMS. As I say I've only had 1 period in 5 years (!).

I do recall my moods being cyclical, and could possibly have been down to the time of the month. OTOH, they could have been put down to the general stresses I was under and there may not have been a real pattern. DO you get moodier or depressed before your period?

Sakura Sat 20-Nov-10 13:22:15

One thing I do believe is that breastfeeding makes a mother calmer, and can alleviate PND sometimes. And I don't miss my periods, that's for sure!

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