37.7 Seconds, Part II


Lydia Sargent

As
I said in Part I, the title 37.7 seconds refers to the average amount of time
fathers spent each day communicating with their babies during the first three
months of life, according to a 1971 study quoted in Has Feminism Changed
Science?
by Londa Schie- binger.

This statistic
seemed incredible to me, if true, which I assume it is as the book seems
intelligent and carefully done. I came on this statistic in the course of
reading about feminism in various new mainstream books purporting to add
something to "post-feminist" discourse. While I used to enjoy reading about
feminism, it has been a chore in the last two decades or so, and has finally
annoyed me enough to depart from satire and address what have been recurring,
mostly mainstream, themes ever since the women’s liberation movement of the
1960s. .

These themes are
that: (1) the women’s movement made many positive changes for women but they
went too far by demanding to be men; (2) women are not men, they are different,
unique—separate but equal; (3) we know this from studying other female
species, our foremothers, our bodies, and our brains—also from some statements
made by friends and colleagues of the authors, plus some often inconclusive
studies.

I feel that it is
necessary to do this with a fair amount of detail because, when people use the
behavior of red spiders and elephant seals to make claims about my "female"
nature, one needs more than 37.7 seconds to deal with it

In Just Like A
Woman
by Dianne Hales we left off (in Part I) with Hales’s stated goal to
find out what makes women unique—the "rhythms we live by, the bodies we
occupy." Hales writes, "…Just as yin shapes yang and day defines night,
women and men are designed to complete and compliment each other. The synergy
that we can create together may yet lead to the greatest revelation of all: what
it means to be fully human, strong, sensitive, smart, spiritual, and sexual in
ways both feminine and masculine, yet not limited to either females or males."

The rest of the
book fleshes out the theme of difference (sometimes referred to as uniqueness),
starting out with what bugs, bears, birds, and baboons have to teach us about
the 21st
century woman, and about the female body—which Hales says we don’t know
enough about. This is a somewhat bizarre claim, since understanding our bodies
was one of the contributions of the women’s movement of the 1960s,  Of
course, Hales doesn’t want to mention this or use any of that material since
she might have to mention things like power relations and institutionalized
sexism.

What do females
of other species teach us?—that we outlive males; that we participate in the
enterprise of living (hunt, gather, forage, protect, and kill); that we
occasionally dominate; that in less than 10 percent of non-human species does
the mother devote herself to the care and feeding of her young; that we can be
sexually dimorphic. Also, by some estimates, only 3 percent of mammals (females
and males) are faithful to their mates. Why do we seek partners? Hales suggests,
because it has some evolutionary advantage to diversify (get the sperm to
compete, males less likely to kill an infant he thinks is his?) She never
suggests that it might be because one of the parties is forced into it. It is
also not clear what the fact that the "female praying mantis emulsifies the
male during copulation" has to do with 21st century femaleness, except that
Hales says other species’ behavior is relevant and revealing.

Hales then looks
at the bond we have with other females of other species, different from males of
the species: "What is that link? We are eggmakers." (This is news?) What
else did we get from other females of the species? We are finicky. Our coveted
eggs make us the courted sex, and males must win our favor. Our eggs our
incredible, by the way—250,00 times bigger than male sperm. Here she refutes
the notion of the princess egg as hostage to the conniving sperm and puts forth
that chemical signals (pheromones) from the egg may set the fertilization
process in motion. In an experiment at the University of New Mexico female
volunteers preferred the smell of T-shirts worn by the most symmetrical men (but
they only preferred them during ovulation). The olfactory signals supposedly
relay vital information about a suitor’s suitability. Fascinating, isn’t it,
as one tries to raise wages for women.

The above
information is by way of refuting nonsense about how the female, by failing to
compete, has evolved into inferiority. Hales says we do compete, but in a female
way, and gives the example of the elephant seals that compete with each other
for breeding spots on the shoreline. Female elephant seals also generate feuding
for their favor among males. Hales remarkably translates this for us into
behavior in the corporate jungle: brute force versus subtle jockeying. "’It
sounds just like my office," says an executive friend of mine. ‘If a man
wants something—your territory, your responsibilities, even your job—he’ll
come straight at you with all he’s got. The women don’t. They go around your
back and sabotage you, and that’s even harder to deal with.’" Hmm, gender
differences in capitalist competition explained by elephant seal behavior during
breeding—how enlightening.

In Chapter Three,
Lucy’s Daughters, Hales says that there is nothing in the fossil records to
suggest that female hominids didn’t make tools, use fire, create art, and
provide much of the food for their families/kin. (Lucy is the name given to the
skeletal remains of a three-million-year old female found in Ethiopia, and
reportedly named for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.") So why the division
of labor if female hominids could do it all? Hales explains that a division of
labor grew out of necessity centered on childcare issues and the inability of
pregnant females to move about. This seems pretty thin. Isn’t it more likely,
judging from current behavior, that men were sitting around watching grass grow
or tossing rocks while women did everything: hunting, gathering, cooking, etc.?
Unless, of course, females did what they did because they were forced to. At any
rate, does what happened in prehistoric times, if and when we ever know, define
what has to happen in current times?

But mainly what
makes women unique, in this chapter, is (1) fat (we have twice as much as men);
(2) our waist to hip ratio (WHR) which makes us attractive to men when our hips
measure a third larger than our waists. It also makes us healthier, according to
Hales: less likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, gall bladder
problems, and other diseases; (3) we may have been pictured as docile drudges in
museum displays from thousands of year ago, but we were busy— in fact, we were
responsible for the String Revolution, reports Hales. Also, most importantly,
every female egg contains mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that can repair genetic
defects in sperm and launch the development of the embryo. Females and males
receive mitochondrial DNA from the mother’s eggs, but only daughters can pass
it on to their children. "Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley
have determined that the mtDNA in today’s women is very similar to that of our
foremothers. According to their calculations, we are all descendants of a common
grandmother, a ‘mitochondrial Eve’ who lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago,
probably in Africa." From this, Hales declares that we owe our female
existence not to Adams Rib but to Eve’s eggs and their mitochondria. Is that
the insight that will lead to a newer, better place for women in the next
millenium?

In chapter four,
we learn more about our differences. We are shorter and we weigh less. Our
shoulders are narrower, our pelvises wider, our elbows and the base of our
thumbs are shaped differently from males’. We take nine breaths per minute,
they take twelve. We have fewer sweat glands and red blood cells. Men are more
prone to hiccups; women sleep more lightly and wake from anesthesia faster
(seven vs. eleven minutes). Our liver oxidizes alcohol more slowly, our immune
system provides extra protection, our saliva is different so that foods may
taste sweeter to us than to males, our skin is thinner, our hearing keener, and
we score higher on scratch and sniff tests. Our genes have gender says Hales.
The male fetus is more likely to develop spina bifida; males are more prone to
hemophilia, color blindness and other X-linked disorders. Hales then tells us
about our chromosomes and points out that the X chromosome is essential for
human life and is the largest (containing 2,500 to 5,000 genes) while the Y is
the smallest (20 genes or so). She says that 130 to 150 males are conceived for
every 100 females, but so many male fetuses perish in the womb that boys only
outnumber girls by a ratio of 105 to 100 at birth. And I am wondering, why is
any of this of any consequence for fighting to end patriarchy? The answer: there
appears to be no such thing as patriarchy, in Hales world.

Hales states that
our bodies do everything the male body does, but often in distinctive ways. For
instance, estrogen is important to women and their well being, allowing us to
live longer. Low levels of it have been linked to depression. According to
Hales, testosterone levels (which have daily and seasonal cycles—belying the
claim that only women have cycles, in case you need that information to get
through the day) soar and plummet depending on stress factors. For instance,
under the stress of boot camp or prison, testosterone levels will fall. During
tennis or chess matches, testosterone levels will rise. A loss will cause levels
to sink; a win will cause them to rise. Base testosterone levels are higher in
"actors and football players, lower in ministers, juvenile offenders,
substance abusers, rapists, and bullies." Statistics also show that high
testosterone men are less likely to marry, and more apt to divorce. High
testosterone mothers tend to have high testosterone daughters who are less
likely to have children (then why are there high testosterone mothers in the
first place?). Low testosterone daughters express more interest in dressing up,
wearing jewelry, and interior decorating. By the way, did you know that Queen
Elizabeth might have had high testosterone levels? Hales points out that it is
not clear which came first: hormone levels or professional preference, so we
don’t know what all this has to do with anything. Should we even care?

Regarding
athletes: men’s lungs take in 10 to 20 percent more oxygen, their legs cover
more distance, they have twice the muscle mass. Women have a lower sense of
gravity, better balance, and are more flexible. Females, says Hales, aren’t
likely to outrun males because of the angle of their upper leg bone to the
pelvis is greater in women, so her legs are less efficient at running. But the
longer the race (or if it is in the water where women are more buoyant), the
better women perform. According to a U.S. Army study in Natick, MA, after six
months of working out for 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week, women who had never
exercised much at all could do anything male recruits could do. From this we can
surmise, I guess, that while women and men should compete separately in sports
events, women can fight alongside men in wars. Yippee.

In the next
chapter, Hales talks about women’s health. She doesn’t go into the length
and depth of misogyny here, or the patriarchal control of the health
profession—a realm that used to interest women. It does come up, although no
explanation is given. She writes: "In school in the 1970s "we learned that
if a woman had chest pains she was anxious, if a man did, he had a heart
problem." She points out that this occurred in spite of the fact that heart
disease accounts for 30 percent of women’s deaths (breast cancer accounts for
3 percent). She points out that most drug testing is done on men, ignoring that
women’s responses to drugs may often be different.

In the chapter on
girls, Hales writes that Freud was wrong; girls are not little men but are
uniquely female. How insightful. We learn about how girls and boys experience
things differently. Why? Hales points out that some say it’s social
conditioning through parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. Others say that sex
differences begin before birth. Because of "hard wiring" of female and male
brains in the womb girls pay more attention to faces, boys are as likely to
smile at blinking lights. Girls sit up sooner, boys crawl more quickly, and both
walk at the same age. Thus?

Hales consults
Marc Breedlove, a neuropsychologist at the University of California and a
leading expert in the study of sex differences, on this matter. (Why would one
have sex differences as a field?) He used to favor nurture over nature in
determining sex differences (assuming there really are any; and that they are of
any significance). Then he had his third child (first daughter). Although she
was born into a house filled with boys and their toys, "she wanted most to go
into a her mother’s closet and put on shoes…She just likes dresses." (This
even though her mother wears dresses about three times a year, or perhaps it is
because of that…) Says Hales, "If there is a frilly-frock gene, my daughter,
who lived in nothing else for years, inherited it." If this is science, what
is non-science? This "evidence" is presented along side the following: "As
Breedlove now sees it, there’s a word for people who believe society alone
molds children into sex roles: childless. ‘I am convinced that boys and girls
start out a bit different at birth,’ he says, ‘but they get more different
as they grow up’." Uh-huh, big news.

Of course, this
would indicate that nature and nurture are both at work, for those who didn’t
know that already, but where is the evidence that "differences" in genes or
brains or blood thickness or waist to hip ratios result in frilly dresses? Or,
more interestingly, that testosterone, twice the muscle mass, and a tendency to
hiccup more often leads to a dislike of frilly dresses, much less a tendency to
exploit others?

Hales then
writes: "Differences between little girls and little boys extend beyond
anatomy, showing up even in the games they play. Contrary to common
misconception, girls’ play can be, in its own way, as competitive as
boys’—and even more complicated. The major new discoveries just keep piling
up, don’t they? It’s amazing to watch, says Robin Hayden, a multimedia
executive in Silicon Valley who volunteers at her sons’ preschool. "The boys
say, Give me that, and whoever can hold on longest wins. The girls’ play is
incredibly convoluted, there’s so much negotiation going on. First, I’ll
play with the toy for ten minutes, then I’ll let you borrow it, then we’ll
share for a while. When there’s a dispute, the boys will say, you took it,
it’s mine. The girls let loose a whole arsenal. I don’t like the dress
you’re wearing. Your mother wasn’t here yesterday, and mine was. The snack
you brought last week tasted terrible. I’m not inviting you to my birthday
party, and I’m not getting you a birthday present, either."

Hales does note
that some groups of girls, such as "African-Americans show remarkable
resiliency. According to the American Association of University Women’s
landmark report Shortchanging Girls/Short- changing America, black girls
have a greater sense of self-esteem than girls of any other ethnic group. In
high school, 58 percent say ‘they are happy with the way I am’—compared
with 30 percent of white girls and even lower percentages in other ethnic
groups." Why? "Look at their mothers," says psychiatrist Kathleen Pajer
who is studying teen girls who get in trouble with the law. Black girls come
from a matriarchal culture in which strong women are the ones who keep the
family together." (This is one of the few mentions of race, and there is no
mention of class differences, although poverty is mentioned as a factor in some
instances.)

Hales notes that,
"the rate of teen pregnancy is actually far lower than in the
Ozzie-and-Harriet fifties, when the birth rate for teens age 15 to 19 reached an
all-time high of 90 births per 1,000 girls; in 1956 (the most recent year for
which statistics are available) there were 54.7 births per 1,000 girls."

But basically,
the information given is standard stuff leading to the questions: "what do
boys need and what do girls need? The answers, despite considerable overlap, are
different. Tinkering with girls so they fit better into man-made
worlds—‘remedial masculinization,’ as some call it—doesn’t work. Girls
need recognition that they are unique and worthy of attention…they have to
learn to believe in themselves by doing, by challenging themselves to become all
that they might be." Ooops, we are back to the Army again…

In the chapter on
menstruation we learn that it has no real impact on female behavior, although it
is surely part of our "femalenss, isn’t it?:

  • When male anthropologists
    wrote the first descriptions of menstrual huts in various foraging
    societies, they depicted them as places of banishment, where women, shunned
    by the group, stayed in shameful exile. Yet when female anthropologists
    eventually interviewed women in these societies, they got a very different
    impression: that the women looked forward to their days off from the hard
    work of their daily lives and enjoyed the opportunity to laugh and relax in
    the company of other women. (Good grief. Is that like saying that slaves
    were really happy because they were well provided for? Or is she suggesting
    that women sat in holes and huts during menstruation of their own free will?
    Or that holes and huts are better than the rest, the rest being so bad? Or
    what?)

  • In general, regardless of
    whether they are ripening an egg, ovulating, dismantling their internal
    nursery, or shedding their endometrial lining, women can think abstractly,
    add, subtract, multiply, divide, remember, speak, define, and coordinate
    their movements equally well.

  • Study after study shows
    that PMS is not a serious problem for most women, yet the myth persists that
    women as a whole are incapacitated.

  • The menstrual cycle has
    never been the real barrier in a woman’s life.


In the section on
wombs we learn, among other things that:

  • Throughout history, most
    women—an estimated 70 to 97 percent in various times of peace, war,
    plague, or prosperity—became mothers, although not by conscious, freely
    made choice.

  • Until modern times, one
    pregnancy in five was likely to result in the death of the mother. Today,
    almost 600,000 women around the world die of pregnancy related complications
    every year; in the U.S. the maternal mortality rate may be as high as 20
    deaths per 100,000 births.

  • Globally, the World Health
    Organization estimates that every minute 190 women face an unwanted
    pregnancy.

  • Within a few years of FDA
    approval of the pill in 1960 an estimated 10 million women were on it.

  • For centuries abortion was
    not considered illegal. In the 19th
    century, antiabortion statutes were introduced in America in the 1820s and
    it remained illegal until Roe v Wade in 1973. Today 50 million women around
    the world have abortions each year, as many as 20 million may be illegal and
    unsafe. In western countries, however, legal abortion has become safer than
    pregnancy, childbirth, or even a penicillin shot.

  • The medical term for women
    who have never given birth is nullipara from the Latin root nulla, meaning
    empty, void, nothing, zero.

  • According to limited data
    available, single childfree women tend to be better-educated, more
    cosmopolitan, less religious, and more professional than those in the
    general population.


In the chapter on
menopause, Hales writes that "What women often fear most is that ‘the
change’ heralds the beginning of the end—not just of fertility, but of
sexuality, desirability, professional achievement, and importance in the lives
of those they care most about. Not so say counselors and health professionals.
As they see it, while perimenopause and menopause end reproductive functioning,
they also can mark the beginning of new and rewarding chapters in a woman’s
life." We also learn that 25 percent of all postmenopausal American women use
Hormone Replacement Therapy (up from 16 percent a decade ago).

All of this is
very interesting, although hardly news, but, beyond health issues, why does all
this lead to the conclusion that there is a female way of doing things? Giving
birth is what females do, but what does it have to do, genetically or otherwise,
with how we deal, as a gender, with situations in the office or how we park our
cars?

The chapter "Is
there A Female Brain?" provides some answers, albeit contradictory ones. First
we learn that brain size alone seems fairly unimportant. Hales writes that in
the past most brain research reinforced the view that the male brain is the
normal one, the sole model of human intelligence. A woman’s brain was thought
to weigh 10 to 15 percent less than a man’s but further investigation revealed
that the size difference was relative to overall body weight and that some women
had bigger brains than many men. Suppose we had absolutely unquestionable
evidence that the average size of women’s brains was less (or more) than that
of men. Suppose we even knew that brain size was critical to brain activity in
some domains. What difference would any of this make? Would we then say women
should be collectively precluded from "big brain" activity?

One of the first
sex differences discovered in brain physiology, according to Hales was in
cerebral blood flow. Raquel Gur and her husband Ruben Gur, conducted an
experiment to determine if blood flow increased to either hemisphere for
specific tasks. To their surprise, the flow of blood to one or the other
hemisphere was almost 20 percent higher in women than in men. "‘Whatever
they do—even just wiggling their thumbs—women activate more neurons in the
brain,’ reports neuropsychiatrist Mark George, of the Medical University of
South Carolina. Brain scans show neurons turning on in highly specific areas
when a male uses his mind. When females do similar tasks, their brain cells
light up like Los Vegas at night."

Hales says that
this observation supports the theory that the male brain tends to be more
"lateral" and divides tasks between its two hemispheres, while the female
brain draws equally from both sides. Some see this compartmentalization of the
male brain as an evolutionary essential. "A male’s main function is to find
territory, find food, find a female…he has to be able to focus in order to
survive. What the female needs as a mother is to be ready to go in all
directions in order to protect her young."

Does this strike
anyone else as so much crap?

Hales continues
by pointing out that neurologists have suspected that the sexes process language
differently in the brain, partly because when women have strokes, it was noted
that they tend to regain more of their verbal abilities than men. A confirmation
of this came from a study by Yale professors Sally and Bennett Shaywitz. With
detailed MRI scans, they showed that "in men, neurons in the region called the
inferior frontal gyrus, a small area behind the eyebrows, lit up on the left
side of their brains while they performed a rhyming task. In women, neurons in
this same area generally lit up in both the left and right hemispheres. Such
differences, which have also shown up in tests of electrical brain activity,
have not emerged consistently in neuroimaging research."

Hales then goes
on to tell us that:

  • No one knows whether any
    sex differences are hard wired at birth or a consequence of experience and
    education

  • Intelligence per se appears
    equal in both sexes

  • Standardized academic test
    scores from more than 150,000 students age 13 to 17 found differences in
    highly specific skills. Boys were a little better on math, science, and
    social studies, girls were slightly stronger in reading comprehension,
    perceptual speed, and remembering associated concepts. Girls do better at
    anagrams, boys at analogies. At the very top of the math scale, boys
    outnumber girls by a remarkable seven to one. However in writing skills,
    girls showed an even more marked superiority.

  • By midlife, both math and
    spatial scores are generally equal, by old age women score higher.

  • From ages 18 to 45, in MRI
    studies neurons in the male brain died at a rate three times faster than in
    the female

  • Both sexes record memory
    loss but women’s memories are better at any age

  • Estrogen seems to
    strengthen women’s mind and memory


In spite of the
above, which would indicate no significant or only slight differences, Hales
finds that there is a female brain and it may bring a unique perspective to
problem solving. "‘Women,’ observes cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine
Bateson, ‘are peripheral visionaries, capable of simultaneously following
several trains of thought….’ This ability to see with more than eyes alone
is often referred to as intuition—which seems to be an innately female trait
and others as a survival skill cultivated by the powerless of either sex."

Hales says that
this "female brain" can be a real advantage in the office. "Psychiatrist
and neuroscientist Mona Lisa Schulz, a self-described ‘medical intuitive,’
regularly calls on her sixth sense in diagnosing and assessing patients." Mona
Lisa, it seems, believes that women use lots of areas of the brain when making
decisions. Because we are less lateralized (although, as mentioned above, these
studies are not very conclusive and don’t apply to all or even that many
women), women may have better access to both sides of the brain. This can be a
real advantage in the office. Studies of female management styles show women in
business often display "similar savvy in motivating staff members."

In the
"Vulnerable Women" chapter we learn that:

  • By the year 2020, the World
    Health Organization predicts depression will be the second greatest cause of
    disabilities world wide

  • According to the National
    Comorbidity Survey, 30 percent of women develop an anxiety disorder over the
    course of a lifetime; we are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop a phobia

  • Five million women are
    alcoholics; women make up 40 percent of AA members 
  • Women’s brain
    chemistry may contribute to our vulnerability; although social
    conditions also contribute
  • In a 3 year study of
    working class mothers in London, researchers found that 64 percent had
    experienced sexual abuse before age 17


On Gender and
Emotions, Hales writes that gender may have less to do with emotions than
power; that emotions know no gender. The only difference she finds is that
women cry more—perhaps due to higher levels of prolactin which lowers our
threshold for weeping. In a study of two career couples, psychologists at
Radcliffe College’s Murray Research Center found that husbands are as
emotionally sensitive as wives to issues related to relationships, the
family, health, and related problems.

Having said
this, she then says that sadness saturates an area of the brain that is
eight times larger in women than in men and that men’s brains have to work
harder to evaluate emotion. Also, apparently in some neuroimaging studies by
the Gurs, they discovered a sex difference in the limbic system, a ring of
structures within the brain that process the entire spectrum of human
emotion. It seems most male brains idle in an evolutionarily ancient region
of this system—sometimes called the reptilian brain—that gives rise to
unsubtle, active expressions of emotion, such as aggression. The resting
gear for the female brain lies in a different region—the cingulated gyrus,
a more recently evolved part of the limbic system related to symbolic forms
of expression, such as gestures, facial expression, and words. Of course,
Hales points out that these brain differences don’t characterize all women
and men, in fact the percentages are quite low, but no matter. From this
Hales concludes that men are like wallets and women are like purses. Maybe
that can become a new guide to feminist practice.

The chapter
called the Sensuous Spirit is truly strange. Hales writes: "For women, the
sexual often resonates into the realm of the spiritual and vice versa."
How she knows this we are never told. There is no evidence given and most of
this chapter reinforces stereotypes such as "For women, the process of
making love—holding hands and hugging and tenderness—can be as
emotionally gratifying as the orgasm itself—or even more so…Orgasm,
researchers concluded, does not determine a woman’s sexual
satisfaction."

Regarding
female spirituality Hales says that more women are engaging in a new
feminist spirituality, which pays homage to a compassionate mother, "a
female force who gave birth to the cosmos and all of creation." She also
reminds us that half of the original deities at Mt. Olympus were female and
that all early religions involved goddesses. These goddesses, says Hales,
"remind us that we too are miraculous creatures" and that we have
"ancient memories in our cells." Oh boy.

 In the
final chapter, Tomorrow’s Women there are some interesting statistics and
predictions such as:

  • From 1970 to 1990 the
    proportion of American households made up of married couples with
    children fell from 40 to 26 percent  (what’s interesting is not
    only the drop but that it was only 40 percent in 1970). From 1990 to
    1997 the decline was 1 percent.

  • Also, 18 percent of
    households are headed by single mothers, 5 percent by single fathers.

  • Working mothers who
    will be married with school age children is expected to be 80 percent in
    the next decade.

  • Women in the U.S. now
    earn 74 percent of what men earn and continue to work largely in a
    narrow range of occupations—sales, clerical, nursing, teaching.

  • In Great Britain,
    economists predict that women will win one million of 1.4 million jobs
    created in the next 10 years (jobs mostly in healthcare, computers,
    electronics, financial services).

But the main
purpose of this final chapter is bring us back to Hales’s theme: "On the
one hand, we yearn to detach from gender. On the other, we don’t want to
stop being women and exploring our womanly natures." (By the way, in a
survey of social attitudes in the U.S. that asks women and men to define
masculinity, the most common answer was "being a good provider." Is this
part of their natures and, if so, isn’t women becoming "providers"
part of "women trying to be men" and therefore a no-no. Or are women
just earning money to supplement/complement the male income?

Hales writes
that back in the 1970s women thought we had only one choice: to become one
of the boys but then we figured out there is a better way–though not to
make them one of the gals. "‘We were damned whatever we did,’ observes
Carolyn Duff in When Women Work Together. "If we acted like men,
men often felt threatened by our directness and competitiveness, and many
women found us alienating and difficult to work with. On the other hand, if
we acted like women— seeming reluctant to play power politics and
insisting on bringing relationship-based values into an objective,
competitive male workplace—men found our feminine behavior a sign of
weakness’."

This is truly
annoying. Why is anybody "acting like" something. Doesn’t that imply
that behavior isn’t natural/genetic and universal but contextual and
learned, like memorizing a part in a play, or taking orders, for that
matter? In the second place, it’s all so contradictory: there are
differences, there are no differences, there are differences because of our
ties to Lucy and/or because a friend of Hales’s said so. Sometimes
stereotypes seem to be true or can be used as evidence, sometimes
stereotypes should be gotten rid of—the difference is whether the author
likes them or not. Sometimes physical differences (wombs vs. no wombs) are
used to define behavior, other times not.

Not
surprisingly, this theme of femaleness translates into a case for our role
in the technology revolution and information age. Hales writes; "as
described by management professor Judy Rosener, of the University of
California, Irvine, a ‘female’ approach (neither used by all women nor
eschewed by all men) differs from the traditional ‘male’ hierarchical
command-and-control model in several ways: flexibility, an emphasis on
cooperation, team building, decision making by consensus, and motivation by
encouraging individual growth." So is capitalism competitive because men
are competitive by nature? Or vice versa?

Says Hales:
"Imagine the possibilities such a combination might create (men/women
together): strength working in tandem with stamina, the male’s laser like
focus expanding to take in the female’s embrace of the big-picture
context, the female’s quest for meaningful connections enriching the
male’s determination to get things done. In theology, business, education,
and communications, there is an emerging recognition of a different vision,
a different voice, a different viewpoint—a female one, neither inferior
nor superior, neither right nor wrong, neither better nor worse, but one
that may open up new and unexplored possibilities for both sexes." Other
than the idea that these qualities are female per se, and the others male
per se, yippee.

Hales
concludes that we are moving beyond the limits of "like." "We are not
defying or denying our bodies, we are fighting—and slaying—stereotypes
about female biology." Just how, she doesn’t say, since all the female
qualities she’s unearthed in her search are the same female qualities
we’ve been assigned for centuries. She says women are becoming themselves,
but her case really points to women remaining the selves that (mainly) men
have shaped and desired them to be. But no matter, Hales is hopeful about
the new millennium and feels we are moving to a better time and place.

Which brings
us to our next book The First Sex, by Helen Fisher. She takes this
theme of femaleness further and sees the return of the economically powerful
woman. "As women pour into the paid workforce in cultures around the
world…" women will bring their natural talents to the marketplace. "In
some important parts of the economy, they will even predominate, becoming
the first sex. Why? Because current trends in business, communication,
education, law, medicine, government, and the nonprofit sector known as
civil society, all suggest that tomorrow’s world will need the female
mind."

More on
Fisher’s work next time. Suffice it to say, at this point, that I find it
appalling at how easily this mainstream/pop/pseudo scientific, male/female
difference/duality, yin/yang thing has been accepted.

It’s true
that, if we ignore the nonsense and the fact that the case for difference is
thin, often beside the point, often showing that there is no meaningful
difference at all, then the pursuit of difference could be an interesting
endeavor in our search for liberation. Perhaps it could be useful in certain
areas such as health, and organizing society around reproduction as well as
production. When combined with an analysis of institutions and power, the
difference discussion might also help liberate men and women from imposed or
imagined gender limits, or could help us transcend evolutionary
habits/patterns.

But if
becoming a self managed independent individual who makes some meaningful
contribution to society, is a liberatory goal, and I believe it is, then all
this difference business seems more reactionary than revolutionary, more
limiting than liberating. To me, searching for our femaleness in Lucy’s
DNA is a convoluted way of arguing that women deserve a place in society
based on the notion that we won’t upset men in the process. What better
way to do that than to constantly remind men (and women) that we really
aren’t trying to usurp their role, as defined by them, but rather to
complement it, as defined by them.

As mentioned
in part I, in The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir, in describing
society, says that "humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself
but relative to him…thus she is called the sex, by which is meant that she
appears to the male as a sexual being. She is defined and differentiated
with reference to man and not he with reference to her… He is the Subject,
he is the Absolute, she is the Other."

A primary
task on the road to liberation, then, should be to free ourselves from being
defined in relation to men, and from being important only as sex objects for
men, and from being the Other. But the female nature theme does nothing to
free us from men’s orbit.It continues to define and differentiate us in
relation to men and identifies us even more than ever as "the sex."

Oh, one last
item: Hales mentions back in her chapter on girls that one psychologist
discovered that "fathers who are more involved have children who express
fewer gender-stereotyped emotions." Good heavens, if that’s all it takes
then we didn’t need to write volumes on our female nature/difference. All
it would take to render the gender difference issue moot is for fathers to
get off their duffs and spend a hell of a lot more than 37.7 seconds with
their offspring. Maybe the trick is for fathers and mothers to be parents,
each alike, and each involved. Maybe that division of labor is what we ought
to take a long look at, not genes and muscle angles.
         Z