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« Findings (2) | Main | Friday Ephemera »

February 04, 2009

Comments

Karen M

"I do think there are major culturally constructed differences, and I think most of them exist to demean and oppress women… That's not to say that they aren't real, but just that they're changeable."

Is my uterus a cultural construct? I think I should be told.

carbon based lifeform

"The theory that women have a natural urge to have babies is one that's got a long and ignoble sexist history..."

So when birds and bees feel the urge to have baby birds and baby bees, it's biology. But when humans feel the urge, it's a cultural construct.

David

I’ve yet to meet anyone who argues that cultural expectation has no bearing whatsoever on how a person behaves, or how groups of people behave. If I did, I’d probably find them a little odd. But Ms Marcotte seems to believe that humans - specifically human men - have constructed elaborate patterns of behavior to mimic almost exactly biological inclinations that don’t in fact exist.

And I find that even odder.

David Gillies

This is stupidity so high and rarefied that it leaves one gasping for breath. It is on exactly the same level as stating that the urge to find food is a cultural construct. Of course proximately, lack of food kills you a lot more certainly than celibacy. But from the viewpoint that actually matters, starving yourself to death is exactly equivalent to not having offspring: if your germ line runs into the buffers, then that's it.

Marcotte seems to be as dismissive of the neo-Darwinian synthesis as the most hidebound denizen of the Discovery Institute. No doubt she would be outraged to be classed in the same know-nothing camp as a Young Earth Creationist, but stupid is as stupid does.

David

As so often, Marcotte appears to have chosen a conclusion that suits her politics and then worked backwards in an attempt to shape an argument, not altogether successfully. Yet this doesn’t seem to diminish her adamance, on this subject or any other.

hatcher

The expression of the desire to procreate is entirely a cultural construct, that's fairly straightforward. And this construct has oppressive overtones of traditionally defined gender roles, sure.
But the reduction of the desire (not its expression) to entirely a cultural construct is just plain annoying.

I hate when people like this make arguments, it ends up feeding rabid sexists on the other side.
Goldstein had the most to say on this.
She built up her argument from her conclusions, but here we find her used as a rather terrible strawman to dismiss legitimate discussion.

gaffee

Who's dismissing legitimate discussion?

Techie

We dismiss legitimate discussion by not conceding to their opinions immediately.

venividivici

It is on exactly the same level as stating that the urge to find food is a cultural construct.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------
When I was in college, there was a cartoon about poststructuralist theory that had one panel featuring "Foucault Flakes", whose slogan was something like "Because taste is a social construct!". Yet, the minute this woman's got some spare cash in her pocket, I'm betting she isn't eating white-label gruel to get her essential nutrients. Although I'm sure she'd balk at the word "essential" in that last sentence with something like, "Vitamin D is only 'essential' if you buy into the patriarchal fallacy that bow legs resulting from rickets are unattractive on a womyn".

georgesdelaotour

Isn't she self-nominating for a Darwin Award?

Paul A'Barge

Marcotte is barren.

Amos

No, there's nothing to think about. This woman is a notorious idiot, nothing she says is interesting or sensible or intellectually provocative, she's the most predictable form of brainless, ideological zealot.

To these people 'truth' itself is a malleable, intellectualized construct with no empirical base, if something stops serving your agenda it stops being 'true', if it advances your power and leverage over your fellow humans it becomes true, the only facts that are relevant are the ones that serve the cause.

One thing I am profoundly grateful for is that this idiot seems to be saying that she won't breed. Unfortunately, the disease she has is mental rather than genetic, and can spread without physical intercourse to others stupid enough to be susceptible to it.

We'll never be free of Marcotte and her kind.

Rich Rostrom

I'm not sure there is a "reproductive instinct". There are instincts and drives to engage in behaviors which lead to reproduction, and to care for young, but the process is too long and indirect to be reflected in a "drive". Animals mate and produce young - but do they _know_ that mating leads to offspring? I don't think so.

As far as I know, only humans are capable of performing actions in conscious expectation of results that will not occur for a long time (such as planting seeds to grow food to be eaten several months in the future). I don't see how such awareness could drive the development of an "instinct", though it can certainly combine with the desire to care for children. Note that people will make very strong efforts to obtain adoptive children, even when those children are of a different race and thus not possibly the adopter's genetic offspring.

David

Hatcher,

“…but here we find her used as a rather terrible straw man to dismiss legitimate discussion.”

I’m not sure who this is aimed at. I don’t see anyone here trying to “dismiss legitimate discussion”. As regular readers will know, I quite like discussion, even of bizarre statements, and generally see these posts as starting points rather than full stops. Given the nature of Ms Marcotte’s claims, I realise ridicule is hard to avoid; but those most sensitive to ridicule tend to be the ones making ridiculous claims.

On a not entirely unrelated topic, I’m reminded of another feminist pundit, “Freethinker,” who claimed, “Gender as a male/female dichotomy is a social construct more than anything else… The only reason gender dichotomy seems like a fact is because of the way the society is organised…”

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2009/01/the-just-me-generation.html

It’s strange how “social constructs” and “the way society is organised” are deemed to determine how people behave above and beyond all else, but are rarely, if ever, entertained as the possible consequences of biological facts. There doesn’t seem to be much willingness to ask whether “the way society is organised” has at least a little to do with evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology and (gasp) human nature. Yet this seems to me a perfectly reasonable line of enquiry.

Freethinker went on to say, “Men in our country also love to point to ‘strength’, mental and physical, as a point of difference. And they need to be told that if women were not conditioned into gender-appropriate behaviour that renders their bones and muscles week from disuse and their minds unassertive and submissive, they would have all the strength.”

A bold claim. One might even say a “dismissive” one. Though I suspect that one or two weight lifters, male and female, would take a different view. One based on first hand experience, rather than bare ideology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Olympic_records_in_weightlifting

paul ilc

Unfortunately, if we 'educate' vast numbers of people beyond the level of their intelligence, we will get dross like that spouted by Marcotte and Freethinker.

If there is no such thing as human nature, then there can be no such thing as human liberty. This point is well made by the philosopher Mary Midgley in 'Beast & Man: The Roots of Human Nature' (Cornell, 1977??) - without slipping into the biological determinism of the neo-Darwinian socio-biology.

Anna

"but here we find her used as a rather terrible strawman to dismiss legitimate discussion."

Yeah, we're the ones doing all the dismissing. And if it's a strawman argument why are so many Pandagon readers agreeing with it?

Andrew Duffin

What does her thesis tell us about the likely incidence of Amanda Marcotte lookalikes in the next generation?

Not all bad news, is it.

David

Anna,

“And if it’s a strawman argument why are so many Pandagon readers agreeing with it?”

It does seem to have remarkable traction among devotees, in part or in whole. But then visiting Pandagon often feels like stumbling into some kind of church.

If I understand Ms Marcotte correctly (and given her knotty and erratic thinking, that isn’t always easy), she seems to be claiming that the species’ inclination to reproduce (or become pregnant, or to parent or whatever) is real only as a malleable social construct. (What, then, did we do earlier in our history, before this construct was sufficiently widespread and developed?) What we have, apparently, is a social construct that behaves *as if* it were a biological imperative in every obvious respect, and which feels *as if* it were one, but which is in fact some form of ingenious patriarchal oppression.

Now it seems to me pretty obvious that human beings develop all manner of social customs in order to modify and inhibit various biological tendencies, but that isn’t Marcotte’s argument. She’s saying, or seems to be saying, that those biological tendencies themselves are entirely manufactured, most likely for unedifying reasons. Presumably, by extension, Ms Marcotte also believes that it falls upon her, and those like her, to reeducate mankind and determine what meaning one might infer from an otherwise blank canvas.

AntiCitizenOne

> Is my uterus a cultural construct? I think I should be told.

That depends on the number of visitors...

Sorry I couldn't resist.

AntiCitizenOne

>Marcotte seems to be as dismissive of the neo-Darwinian synthesis as the most hidebound denizen of the Discovery Institute. No doubt she would be outraged to be classed in the same know-nothing camp as a Young Earth Creationist, but stupid is as stupid does.

I've often thought that socialism is a form of economic creationism. People with faith in socialism, think the economy needs a "father figure" to direct the economy in order to make it work which is akin to creationists arguing that selection cannot make anything useful. As we have seen from the regulatory induced credit bubbles popping the father figure is more often a hindrance than a help.

gaffee

Shorter Marcotte: "I don't want a baby so everyone who does want one is suffering from false consciousness."

David Gillies

"Gender as a male/female dichotomy is a social construct more than anything else" - an idiot.

Who was it said that the only difference bigger in biology between being male and female was the difference between being alive and being dead? Anyone who thinks sexual dimorphism is false consciousness deserves nothing more than contumely and ridicule. Engagement in debate with people this fatuous is like trying to teach the finer points of Chern-Simons theory to a geranium. Courtesy does not compel us to take these folks seriously.

AntiCitizenOne:belief the malleability of unbelievably complex structures like economies or human psyches and their manipulation by some omniscient controlling entity is indeed a point of commonality between socialists and the religious (at least those of the Abrahamic tradition). One interesting point of divergence in what is to all intents and purposes a religious credo is the insistence by the environmentalist Left that ecosystems are, on the one hand, incredibly intricate structures so meddling in them is likely to have unforeseeable consequences, yet on the other hand another highly complicated system, that of markets, can be hacked about with impunity using the crudest methods.

David

More from the mind of Marcotte:

“The myth of the biological clock is, for instance, an attempt to preserve a cultural construct that makes motherhood an obligation instead of a choice, for no other reason than the fear that if some women choose not to have children, we’d have to redefine women away from their roles and closer to how we define men, which is as complete individuals.”

Note the pile of assumptions in just that one sentence.

An unspecified “cultural construct” somehow, allegedly “makes motherhood an obligation instead of a choice.” (Does it really? How?) Apparently this diabolical “construct” is “preserved” (by unspecified villains) solely to ensure that women without children aren’t recognised as “complete individuals.” The thought of women being recognised as “complete individuals” apparently makes some (unspecified) people very, very frightened.

Now I know quite a few women and my estimation of their individuality and/or “completeness” isn’t based on whether or not they happen to have children or are capable of gestation. And I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in this regard. In fact, I don’t know anyone personally who does evaluate women on that basis. So who, exactly, is Ms Marcotte talking about? Given her adamance and slightly paranoid tendencies, she really ought to be clear about this.

clazy

I'm really curious to know what Marcotte believes are the ultimate origins of these "cultural constructs", if not the biological differences between men and women. Obviously culture helps shape the form of these, eh, ideas, but unless they had a foundation in biology, they would be nothing but fashion, here today and gone tomorrow.

AntiCitizenOne

Someone should ask Amanda to become Male in form and DNA.

If she is part of culture and gender is cultural, then it should be no problem for her.

AMac

I hope it doesn't diminish a post about Ms. Marcotte's ideations to introduce some more sensible thinking on La Difference.

"Is There Anything Good About Men?"
Professor Roy F. Baumeister, Florida State University
Invited Address at the American Psychological Association, 2007 Meeting
http://www.psy.fsu.edu/~baumeistertice/goodaboutmen.htm

...Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%... every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children.

Recent research using DNA analysis answered this question... Today’s human population is descended from twice as many women as men.

I think this difference is the single most underappreciated fact about gender. To get that kind of difference, you had to have something like, throughout the entire history of the human race, maybe 80% of women but only 40% of men reproduced.

Right now our field is having a lively debate about how much behavior can be explained by evolutionary theory. But if evolution explains anything at all, it explains things related to reproduction, because reproduction is at the heart of natural selection. Basically, the traits that were most effective for reproduction would be at the center of evolutionary psychology. It would be shocking if these vastly different reproductive odds for men and women failed to produce some personality differences.

For women throughout history (and prehistory), the odds of reproducing have been pretty good. ...why was it so rare for a hundred women to get together and build a ship and sail off to explore unknown regions, whereas men have fairly regularly done such things? But taking chances like that would be stupid, from the perspective of a biological organism seeking to reproduce... For women, the optimal thing to do is go along with the crowd, be nice, play it safe... We’re descended from women who played it safe.

For men, the outlook was radically different. If you go along with the crowd and play it safe, the odds are you won’t have children. Most men who ever lived did not have descendants who are alive today... Sailing off into the unknown may be risky, and you might drown or be killed or whatever, but then again if you stay home you won’t reproduce anyway. We’re most descended from the type of men who made the risky voyage and managed to come back rich. In that case he would finally get a good chance to pass on his genes. We’re descended from men who took chances (and were lucky).

The huge difference in reproductive success very likely contributed to some personality differences, because different traits pointed the way to success.

[snip]

TDK

"One interesting point of divergence in what is to all intents and purposes a religious credo is the insistence by the environmentalist Left that ecosystems are, on the one hand, incredibly intricate structures so meddling in them is likely to have unforeseeable consequences, yet on the other hand another highly complicated system, that of markets, can be hacked about with impunity using the crudest methods."

The image that comes to mind for me is that the environmentalist is a time traveller who is troubled by the thought that any change they make will have unforeseen and perhaps disastrous consequences in the future. They literally cannot touch anything in nature for fear of upsetting the space time continuum.

rxc

"The image that comes to mind for me is that the environmentalist is a time traveller who is troubled by the thought that any change they make will have unforeseen and perhaps disastrous consequences in the future. They literally cannot touch anything in nature for fear of upsetting the space time continuum."

It is called the "Precautionary Principle", and has become entrenched in the law of the EU where it is causing quite a bit of mischief.

Mark A. Flacy

"Consider this question: What percent of our ancestors were women?

It’s not a trick question, and it’s not 50%... every baby has both a mother and a father, but some of those parents had multiple children."

Garbage.

Now if the original question had been "What percent of our ancestors were unique individuals by gender?" then the number of children generated by each parent may be important.

James S

Does Marcotte actually respond to criticism?

AMac

Mark @ 12:47 --

"What percent of our ancestors were women?"
Garbage.
"What percent of our ancestors were unique individuals by gender?"

I agree that the phrasing in B gets more precisely to the evolutionary psychology point that Prof. Baumeister goes on to raise.

I don't quite see how that makes sentence A into garbage. Even if it does, Baumeister's argument about differential risk-taking seems to follow from B just as well as from A.

Could you explain what I'm missing?

David

James,

“Does Marcotte actually respond to criticism?”

I try not to follow that closely; therein madness lies. But from what I’ve seen, I think it depends on how realistic the criticism is and whether it’s deemed to fall within certain “manageable” parameters. I.e., if it’s realistic criticism and challenges her recurring assumptions (of which there are so many) then it’s very rarely engaged, and not well. If you browse the, er, exchanges of views between Marcotte and Jeff at Protein Wisdom, you’ll see that Jeff generally makes a point of engaging with criticism and specifics, sometimes at great length. Sadly, this favour isn’t returned. As I said, a visit to Pandagon is not unlike stumbling into some kind of church. It’s a gathering of the faithful.

James S

Wow. Anyone who proves her wrong is a sexist, racist hater.

David

James,

In fairness, there are probably quite a few IQ points between Jeff and Amanda, but the point remains that one of them engages with criticism in a serious (if sometimes mocking) way, while the other does not. Instead, she denounces unbelievers. Actually, it can be fun to watch Jeff fence with his more substantial critics. The exchanges with Professor Ric Caric leap to mind. It’s quite funny watching Caric puff out his professorial chest and then tie himself in knots, which he does reliably, and sometimes revealingly. (I suspect Professor Caric doesn’t quite grasp just how revealing his lines of argument are. In many ways he’s like a smarter Marcotte and uses similar tactics but with, ahem, Academic Gravitas™.)

James S

I searched PW and found this one. It's hilarious.

http://proteinwisdom.com/?p=9505

David

James,

Oh, that’s a good one. Pure Caric. It’s got the usual condescension and the bluff of academic status, to which one should supposedly defer irrespective of the merits of the actual argument. I love Caric’s claim that Jeff is – and I quote - “worse than the bigots or haters”. (The group of “bigots and haters” has grown to include people who disagree with Caric for various reasons, including factual errors and points of illogic.) Jeff is deemed “worse than the bigots or haters” because, apparently, “he functions to legitimize them”. That, for Caric, is the most obvious, perhaps only, function imaginable.

So, by revealing the numerous flaws and inconsistencies in Caric’s position (one the professor shares with many of his peers), Jeff is somehow enabling racists, misogynists, thugs, etc, and should therefore be driven out of town. The fact that he – Caric – is often mouthing bollocks doesn’t seem to matter because the cause is righteous. In short, those who disagree with Caric and his ideological peers are either evil or in the service of evil. And, conveniently, there’s no need to actually disprove an evil person’s arguments; they can simply be denounced. And if anyone should persist in refuting Professor Caric’s worldview, this will promptly be construed as “hate,” “bigotry” or “harassment”.

Sound familiar?

Jason Bontrager

"It is called the "Precautionary Principle", and has become entrenched in the law of the EU where it is causing quite a bit of mischief."

One thing I find amusing about adherents of the PP is that they'll argue for it when discussing technological or environmental issues, but never in re: social issues. The example that most readily springs to mind is the re-definition of "marriage" from a male+female institution to a consenting adult + consenting adult institution (would that include adult siblings? parents and offspring? and what makes 18 "adult"? why not 17? or 13? if gender is a social construct, then aren't "maturity" or "adulthood" also socially determined?).

But then such people pooh-poohed the idea that no-fault divorce could lead to an upswing in the overall number of divorces as well, or that the de-stigmatization of bastardy and public assistance for un-wed mothers would result in more of both. I suppose that anyone who believes gender to be a social construct would likewise tend to believe that marriage (an indisputable social construct) is in dire need of elimination.

On an unrelated note, is there a way to get e-mailed notifications of replies to one's posts hereabouts?

Franklin

I don't often have cause to do so, but I enjoy likening proponents of gender as a social construct to the fundies who believe that prayer can "cure" homosexuality. The both presuppose changeability in a self-evidently physical phenomenon. Suddenly they find themselves on the same team as their ideological opposites. You can almost hear them squirm.

David

And there are those who are perfectly happy with the unequal biological distribution of musicality or heterosexuality who recoil indignantly from the idea that intelligence has a similar aspect. I’ve encountered people who happily accept the biological basis of perfect pitch or homosexuality, while denouncing the notion of a similar basis for cleverness, dismissing the idea as a heinous “technology of power” that “underwrites racism and sexism.”

rv

Shorter Thompson: "There are no social constructs. Gender is a 'biological fact'. IQ is a 'biological fact'. Money is a 'biological fact'."

David

rv,

I do love it when you drop by to distort what’s been said, wildly and hilariously.

I don’t recall anyone here dismissing the *existence* of social constructs, as if none could possibly exist. That would be bizarre. But I think one might make a distinction between, say, the wearing of bow ties and sending of birthday cards, which are in a sense social constructs, and gender, which is not. Now one might argue that, for instance, homosexuality is socially constructed *insofar* as *some* gay people learn to affect certain mannerisms, dress codes, lines of humour, etc. But that’s basically fashion and caricature and not what homosexuality *is* or has been for much of its history. The desire to sleep exclusively with other men (or other women) isn’t fashion, it’s biology. It’s one’s nature.

But based on every one of your previous appearances here, I doubt you’re willing to stay around and discuss such things, or anything else. Maybe that’s your nature.

Franklin

I got into a protracted argument about the biological basis of experience with someone whose job requires that she not understand the problem clearly. Experience has universal, biological generalities and individual, socially constructed specifics. Whether one responds by tearing cloth or reciting the Heart Sutra, grieving for the dead has a felt (thus biological) component that manifests in remarkably uniform ways among all cultures over all of known history.

Sadly, denying this, by saying that one can fundamentally change that universal, biological basis, removes the mechanism by which we understand and sympathize with one another. Empathy, for it not to lapse into an intellectual exercise, presupposes rightly that most of our makeup resembles that of everyone else and their emotional lives generally resemble ours, however much the specifics differ. The notion that social construction puts the whole world together fails to account for how art can speak to us across culture and time. In fact, social constructionists don't believe that art does this, and prefer to explain the vogue of Japanese art in Impressionist France or the vogue of African art in early 20th C. Europe as some kind of colonialist enterprise that doesn't apply the other way when Japan appropriates Western Pop culture in exactly the same fashion. They cannot admit that picture-making creatures take pleasure in each other's pictures. How would anyone get tenure that way?

David Jones

Actually, a drive to have sex would be enough to ensure offspring. That would have to be coupled with protective instincts once the sprog arrived but no inherent instinct to have children is necessary or even plausible - after all, it's not as if animals understand their biology enough to figure that if they wanted kids, sex would have to come first.

Schala Zeal22

"Reconceptualizing the “social construct” that tricks homosexuals or the transgendered into thinking that their behavior is biologically driven, on the other hand, is, conversely, reductive, evil, and Christianist."

It's not behavior anymore than left-handedness is behavior, or autism is behavior (although, ironically, it's researched and 'treated' by behaviorists...while it's neurological). Being transsexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (not the same as transsexual) is a physical, biological reality. The implications of such are social.

This is why you'll have people in some countries saying that being the penetrative partner of two men doesn't make them gay, only the receptive partner is. That's totally a social construct.

Clothes and their signification is a social construct. A dress isn't inherently a 'female garment' anymore than pants are a 'male garment'. Transgender people are often uncomfortable about the norms, or don't care about them. Few of them might openly and consciously defy them out of a sense of wanting to change the world...but not many people are like that.

Transsexual people have a sex identity (formerly known as gender identity, sex identity is more accurate since it's identifying with a body configuration and hormonal configuration, not a gender role) which is opposite their apparent phenotypical (physical visually) sex. This is demonstrated by specific places in the brain. It's neurology and unchangeable. Some people can cope, as much as others might with amputated legs or arms, others don't cope and suicide. Now we got a 3rd solution: hormonal and surgical change...not a perfect one, but better than the two others. It has nothing to do with liking pink, dolls, dresses or what have you, gender roles or anything like that. It's got to do with feeling at odds with the BODY and often the HORMONES present within it. It's like being poisoned 24/7, you get used to it, but you sure don't feel happy about it.

Autism and Asperger syndrome similarly are neurological wiring. Unchangeable however much mercury-poisoning people like to think vaccines caused it (and they say it originated in the 70s while Kanner's autism and Hans Asperger's syndrome was documented from the 40s). You can, at best, try to appear 'normal', at worst, feel so much at odd with the world by its demands of conformity (by people who pretend they are advocates for autism!) that you regress and lose contact with the world. Doesn't mean you aren't affected by it. The best of them make do with it and get on with life in a field they are good in, sometimes exceptionally good in (see Moe Norman).

Autism, Down Syndrome, homosexuality, transgender and transsexual people have existed since forever. While many of them don't pass off their genes for various reasons (persecution, infertility, forced sterilisation, forced to be eunuchs, genocide, non-procreative sex) the genes still exist today as much as they have in the past. The gene diversity they represent must be something positive or nature would have gotten rid of them over time, what with most of them not reproducing.

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