Re: Patriarchy: Re: What

Susan (
29 Aug 1996 15:54:07 GMT (Albert Himoe) wrote:
>To: Susan <>
>Subject: Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?
>> And this is the crux of it, I think. As a culture, we are all to ready
>> to commit the fallacy you referred to, that
>> "biological=natural=inevitable=good." Even if something could be
>> demonstrated to be completley biological in origin, that still doesn't
>> mean it can't and shouldn't be changed.
>It sure makes it harder, though. I wonder about the source of
>principles that say it is good to go against biology. For example, if
>men are genetically better at math, what's the point of making a
>special effort to encourage women to go into the field. Doesn't this
>encourage a misallocation of talent?

Well, it's a complex issue, but the main point is that there are very few
biologically based things that do not also have a developmental
component. One of the best examples, used by S.J. Gould, is height,
which is extremely biologically determined, but can also be varied
enormously by the particular developmental environment of the individual.
Once you get beyond basic things like amino acids and such, which don't
allow for too much variation, the idea of biological determination just
doesn't hold. Most genetic things are better seen as potential, rather
than absolute.

On top of that, even if something is biologically limited, that doesn't
mean that it can't be corrected flat out. Again cribbing from Gould, if
you wear glasses, you understand what this means. You may have
genetically determined poor eyesight, but should you just accept that
limitation and live with it? Or do you go out and buy glasses? I would
certainly argue for the latter!

In terms of your math example, the problem gets even more complicated
because humans are so annoyingly complex. Without well-controlled
experiments, I question whether we will ever be able to determine that
something as complex as "math ability" is really genetically determined.
For one thing, we begin conditioning for male or female role expectation
literally moments after birth. There are a number of studies which
document how newborns are treated, based on whether the caregivers think
they are boys or girls (I would recommend "Failing at Fairness" and
"Myths of Gender" for anyone interested in following up). While we don't
know the actual affect of this level of "teaching", it does demonstrate
clearly that humans are simultaneously biological and cultural, and that
untangling the two is very difficult. How do you control for this kind
of thing without taking a child, raising it completely without cultural
contact, and then seeing whether it conforms to gender expectations?

Further, even if it were true that men AS A GROUP are genetically
predisposed to be better at mathmatical skills than women, how do you
deal with the women who are in fact excellent mathmaticians? These are
trends, not absolutes. They characterize groups, not individuals. By
not exposing females to the possibilities (or men, as the case may be),
you miss out on those women who do not in fact conform to group norms.
Saying that a group of people are generally better at something doesn't
preclude the possibility that individuals in the "lesser" group might be
better at that thing than some members of the "better" group. So by
attempting to "protect" women from disappointment, you may be preventing
someone from excelling.

This might not be tragic for math (I don't know much about it beyond
trig, I confess!). But suppose that there is a girl out there who is
already beginning to think up some medical miracle that could provide
needed treatments for disease. What have you accomplished by telling her
that "girls are generally not as good at science as boys?"




"Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."
-- Emo Phillips