Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Irritating Thought of the Day

I started thinking of those people who argue that any feminist critique of scientific studies (or even of silly books like that Brizandine one) means a) that no feminist understand science and b) all that is needed to understand science is to accept the anti-feminist picks from it and to allow pseudoscience to be treated equally with science.

I don't like to think about those people, because it makes me irritated. They'd quite likely argue that I feel irritated because I'm an emotional woman goddess whose brain just can't absorb science. Or they'd make up a straw-Echidne, one that would argue there are no other but genital differences between men and women, and that I'm irritated (and soon will run out of the room in tears), because my straw-beliefs have been lit on fire. Ashes, that's all that remains.

But I feel irritated for quite different reasons: First, this stupid conversation happens over and over again, starting with an extremely biased and odd popularization of a carefully selected specimen of research which is nevertheless presented as the complete and final scientific truth, showing that women are all wrong and silly, and every time I feel I have to answer. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the expectation that I should respond with some seriousness to the ridiculous arguments of someone who has never bothered doing any of the necessary research and who appears to have developed no analytical abilities at all. It is insulting. Even though the insulting expectations come from inside me.

I'm also fucking tired of the discourse that is regarded as neutral in this culture. It goes like this: One acceptable argument is that women and men are not only different but that women are somehow less (not able to do mathematics, not able to parallel park or drive (though killing fewer people in accidents), too emotional (though starting fewer wars), good at verbal skills (but men still are the great writers), good at taking care of children (but the experts in childrearing are men) good at cooking (but the great chefs are men). This is all of course a substructure intended to prop up traditional gender roles and women's lesser societal power. Yet it is a neutral and acceptable stance in the debate, and the only neutral and acceptable response is to provide lots and lots of scientific evidence showing that the underlying assumptions are incorrect.

But when that evidence is supplied and discussed what happens? The basic setup of the debate has not shifted at all. Instead, the next round starts with the same assumption that women are irrational, bad at numbers, not to be trusted with power and so on. And all the time the people making those points don't have to come up with large amounts of evidence or careful statistical calculations.

If you get angry at all this, your anger or your angry tears or your leaving the room simply prove the point that the other side had originally made: Women are too emotional.

So I think the debate has been rigged. I don't like to play rigged games, but I don't quite see what the alternative is. All my posts on these topics take much research and reporting, require much careful parsing and nuanced analysis. And for what end? It's like farting into the wind.