Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Marriage Equality: should the elderly and otherwise infertile couples be allowed to marry?

July 2, 2015

I think it is time that anyone who uses the argument that “Children have a right to a father and a mother so same-sex marriage should not be allowed”  should no longer be heard in the discussion unless they answer “Yes” to the  following four questions.

Firstly, the logical extension of this is the forced removal of children from single parents of either gender, including the bereaved partners of ex-servicemen, and their adoption by heterosexual couples.  That would be entertaining.  Do they agree with this forced removal?

Secondly, because the argument ignores the statistics which show that the children raised by same-sex couples tend to be – if different at all – better balanced and happier than those raised by heterosexual couples.  (This may be because they are so much more likely to  be truly wanted children, and the parents therefore usually seek out role models to show both genders at their best.)  Have they  evidence  (not hearsay or anecdote, actual peer-reviewed research) to contradict this?

Thirdly, because this emphasis on children assumes that marriage is solely to produce offspring.  Do they intend to legislate against the marriage of the elderly and otherwise infertile heterosexual couples?

Do they intend to legislate against the adoption of children by single parents and LGBTI couples?



Paracetamol, Aspirin, Fashion and Changing Disease Patterns.

March 25, 2014

I remember the last days of  “A cup of tea, a Bex, and a good lie down.”  I also remember the reports that kidney failure  was related to Bex’s phenacetin and digestive tract ulcers were  linked to its aspirin, and  the start of the emphasis on paracetamol (AKAacetaminophen  in the USA)  as a safe alternative.

Now there is research suggesting that aspirin use has many useful side effects.  This has hit the popular press – compare and

There are also problems with overuse of paracetamol having its own risks, and (unlike aspirin) it does not much reduce inflammation, so will not provide the same range of beneficial side effects as aspirin.  (As an aside,  it has great value for those who cannot risk aspirin’s blood-thinning properties, and for those young enough to be at risk of Reye’s syndrome.)  Other new painkillers (e.g. ibuprofen, naproxen) are selling well, and will no doubt be found to have a range of unexpected good and bad side effects.  There is a lot unknown about analgesics – for example, they don’t yet know why some people don’t respond to some analgesics, but some genes (e.g. melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R)) seem to play a role.

The statistics on western women’s life expectancies in the seventies were based on generations of women who used aspirin-based medicines to keep going when family needs meant they had to keep going – no sick leave for Mothers.   (Well, not until they got bleeding bowels or failed kidneys from other things in the painkillers.)  They also had generations of  men who soldiered on bravely – painkillers were for softies.  And generations where women got heart problems and the diseases of aging later than the men.

Now we have a generation who changed from aspirin to paracetamol and other analgesics, and  under 40s who grew up with paracetamol for both genders.  Here is one more  public health change among the thousands of deliberate improvements in our lives.

And look, the gap between the genders’ life expectancies has shrunk while both genders have greater life expectancies.

Ten years ago I said that there would be a decline in the gap between the genders’ life expectancies.  I would now bet that there will be a continued decline in the gap between male and female  life expectancies, possibly a reversal of the gap, and that the change will have many causes.  I expect that most of the talk will be about the social changes such as mothers working outside the home – but I hope someone does some research on the outcomes by preferred general painkiller.

Spotted: double standards

March 17, 2014

I have seen several posts about this, and thought it interesting that the conversation was about the questions of whether Tony Abbot could be a feminist and whether Michaelia Cash should see herself as a feminist (Being in the Senate House, not the kitchen…)

Seemed to me it is more an acceptance of the perception problem that confronts women in so many places: what is assertive in a man is aggressive in a woman; what is “reasonable use of flextime” for a man  is “making allowances” for the breadwinner woman.  A typical example is at

It is clear that, in the political arena of Australia, a male politician who appreciates clever and confident women and has several in high subordinate positions (wife, daughter, head of staff in his office, cabinet ministers when he is PM) will see himself as a feminist:  he is happy for them to have careers, and he will pitch in and take responsibility for his share of the work.  He just doesn’t notice the double standards and the problem of women’s social invisibility in meetings – after all, he is an alpha male and doesn’t have to experience it.  He is seen as more sensitive and even assertive  if he says that he is a feminist.

The female conservative politician who claims she is not a feminist is not claiming to have been given her job as a favour from some man.  She is cannily avoiding the trap of being seen as an aggressive harridan who wants to subjugate all men.  She is seen as more sensitive and assertive if she “resists the pressure” to say she is a feminist.  For a woman seeking right-wing support, being an avowed feminist is like being “too clever”  or “atheist” :  her male audience immediately expect her to be  unfeminine, possibly lesbian, probably aggressive, and definitely too big for her boots.

Therefore, I do not condemn Senator Cash.   She has no doubt learned from Julia Gillard’s fate.  She knows her place on the ticket, and is doing the right things to keep it.

History repeats itself because too few listen: Do you see purple cats?

March 8, 2011

I recently heard a speaker state that men and women think differently, and that education should take account of that.  I would like to review recent history before I explain what this has to do with purple cats.

In the 1960s, everyone knew that men and women think differently.  Women were not good at logic  – subjects like maths and science – and complex tasks like map-reading or metalwork, and men were not good at emotional things or remembering birthdays and anniversaries (of course they could remember scheduled Rotary or Council events.)  Teachers expected the boys to shine at the logic subjects, and accepted the odd girls as talented.

The odd girls felt very odd, and were teased about their talents.  The same happened to the odd boys who appreciated classical music, visual arts, or dance – and the very odd ones who went for ballet or poetry.  It was a time when a grandmother would advise an A-student girl “Don’t let your intelligence show too much, dear, men don’t like girls who are smarter than they are.”

Women were mostly expected to leave work once they married – wages were based on the assumption that a man would support his wife and family. (Pay rates were the same whether single or married, so women supporting a family got less than single men.)  In Australia until 1966 women were dismissed from public service positions as soon as they married.  Therefore, education was based on the assumption that most women would be at-home parents.  However, things had advanced from the late 1800s, when women had to struggle to be allowed to attend University lectures and there was an assumption that too much book-learning made women … odd.

Working-class boys and girls were not expected to try for University – they often took apprenticeships by 15 years of age.  Things were changing: in the 1950s, they and Aboriginals would have been told that it wasn’t worth their trying.

Oddly enough, boys excelled at maths, science, and map-reading; few women took the science subjects in University, and few low-income families had children go on to University studies..

With the social movements of the 1960s and 70s, things changed.

Now, housing prices rely on the assumption that a family has two working parents.  It is assumed that people should get the same pay for the same work (although confidential pay agreements and sex-linked work-type pay rates somehow find men’s work more valuable.)  In many families, academic excellence in girls as seen as a great thing, opening the way to a high-status profession or at least a high-income career.  It is assumed that bright students from any background can succeed at University.

Oddly enough, more low income families have children go on to University, girls take science subjects at University, and a middle-aged man is shocked as a teenage girl reads the street directory efficiently.

Current Problem: Back to the first line.

There is concern that girls are outshining the boys academically now – is it just that previously pure logic approaches (naked Maths and Physics, for example) are being dressed up in essay-style work, where boys may be at a statistical disadvantage?  Is it that teachers are using a teaching style better suited to one range of learning preferences?  Is it the range of other activities available, and do we need more Tiger parents?  Is it that girls and boys learn differently, and we should have single-sex classes?

I suspect a combination of factors, including one not mentioned in polite society: the girls are no longer performing the 1960s’ version of the role of “girls at school”.

It was shown in the 1960s to 1990s that education in gender roles begins before children can talk.  It is partly affected by the child’s preferences, and there are gender differences in some child behaviours which can affect adults’ treatment of them – I particularly like the 1999 study suggesting that male baby vocalisations tend to be preferred to female baby vocalisations based on physical structures affecting their sonorance. ( 1)  Nonetheless, it was clearly shown that infants with disguised gender were treated differently on the basis of their perceived gender, and that the adults were unaware of the biases in their behaviours. (e.g. (2))

From everyday observation I can confirm that the experiments would find the same results today.  The actual treatments the babies would receive now are different, being based on different underlying assumptions.  Indeed, with the increasing range of cultural backgrounds from both migration and the range of electronic viewing preferences available, the range of actual treatments is also greater.

It is clear that the society-wide gender assumptions are still powerful – have you seen the toy catalogues? Have you seen the “boys” and “girls” sections in book advertising (and, alas, libraries?)

The consequences of breaking society’s gender role expectations at school are still unpleasant.  I am particularly concerned for the sensitive years just before and during puberty, where breaking the expectation can lead to questioning of sexual orientation.  In real terms, schoolchildren (and some adults) assume that if you don’t think like a “real” child of your gender you must be gay.  Or a (squid / squint / nerd) asexual brain.

Therefore, students who struggle with the “proper” style for their gender in the wider culture may avoid playing to their strengths.

What have Purple Cats got to do with it?

If adults , especially teachers, accept the current “Men are from Mars …” approach, ignoring the inevitable ranges of human individuality and disregarding warnings such as Dr Fine’s “Delusions of Gender” (3)  , the risk is that they will expect boys to learn / behave  in one way (or set of ways) and girls to learn in another.

Now to the cats.

A busload of highschool students were waiting for the bus home.  They noticed a cat climbing in a nearby tree, but got only a brief glimpse before it was hidden in the leaves.  Some said it was white, some said it was grey, some said it was brown.  “No,” said one, “It was purple.”

“But there’s no such thing as a purple cat!”

It turned out that a family had dyed their white cat purple.

Are cats like babies?

It is a rare person who sees the unexpected.  One of the most common problems for those who change their behaviours is that everyone else continues acting as though they were still behaving in the same old way;  a woman who does not shave her legs or underarms and is not a radical lesbian separatist is likely to be seen by workmates as a vegetarian even if she has eaten a meat pie in the office (yes, that happened to me); and you can change many things in a scene without people noticing – it’s all in the way the human brain processes daily life.  We simply haven’t the processing space to see what is really there most of the time, so we rely on learned patterns to fill in the gaps.

If the pattern you learn is an assumption about how people think, you will be at risk of missing the moment when it is clear that you have a non-standard thinker.  It’s the things we think are so which aren’t that cause the most difficulty – avoid the delusion of gender when you deal with students.


1.  Bloom, K. Moore-Schoenmakers K.,  & Masataka, N. (1999).  Nasality of Infant Vocalizations Determines Gender Bias in Adult Favorability Ratings.  Journal of Nonverbal Behavior Volume 23, Number 3, 219-236, DOI: 10.1023/A:1021317310745)

2.  Culp, R.E., Cook, A.S.,  & Patricia C. Housley, P.C.  (1983).  A comparison of observed and reported adult-infant interactions: Effects of perceived sex.  Sex Roles 9(4), 475-479, DOI: 10.1007/BF00289787

3. Fine, C  ( 2010) Delusions of Gender:  The real science behind sex differences. Icon Books.