Re: Conversation re: sexual dimoprhism in human brain...

William Bangs (wbbangs@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Sun, 19 Feb 1995 16:09:00 -0800

On Sun, 19 Feb 1995, Michelle B. Golden wrote, some very intelligent
things to which I shall respond by placing -- in front of those
statements which are mine:

> Greetings, all:
> At the risk of getting totally flamed here, I just wanted to share my
> response to the tail end of this thread (which is the only part of it
> I've seen):
--Anyone who would flame you should get kicked off the net. As for only
having seen the tail end, I myself only started following it at the end.
> It seems rather telling to me that much of this conversation has been
> between men, at least the posts I've seen on the tail end.
--Even if that's true, what does it prove? I certainly would be glad to
hear from more women on this subject; if any man is threatened by a
woman's viewpoint then he's not a real scholar.
> I wonder, have any of the
people doing research on this list
> itself done any content/gender analysis? Are men more likely to support
> one view while women are more likely to support another? I remember
> noticing this during the rape thread awhile back. At the risk of grossly
> overgeneralizing, it seemed with that thread that men were more likely to
> argue that rape is a biologically-based function than were women. Is that
> true? And is a parallel thing (what *is* the word I'm looking for here?)
> happening with this thread?
--I don't know, but I will tell you this: it's not really a scholarly
mode of investigation to try to follow people's opinions and corelate
them with their sex, religion or much else. Of course this view has LOTS
of adherents (among both men and women); but think for a minute: are we
really all that sure that all men think alike? All women? If I
understood my anthro 101 teacher correctly, a culture (and hence any
group into which a person -- and by definition her opinions -- might be
socialized) is a hetrogenious group of men, women and children; the
sociological arguments which divide folks up into classes have never much
impressed me. Perhaps if we look at people WHo IDENTIFY THEMSELVES
AS PART OF A SINGLE GROUP then we will see similarities (I would bet my
bottom dollar, for instance, that if there were a Men Only club out there
you would indeed hear -- at least in jest -- such unconscionable remarks
as: "Nichole [Brown Simpson] brought it on herself", and other such
insensitive comments. However at the risk of overgeneralizing, and being
arrogantly prescriptive to boot: Real Men aren't EVER threatened by women.)
> What are the assumptions behind the argument (from a recent male poster)
> that women's use of an analysis that includes the concept of oppression
> somehow compromises our "professional credibility"? Would a man who uses
> an analysis that includes sexist assumptions be subject to the same
> potential damage to his "professional credibility"? What about a man who
> uses an analysis that includes the concept of oppression of women?
--Well, I can't really speak to this one because I didn't make the
statement. I can, though, reiterate what it seems to me you're guessing
the logic is: women shouldn't insinuate things about men. As to the
broader question of would we hold a man by the same standards, I
certainly would. If a man was angry (and thought a woman was taking
advantage of our disapproval for men who abuse women) I'd probably agree
that was frustrating. But if your question is: would men hold each other
as rigorously accountable for potentially sexist statements as women do,
then I would have to say it depends on the man. By and large, though,
the men I know (academics or not) have nothing but respect for women IN
THE ABSTRACT. What can happen on occassion, though, is that we (men)
sense that a particular circumstance in the present case obviates or
over-rides concerns about whether his remarks will be seen as sexist or
not. Take my recent posting about the woman I broke up with: was it
sexist of me to not just walk away gracefully? Maybe, but for me there's
more to it than that. I have observed that (in general) women (at least
those I have known) are socialized to focus more on big, sweeping,
society-wide issues than are men. I don't have any studies at hand to
support this participant-observation-by-living hypothesis, but it is
nonetheless my contention that more men will find exceptions to rules (or
laws) than women, and that those exceptions tend to be grounded in
specific situations. If that's true, then what may be going on here is
that women, who have more right to be a little paranoid on this topic,
notice what men are saying in its larger implications, while men are
addressing the sexual whatever that word is in the brain.
> Is there any place within contemporary anthropology for an analysis of
> oppression of women and male privilege? Exactly why would such an analysis
> damage someone's professional credibility? Does the gender of the person
> using that analysis affect its impact of professional credibility?
--Is there any place for this kind of study? Aparantly, since there are
so many of them. Being a man (here I go squashing my own earlier
statement that opinions don't stack up along gendered lines) I am more
focused on the specific than the general here: I think this kind of study
is problematic in that it doesn't really look at culture. It's more of a
"human nature" question: i.e. is there any reason that, though women bear
the next generation, mature faster and live longer men have nonetheless
come to "dominate" just about every known society on earth? What
happened to the matriarchal cultures recorded in myth and folklore? Even
some women anthropologists (anata Tsing comes immediately to mind because
I am reading her for a class right now) are beginning to have problems
with feminist analysis, though. I think the argument (against feminist
analysis) is that those doing it go at it "with a chip on their
shoulder". I don't feel that way, but I WILL say again that I think it
ultimately more fruitful to look to intentionally cohesive groups before
we make statements about which position people are more likely to
support. Case in point: I'm legally blind. Some researchers (in their
zealous wish to "lend the disabled a voice" -- most of them women) have
tried to show that we're a community apart with our own special values,
beliefs and traditions. This analysis is VERY tempting in light of the
otherwise admirable political action by the organized blind. But I hope
I've made my point: it's one thing to be born into a status you have no
control over (there disentangling your opinion from society's is quite
difficult), and another to look at groups which consciously make an
effort to belong together. I won't strain this line of reasoning too
much, but think about it.
> Can we use the tools of anthropology to analyze
"the culture of
> anthropology" itself? Well, actually, maybe it would be fairer to say
> "the culture of anthropology as represented on this particular list."
--Sure we can, but isn't that a bit reflexive?
> (you all might notice that this is a message composed of questions as
> opposed to arguments. A secondary question I have is about whether a
> woman asking questions about this subject--even relatively loaded
> questions--might be seen as less threatening than a woman making a
> statement-based argument. If so, what does that mean? And while I'm on
> semi-tangents, what do you all think about this net culture that seems to
> support back-and-forth arguments as opposed to conversation-like dialogue?
> It's actually not as bad on this list as it is on others,
> and also in the newsgroups).
--What I think is that neither question-based nor argument-based position
statements are any kinder or gentler than each other, and that this is
another case in which we've all been told so many times what to think
that it's the first thing off our lips. I certainly am not threatened by
an "assertive" woman -- in fact I am likely to like her more. As for the
net culture, I think you're right; many don't realize that there's a real
human being on the other end -- either that, or they don't care.
> Okay,
enough digressions.
--Don't be so defensive! These were not digressions, but an intelligent
set of thought-provoking questions! The first step in being emancipated
is to imagine yourself free.


Ben Bangs

We each must decide which values are worth saving,
which satisfactions are worth sacrificing,
what ultimately we wish from life.

I fear many do not give this proposition
the sufficient thought it deserves:
until they become too engrained in a superficial life,
too far removed to find such harmony again...

Kerry Heubeck: Where Feasts Come Rarely; A Viet-Nam Album