Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We can handle the truth redux

When I posted "We can handle the truth," last week, I was aware that it would be difficult to articulate what I meant without seeming like a total jerk. And as it turns out, I wasn't completely successful in my attempt to not sound like a jerk.

I've had a while to think about the various responses, though, and a little bit of of news that has proven to be a good example with which to demonstrate what I'm trying to get at.

In response to my post wherein I downplayed the importance of the "finding" that women prefer pink, Amanda Marcotte says today:
I think the logic goes something like this: Armchair evolutionary psychologists are always trying to argue that women were born to wear aprons and abhor shoes and book-learning. Which we all know is silly. But if they can establish in people’s minds the idea that women are born preferring pink, then it’s easy to start convincing people that other, less arbitrary and more oppressive markers of femininity are also innate.
What she's saying here is that if "they" can convince people of one essentially biological thing about women, then they can convince them of anything. I like to think that people are a little smarter than that, and I think we have some good proof that they are. People are pretty well-convinced that women can be pregnant and men cannot, but they don't seem to be all that convinced that a woman can't be President but a man can.

There was a time in America when people believed otherwise, though, but not all of our understanding of women has changed since then. Women have not dispensed with pregnancy or convinced anyone they have. Women have, through hard work and defiance and legal breakthroughs, forced many people to understand their ability to do things other than bear and raise children.

We have plenty of empirical evidence that women can be full and productive participants in society. The empirical evidence is the easy part, though. The pink study did show a preference amongst women for a different range of colors than the ones men preferred. I don't have much reason to question what was found. The thing about it being encoded into our genes? Not exactly supported by the study. The even-further-removed idea that if human ancestors employed a sexual division of labor we ought to? Not even a matter of science.

We can pick the nits of these studies all we want, but we're going to be doing it into eternity if we can't convince people that the presence of ovaries or testicles in their bodies do not determine what course their lives should lead. To a yet-to-be-determined extent the orgns do affect how we live our lives, but there's a difference between "do," and "should."

In a lot of ways, it's hard to convince people that feminism makes sense in a world where men and women are actually different from each other. We don't have the whole picture of the generalized biological differences between men and women. Even if we did have that, we wouldn't be able to use those generalities to make assumptions about individuals. And, if we went ahead and made those assumptions, they still wouldn't be able to begin to address the moral value of any human being.

We could have ended up in a Universe that couldn't support equal treatment of men and women. The human species could have ended up with the males having vastly superior mental capacities to females'. Or we could have ended up like the anglerfish, the male's biomass being almost entirely made up of testicles, with little capacity beyond sperm production. I'm glad to say we didn't. Even with the huge amount of attention and money and time spent on discerning the Big Differences between XY and XX, the best they're coming up with is that girls tend to like pinkish purple.
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