December 9, 2011

On the statistical difference between men and women

I have made som bold claims about the difference between men and women on this blog, in essence claiming that there are no significant differences as regards personality traits.

Men can be as introvert, timid, submissive, emotional and hysterical as women, and women can -- if they are allowed to do so -- be aggressive, analytic, assertive, ambitious  and plain out cold blooded.

And I have said that the few observable differences we can see, might as well be caused by cultural upbringing as by genetic differences.

I have had quite a few readers arguing that this cannot be possible, as they, personally, have observed that women are more likely to be -- let's say -- compassionate than me, and that men do not ask for directions when lost.

I would guess that in some sub-cultures the punishment for not adhering to cultural stereotypes will be so severe that these observations will be true. In an Amish village women are more likely to live up to the clich├ęs.

Elsewhere, however, I fear our cultural prejudices makes us see differences that are not there. In other words: If we meet women who are demure and caring, we take it as a proof of there being a biological difference. And if we meet women who are not, we consider the exceptions to the general rule.

Pink brain and blue brain

There has, of course, been done a lot of research in this area. There are several problems attached to these studies, though. Most of them do not correct for the cultural upbringing and the human need to belong, and the scientists themselves are often very biased. They are actively looking for a biological basis for gender differences, and they only publish or refer to studies that confirm that there are such differences.

I highly recommend the book Lise Eliot's book Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It . This is a more popular critique of modern biological sex research.

What she manages to document is how science papers that seem to prove gender differences, most often find very small differences. These differences might be "significant" from a statistical view point, but certainly not from a social one. 

She says:

"When it come to differences between boys and girls, and even most psychological gaps between men and women, the fact is that the gaps are much smaller than commonly blieved and far from understood at the level of the brain or neurochemistry."

When researchers measure the difference between men and women they are looking for a difference value -- d


She explains:

"You calculate it by substracting the mean score of females on a given test from the mean score of males and then dividing the result by the standard deviation of both groups (which is basically a measure of the overall spread of abilities, or the width of the curve)."

The d values are positive for traits or skills where males outscore femalses and the other way around.  By convention, differences are considered small when the d value is around plus or minus 0.2. Medium is 0.5. 0.8 and higher is considered a large value.

Insignificant differences as regards personality traits

It turns out the differences are quite small compared to the range of performance within each sex. Eliot makes a comparison with a truly significant difference: the difference between men and women as regards height (2.6). In the accompanying figure, Eliot adds a couple of curves showing a difference of 0.35:
From Pink Brain Blue Brain. Click on image to enlarge!

"The d value of 0.35 in this graph is close to what's seen measurements of sex differences on standardized science-test scores or (if the male-female curves where swapped) in evaluations of verbal fluency (that is, the speed and accuracy of speech). The curves obviously overlap through most (76 percent) of their range, and the difference between average males and average femailse is small compared to the ability range within each sex."

As Eliot points out, this means that a large number of women are better at men at science, math and asserting their opinions, while loads of men outperform the average woman at speaking, reading and interpreting the feelings of others. This means you can never use this reaserch to make predictions about individuals. 

Eliot refers to Jane Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, who points out that out of 124 extensively analyzed gender specific  psychological traits, 96 were in the small difference range (d less than 0.35). 

"Or as others have succinctly put it," she says, "'Men are from North Dakota, women are from South Dakota'."

And please note that many of these studies are based on questionnaires. As Anne Fausto-Sterling has documented (Myths Of Gender: Biological Theories About Women And Men ) , men and women have a tendency of giving responses in accordance with the stereotypes, mostly out of a need to belong and to appear normal. Even if you arrange seemingly neutral ability tests, the gender context will influence the results. Tell women that you are testing women's excellent mathematical abilities and they will perform well. Tell  them that men are expected to perform better in tests of spatial abilities and the women will perform worse than men.

The extremes of extremes

Elliot also points out that sex differences between the man male and female are nowhere near as great as those between the extremes, but it's only the extremes that make headlines.

And it is the focusing on extremes that leads to gender stereotyping. As Eliot points out, beliefs about male-female differences have actually become more exaggerated over the past several decades.

Gender and transgender

Why is this relevant for the transgender debate?

There are several reasons:

1. The stereotypes are used to persecute transgender men and women, both by cisgender and other transgender people.

I grow cold when I hear transwomen disparage other male to female transgender people by arguing that they are violent male chauvinist pigs who cannot understand women, or who dismisses the sex identity of another transwoman because she argues too strongly or "manly".

I find this especially offensive when the women who make these accusation show a kind of aggression that according to the stereotypes is a male trait. It isn't, of course, but the irony is tragic.

2. The stereotypes mess up our attempts at understanding our own sex identity.

I have seen male to female transgender who hold on to their shyness, intoversion, passivity as proofs of their femininity. They may perfectly well be women, but an introvert personality profile is as likely to be male as female.

I have also heard male to female transgender, who -- in spite of severe gender dysphoria -- argue that they cannot possible be women, as they are too interested in -- I don't know -- science fiction, engineering or (God forbid!) sex. I guess they believe all women are asexual barbie dolls, which is -- of course -- sheer nonsense.

if XX women do not have to adhere to the stereotypes to be considered women, transwomen do not either. Sex identity cannot be determined on the basis of a pscyhological personality profile. 

3. We miss the fact that a male to female transgender interest in feminine attire, behavior or stereoypical sexuality can be a symptom instead of a cause. 

That is: The reason some crossdressers want to dress up in a pink dress, is not that dressing up is pink is genetically programmed into women, but that the crossdresser has an inner woman than is looking for a way to express herself, and she makes use of the cultural symbols at hand.

By dressing up in culturally extreme symbols, the inner femininity is affirmed.

Gender mapping

One possible explanation of this is found in the research of Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna (Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach).

Susan A. Speer makes the following summary in her interesting book Gender Talk: Feminism, Discourse and Conversation Analysis :

"What Kessler and McKenna found was that once gender had been assigned, almost anything that person did would be seen as consistent with that gender attribution. Irregular details (e.g. a male sounding voice) would be understood with reference to the original attribution and used to substantiate it (e.g. 'It is a husky-voiced female'...) When faced with contradictory evidence, the members would do anything to make sense of it, except, that is, to acknowledge that the person might be ambiguously gendered."

I experience this all the time, as I clearly have a voice that sounds like a woman's. This is no problem as long as the one I am talking to can see my male appearance, but on the phone they have no visual clues to balance the input from my voice.

I once had a Japanese colleague who was on the verge of committing hara kiri when he realized he was talking to me, and not the woman he believed to be my secretary. He had taken me for a woman, which in his mind must be the most offensive insult ever!

Ah, well...

Transsexual friends tell me of a tipping point. After having taken hormones for a while there suddenly comes a day when people stops treating them as men, and starts responding to them as women. It is as if all the subliminal cues have reached some kind of critical mass. As soon as that has happened, a geeky interest in Star Wars and ComicCon is considered a quaint and charming feminine trait, and not a proof of her being a nerdy boy.

All of this means that to the extent there are typical male and female personality traits and behaviors, they are in our minds and not in the real world.  It is time for us to free ourselves from these restraints.

65 comments:

Jonathan said...

Regarding "insignificant differences as regards personality traits", I think the point is this:

Yes, there may be some inherent differences between men and women (other than the obvious ones regarding procreation and so forth), but science indicates that such differences (where they exist at all) are really quite small – and are far less significant than the enormous variety of difference between, for instance, people of the same sex.

In which case, rather than organizing society (starting from earliest childhood) on the basis of difference (as we currently do), it would be much better to organize it on the basis of sameness and wait for human difference (regardless of sex) to show itself.

Halle said...

I like this post Jack. Thanks for all the research you always do, but especially your personal observations of Norwegian women.

As much as we might emphasize those things we missed by being socialized male, the great news is we did not have to fight to pursue those interests that are not stereotypically female as our gg sisters might.

Having said that, it is so true that a genetic female is given wide latitude for their dress or 'masculine' pursuits that many genetic males envy when their interests stray into traditionally feminine areas.

Halle

Deena said...

No sale Jack. You are guilty of intellectual rape. In typical male fashion you wanted a particular result and sought the means to achieve it.

Halle said...

@Deena: Not taking sides, just wondering what in particular you are referring to here.

Is the 'in typical male fashion' comment really intended here btw, or are you truly unaware of any woman who might select sources to justify her point of view?

Deena said...

Halle I am truly unaware of any man who ever worried about getting pregnant.

Lindsay said...

Deena,

You really need to justify your comments. You can't really make such a statement without something to back it up. Please identify what you disagree with and tell us your reasons for disagreeing.

By the way lots of (if not most) women look forward to getting pregnant and giving birth. It may be annoying and painful, but it's also fulfilling in a multitude of ways.

Lindsay

Deena said...

Lindsay I said nothing about looking forward to or otherwise. Find me a single woman who has not had concerns (worried about) even though it is a fundamental desire.

Check your privilege. This post is not about me. What part of rape do you not understand? Is it pairing the word intellectual with it? Jack wants there to be no differences significant between men and women so Jack gets what Jack seeks. Statistics are like that. You can prove anything you want with statistics.

But I'm sure you know far more than I do. If you want to believe Jack's magic coolaid I'm sure you can justify it.

Chaiti said...

Hello Jack,
I am an autistic MTF transsexual woman.
Well, autism has nothing to do with sex hormones directly. It is something physically wrong with the brain. Not all masculine or feminine behaviors have to do with sex hormones or the 23rd pair of chromosomes. It is just merely coincidental when it results in more masculine behavior. Sure, there may be girls with autism, but since they may have a larger corpus colossum (the white matter in the center), it may effect them different. Also, it seems that due to different cultural expectations, girls with autism/Aspergers might be missed.
The effects of autism in males is often ironic. They may have more spatial abilities than other males, less abilty than males to organize things (futher from the feminine side), more awkward than males, etc. But they are often more likely to be TSs or they may be perceived as gay by others. That is ironic when you think about it. Those who undergo gender transition tend to have challenges with it. They may be poor at observation skills and they may lack many of the elements of a personality. They would benefit from people telling them how a person of the gender they believe they are behaves and acts, but that is not what they get. They get advice that is suited to NTs (neuro-typicals) such as “watch others and be yourself.” If watching others does not teach you much, then what is the point? How can you be yourself if you have very little self to be? They may be more likely to be TSs, yet have lots of trouble passing as a member of the sex that corresponds with their gender. It is a double bind and very hard on them.
Now, we must isolate feminine feelings from feminine abilities and behaviors. A person’s sense of self is independent of their abilities and their automatic behaviors. The testosterone in the womb theories have to do with identity, not ability. It is possible for someone to have the talents and abilities of a male while feeling with intensity and conviction that they were supposed to be a woman.
Now, one thing that seems to tie this together is neuro-chemical disruptors. A lot of TSs and autistics may live near farms, factories, computer manufacturing plants, etc. Now, the pollutants and chemicals may cause a crucial stage of gender programming to be missed by interfering with hormones. If that happens early on, that probably causes transsexualism, and later on might be a precursor to transgenderism and homosexuality. But it is possible that such chemicals also interfere with the development of other parts of the brain. So one can have the gender orienation of female, but have a disease that makes them more masculine.
Or another theory is that in autistic/Aspergers patients, the extra masculine-stereotyped abilities creates a sense of imbalance, and they may attempt gender transition to help relieve the imbalance. I know from my own experiences that I’ve tried everything to curb anger and difficulties in getting along with others that I felt my last hope was transition. The female hormones calmed me down a lot and made me a more cooperative person.
I don’t put too much stock in the extreme male theory since I am a TS and have Aspergers. Yes, in certain things I do have more masculine traits, and I wish that were not so. I tend to have more technical interest than most males or females. It takes me longer than a lot of people to do a lot of normal tasks. I’m less coordinated and organized than a lot of people, and I compartmentalize things. It is hard for me to remember things out of context.

Chaiti said...

If I know someone from one place, it will be hard for me to remember who they are in another setting. I have feelings of justice and revenge that are stronger than most men have. But, what about the things that the site you gave calls feminine behavior? I liked to gossip, and I was more verbal. I played with trucks because that was what I was given, but if I had been given dolls, I would have played with them. I absolutely hated sports and still do. I used to be called a lot of names growing up, a number of them that attempted to attack orientation, when, to tell you the truth, I’ve never had an orientation. I’ve never felt a need or desire for sexual relations with anyone of either sex. I’ve always been more sensitive to teasing than others.

Lindsay said...

Deena,

Isn't the manipulation of statistics one of the points of this post? Isn't Jack's point that the researches own bias' effect the results. It's when you strip out that bias that you see the lack of significant difference.

I still don't see where you're coming from. Pregnancy? Rape? (intellectual rape?) What do they have to do with this post? Are you of the belief that men and women are polar opposites? Jack is saying that when you study the statistics of psychological studies of the difference in the sexes there is really very little difference. That's always been my experience with my friends and acquaintances. Except for differences in sex, sexual orientation and reproduction we all have similar wants and needs and there is great overlap between individuals regardless of sex.

If you've had different experiences or if you have different data please enlighten us. Be constructive, don't bombard us with disparaging remarks.

Palita said...

Lindsay,
I guess you are an out an out transsexual woman and as you have mentioned in your profile,you have been an all girl from an early age.So, what does that make of you?Since you state that there are very small differences between the two sexes, what really made you identify as girl and not just sensitive male?

Deena said...

Oh Lindsay I would never try to bombard you. Go back and read what Jack wrote. He provides some references, some discussion of statistics and then takes a position. He asserts rather than documents or provides data. Then he blathers on about Northern Norway as if a totally unverifiable tale of travels and observations substantiate his preferred conclusions.

So, you are asking me to provide what Jack has not? He fails to even provide a list of the 124 traits which supposedly include 96 with no significant statistical differences. In fact Jack states his preference for organizing society on the basis of sameness right up top in the third paragraph. Don't you find it statistically significant that no "society" has done that in recorded history? He is advocating for a unisex utopia.

Against Jack's premises let's place real life shall we? Have you taken your young children (pre hormonal) to a day care or other children's social gathering? Have you noticed the way boys play and interact and the way girls do? I'm not talking about dolls versus trucks.

But hey, I've never met Jack. He certainly seems smart enough to convince you that men and women are inherently the same. I guess we can do away with all those rape trauma centers and women's shelters and just write it all off as statistically insignificant. Must just be cultural deficiencies that accounts for men willing to wage wars at the drop of a hat while the vast majority of women wouldn't think of leaving the children unless torn from them.

What Jack is saying is be yourself and that's good advice. Actually that is what most men and women do without even thinking about it. And in case you missed it there are significant differences. But I'm sure you believe its all just in the way boys and girls are raised. Do you really believe that?

Sophie said...

Lies, damned lies and statistics.
Superficial performance measures are only a small part of any scientific enterprise, and that's all that's being talked about here.
Deeper, more subtle differences are somewhat harder to determine but that doesn't mean to say they don't exist. On the contrary neurology and pre socialisation behaviour strongly indicates that they are there.
@Deena This makes 2 threads where I'm agreeing with you. Can we go on like this?

Jack Molay said...

@Deena

"No sale Jack. You are guilty of intellectual rape. In typical male fashion you wanted a particular result and sought the means to achieve it."

All the arguments given in this post is based on research carried out by women. How that makes my arguments male rape is beyond me.

These female researchers have systematically gone through current biological research on the differences between men and women and found that these differences are -- at best -- marginal. To the extent they do exist, they can easily be explained by upbringing.

My arguments are also based on feminist research. Feminists see that the biological studies that seemingly prove the differences between the sexes on the basis of genes and hormones is nearly always used to uphold traditional gender stereotypes, the same arguments that have always been used to portray women as weak, reactive, emotional and unstable.

Please note that I am not saying that there is no such thing as a sex identity. I actually believe that our sex identities have an inborn basis, even if it isn't always such a clear cut binary as many want us to believe.

But there is no one to one relationship between that sex identity and stereotypical gender traits.

There are, as far as I can see, only two "traits" that make a significant difference: Body mass/muscular strength and the fact that women give birth.

Women are more likely to be threatened by physical violence than men and that obviously do something to the way they react socially. But that does not mean that women, from nature's side are less aggressive. They express their aggressiveness in other ways.

As for my lack of proof. This is a blog, and not a science journal. That being said, I am always careful to refer to current research when relevant. The post refers to books that presents the details you are looking for.

My personal observations of Norwegian women are, of course, anecdotal, but the observation itself is not original. Many social scientists have underline the tendency of scientists to take the social setting of their own upbringing as natural. Even Freud did so, concluding that "crude" working class women with strong sexual desires had to be perverts.

My girl friend laughed when I showed her J. Michael Bailey's list of typical female mannerisms. As he said: "A limp wrist and a lifted little finger won't cut it when you are dragging the boats on land!"

Today I have also put up a separate post listing the most important critical studies of sex and gender research.

I strongly recommend that you read them!

Jack Molay said...

@Chaiti

Your arguments regarding autism go right to the heart of this:

" A person’s sense of self is independent of their abilities and their automatic behaviors. The testosterone in the womb theories have to do with identity, not ability. It is possible for someone to have the talents and abilities of a male while feeling with intensity and conviction that they were supposed to be a woman."

Exactly! In the same way heterosexual XX women may display the full spectrum of typical "masculine" behavior and still identify as women.

I have heard the argument that since autism -- according to Baron Cohen and others -- represent extreme masculinity, and many male to female crossdreamers seem to be autistic/have Aspberger, this proves that they are not "real" women.

Now, that is truly male chauvinist sexism!

To me autism and Aspberger are not mental illnesses, just parts of that wide variety of human expression Nature and God seem to love so much.

Jonathan said...

@ Sophie:

"On the contrary neurology and pre socialisation behaviour strongly indicates that they are there."

No, actually they don't. Meta-analysis – that is, looking at all studies taken together – shows that such results, when they appear, are either spurious or at least debatable. That most of this meta-analysis has been undertaken by feminists, who might indeed be said to have an agenda here (in that biological essentialist views of gender are often used to bolster the oppression of women), isn't necessarily relevant. Most people have an agenda here, in that we often assume our own experience of gender to be universal and correct. However, the science either stands up or it doesn't – and feminist research has shown that any conclusions drawn on this subject are, at the very best, premature.

As for a unisex society (as somebody else mentioned above), this is not what feminist analysis is implying at all. Instead, it indicates that inherent difference cannot be inferred from gender; that difference is a human quality not a gendered one. It doesn't mean we're all the same.

Sophie said...

@Jonathan. So your meta analyses basically give the lie to studies showing transsexual neurology as being congruent with the target, as apposed to the anatomical sex ? Would have thought that in itself is datum.
But lets say your absolutely right and these studies all are cogent and show no differences. You could add 10 times that number, a 100 times, and it would be no more than an indication rather than any sort of scientific proof that none exist.
My own narrative consists of being someone trained in cognitive psychology entering into hormonal transition virtually by accident. The changes, the differences that provoked, pushed me to reconsider my gender, rather than the other way around. Are the differences I can feel easily measurable ? Definitely not. But some relatively well known differences - spacial ability and colour discrimination - are highly suggestive of far more fundamental ones.
In the end all the studies show is performance. Get an apple and a pc to do the same tasks and the measures of performance won't be that dissimilar. But what's inside, the way programs are written and work, varies enormously. That's the situation re studies of gender difference as far as I can see. Inferring that programming should be the same because of performance similarities would seem highly unscientific.

Jonathan said...

@ Sophie:

Actually, analysis shows such "relatively well-known differences" to be largely spurious too. It's not that there are no differences, but that these differences are too small to bother about. This is the point: the claim for inherent difference always implies that it is very significant, that boys are discretely A and girls are discretely B, which is never the case, or anything even approaching the case. The fact that on average a few more boys are inherently more A than girls (if they are) tells you nothing about any individual boy or girl, so the purported difference is virtually meaningless. As I implied in my first comment at the top of the thread, the overwhelming quality between boys and girls is one of inherent sameness rather than difference.

As for transsexuality, I think the pertinent data here is empirical not scientific: the occurrence of trans identities across history and across cultures, which cannot be denied. Theories about aetiology (such as relating to neurology) are numerous, but no one knows anything certain about this. There's nothing to point at and say, here, look, proof – no matter how much much anyone might like that. All we can do is accept is that someone's sex is what they know and claim it to be, the same as we would for anyone else. It's only privilege that keeps most cis people's sex from being called into question, and even then we can be challenged on it if our gender doesn't match. But —— that's not relevant anyway. The fact that someone has a trans history doesn't tell you anything else about them, any more than a cis history would do; i.e. sex does not imply gender (or capability or anything else) here either.

Sophie said...

@Jonathan. I'm really not sure about your approach to science. Notoriously human sciences lack great explanatory power because of the superficiality of traits capable of being measured and because the observer paradigm limits data collection in significant ways. To take this preselected set of studied differences - preselected in terms of them being part of a small measurable subset of human capabilities - and draw conclusions against empirical evidence seems perverse. It may be 'scientific' but it's certainly not rational.
Particularly when it comes to claims of significance as to basic differences,that doesn't in any way necessarily mean significant as in easily measured.

Lindsay said...

Deena said "So, you are asking me to provide what Jack has not? He fails to even provide a list of the 124 traits which supposedly include 96 with no significant statistical differences. In fact Jack states his preference for organizing society on the basis of sameness right up top in the third paragraph. Don't you find it statistically significant that no "society" has done that in recorded history? He is advocating for a unisex utopia."

Jack's not arguing for a "unisex utopia", he's just making a case that you can't shoe horn an individual into any single set of traits. It's possible, but not very probable, for a male to be at the extreme end of the female spectrum (just like there aren't many females out there either) and vice versa. There are some traits (28 of them) where there is a more significant difference. It seems to me we should be debating these 28 and whether they are innate or learned.

Deena said "Against Jack's premises let's place real life shall we? Have you taken your young children (pre hormonal) to a day care or other children's social gathering? Have you noticed the way boys play and interact and the way girls do? I'm not talking about dolls versus trucks."

Funny you should mention this. Both of my kids, a boy and a girl, attended a cooperative preschool (where the parents are required to spend time in the classroom helping the teacher), At 2 years old I was surprised by the lack of differences. The kids were competing for the same toys, playing on the same play structures. Some boys were carrying around dolls and some girls trucks. There definitely were a few stereotypical girly girls and what ever you call the opposite for boys (bullys?) but there was a tremendous amount of overlap. As the kids got older there was more differentiation between the sexes but the overlap never entirely went away. You can't force an individual into an neat and tidy category. Your sex is predetermined, but your gender (subconscious sex), sexual orientation and whatever the other 124 traits are not, whether they are innate or learned.

Lindsay said...

Palita said "Since you state that there are very small differences between the two sexes, what really made you identify as girl and not just sensitive male?

I never said there are small differences between the sexes. The point of this blog entry is that an individual, regardless of sex, can't be forced into a preset set of traits.

Jack Molay said...

For more on the meta-analysis referred to in the post see Science Daily.

Original paper (PDF) here.

Deena said...

Thanks Jack. I have spent the entire day reading various research papers on behavior analysis and related topics. I'll continue with those links. Your characterization of Lise Eliot's book overlooked her adamant acknowledgement of scientifically identified behavior differences between the sexes both at birth and throughout life. She provides specific examples in her book introduction which can be read on the Amazon site.

I'll continue reading.

Brenda said...

I can only say that this article shows a lot of common sense!

Deena said...

Jack please read carefully the following excerpt from page 589 of the link you provided to Janet Hyde's paper.

"The results indicated that in the individuated condition,
men dropped significantly more bombs (M 31.1)
than women did (M 26.8). In the deindividuated condition,
however, there were no significant gender differences
and, in fact, women dropped somewhat more bombs (M
41.1) than men (M 36.8). In short, the significant gender
difference in aggression disappeared when gender norms
were removed."

Now notice that the difference in both cases is 4.3 but in case one that is described as "significantly more" while in the next instance the very same difference is described as "no significant gender difference".

In fact it was a complete reversal and yet Janet failed to characterize it as such. I realize context is important so please read the analysis which precedes that quote carefully.

My point is that Janet is slanting the conclusions by selectively deploying language much as I have seen you prone to do. I am also perfectly capable of doing the same thing.

How familiar are you with Yin/Yang? I only ask because across all cultures in all ages the differences you seem to want to disparage have been not only obvious but in fact celebrated by those who saw the beauty and strength in complimentary attributes of sex.

Jonathan said...

@ Sophie:

Re: "I'm really not sure about your approach to science." These studies and analysis aren't mine. I'm not a scientist at all. My area of expertise (such as it is) is language.

So, if you want to see the science on this, have a look at the books Jack lists in his follow-up post. Cordelia Fine's "Delusions of Gender" is probably my favourite there.

Sophie said...

@Jonathan. Fine, but if you're unfamiliar with science then why talk about these meta analyses actually proving very much.
I've got no major problems in studies showing little or no significance in the vast majority of cognitive task performance. Though that doesn't mean that I'm happy with the science. There's reasonably well known empirical data that shows assessment through exams as against course work, tends to favour men on a cross cultural basis, which could well have problems for experimental design.
The thing is that the meta analysis ignores perceptual studies - colour and odor discrimination which are fairly clearly sexually dimorphic, as well as spatial orientation.
Additionally to conclude that,say, self esteem is equally a problem between the sexes is a reach. Basically that's for the simple reason that there's no earthly evidence that self esteem in men is either the same thing as female self esteem or susceptible to the same treatment.
To make it clearer, I talk to women quite often about anger. I don't put forward that I'm more or less angry, but that the nature, causes and function are now very different. When I describe, in terms that men totally get, how I used to be, I get somewhat questioning looks and remarks that surely this is just a myth. So essentially I have several hundred reports of a difference in 'anger'. How do I construct an experiment using what's clearly a flawed emotional map ? If I had studies showing that men and women were equally prone to be melancholic or choleric would the scientific methodology validate the accuracy of the emotional map ? Hardly. Frankly experimental studies on, say, aggression need a large amount of salt to accompany them.

Anonymous said...

According to Deena, beauty cannot be related to males and strenght to women bc it has been celebrated by "most" of cultures? it seems somebody needs to check history books: In Ancient Greece, beauty was celebrated mostly like a male atribute. Then, according to Deena, people who don't fit in the perfect binary and are in between are not normal as they are the exception to a general rule? I really think females and males r not that different, (far from the elementary biological atributes for reproduction) most of the "huge" differences between genres r cultural constructions and it is so easy to see that Deenas' speech is just a retoric rant. Jack's post makes a lot of sense and saying it was a "rape" crossed the line.

Jonathan said...

@Sophie:

"if you're unfamiliar with science then why talk about these meta analyses actually proving very much."

You don't have to be a scientist to understand someone else's science. Not if they've explained it in a non-technical way.

As regards the rest of your post: please note that we're not talking here about cultural differences between men and women (i.e. as we have come to be as we are in society). There are all sorts of reasons for those. We're talking about inherent differences.

It's important because (supposed) inherent differences are used to justify prejudice on grounds of sex throughout our social structures (i.e. we're born different; there's nothing to be done). Obviously we are different physically, but whether our culturally defined genders – and, more specifically, our capabilities as men and women (procreation excepted) – follow on automatically from that biological difference is quite another matter.

Namrata said...

Deena-"How familiar are you with Yin/Yang? I only ask because across all cultures in all ages the differences you seem to want to disparage have been not only obvious but in fact celebrated by those who saw the beauty and strength in complimentary attributes of sex"

As far as my opinions count, the concept of yin-yang is a stupid notion of heterosexualized cultures, that too, thosethat thrive on religion and irrational cultural settings.
Remember, we are discussing about scientific truths here, rather than cultural beliefs and what society wants men and women to be.
Women can be as sexually dominating (infact most feminine women are!)
and men can be very meek and sensitive and what not.
Just because culture awards an A+ grade to those men and women who display yin-yang, does not mean all or most men and women are naturally wired to be yin-yang.
You are self-delusional at best.

Deena said...

@ anonymous. I don't put any credence in unsigned opinions.

@ Namrata. Your unfamiliarity with Yin/Yang is duly noted.

Lindsay said...

@Deena and @Sophie. I would really like to see scientific references to back up your opinions. All you've presented so far are just statements based on your personal opinions and conjecture. Jack has done an excellent job laying his cards on the table and you've not had much luck shooting any holes in it. Either fold or show us your hand.

From the limited info you've provided, it seems to me, that you are only noticing the extremes of the bell curves. You seem to be basing your opinions on girly girls and the macho men. You're failing to notice the vast majority of people in the middle. Until you can back up your statements, it's hard to come to a different conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Lindsay: Amen! You hit the nail on the head. ;)

Deena said...

Lindsay did you bother to read the linked information Jack posted? It is clear in those studies that one of the significant documented differences besides height and weight is aggressiveness.

I have no problem with other "folk lore" being dispelled because it should be. For example my mother is better at math than 98% of men (approximately). This is not a girly girl thingie Lindsay. Jack is telling you how to interpret a couple of papers and books and you are buying into it because his view fits yours. The answer to your demand is Jack's own citations. Try reading those materials carefully for yourself instead of lapping up his cool-aid.

@ anonymous ... still afraid to attach a name to your opinions? Discard.

Deena said...

Lindsay here's real life. No differences? Statistically insignificant? http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html

Lindsay said...

Deena said "For example my mother is better at math than 98% of men (approximately). This is not a girly girl thingie."

This is exactly the point that Jack is making in this post. Do you not see this? None of the traits are the exclusive domain of one of the sexes. On 28 of the 124 traits there is a significant difference, but there is still overlap. I believe that aggressiveness is probably due to hormonal factors more than psychological.

Deena said "Lindsay here's real life. No differences? Statistically insignificant? "

I don't see your point here. I see two individuals. They're different. I see no issues with one being a transexual. Why should they have identical subconscious sexes? Some identical twins may have very similar personalities but this isn't the only case they are significantly different. It would be surprising if they were the same.

I really have no idea what you're trying to say. You need to carefully organize your thoughts and set them down in an organized fashion. I'd really like to understand your point of view. I don't think we're really far apart on our beliefs.

Sophie said...

@Lindsay. My point is not that these studies and meta analyses are wrong but that the conclusions drawn from them are wild, dangerous and unjustified.
Dispelling old wives tales of culture specific gender dimorphic traits and abilities is all very well. Getting rid of notions of implicit masculinity and femininity in terms of cognitive abilities or potentiality for fulfilling different social roles is fine, in general. To go on from that to abolish the notion of gender dimorphic difference is another matter entirely.
That's not a matter of disproving these studies but of putting them in perspective. When these studies go beyond, say, mental rotation problems and into categories like self esteem and aggression then they are already embodying the notion that these apply in the same way to both genders. In itself this is very far from obvious. The extent to which the methodology of experiment may be applied to measure these imagined traits is not obviously particularly effective. So a superficial set of studies on categories set up socially as unisex finds few significant variations. The cards on the table you're talking of are just flimsy cardboard.
And aggressiveness being hormonal rather than psychological ? How on earth do you justify that sort of distinction ?

Deena said...

Lindsay perhaps you are correct. We may not be far apart. You made me chuckle with your "organize your thoughts" request. I immediately thought of Mark Gungor's marriage counseling. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ9L9YBJkk8

I'll try. Men and women are different. Both sexes are human and capable of many of the same skills. Measuring similarities and differences is fraught with difficulty. For example how do you quantify "nurturing aptitude" or "warrior urge". Hormones are powerful drugs that do impact both the bodies and mental traits of both sexes. It is much easier to measure the physical impacts of male and female hormones than it is to measure such things as emotions and personality. Yet it is the emotional and personality traits that stand the test of time across all recorded history in stark testimony that men and women are significantly different. Anyone seeking to equate the two sexes is in denial and probably is pushing an agenda. The idea that a man can "dress up" and "be himself" as "a woman" is drag at best and delusional. There are some very good actors that can fool or deceive others into believing they are the sex opposite to what they themselves know they really are. But that is role playing and they each know that it is. The core identity is unchanged and always known only by each person. In other words I know mine but can never know yours and you know yours but can never know mine. However even though that is true if we know each other we each will also have our own understanding of the other's sex and that won't come from things like ability with math. It may also change through shared experiences and observations. This is typically not a cognitive exercise but rather a subliminal one. There are 3 basic categories and they are woman, man and "mixed" although even when I know someone who is "mixed" my own psychology will place them predominantly either as woman or man. But that's just me and maybe you perceive the sex of others differently.

How did I do? Did I pass your test for rationality? I'm a ditz so it was a tough assignment.

Namrata said...

Deena,
I am not at all ignorant.But I get totally pissed off when someone points out traditional folklores in order to highlight differences between the two sexes. It is irrational at worst.
I am a dyke and transwoman. The sexual roles I take on bed have nothing to do with my core gender identity that is female and not man.

Pebbles said...

Deena: You seem to believe you appear smarter than us just for using uncontrollably cognitive biases and fallacies, since justifying ur weak point of views until rejecting my participation in this discussion just by the mere fact i don't "attach a name" to my opinions. Like using a random nickname online would make a big difference! By using a random name your phsychotic rants don't appear smarter for me. And if u want a name, ok, let's say my name is Pebbles... happy? Call me Pebbles if u want.

Deena said...

Thank you Pebbles. The floor is yours. Tell me again that men are women. I'm all ears. Jack says there is no difference statistically speaking. I actually agree with Jack when the yardstick is both are human. That unfortunately is not the proper perspective or yardstick. I'm happy to listen. Go ahead Pebbles, splain it all to me.

Lindsay said...

Deena said "Yet it is the emotional and personality traits that stand the test of time across all recorded history in stark testimony that men and women are significantly different. Anyone seeking to equate the two sexes is in denial and probably is pushing an agenda."

I see your point and agree with most of what you wrote, except for the above. I think the historical record has greatly skewed the differences between men and women based on over 2000 years of male privilege and female sex discrimination. This has forced us into very rigidly defined roles that are imposed on us from birth.

I think the "mixed" category you mention is transgendered, correct? I'm not clear on how your point of view supports this. Can you please elaborate?

I'm not a big fan of psychological studies but they can be a tool to help explain why we are TG. You always have to be leery of the authors biases.

Oh one other thing. You seem to have a very strong opinion that some traits are strictly female or male. Can you explain which traits and why? Why can't there be any overlap?

Jack Molay said...

@Deena

"Now notice that the difference in both cases is 4.3 but in case one that is described as "significantly more" while in the next instance the very same difference is described as "no significant gender difference". "

You are right. This is misleading. I suspect she has gone into the same trap as most of us: Seeing numbers that indicate that women are more aggressive and violent than men she has probably concluded that this is an outlier and use it to balance up studies that show the opposite. You cannot do that.

This does not alter the overall conclusion, though: The differences are either not there, or relatively small, which means that they cannot be used as markers for sex identity.

If there had been no transgender and transsexual people, I would even have concluded that there is no inborn sex identity, and that the differences are all due to social conditioning. I don't think so, as it makes it very hard to explain why some people go through hell in order to become who they truly feel that they are. But what this sex identity is based on, is hard to define.

I do not think it is found in the yin/yang dichotomy. I get the point that both sexual and romantic relationships may be based on the charged tension between different personality types ("opposites attract"), but this tension is also there between lesbian butches and femmes, or -- as described in one of my latest posts -- between male to female and female to male crossdreamers. In the case of the lesbians both have a female sex identity. And again: Men identifying as men can be submissive, passive, and reactive and vise versa.

By the way: As regards aggression I think we all -- some time or the other -- have gone into the trap of equalling aggression with physical violence. Body mass and muscular strength makes it easier for men to succeed when using physical violence. Women therefore become experts in psychological violence, beginning with the harassing girl cliques in the school yard.

In my life (which is not representative -- I know) it has normally been the men who have been the compassionate peace makers.

Iris said...

@ Jack

At the same time, then, what makes females prefer psychological violence to physical? It's not just a social construct. Female bodies are simply built more fragile, less fit for fighting. There are simply biological differences that cannot be overlooked which shape the lives and psyches of each gender, in general.

Perhaps as a biologist, I'm simply not swayed by the "soft" science of psychology, where most everything seems subjective. The fact of the matter is that there are biological differences between the sexes, down to the molecular level, that lays groundwork for social and psychological formula. I don't think I need to cite references, but I'll pull out my developmental biology textbook if I need to. Are we more alike than dissimilar? Yes - we're the same species, after all. But to say that there's statistically no difference given the biological drivers that underlie everything... I find it hard to believe.

Pebbles said...

Deena: Nobody here thinks men are women. Just that there's no psychological trait that exclusively belong to either genre (something that mainstream insist in leading us to think). Easy to understand, easy to check in real life. You don't need to overthink. There's something called "common sense". Use it.

Jonathan said...

@Sophie:

"My point is not that these studies and meta analyses are wrong but that the conclusions drawn from them are wild, dangerous and unjustified. (...) So a superficial set of studies on categories set up socially as unisex finds few significant variations."

Meta-analysis doesn't set up studies, it looks at all the data compiled by studies across the board (i.e. irrespective of what the individual researchers hoped to find) and draws conclusions from that. In this case the conclusions are that studies which show inherent difference are anomalies. In other words, that drawing conclusions from isolated studies (which appear to show inherent difference) is itself wild, dangerous and unjustified.

@Iris:

"Are we more alike than dissimilar? Yes - we're the same species, after all. But to say that there's statistically no difference given the biological drivers that underlie everything... I find it hard to believe."

Given that our societies are so focused on difference, it does seem hard to believe, yes. That's why when reports of studies showing inherent difference appear in popular media, people go "ah, yes, just what we always thought". But the reality is that for every study that shows positive difference, there are ten that show no such difference at all (or sometimes even opposite results). So the question then becomes why did that unusual (positive) result actually occur? – and there are plenty of possible reasons for that.

Deena said...

Pebbles, exchanging pleasantries with you is always so delightful because you always end your posts with a barb or belittling comment. I'm sure you have much more common sense than I do. But isn't Jack arguing the opposite? He wants to present pseudo science and say toss out common sense and read all these studies.

The dynamics I have observed through time is that conclusions often are reversed from one decade to the next based on "the latest and now definitive" study. Butter is bad and margarine is good for you ... oh wait that was wrong. Now butter is healthier.

I think it was Franklin who said common sense is the greatest misnomer in the English language since it is possessed by so few people.

Let's go back to Jack's recommendation. He says "throw off the restraints" because they are artificial and unsupported by the evidence. I actually agree with him because a person can't be one sex or the other by "acting" like what you perceive that sex to be. In other words when a man dresses up all girly girl and does a shy limp wrist-ed mannerism thingie he is still simply in drag and play acting. Be yourself. Those around you will sort out for themselves how they perceive your sex. If they come to conclusions that don't align with your own sense of identity don't cry a river of tears and demand they treat you one way or the other. Get on with your life because each of us knows our own sex identity and that should be enough.

I suppose I should take your cue and end this with a barb but I find no gain in such antics.

Sophie said...

@Jonathan. What I wrote - a 'set of studies' ie not individual but a collective, what meta analysis looks at.
To be absolutely clear. Meta analysis works well when applied to studies measuring small clear cognitive abilities. It irons out experimental variables.
When what's at issue is 'aggression' or 'self esteem' they're pretty useless. That's because these asserted categories cover a wide range of behaviours that may or may not have much in common. Each experiment is relatively different from others in what they may be measuring, and frankly with the categories being so broad are unlikely to be of much importance. Aggregating results from these is simply going by the GIGO priciple.

Iris said...

@Jonathon

Given that our societies are so focused on difference, it does seem hard to believe, yes. That's why when reports of studies showing inherent difference appear in popular media, people go "ah, yes, just what we always thought".

That's actually not true, at least not in the world of academia. There's a reason the decline effect exists in academia - if you publish something contrary to convention, it's far, far more likely to garner attention than not, especially if it's reproducible.

But the reality is that for every study that shows positive difference, there are ten that show no such difference at all (or sometimes even opposite results).

I'm going to have to argue you on this one. I think you're probably looking at a preselective pool - that is, wherever you've gotten your sources, they were already selecting for studies which purport a lack of gender differences. I looked through as non-partial a source as I could (Google Scholar for biological + social sciences, searching for "gender difference" publications in 2011, first three pages of results) and of the first ten that were psychologically based (i.e. not smoking, etc, and are health/societal effects that are too biological/cultural to be of interest), nine described significant differences between the gender (and the tenth was about attitude towards computers). This ratio simply implies that anything highlight a similarity will actually be blown out of proportion, at least in the academic world (and, I suspect, in the gender dysphoric communities as well).

Of special note, one was a cohort study in which over one thousand infants were followed for five years, and the study found gender differences as early as 18 months in the social dimension. I'm not saying that this one study is able to say a whole heckuva lot, but I couldn't find a comparable paper the other way around for ten results. That's not fitting with your proportions.

So the question then becomes why did that unusual (positive) result actually occur? – and there are plenty of possible reasons for that.

I've just offered evidence that no, this isn't the question just yet. On top of that, I already acknowledge there's a great deal of similarity - because we're all human, all very similar in the grand scope of things. But the fact remains that there are significant differences, even if exceptions also exist. It is these differences among the general population that distinguish males from females.

I must admit that I also have some disbelief in a lack of gender barrier simply in that biologically, many of what women go through - the hormone flow, the molecular triggers - are just too disparate from what happens with men. Even a minor cascade can cause a massive difference psychologically; with a lifetime accumulation of these, it seems unlikely that even two with identical DNA sequence save for X versus Y, raised in the exact same circumstance, would have the same psychology, and especially given the permanence of some of these changes (epigenetic modifications, etc). This is to say nothing of how that might affect the psyche - that would likely amplify such effects.

I think it would be foolish to have a strict gender border, since again, many things could make a man more feminine, and a woman more masculine. A spectrum certainly exists; I'm simply against the idea that men and women, on the whole are quite that similar. The gender definitions and associations exist for a reason.

Iris said...

Just wanted to note that I'm really just arguing that Jack and some of the comment-writers on those post are exaggerating the scope of gender similarity, is all.

The TL;DR version - we are more similar than different, but we are different nevertheless, and there is a body of scientific evidence points to the differences between us. There's a spectrum, but there's also definite ends to said spectrum. So I guess I'm somewhere between the two sides, really (Deena and Jack, I guess?).

Further note - some of our similarities as we get older may be because we become more similar through society, not less. It's never accepted to go and randomly punch someone in the street, so neither gender prefers that after cultural/societal teaching, but it's possible that one may slant towards doing so innately.

Regardless, it's a hazy topic, which only makes the definite differences all the more stark.

Jack Molay said...

I just want to thank you all for a very constructive discussion.

I'll try to follow up some of the points made in a later post.

Robyn P said...

Jack,

In looking at the two graphs, they both show that there are differences between men and women. They are not and cannot be construed as being the same.

If a man and a woman are at the same identical place on the chart ("aggressive, analytic, assertive, ambitious and plain out cold blooded."), they are still very different, one being a man and the other being a woman.

It is like having a red and a green apple. They both have the same sweetness and other attributes. However, one is still a red apple and the other green. You could paint the red apple green so it looks like there are two green apples but, in reality, you still have a red apple and a green apple.

Jack Molay said...

@Robyn

"If a man and a woman are at the same identical place on the chart ("aggressive, analytic, assertive, ambitious and plain out cold blooded."), they are still very different, one being a man and the other being a woman."

Yes, I agree, and the very existence of transsexuals tell us that this is so.

But that difference cannot be reduced to a function of stereotypical personality traits. Or to put it another way: specific personality traits can not be understood as markers for the underlying sex.

If there had been no transgender people the answer would have been simple: The sex identity is the end result of upbringing and the cultural context.

The reason little girls prefer girl's toys is not because they are biologically programmed to do so. It is because, they -- as all human beings -- are trying to find a role, to fit in in order to be accepted, respected and loved -- and they do this by adhering to the gender roles defined by the society around them.

But if that was the case, there should be no exceptions. All girls would be girly, and they are not.

So what is it that makes a transsexual woman identify as a woman? That is the questions that needs to be answered.

So far I have seen no totally convincing answers to that question, for the simple reason that nearly all the theories are either coupled with the culturally determined stereotypes or they interpret transgender conditions as end results of a perverted sexuality. I think this is a much more complex phenomenon.

Sujata said...

Jack,
I can also reframe your question in another way. Why is it that all masculine girls,ie., girls who are not girly and don't care for girly gender roles, don't feel as if they are transmen?
Or why boys who are averse to social manhood roles, such as gay and bisexual men, don't feel as if they are transsexual women?
If both the transsexual woman as well as the bisexual male are androphilic and feel sexually submissive, then what distinguishes the two?
I guess this is in itself a very interesting question that needs analysis at a very deep level.
At the end of it, I think sex identity is what determines gender identity rather than what stereotypical roles you love.
So, it is 100% possible to swear like a man and play football but feel female from inside, as it happens with many XX biological cis women. While, it is 100% also possible for a XX biological female to feel transsexual (ie, identify as man) despite being into mostly girly things! I have met many effeminate transmen and you will be shocked to know this.

Lindsay said...

Sujata said "At the end of it, I think sex identity is what determines gender identity rather than what stereotypical roles you love."

I've always thought that Jack was arguing that you can't stereotype anyone. I'd like you to cite some examples where he has.

The curves in these studies show that for each sex, the traits are for a large number of people are distributed in the classic bell shape. The stereotypes would be the people at the center of the curves.

Sexual identity and gender identity are different. "Sexual identity" is the sex you're born with and is fixed. "Gender identity" is the sex you actually picture yourself as and is a complex mixture of many factors both inborn and environmental. In the vast majority of the population, sexual identity and gender identity are the same. It's the people whose aren't the same that are transgendered. The same environmental and inborn factors can effect where you fall on the bell distribution.

So what you say about sexual and gender identity is correct for most people. But it doesn't apply for the transgendered.

Sujata said...

@Lindsay
I am not saying Jack mentioned about stereotypes.
Indeed he never does so and I am here not to prove him wrong, but to offer my own views on this matter.
And by 'sex-identity' I actually meant what you term as 'gender-identity',ie., the sex you mentally perceive yourself as irrespective of your body.
What I really intended to highlight was that how some cis-folks tend to for many reasons, fall entirely outside the 'normal range' of the bell-curves,yet never feel transgendered. Yet, many individuals who fall in the normal range of the bell curves (on basis of their birth sex), may feel transgendered (like, masculine transwomen or effeminate cismen).

This should perhaps mean that being transgendered refers to not a dissonance in terms of having traits falling outside the bell curve ranges, but, rather, in having a dissonance in the inner sex identity, irrespective of whether the traits fall outside the bell-curves or not!
Looking for comments on this one.

Lindsay said...

Sujata,

Then I guess we agree! Thanks for straightening me out. The point that even "normal" people can be transgendered is a great one.

Sujata said...

Lindsay,
I also guess this is because the word "normal" is misdefined by our culture and sciences.
For example, the tendency of our culture to term a macho champ as normal,and to denigrate a soft male as sissy or wimp or effeminate.
Probably a sensitive male isn't 'feminine' at all in real sense, though a tmoboyish transgirl would be.
Julia Serano comes into my mind.

Jonathan said...

Coming back to this:

@ Iris: "The TL;DR version - we are more similar than different, but we are different nevertheless, and there is a body of scientific evidence points to the differences between us. There's a spectrum, but there's also definite ends to said spectrum."

Okay, we can argue about the degree of difference – the literature (which Jack lists in his follow-up post) doesn't claim that the spread of difference is identical between the sexes, just that it's much smaller than our cultural and social structures assume. I think the relevant point in the context of this thread is, as you put it, that "we are more similar than different". Given that, the question is: why organize society around difference if similarity is the dominant factor. In my opinion it would be better, as I said in the first comment, to organize "on the basis of sameness and wait for human difference (regardless of sex) to show itself".

@ Sujata: "This should perhaps mean that being transgendered refers to not a dissonance in terms of having traits falling outside the bell curve ranges, but, rather, in having a dissonance in the inner sex identity, irrespective of whether the traits fall outside the bell-curves or not!"

I agree with that. There's no reason why being transsexed (in any direction) should imply any particular type of gender identity. In the same way that being a ciswoman, for example, tells you nothing about what sort of woman she might be, so being trans tells you nothing either – there are butch transwomen as well as very feminine transwomen. The implication, therefore, is that transexuality is about embodying an internal sense of sex, not about cultural ideas of gender.

Jack Molay said...

@Sujata

"What I really intended to highlight was that how some cis-folks tend to for many reasons, fall entirely outside the 'normal range' of the bell-curves,yet never feel transgendered. Yet, many individuals who fall in the normal range of the bell curves (on basis of their birth sex), may feel transgendered (like, masculine transwomen or effeminate cismen)."

Yes, this is the important point. There is no clear one to one relationship between gender expression and sex identity.

@Lindsay

You an I are on the same page, but you wrote one thing that I would like to follow up:

"The curves in these studies show that for each sex, the traits are for a large number of people are distributed in the classic bell shape. The stereotypes would be the people at the center of the curves. "

In real life I think this is true, in the sense that being "at the top of the curve" wold make you feel safe and on the inside. What's interesting, however, is that the role models presented by entertainment and media are not at the center, they are at the fringes of femininity and masculinity. Small girls try to become Barbie and small boys want to be hypermasculine pirates or soldiers.

This adds another layer of miscommunication: The fact that the stereotypes are extreme makes it even harder for gender-nonconforming people to fit in.

Sonali said...

Hi, I don't have much experience of the genderqueer people per se although I do have a few gay people among my friends and I had a few flings with women and I came to the conclusion that I am attracted to butch women (but not the stone type though) although I am still into men too so perhaps I'm bi, or perhaps I'm 'lesBi' (if I borrow a term used by someone else on this forum). I find that there is more space for me to express my queerness in a gay relationship or anything queer i.e FTM. Having said that, I kind of developped a crush with a male colleague at work (a very unlikely situation, and I don't think that it is reciprocal, at least I can't see the signs!!) so it seems that I am still emotionally and sexually able to go towards men. The trouble is, I tend to run away from men I am attracted to. I initially put this down to some low self-esteem, and an unexplained sense of inadequacy. Because I have developped greater awareness of my gender identity and genderqueerness since the beginning of this year while finding this site and reading other people's accounts, I wonder if my long standing confusion regarding my gender identity is at the root of my lack of confidence with men. But as I am becoming clearer about who I am and comfortable with it, I find that I may be more confident and less bothered by other's judgement.

But I noticed that many people who are not versed in gender issues tend to get confused between gender identity and sexual orientation. In my case, I think that I am still predominently heterosexual but because like yourself, there is something masculine about my appearance particularly in terms of my body language and my behaviour or approach to some situation, then they assume that I am gay. A bit like effeminate men are easily assumed to be gay too. I know that sounds very stereotyping but what most people may understand about LGBT issues is to do with homo/bisexuality, transexuality, etc..but many people don't have a clue that although there are two biological gender, there is a wide spectrum of gender IDs. So for example, I may go out with a man so that on the surface it looks like the usual heterosexual relationship between two people of opposite sex, but in terms of ID, I may relate to this man feeling like a 'gay male' if I incorporate my masculine side in the relationship and this man if also genderqueer, may relate to me feeling like a 'lesbian woman'...so that if it looks like a heterosexual relationship for the external eye, we may experience an homosexual relationship for functioning with gender ID opposite to our biological gender. I don't know if what I'm saying make sense lol!!

Jack Molay said...

@Sonali

No, this is very important. Even though modern urban people may be quite sophisticated when it come to different exotic practices and fetishes, many of the are still equals gender presentation and gender/sex identity.

The only major development in this area the last 100 year or so is the recent understanding and acceptance of homosexuals.

But it seems to be many continue to project the masculine/feminine dichotomy onto gay people too. In some cased this works well (butch vs. femme), in others not.

But I am not surprised that this is so. This binary is forced down our throats since we are very young (pink vs blue) and most people fear to go outside this boundary. In fact, it is very risky, as you may find that you lose friends and family by breaking the rules.

There is also a related and strange social and cultural phenomenon that deserves more attention: People may actually be intellectually aware of the gender diversity. They still judge people by external appearances -- unconsciously, it seems.

Sonali said...

Jack,
Yeah you hit the nail here!
And it is because of these same cultural definitions that we find even ourselves difficult to understand even if the reality is clear and right in front of our very eyes.
For example,my inner voice may always be subconsciously telling me that I am a gay man and am supposed to be so, even if I have a female body.
However the fact that I like men, and have sexual fantasies about men with me in the traditional femme role, may confuse me, making me sometimes think I am afterall, like any other straight female.
But then again, I wake up and realize that no, I am not!
I am seeing myself clearly as a femme gay man but certainly not as woman. I am a man as I am fantasizing having a man's body and being topped by another gay man.

Jack Molay said...

Sonali says: "I am seeing myself clearly as a femme gay man but certainly not as woman. I am a man as I am fantasizing having a man's body and being topped by another gay man."

Which reminds me that we can never reduce female to male crossdreamers to dominant "tops".

All of this makes it very hard to find compatible play mates and partners. The gay culture has managed to establish a culture of discreet signals and meeting places for finding other non-conformative people. But how do you develop signs and symbols for this kind of diversity?

Lewis N. Clark said...
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