Do Misogynists And Nutjobs Have Science On Side?


On Monday, columnist Julia Baird discussed the Sydney Anglican Church’s position that men should lead and women should take support roles. Looking at the new marriage vows and other related documents, Baird argues we are seeing the emergence of a new misogyny emerging within the church associated with "a slow, intense creep of anti-women sentiment".

The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney confirmed this today in a response to Baird’s article and other criticism of the Anglican marriage vows. Men and women are different, insists Jensen, and so are the roles they should play in a marriage. "The husband is to take responsibility for his wife and family in a Christ-like way. Her ‘submission’ is her voluntary acceptance of this pattern of living together, her glad recognition that this is what he intends to bring to the marriage and that it is for her good, his good and the good of children born to them."

The Anglican marriage debate is hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s claim from last week’s press conference that "misogynists and nut jobs" would not stop in their attacks on her no matter what evidence she provides.

And as if in response, Veteran Liberal strategist Grahame Morris called Leigh Sales a "cow" for her handling of a Tony Abbott interview. Morris later grudgingly apologised after lamenting all the sensitive souls out there.

While we can sit back and "tut tut" a religious institution or the misogynists and nut jobs that really are all over the Internet, a subtler trend is emerging: the rise of what we might term "women can’t read maps" literature.

Spend some time in any bookshop and you will find hundreds of titles about the differences between men and women. You can pick any number of them: Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps (Allan Pease and Barbara Pease); Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes (Barbara Pease); Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Marianne J. Legato); The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain (Simon Baron-Cohen) and hundreds of others.

They all claim to be based on "groundbreaking Neuro-scientific research" that confirms that the brain development of men and women are so different, they explain everything to us. Tracking back to "evolutionary" theory, we are told that this is the way our brains developed.

If we home into Simon Baron-Cohen’s work, we find that men are more suited to leadership while women are more empathetic. Baron-Cohen argues that the women’s brain has "natural" triggers of empathy. This explains why women are attracted to roles as carers and men are more natural leaders as they can make more rational decisions.

Only a few years ago, newspapers all over the world claimed as "official news" that "women can’t read maps". Quoting research from the University of California, each of the thousands of stories accompanying the articles showed hopeless women trying to read a map upside down while their partners/husbands/sons/fathers looked on knowingly.

The articles stated that what we have known all along has now been confirmed by "scientific evidence".

It is no wonder that Jensen is happy to tell women to sit back and let men take the lead: if you can’t read a map, how can you be a CEO?

The science that so many of these authors quote is based on mapping the ways that men’s and women’s brains function differently. The scientific studies are accompanied by lots of pretty maps of the brain showing that certain parts of a man’s brain go red when looking at maps, a response not seen in women.

It is all solved right? Wrong!

In their excellent book, The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children, researchers By Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers describe this as the emergence of "a new determinism".

That is, they argue that, loaded with "bad science", these books confirm that the future choices of boys and girls are pre-determined: men should lead, build things, and get paid more for their leadership jobs. In contrast, women should care, follow, watch lovingly as their spouses and male children conquer the world, avoid reading maps and stay in the background (oh, and get paid less for that pleasure).

What is fundamental is that all the studies that supposedly confirm the inability of women to succeed in the technical arena fail to take into account the elasticity of the brain. The circuits of our brains change in direct response to our experiences and sensory stimulation.

In other words, if you are repeatedly told that you are crap at reading maps, and you get laughed at every time you make a simple error, then your brain responds to this stimulation. In their book, Barnett and Rivers list countless experiments that are compromised by external stimulus: from the reading maps fallacy to arguments that boys are better at maths.

After decades of policies that have attempted to promote gender equality, this new determinism continues to establish an environment that explains the superiority of men.

The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data confirms just how much this permeates in our society. The data is revealing: Men continue to get paid more even though women are generally better educated; only 8.0 per cent of women are executive managers in the top 200 companies (down from 8.4 per cent in 2002); within these companies, 92 percent of directors are male.

The data goes on and on — and all point to women continuing to be excluded from leadership roles.

There are two ways we can look at this.

The first is that institutional discrimination continues and there needs to be a new focus on ensuring we have gender equality including better access to child care, long-term quotas for board positions, and encouraging more girls into the hard sciences such as engineering.

Alternatively, you could look at those statistics and use circular logic: we are right to tell women not to take leadership roles because they fail in getting there anyway. If you take this position, don’t worry about women being concerned about those damning statistics. They probably can’t read the ABS tables anyway.

Meanwhile, the nut jobs and misogynists are not only having a field day, they’re writing bestsellers, and expecting journalists like Leigh Sales to get in touch with their caring side — while letting Alan Jones indulge his larrikin side when he tells us he wants to drown the Prime Minister.

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