Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Women, Men and Evolution

In a nutshell:
We are all descendants of the ancient (male) hunters and (female) gatherers. Does that mean that we resemble them? Is it even possible to tell? What is the role of culture in the development of the human – feminine and masculine – nature? (Hint: a significant role, which can and should be reversed.) ,

Our ancient ancestors were, supposedly, female gatherers and male hunters (supposedly, since we cannot be completely sure. After all, it was some while ago). Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that each sex held the appropriate role with no exceptions, and that the difference in roles was due to physical differences between men and women. What does this imply about modern men and women?

It is sometimes claimed that present differences between men and women are "natural", owing to our history, and therefore it is legitimate (so the argument goes) to assume that men and women differ biologically in their preferences, skills and abilities. What follows is a legitimacy to attribute specific traits and abilities exclusively to women, and others – exclusively to men.

How much of this is true?

My counter-argument goes thus:
We don't know, and have no way of knowing, whether gender differences are biological or cultural.
Either way, culture has a considerable part in preserving, and even cultivating certain differences between men and women.
We should attempt to contradict this process by trying to eliminate cultural differences between the sexes, and minimize the effect of biological differences, for the benefit of women, men and the society as a whole.

a. Are gender differences biological or cultural?

After hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, we have no way of knowing precisely (or even remotely) which so-called "natural" attributes – feminine, masculine, or human in general – remained intact (if at all); which have slightly changed, and which have changed radically. The very term "nature" in this context is vague: what nature? That of the cavemen? That of Modern Man? How can we tell which is which?

The attempt made sometimes to explain differences between the sexes with reference to the natural world is necessarily biased: the natural world is so amazingly varied and diverse, that a specimen of just about any sort of behaviour is available. For instance: some species monogamously pair, and tend their offspring together. In other species, the female alone raises her young, and still in others – the male is the sole caretaker of the next generation. This diversity applies to other facets of our lives as well, of course.

To illustrate: let's take a look at altruism, egoism and the traits in between. Both extremities (pure altruism and pure egoism) exist within our culture, as do the middle shades. Which of these has proved more helpful to the survival of the human race, or to its productivity, in ancient times? Impossible to tell. And where do they stand within culture? A matter of changing trends: sometimes altruism is valued more, at other times – egoism is, and of course, different cultures value different traits. So, which is more "natural" to humanity? Is there an answer to this question? I don't think so, but even if there were, it is quite irrelevant to the question – which trait should be valued and encouraged.

A more "objective" example, that doesn't depend on subjective valuing: a certain genetic structure causing what we term (in western cultures) "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" (ADHD), has been found, in a
recent study, to be advantageous for nomadic tribesmen in Kenya. “Our findings suggest that some of the variety of personalities we see in people is evolutionarily helpful or detrimental, depending on the context,” said Dan Eisenberg, lead author of the study.

It is reasonable to suppose that men and women were biologically different in ancient times, and that due to this difference, men and women had different roles in ancient society. Does this mean that men and women today resemble our ancestors? Not at all, and even if it's true, we have no way of telling that it is. But what is much more important: the examples I brought serve to show that what may be beneficial to survival in one context (say, in ancient times) – may well be irrelevant in another context (nowadays). Human life within Culture does not resemble human life within Nature, and the needs in both cases are very different.

So what should we say about the
biological differences that scientists find between modern men and women?

b. Culture plays a part in creating differences between men and women

I raise two arguments here:

First, it may be that biological differences are not necessarily innate. How so? For instance,

the brains of musicians were found to be different compared to the rest of the population. However, it seems that this difference, rather than being the reason for these people's musical talent, may be the outcome of their choosing to follow their talent and spend many hours a day practicing.

Why is this important? Obviously, I'm referring to differences between men's and women's brains. What the studies show is that there is some difference between most men (or the average man) and most women (or the average woman), but can we really be sure that these are innate, rather than culture-induced?

This is where my second argument fits: culture – including every one of us: teachers, parents, Pop Culture and every other aspect of our culture – is continuously emphasizing, sometimes actually creating, differences between men and women, and between boys and girls.

I believe that the root of the problem is circularity: for thousands of years, men have been "hunters", and women – "gatherers" and caretakers. It is only in the last few decades that women can lead different kinds of lives. In general, the idea of "male" and "female" roles lives on. As scientific studies show that genetic differences exist between (most) men and (most) women, the common view seems to be: it is illogical to try to work "against nature". But both assumptions behind this expression seem to be wrong: first, these differences are not necessarily "natural", but may only be a reflection of the different roles men and women actually play in society due to prejudice (as opposed to – should play due to different innate skills).

Secondly, even if these different skills are innate, it may not be for the benefit of society as a whole – men & women alike – to keep cultivating these differences.

c. We should actively encourage diversity, and avoid "gender-labeling"

Seeing all men as one homogenous group and all women as another blinds us, and prevents us from seeing that the diversity within each sex is wider than that existing between the two sexes. Does it even sound plausible that half (!) the world's population is comprised of very similar individuals, and so is the other half, but members of each half radically differ from those of the other one? I don't think so. However, it is very easy to fall into the pit of believing that this is true; that I, for instance, resemble all women of all times and cultures more than I do men of my own close surroundings. All it takes is looking at the obvious and huge deviations from the stereotypes as exceptions that prove the rule. For instance, a girl who likes climbing trees would be labeled a "tomboy"; a boy who likes to play with dolls – a "sissy".

Here the argument usually goes thus – boys "naturally" tend towards "boys' toys", girls – towards "girls' toys". However,
It appears that parents (and specifically fathers), probably unknowingly, encourage their children (of both sexes) to play with toys stereotypically fitting their gender. Most researchers today believe that gender-socialization plays a larger part in shaping boys' and girls' (and later, men's and women's) preferences and tendencies than the formerly accused "nature".

It turns out that differences between "men", as a group, and "women", as a group, are probably negligible in relation to the differences within each sex, i.e. – among individual people. It also turns out that the existing differences between the sexes are, most probably, to the most part culture-induced.

We might still ask: be the reasons for these differences what they be, some differences between the sexes were found to be a fact. Shouldn't we better acknowledge them, and have men specialize in "masculine" activities, and women – in "feminine" ones?

My answer is flatly negative. True, some feminist theorists argue that letting women be stereotypically feminine, and men – stereotypically masculine, allows us to have the best of both worlds: the members of each sex thrive, according to this view, doing what they are naturally good at. The faults I find in this argument are, first, that it is impossible to determine what men or women are "naturally" fit to do. Secondly, and more importantly, any person – man or woman – is unique, and the diversity within each sex is greater than that between the sexes; it is ridiculous to look at "men" or "women" as if these were homogenous groups.

I would go so far as saying that labeling men as "masculine" and women as "feminine", when each of these is associated with a fixed set of traits, is no different than racism, in assuming, in relation to a huge group (half of humanity!), that by knowing one of its members, we more-or-less know the rest of them. I see this as practically dangerous. What about women who are closer to masculine stereotypes, men who are closer to feminine stereotypes, and men and women who are simply non-stereotypic? Encouraging a girl to be empathic, for instance, when she is by nature cynical and practical; or encouraging a boy to become "tough", when he actually wants to express his emotions (and become a poet, maybe), is a sort of "moral crime" towards the allegedly "exceptional" – who are (if we open our eyes to see that) the majority of humankind.



Michal said...

nice pic. :)
(I wonder if men also think so)

Adva Shaviv said...

Why, naturally! ;-)

daniel said...

I find you are touching some crucial points in your text. The nature/culture debate is a central one but I have the impression it's a ideological one. It puts two concepts as already set: nature and culture. This suggests that there are parts in human behavior that are "natural" - which is genreally understood as biological operated behavior, sometimes even to the degree to explain eg rape as a evolutionary reasonable "strategy" - and parts that are cultural, thus not prefixed, differing from country to country etc.

This schism is - in my point of view - ideologic. It offers no thouroughly viable theory or concept for explaining human behavior or human societies. It only offers the possibilities to "insert" the preferred theory to account for any behavior.

I think we should abandon the nature/culture debate, at least in the present form. I Propose the following:
Our nature is our physical body with its limits. Eg we cannot fly. Our nature - our natural "equipment" - is not made such that we can do it. That's it.
All what is behavior, society, and so forth, is culture. The nature of humans is their culture.

So, there is no point of observation or subjectivity that is outside culture. In this sense: nature is culture is nature.

What do you think?

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Daniel,

Thank you for your thoughtful and engaging comment!

I certainly agree that the differentiation between nature and culture is problematic, to say the least. I also agree that much of what we see as "natural" to humankind is actually "cultural" (inverted commas since we have not yet ascertained the existence and possible nature of the difference between the two…)

I quite agree that the human nature is, ever since we live in culture, intertwined with culture. The question, therefore, is whether there is still any "duality" between something basic and innate, which we might call "nature", and a (maybe) more refined package, to which we may refer as "culture". The question gets more complex since our biology, which we both agree is necessarily natural, doesn't seem anymore to be quite separable from our reflections and emotions, which may be taken as "culture".

Given that our deepest thoughts are actually electrical currents within our brains, and our sincere emotions – chemical substances releasing into our blood system, does it really make sense to continue speaking about "culture" and "nature"? It seems that it may be more appropriate to revert to the distinction between an "id" and a "super-ego" (both converging into an "ego"), rather than impose a somewhat artificial distinction between "human nature" and "human culture".

Again, thanks for your very reflective comment!

daniel said...

I don't get your thought about the Freudian categories. You mean the "id" as representative of "nature"?

Adva Shaviv said...

Yes, becuase we do have deep impulses and instincts, but I don't think these can be distinctly referred to as "nature". If they could, it would pretty much present any sort of bahaviour (including rape and murder) as potentially "uncontrollable", since these are "natural drives".

I don't see how this can be justified, because even these basic urges ARE cultural, at least ever since we became cultural creatures.

So I suggest that maybe the traditional differentiation between culture and nature might be better expressed in reference to the Freudian terms, not necessarily in a mere psychological sense, but in a wider, sociological sense. Does it make any sense?... :-)

ikp said...

I am against a notion of an "animal" sitting in our viscera. That's my picture of the "id". Freud conceptualizes humans as principally wo/man-eaters who have to be culturalized almost by force. My view is absolultely the opposite: I see humans as principally social and cooperative beings. Humans strive towards independence, already since infanthood, already as babys. They don't dream themselves back to a (postulated) condition of symbiosis or "oceanic feeling".
Therefore I cannot work with his terms. We could re-define them, though.
I would hear some more about your thoughts on the sociological aspects of these terms

Adva Shaviv said...

I quite agree to a re-definition, especially since on the whole, the Freudian picture seems to me quite far from reality.

Accepting Daniel's comment that nature is actually a part of culture, in the sense that there is nothing we do or feel that is unconnected to, or unaffected by, culture - there still remains a continuum with two extremes. As I see it, one extremity is what I called (for lack of a better term) "id": for instance,it may include a genetic tendency towards violence, or towards empathy - I think such genetic tendencies exist. However, they may be culturally encouraged, on the one hand, or discouraged, on the other hand.

For instance: usually, in most western cultures (I'm not sure about other cultures), men's aggressiveness is more easily accepted than women's aggressivenss. That's a cultural encouraging of masculine aggressiveness and of women's tenderness. Because of this cultural response, the genetic tendency becomes merely cultural, and men and women with different genetic dispositions often "adjust" to the cultural norm. Thus, the genetic and individual "id" becomes cultural and sociological.

In order to identify this process and try to work against it, we use the other extremity - the so-called (again, for lack of a better term) "super-ego". It is sociological, not psychological, since it does not occur within the individual's cognition, but is rather a cultural process.

Therefore we have cultural tendencies which may be biologically based (a so-called "sociological id") , and along with them - "purely" cultural tendencies (a so-called "sociological super-ego").

ikp said...

It's always me, Daniel:
I don't think it necessary to link certain emotional or practical phenomena as eg. violence back to genes. I think we have a certain anthropological basis that includes eg. the need of communication, of cooperation, of agency, of independence (not necessarily in a individualistic sense), and so forth. I would not talk of "drive" either but more of needs.
If we look at your examples, regarding empathy I would say it is a precondition or prerequisite to cooperation. I think that our "anthropological opennes" or "nakedness" makes it necessary for us to cooperate. That's the reason why humans are genuine social/societal beings.
Regarding aggressiveness and in potential consequence violence: We could see it as a necessary ressource for independence. If someone interferes with my plans, wishes, needs, I try to protect them, I fight for them to be fulfilled.
I do not believe in genetic violence that is maybe more present in men and that gets shaped in which form whatsoever by society/culture.
The "anthropological nakedness" of humans makes it necessary to organize what they percieve. The binary system of sex/gender is one of the basic organizational patterns, if not the most basic one. But how a society shapes this pattern has no genetic source, I say.
I still don't see the "surplus" of the Id/Ego/Superego-model

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Daniel,

(It's nice to know it's you. IKP is not a person... :-) )

I'm not willing to defend necessarily the id/ego/superego model - we already agreed the original is flawed, and maybe the burrowed sense as well.

But - are you saying that you don't see any biological basis for our behaviour whatsoever? I think that's saying too much: I definitely agree that biology doesn't justify anything, since it is always affected by culture; but I still think our biology is part of the causes for our actions. Otherwise, is the basis for aggressiveness or empathy (or any other behaviour) purely rational? Isn't that an over-estimation of our rationality? Or how do you explain it?

ikp said...

I think that even the mind/body duality or the emotion/rationality is part of a certain position.
I argue to overcome this dual principles. I am not a soul within the flesh but the whole thing is me.
We are corporeal beings, made out of flesh, guts, blood. We have a brain that provides a basic equipment and sets some boundaries. We are made as such that we feel, think, want. That's the biological part. Of course, as you already mentioned, every thought is a "electrical current" located in the flesh of our brain, hence it is also biological but the reasons for my acting are never biologically driven.
I make decisions. Also this term "decision" is not to be understood in a pure rationalistic sense. Human actions make sense. Even if I don't understand many of them I could understand them if I knew all the premises. A biological action is not to be understood. It is, and that's that.

Adva Shaviv said...

But, do you think we are so radically different from the rest of the animals? I mean, can't we sometimes explain some animals' behavior, even though they're (supposedly?) not rational?

daniel/ikp said...

I think we are VERY radically different from the rest of animals. This does us not make better though. It gives us no superposition as it happens in the bible eg.
We can interpret animal actions, I don't know if we can explain them. Actually, I think we should generally replace "explanation" with "interpretation". The onto- and phylogenetic subjectivity would then be clear visible

Adva Shaviv said...

"interpretation" is fine (instead of "explanation"), but I can't really imagine how rationality came about "all in one piece" instead of gradually. It seems to me more plausible to assume that it gradually developed, and I think that in chimpanzees we may be seeing its buds: after all, they can use language (not only single words, but sentences) and prepare tools. That's why I think that if we drew a line between us and the other animals based on rationality, at least chimps would be ON the line, which questions the line itself.

daniel said...

Of course you're right, it was not a "yesterday we were chimpanzees, today we're humans" process. In german there is the term "Tier-Mensch-Übergangsfeld (TMÜ)" which means "Animal-Human-Transition-Field".
Chimpanzees can use a stick for a single action but they don't fabricate a permanent tool that is also usable for others and in which the social purpose is "condensed" and fixed

Adva Shaviv said...

Of course, they're not rational, and they did not develop a culture (yet?). But you do draw the line between culture (only) and nature (only), or so I understood, and I think this point (where you draw the line) is necessarily somewhat arbitrary. For no matter what criterion we choose in order to separate culture from non-culture (or pre-culture), it means that instantly (in terms of evolution) all of our natural instincts became cultural. Did I misunderstand?

daniel said...

Actually I don't know if there are already specific terms in use that describe the position chimpanzees are in. Pre-culture: why not? I find it just important to draw an analytical line. In reality it's a transition field. To draw a line is important, I say, because we're not talking of the same. I am against the comparison of humans and animals because in most of the cases these discourses tend to simplify human behavior, reducing it to instincts, drives and so on. This I call biologism, the explanation of social causes as biological ones.
Regarding human instincts: I don't think we have comparable instincts to animals. We are not driven by instincts or drives.
The term "instinct" in humans should only be used in a phenomenologic, describing sense, not in a nomologic one.
But what is your approach? I still sense the Freudian model of the "buried" animal still present but just oppressed by the ratio

Adva Shaviv said...

First, I must say I don't have a solid explanation of this issue, I'm only expressing intuitions on the subject.

I wouldn't call it "a buried animal", or a sort of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", but I can't completely ignore the fact that our biology is basically similar to that of other animals.

Another point is behaviour which is affected by biological phenomena, such as ADHD and many other common syndromes. Until some time ago, such behaviour tendencies were considered as pure character traits, and now it is known to be biologically-induced. Of course, biology isn't everything, but I can't understand how it can be nothing at all?

daniel said...

I am precisely not saying that we are immaterial rational souls imprisoned in a clumsy body of flesh. I say we are bodily beings that think. Thus I am also not arguing that biology is "nothing at all". I just say that our behaviour is not rooted in biologic sources. Do you know Desmond Morris? It is exactly that kind of sh** that I fight, explaining human behaviour as we were dogs or rats. I may have a very similar biology (not physionomy though ;-) to a pig but pigs don't build houses, tools, machines, words etc. They don't make decisions, they follow their instincts and immediate feelings/emotions.
Regarding ADHD: I think that this is a good example for a "scientific fashion". Do you know Paula Caplan's book "They say you're crazy"? Very enlightening.

Adva Shaviv said...

Of course I agree that our behaviour can't be explained like that of animals who don't think.
I don't know Caplan's book - thanks for the reference, I'll look it up. What does she say about ADHD or such other "scientific fashions", as you called them?

daniel said...

Sorry that sometimes I'm shortspoken but that is when my kid requires my attention.
Caplan's book is an "inside report of the dsm" and she describes how psychiatrists "invent" diagnoses and as a result transfer the sources of problems from the social realm into the individual. This must not be intentional but it is what in the end comes out.
This discussion would bring us away from the current topic though. With the diagnosis ADHD it is not longer necessary to question deeper reasons for children's behaivor. The individual has a disease and has to be treated

Adva Shaviv said...

(I quite understand the kid-attention necessity/ privilege...) :-)

It is true that ADHD has become an esay way of explaining difficult behaviour (mainly in teachers' eyes), which is not necessarily harmful (see study cited in the original post). It is also true that the diagnosis might be biased, and is not always clear-cut. However, there IS a neurological basis for such a behaviour, and it often disturbs the child too, and not just the teacher.

I think it would be interesting and enlightening to compare this phenomenon with classic phenomena of feminine and masculine "biologically-based" differences. In both these cases we have a scientifically measurable basis, and yet, a huge cultural influence, which questions the interpretation and implications of the scientific findings.

Since this comparison would be too long for a comment, I will elaborate in a new post. Thanks for the idea, Daniel! :-)

Trevor said...

You have suggested that biological differences between men and women might be culturally induced and used examples of hunter/gatherer roles, empathy etc to illustrate this. However you have skipped over the basic biological difference between men and women - our genetic coding. This produces the primary sexual differences in our genitals and the role we play in producing children - ie. men provide sperm, women the egg and so far, women actually bear the children. Even though you have not explicitly addressed the biology at this level, by skipping over this, you have avoided seeing how these fundamental differences will inevitably affect how culture is formed and gender roles are affected by biology.

You also said this

"Either way, culture has a considerable part in preserving, and even cultivating certain differences between men and women.
We should attempt to contradict this process by trying to eliminate cultural differences between the sexes, and minimize the effect of biological differences, for the benefit of women, men and the society as a whole."

What you are suggesting with this change is your version of cultural modification. You have said it would better if we followed your suggestions rather than the ones in place. However, you have not offered any arguments why your moral standards are objectively better than the existing. The issues you cite with current culture are subjective opinion, can you validate these in an absolute sense?

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Trevor, thanks for your comment!

Actually, as the second part of your response quotes, I have explicitly addressed the biological differences issue. I said that while biological differences exist, there is no proof that they are the cause of any cultural differences. Take, for instance, mathematical skills: suppose they differ between women and men. How do we know whether this is an outcome of biological differences or of cultural differences? We DO know, however, that cultural differences exist, for instance - in Math education for boys and girls.

Therefore, the justification for my suggestion is: since we don't know what is the cause and what the effect, and there is evidence supporting the suspicion that culture is to be blamed - it makes sense to try and reverse cause and effect, and see what happens.

As for your question - what makes my suggestion objective? Of course, nothing does: any cultural behaviour can only be subjectively justified. That is what culture is about. Why is my suggestion better than any other subjective suggestion? I quite logically (and with the help of empirical data) backed it up. Unfortunately, I can't say the same was done for the existing option - that of pre-determining for any individual what he or she may do, based primarily on their sex.

Trevor said...

Hi Adva, thanks for your response to my questions

Regarding your comments that we have no evidence that biological differences have caused any cultural differences. Simple deductive logic tells us that culture could not have arisen in a vacuum and biology precedes human culture in terms of evolution, just as chemistry and physics precede biology in the cause and effect stack. There are plenty of everyday examples, unrelated to gender differences, showing how biology gives rise to culture. Our feet are biological, culturally we have developed fashion and practical items around the biology of feet. Without the base of feet we are unlikely to have developed shoes, just as it is possible we might not have developed feet if there were no such thing as gravity (physics precedes biological adaptations). In terms of gender we see that women are considered to be more nurturing than men, and men more aggressive. This makes sense based upon biology, women are designed to be pregnant, and if they are also nurturing there is a better chance their offspring would survive than to mothers who are not nurturing. Men are fred from the responsibility of pregnancy, but this leaves them able to fight off competing males, so an enhanced ability to fight is adaptive. Culture certainly acts upon and modifies our biology, and we end up with absurd scenarios (like women being barred from certain Olympic events as they were not considered capable to performing these, but we also see that certain job roles appear to suit men more than women - air traffic controllers for example.

I do not think your argument will stand unless you can show how it arises from first principles. You have suggested we try and reverse cause and effect. Does this mean that effect will precede cause? Or does it mean that you consider culture to precede biology? I would argue that they are complex and interdependent, however if you remove al biology (ie. life itself) and culture dissappears. However life can exist without human culture - as it did in pre-human life. There would also have been pre-human culture - as there is for other primates, however the level of culture you put forward appears to he uniquely human.

As regards your response on your wish to provide a 'new' culture, I would say that culture arises based upon what best supports the survival of individuals and groups. It is not a conscious process, but one that arises based upon the behavior of the group and becomes accepted. your suggestion that the xisting culture of somehow morally unacceptable and would be better replaced with your own subjective position is no diffrent to the different cultural models that were imposed by colonial rulers upon their colonies - it was done because they knew better than others. This is an eternal human trait and always justified on a moral basis, however it never seems to last very long, until another moral position that is more succesful comes along and displaces it.

You have said that you have justified your model as being better than one that (even assuming biology play not a part - something you appear unconvinced by)makes the genders different even if there is no biological difference. Even within a gender there is plenty of discrimination, all of it based simply on which view predominates, just as there is plenty of discrimination betwen genders, and race, and appearance, and merit, and status - in fact we discriminate on every imaginable basis. And while we say that discrimination is a bad thing - mostly we just pay lip service to this - all of us take every opportunity to discrimitae when it serves our own agendas. Perhaps you should define what the underlying drivers are behind these mechanisms before you decide how the mechanisms themselves might be replaced.

In my view the gender debate has become so polarised and emotive that rational discussion is no longer a viable option.

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi again,

First of all, I completely disagree with your last remark: of course, some people are overcome with emotion and can't rationally debate (this happens in every issue), but it is certainly possible to discuss purely rationally. I daresay this is what I am doing. I also think that women aren't the only side suffering from gender-bias; the fact that it exists affects both sexes, and neither gains anything from it.

You seem to imply that I make a dichotomic differentiation between "culture" and "nature", while of course I don't: see my discussion with Daniel in the comments above. However, to make a long story short, I don't see why the necessity of proof rests on my shoulders simply because what I say is less publicly accepted. The "public" doesn't usually think and reconsider. So my position should only be compared to other theoretical positions, not to populist consensus (which I don't underestimate, but it serves for different things).

My argument is actually very simple: suppose that all differences between the average man (whatever that is) and the average woman (ditto) are biological. So what? Our biology is changing as we live in culture, and perhaps this change should be encouraged - this is one thing. The other is that this supposition is arbitrary. As with the musicians' example, we can't tell whether their brain is different because they have a musical talent, or because they practised much (thus developed this part). Now take the alleged masculin aggressiveness: if men really are more aggressive than women, it may be because in prehistory this was a valuable trait, and it may be that modern culture accepts that and even cultivate that (and it does), hence - the present result. This is not proved either way, and here is why I think my side may be correct: we probably don't resemble ancient men and women, and even if we do, there's no way of telling that. We can only conjecture. So many human traits have changed, that the supposition that those very traits, that keep women and men in "gender prisons", are the ones that remained intact - seems suspicious. Why has no one suggested, for instance, that Jews historically needed more brains, and hence their supposed intellectual superiority? Because all parts of this "assumption" are ridiculous. Why not so when it comes to gender? - not just because women get pregnant. That would have nothing to do with their ability to drive, calculate or fly an airplane.

Trevor said...

Adva, thanks for the response, here is mine
I have made my point on rational debate based upon two things. The first is observing and taking part in debates on gender. I have never seen any of these arguments won. A rational and objective view should yild the same perspective regardless, yet this never appears to happen. The second reason I say this is because there is no evidence or logic to suggest that humans are a truth seeking species (in the sense that we seek the truth for others), while there is plenty of evidence to suggest that we are a power seeking species, and in achieving this objective rational and objective debate is not the priority.

I would suggest that gender bias does exist specifically to benefit one or the other gender. Just as bias exists between individuals when competing for something they value, and there are winners and losers. Gender competition is no different. I have yet to see an objective measure of value proposed that shows either gender to be biased wrt to the other. Most evidence that is offered breaks down as soon as you reduce it objective values. Please note I am not suggesting men and women are equally treated, just that no-one has ever provided an objective set of values to asses this.

I think that in order to make this point valid you need to position what level you are making these statements. Some biology does get changed by culture, but some does not. We have not yet been able to significantly change fundamental gender biology. Despite gender surgery to make men into women and vice versa, this is at an insignificant scale, and is not done at a gene level, so men are men and women are women based upon what they inherit. Most men have primary sexual organs of males and secondary traits of more body hair etc, because of their genetic inheritance, not culture. Culturally we can modify masculine or feminine behavior by providing hormone treatment, or training or social pressure to change these traits and it certainly works, but even the trait of men being attracted to women and vice versa appears to be inborn, not as a result of cultural factors. Criminal behavior can be traced to the genetics within a family. I am not suggesting it is not possible to create criminals, but it is clear that our genetic inheritance provides much of who we are.

We do not have to conjecture very far to see how much we resemble stone-age men and women. We are certain that they had the same sex organs that we have today and served the same function. That the men were larger, heavier, hairier and stronger than the women. We are also sure that only the women got pregnant and breastfed their offspring, and that men were capable of siring very high numbers of offspring and women relatively few. There is plenty of logic and evidence to support many of these, just as there are many things we are uncertain about. Working from fundamentals like these makes it possible to examine various forms of gender discrimination and differences and see if they are valid or not. You can also be sure that biology does affect our behavior and our culture. Women get pregnant and in order to be successful at this they need to be sure that they are impregnated by a male (set aside the minimal numbers of artificial). Being pregnant carries high responsibility. 9 months of risk, potentially many years of nurturing, it would make sense that women aproach sex differently to a male, for whom the risk is relatively low. No issue with pregnancy or even ongoing nurturing. We have seen major changes in attitudes toward sex, many of these following the contraceptive pil in the 60's. In theory this allows women to be equally free to be as sexually liberal as men, yet in practice it is still very different. It might be argued that culture still stigmatises promiscous women more than men, making them more inclinced to be covertly free with sex, and while this is true it is not the whole story. Homosexual men are very much easier to give and take sex than homosexual women. I have witnessed meeting places for gay men where they arrive for a few minutes of no string attached sex in public toilets with other men, simply because they both have the same attitude toward casual sex. There is plenty of public and private censure that stigmatises this behavior. Yet lesbians do not behave in this way at all, because their drive for casual sex is coming from a different biological base. I am not suggesting either scenario is right ot wrong, jsu showing how much our behavior and culture arises from our gender.
Why then should it suprise us to find that women are better at nurturing than men? That men who want someone dead tend to always commit their own murders, while women who want someone dead very often hire men to kill on their behalf. You might say that culture is the cause of this. We can modify these behaviors to some degree but they stil arise from very different biology.

I see that you are a parent with three children. I am a father with four daughters and in watching children at school I am drawn not just to the way that children behave in general, but the gender differences that exist. I personally have no issue with culture making the genders different, and while I do accept that culture and biology are interdependent factors, so that we begin to impress upon children that little boys and little girls are different from a very early age, it does not mean that some gender differences are inborn. The challenge is resiting taking a moral position on what we should be doing with our children before we impress upon them some other forms of cultural pressure, before we fully understand all the factors in play.

You think it is ridiculous to consider that just because women get pregnant, it is no reason they should not be as good at flying airplanes than (or perhaps better). Perhaps you are correct, however I see no reason to belive that men and women are equal or the same. If our physicla bodies are different, why not our brains, our intelligence, our emotional, moral and mental capacity. This is not a politically correct question to even suggest because we have been 'culturally' raised to believe that we must all be equal, in gender, race etc, with equal rights etc (although it is patently obvious that equality is a political pipedream.

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Trevor,

I honestly think your attitude is flat-out dangerous.
I'll skip explaining how the example of pregnancy actually shows the opposite of what you meant (since both women and men act nowadays as if fertile and infertile days don't even exist – a very strange way to behave for primitive men and women). I skip that because you already agreed that we have no idea what really was, and what *relevant* biological differences, if at all, exist between men and women. Your suggestion that we should remain agnostic about anything that doesn't rely on solid proof is, to say the least, unfeasible, since most of what we hold true is but conjectures.

You say that -

"The challenge is resisting taking a moral position on what we should be doing with our children before we impress upon them some other forms of cultural pressure, before we fully understand all the factors in play."

Why is that dangerous? Because we will probably never "fully understand all the factors in play", and even if we do, it may be too late. How about waiting for a "proof" that Jews are NOT naturally greedy or evil, before forming a cultural "pressure" against anti-semitism? The same goes, of course, for Black people, Gypsies and any other population group.

What do I mean by "too late"? I mean that women, who are far more talented at specific tasks than most men, cannot do them – because someone in charge thinks that thousands of years ago the average woman (what is that?? I have never met anything like it) was less skilled at that than the average ancient man (??). I really hate to say this, but this is a racist view, because it puts the race (gender, in this case) before the specific human being. This kind of assumptions is always – always! – dangerous and wrong.

I think you misunderstand the very concept of "equality". "Equal rights" mean – every person should have the same *rights*, no matter what their physical demeanor or personal preferences are, and no matter what race or sex they belong to. It does *not* mean that all people have the same skills or abilities, this is simply *not* what "equal" means. It does mean, however, that when a woman applies for a certain job, her ability to do it excellently should be the only relevant parameter for her employer to check. It also means, of course, that from her very first day she – and of course, he, just as well (I already said I see men as victims of sexual discrimination almost as much as women) – should be treated as unique individuals, and have their own unique abilities cultivated. Not those of these fictional characters, the "average man" and the "average woman".

Trevor said...

Hi Adva, thankyou for your response. Our discussion is going the same way of most discussions where there are political positions at stake. (as I mentioned earlier the gender debate seems always to be very polarised) We have been reduced to a "point and counterpoint" and straying further from your original position.

I would like to start with your original article in its entirety and analyse it as it flows - you might have guessed that I do not agree with your position, however I also have issues with your methodology.

What is your prefence? To continue with the process of cherrypicking from each others comments, ignoring and misunderstanding key points, getting increasingly frustrated and emotive, and further from the original point. Or should we call it quits and write it off to another example of human political 'communication'? Or should we start with your base article?

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Trevor,

I must admit I am not in the least surprised... next you should say that I'm castrating you :-D

However, since you didn't respond to the point, I have nothing further to add. Were there a flaw in my argument, of course, I'd expect you would have presented it, rather than evading it by personal attacks (notorious, but common, "ad hominem" fallacy)...

Trevor said...

Hi Adva, in my initial comments I picked a few points that I wanted to see how they were supported by you, however I did not try and analyse your entire article as the format of a blog does not easily lend itself to do this.

My issue with your methodology is around the non specific or qualified assertion you have taken around what we do (or do not) know about ancient men and women. You have made a strong assertion but provided very littel to support it ( I am not talking about your later comments about the various isues that then arise, I am talking about specifics and qualification of the assertion itself. If you are going to make a statement like this, I think you need to qualify exactly what aspects you mean. You have not responded to my specific coments about what we did know about ancient male and female biology - being sure of the physical, external biology of men and women, as well as their DNA structure, and some fairly well supported views about their behavior (like the hunter gatherer role split between men and women).

Without offering your readers a specified base about biology or a defined view of what you understand culture to mean, I cannot see how you can then use this to support some of the differences between men and women today and the tendency that we have to define gender stereotypes. Your initial assertion and assumptions do not give you enough to bridge this gap.

I understand your moral assumption and desire to try and address what you see as gender discrimination, however I just cannot see the factual basis that you are trying to use to support this as being adequate for a valid position.

Are you prepared for me to step through your article piecemeal and make comments at each point? If so I do not think the blog format works very well for this. If you are prepared to post the article in the philosophy forum where you have previously posted I will make my comments there.

See not an ad hominem is sight.....

Adva Shaviv said...

Actually, I opened a blog since I like this format, and I'm very willing to have an enlightening conversation with anyone speaking to the point.
Thanks for your interest! :-)

Trevor said...

Hi Adva, as I think the blog format would be flooded by a point by point discussion of the entire article, I will summarise my views upon your article.
On reading your article on gender differences, I sense that you have a pre-existing moral issue with gender equality that you believe needs addressing. Your argument is thus swayed in order to achieve this. The reason I say this is because your argument spends significant time justifying that gender differences are the result of cultural conditioning rather than innate biology. Having spent some effort on this, you then qualify that even if there are innate differences, simple morality should dictate that we work to remove these.
Your argument for gender differences not being innate does not offer very much specific evidence or logic for the differences being cultural. You have offered the effect that musical training has upon the mind, the interaction between innate capability and conditioning is well known for many activities, and the delineation between these two aspects is well researched. The ability for the brain to rewire does not mean there is no inherent capability or gender difference in the brain, it just means we have plastic brains with some very powerful innate ability. However you ignore the challenge of showing how the XX and XY chromosomes along with primary sexual organs are a product of culture and not innate biology.
You then allow yourself the option that even if there are innate differences, we should work toward removing these. Once again you do not give any specifics, but how do you imagine we would do this. Aside from your personal moral position that it is desirable to do this, is it even possible to remove gender differences that are innate?
If you feel the moral imperative is so great to remove all gender differences, why is a rational argument necessary to support it? Why not suggest that your moral opinion is sufficient motive to remove any gender differences, and avoid the difficult task of using a reasoned approach to show that gender differences are cultural and not innate?

Adva Shaviv said...

Hi Trevor,

I'm afraid I'm not the one swaying arguments here. I do hope you've read my post carefully, because it's really a simple argument, and yet, you still haven't answered to the point.

Since science cannot show that biology is not affected by culture (in fact, it is pretty obvious that it IS affected, as in the case of musicians), I don't see where my argument fails. If you think there's evidence to the contrary, please bring it forward, then there would perhaps be a basis for discussion.

To make my argument easier for you, I can summarize it thus: since we can't determine the truth, and there are moral implications both ways, then obviously we're bound to make a political and moral choice. It can either be the one that has been made so far (differentiate between the sexes based on what may only be prejudice), or the one I suggest (treat every individual as a person, not as a gender-specimen).

If you deny that this is a political-moral choice either way, you have to support this with unequivocal factual evidence, which you haven't brought so far.
If, on the other hand, you think your moral attitude is better than mine, you need to explain why, which you haven't done either.

Trevor said...

Adva, I have not suggested that biology is not affected by culture and you will find in my comments I have not taken this position. I read your position to say that gender differences exist because of culture, not because they are innate, and it is this I am looking to you to validate. Culture certainly does affect our biology, however it acts upon a base of innate biology.
You have said we are unable to determine the truth, I do not see how this forces us to make political or moral choices. If we are unable to determine truth on what basis do we decide if something is right – because it serves our personal agenda? I think this is how people DO make moral choices, and then attempt to provide a rational basis to support a moral position.
I am also not suggesting we treat people based upon gender alone or as individuals with no recognition they can belong to a group. I do not see this as mutually exclusive. As you are a woman, I will conclude that you have some characteristics common to all woman. If I am a marketing person, I will ensure I approach you to sell bras and not male only products. Granted you might not wear bras or shave your armpits, however I would only approach this if there are a group of ‘women’. I will also respect your choice to use female only toilet and shower facilities, for no other reason than you are a woman. Since we are having a one-on-one debate, I am approaching you as Adva (who is incidentally a woman), but I see your comments as gender neutral (although you might have a female centric view swayed by feminist assumptions), I still treat you as gender neutral and address your actual argument. .
You are arguing that we must make political and moral choices for this topic, and this with the assumption that we cannot know the truth of reality. Although people do this everyday, I do not see the rationale behind MUST doing this. If we see differences between genders, between individuals, species, living and nonliving, why must we take a position of moral right and wrong for this? Surely if we do not know the facts, this is doubly dangerous. I can better understand taking a moral position if we are more sure of our facts, but not in ignorance. I also disagree with your premise that we do not or cannot know the truth about gender biology. We can be reasonably sure about many gender differences, and the influence of culture, the judgement comes in being clear about what we know and what we do not. And if your position is one of ignorance of the truth, then why do you pursue the logic of the musicians brains – since you seem to be sure you will never understand the truth of anything? In addition your position does come across as being sure about some truth – even the position of not knowing the truth is one of certainty. If you claim knowing no truth, then you cannot even claim to know this.
You have asked me to justify my moral attitude as better than yours. I have not offered a moral attitude on gender differences, I am not sure where you get this from. Al I have done is try to understand how you have justified your position. I do not have a moral basis on differences between gender. I do not judge the segregation of toilet facilities on gender as being right or wrong, or recognising women as women, or men as men, or making generalisations on this basis.
If you want to discuss any moral position I have on gender, we would need to go far deeper than we have thus far. Give me something concrete and I will take a moral position. I certainly have personal prejudices, but I do not put them up as being what we should all follow. I am more interested in the truth of things than personal morality.

Adva Shaviv said...

Trevor, I'm really sorry, but it seems like you're not reading carefully whatever I right. I'm afraid there's just a limited number of times I can repeat myself, and this is a blog - not a private tutoring.

There are contradictions in your own response, but it's getting too far from the issue to get into. Suffice it to say that *any* choice of how to treat the genders is political, and contradicting this is, in the best case, naivete.

Trevor said...

How should I interpret such a dismissive response? An unwillingness or inability to address my specific comments, or a genuine case of communication misfires? Your suggestion of ‘tutoring’ me is patronising and disingenuous in the extreme and serves as a weak attempt to distract from the lack of substance in your responses to date. Given the limitations of the blog format to fully debate content, I invite you to see my detailed review of your article – posted here in the philosophy forum.
One point we appear to be in violent agreement upon is the political agenda around gender – so why bother with a facade of reason? I will not presume to consider my response to your article as educational tutoring – for this to occur there needs to be a willingness to learn. Your blog title invites us to the challenge of thinking and questioning - surely this also applies to you as well?

Adva Shaviv said...


Exactly: this blog was set up for clear thinking and questioning, and therefore, arguments and reason speak for themselves. It doesn't matter if you find my argument against gender-bias upsetting or agreeable; either way, any response should be purely reasonable. The claim that "political" excludes "reason" is, I'm really sorry to say, ridiculous (to say the least). So, for the last time: I will gladly benefit from well-based opposing views. I have better things to do with my time, though, than respond to anything other than that. This is by no means meant as an insult or dismissiveness, and I would have been just as uninterested in unsound arguments supporting my argument. I am interested in soundness, not necessarily in agreement.

Trevor said...

Adva. I have no issue with your position being upsetting or agreeable, I have an issue with its lack of substance. I have made no claim that political excludes reason. I just cannot see any solid reasoning behind your argument, so I consider it to be political position and an unsuccessful attempt to support it with reason. I have said this because your own statement
“since we can't determine the truth, and there are moral implications both ways, then obviously we're bound to make a political and moral choice”.
I interpret your comment to say you cannot be sure of the facts you offer, so you have made a political/moral choice regardless. If you have no confidence in your knowledge of the facts, what basis do you have to take any position at all?
You have asked for well-based opposing views. If you do not consider mine to be so, why have you not countered to any specific points? If you have an interest in soundness, I would like to see this reflected in your argument. I have made many specific comments about where I see this lacking in your position, yet I see no specific responses.

Adva Shaviv said...


I went through some of your remarks in the "philosophy forum", and realized that you obviously read what you want. For instance, you claim (here above) I said I'm not sure of "my" knowledge of the facts, when I clearly pointed out - with evidence - to the fact that *science* doesn't have a clear knowledge of the relevant facts. This is the heart of my argument.

To conclude, I'm very glad for your interest in my blog. You're most welcome to keep reading and commenting. I am not in the habit of responding to off-the-point comments, as they break the logical, to-the-point nature of this blog. Therefore, while I do not tend to delete comments, I may not respond, if I feel this is not contributing to the debate.

Trevor said...

The heart of your argument has stopped beating. Perhaps you are confusing your own ignorance of science with the ignorance of science itself. Your argument that science does not have clear knowledge of the facts is simplistic on your part, however I have no doubt you are unshakeable on this.
My interest in your blog has arisen because of my interest in how people have moral assumptions and then try and find the facts to support their a priori arguments. My interest is seeing how well their argument stands up to my scrutiny. Your approach is the norm. There are very few people who are capable of setting aside their personal agendas and evaluating the facts independently and arriving at conclusions before they consider the moral implications. Even the top scientists, Richard Dawkins for example, have moral assumptions that are at odds with their objective science. I conclude that this is because although we only seek the truth for ourselves, not for others, and our own perceptions will suffer from cognitive dissonance. We are in essence a power seeking species, as are all living things. Our claims to be rational do not stand up to scrutiny.
Since our discussion on your gender crusade will go nowhere, let me see how you respond to a question about gender discrimination.
Do you consider that women are, overall, disadvantaged more than men? If you do believe this, what exactly are the criteria by which this is measured? How can we be sure of it to be the case that women are more disadvantaged than men using an objective measure of value?

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