Friday, June 10, 2011

Men Are Not Hardwired for Infidelity: Why Does Pop Culture Insist on Biological Differences Between the Sexes? [AlterNet]

Grasping after certainty about gender roles has fostered some bad science and stereotyping that harms both sexes.

Type "men" and "hardwired" into Google and you tap into a wonderfully absurd catalogue of assertions about male behaviour. Men are "hardwired" to cheat, ignore their wives, suspect infidelity, overspend, fail, love money, pursue women and achieve supremacy in the workplace. Meanwhile, women are "hardwired" to worry about their weight and dump cheaters. All include the magic phrase "scientific studies show". It's a snapshot of how science is being used and abused to legitimise gender stereotypes. It would be laughable if it didn't signify how a form of biological determinism -- the claim that differences between men and women have a basis in innate biological characteristics -- has re-emerged and acquired an astonishing popular currency.


A tiny number of tests show sex differences. One of these (famously used to argue that men are better at engineering and other sciences) is a test comparing two shapes. Men are slightly more likely to use a method known as mental rotation, despite it being rather less efficient. Overall, in 45 items in the test, only three show sex difference, two of them favour girls and only this aspect of mental rotation favours boys. Spelke is astonished as to why this slight difference favouring boys has attracted such disproportionate attention.


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