On Feminism, Part I

SABR Matt has suggested that I begin a series on feminism because he has heard me hold forth on the topic on many occasions. Very well – ask and I shall deliver.

I suppose I should start by challenging a big assumption that underlies the policy prescriptions put forth by many of today’s feminists: the assumption that the differences we observe between the sexes are wholly socially constructed. This assumption drives the radical feminist demand for 50-50 representation in every profession. This assumption has also led to calls for “gender neutral parenting” and other attempts at social engineering.

In truth, this radical “nuture-only” position is more a political expedient than a position based on empirical evidence. I find it difficult not to notice, for example, that the people who insist that gender differences are entirely culturally determined are also the people who insist that homosexuality is a fully biological phenomenon. Why do these folks swing wildly between the poles of behaviorism and biological determinism? Because taking the Watsonian stance on gender enables them to justify their sweeping condemnation of our society – and taking the opposing stance on homosexuality enables the very same thing.

The science on gender differences is disputed; researchers still need to conduct some large-scale cross-cultural studies to make any firm conclusions. But the key word is “disputed”; behaving as if the science has settled the question completely in your favor is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. As it stands, I find it highly unlikely that gender differences will be found to be either wholly cultural or wholly biological. Studies have shown that personality and intelligence are influenced by both biological and environmental factors; there is no reason to suppose that gender differences will be any less complex in their origins.

In reality, there is scientific evidence to support the view that some gender differences are biologically determined. Studies going back a few decades have shown that animals who are exposed to male hormones during fetal development will develop certain male behaviors in adulthood. Female rats who have been exposed to excess testosterone in utero, for example, will attempt to mate as if they are male. Yes, animals are different from human beings, but again, why accept animal models of homosexuality and not accept animal models of gender development? Either you believe in evolution or you don’t; you can’t have it both ways.

Moreover, scientists have documented real differences between human men and women on a whole host of variables, including brain structure, strength, speed, flexibility, aim, ability to mentally rotate objects, ability to remember the location of an object in an array, ability to read nonverbal emotional cues, etc. And ordinary people, if stand-up comedy routines are any indication, have noticed differences in emotional expression, styles of play, academic interests, hobbies, etc. Could some of these differences be environmentally determined? Absolutely. Do we fully understand the mechanism through which the environment (or biology, for that matter) determines the expression of our gender identity? Not on your life. But radical feminists think they understand the mechanism, and they want you to grant them the power to make sweeping societal changes based on their personal theories of gender development – theories which could be completely false. This is a pretty typical attitude among our elite; it’s also an attitude we should abhor if we wish to defend the cause of liberty.

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