A while back my friend wrote a blog post, on her now defunct blog, called “Boys Don’t Read”. Her blog was a humorous chronicle of her daily life, raising kids, having a career and being a divorced single woman. Boys Don’t Read, was a post about her foray into online dating. It didn’t surprise me that her being an intelligent, successful, athletic and conventionally beautiful woman got a mountain of messages from interested men. The main issue for her was out of all of these messages only about ten percent, at most, were from men who actually read her profile. So she would have to spend each day deleting one word messages and responding to guys who would ask her questions clearly answered in her profile, and guys who had nothing in common with her who just liked her pictures, to find that small ten percent of men that she MIGHT be interested in.
I was sympathetic to this blog post, but I had one quibble with her. I didn’t like her assumptions that these behaviors were limited to men. I too was using online dating, having recently moved to a new city, and I had experienced a lot of the same things from women. While I got only a fraction of the messages she did, a lot of those I did get were one word, asking questions clearly stated in my profile, or from women who obviously had nothing in common with me but were interested for some reason regardless.
We began by debating how men and women acted online and extended this to dating behavior outside of that online sphere. What this conversation eventually led to was a fervent debate about whether these traits were innate or caused by culture. Were men merely ignorant grunting pigs who could only follow the basic evolutionary programming of their brain-penis, or could a woman hope to train them to be loyal and obedient like any good dog?
So this story brings me back to James Damore. Its another case of Men are From Mars and Women Are From Venus, but this time we aren’t talking about relationships but the workplace. In case you have been living under a rock, Damore is the Google employee who got fired for writing a ten page memo criticizing Google’s diversity polices as politically correct nonsense. Of course Damore’s “scientific arguments” are merely redressed stereotypes supported by pseudoscience, but this still made him a martyr and a hero to the “alt-right.”
Before I get into talking about the books that deal with the claims Damore makes, because that is what this blog is about, books, let me address the issue of his firing. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks not only thinks Damore should not have been fired but that Google’s CEO should resign. First, Brooks thinks that all Damore did was merely stating the facts, which is a whole other kettle of fish, but lets examine what sending such a memo does. By sending such a memo, Damore made it clear to any of his female colleagues that he thought that most women who worked at Google got their jobs because of tokenism and did not earn it. It doesn’t matter how many caveats you make, that is the suggestion of the memo as clear as day. What is it like for women to work in such an environment. Might you come up with an adjective such as hostile?
Those who defend Damore do so by the same reasoning that infamous pseudo-intellectual Sam Harris defends infamous scientific racist Charles Murray. The basic idea is that if you cloak such arguments around science then they gain an air or respectability. It doesn’t matter that such arguments reinforce bigotry or that they suggest that trying to right the wrongs of the past is useless.
As for the scientific claims, Brooks has this to say:
“On one side are those that believe humans come out as blank slates and are formed by social structures. On the other are the evolutionary psychologists who argue that genes interact with environment and play a large role in shaping who we are. In general the evolutionary psychologists have been winning this debate.”
If there ever was a textbook example of a straw man, Brooks has provided quite an example here. While I do not dismiss the whole of evolutionary psychology, nor all of its premises, what it seems for most people who are strong proponents of this view is that they want to regulate all the authority on views of human behavior to the biologist and get rid of those pesky “soft” social sciences with their lack of rigor, and tendency to produce studies with easily repeatable results that contradict the kinds of claims that evolutionary psychologists like to make.
As for his assertion of their opponents, professor of philosophy and history of science Cordelia Fine is trained in neuroscience and actively disputes this straw man of her view. As Fine, and nearly everybody else arguing against hard-wiring has pointed out, brain differences from men and women are so small that individual men might have more differences from each other than they necessarily would with a member of the opposite sex. So even though this fact alone makes the whole “hardwired brain differences” theory totally useless somehow we are supposed to take it seriously because its “just facts.”
What Fine does instead of arguing the “tabula rasa” view of the brain, is to systematically dismantle all the assumptions, inductive inferences and methodological shortcomings of the studies that are used to support the brain differences that men and women supposedly have. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can read her 2010 book Delusions of Gender here.
Earlier this year, Fine returned with another book, Testosterone Rex. By a stunning coincidence this book actually addresses the issue of women in tech. Before you even get started with Fine’s arguments, you can take a look at the history. Then you can look at the studies in Fine’s book that show that women are less interested in tech jobs because of the way they are presented to them, and the amount of sexist stereotyping they face.
Fine takes on another evolutionary psychology claim, the idea that men are hardwired to be promiscuous and females to be choosy. Fine humorously goes through a statistical analysis of a male attempting to have sex with as many woman as possible in a “pre-Tinder environment” and comes to conclusion that a male would have more reproductive luck with a single monogamous partner, or at least a few poly-amorous ones, but so would females. Are men hardwired to not be able to read online dating profiles because this is a SUCCESSFUL mating strategy?
Fine is only building off the research used by biologist Robert Sapolsky in his seminal book The Trouble With Testosterone. Sapolsky looked at all this talk about biological determinism and found it to be pure bunk. Fine concurs and counters gender essentialists’ examples from the world of animals with ones of her own, involving rats, fish and elephant seals. She also once again shows how biases and assumptions encourage scientists to misread the data.
So maybe you aren’t convinced by all of this. Maybe you insist that it is antiscience to suggest that hardwired gender differences are anything other than facts. Well then, do I have a book for you!
In 2015, Dr. Melvin Konner, a Harvard educated MD with a PhD in biological anthropology published the book Women After All. This book argues strongly that gender is not a social construct and that biological differences between males and females tells most of the gender story. So far so good! What kind of robust scientific manly man could not be delighted? The book even comes complete with quotes of praise from evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, who loves to tweet articles from “factual feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers, and anthropologist Jared Diamond. What’s not to like?
From Konner’s introduction:
“There is a human genetic fluke that is surprisingly common, due to a change in a key pair of chromosomes. In the normal condition the two look the same, but in this disorder one is malformed and shrunken beyond recognition. The result is a shortened life span, higher mortality at all ages, an inability to reproduce, premature hair loss, and brain defects variously resulting in attention deficit, hyperactivity, conduct disorder, hypersexuality, and an enormous excess of both outward and self-directed aggression. It is called maleness.”
Wait, what? Konner, demolishes those pesky feminists about gender being a social construct. He argues that just because a tube of paint that contains yellow and red at both ends is orange in the middle that the ends aren’t less red and yellow. Checkmate feminists! He also argues that if you were forced to bet, based on a single trait whether a person was a man or a woman a lot of things would be safe bets. His first example is having a penis, but he moves onto playing with dolls or liking football. How can any feminist or girly social scientist possibly argue against that?
Then he gets into the more manly and robust arguments. He argues that women don’t really need men because female insects often eat their mates. He does have a good point there. And women don’t have to put up with men’s shit because the lioness does the hunting and has such an enlarged clitoris that rape is impossible. This is the most robustly factual account of gender differences I have ever read and every man should read it.
Of course I am being facetious, except for that last part. Every man should read it, but as we know from the beginning of this blog that boys don’t read, due to the evolutionary psychology of their penis-brain. However, if you do find yourself in one of these conversation with robust manly science men you might want to mention Konner’s book. It could be good for a few laughs if nothing else.