Posts Tagged ‘sex differences’

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.

Picket fences, Miranda Devine, Federal Cabinet’s one woman, and Team Sports.

September 24, 2013

I was fascinated (as I often am) by the weekend newspaper, which has, to quote Ogden Nash, “all the gruesome fascination of something that fell or jumped from the thirtieth floor and lit on a picket fence.

In this case, particularly by  “Sorry Ita, but Bishop’s no token woman.”  From The Sunday Times (Western Australia)  (“Insight” P.63 22.09.2013) – Miranda Devine’s blog, online at the (Australian) Telegraph:

If it were voiced by “First Dog on the Moon”     I would know it was satire.  Unfortunately, it is printed in a Western Australian newspaper and, from the comments permitted to remain on her blog, I think she is serious.  Please read it before continuing (should it disappear, let me know and I will post a jpeg of the newspaper page.)

If you are too busy – in essence, she suggests that there is only one woman “ready” for a Federal Cabinet Ministry because too few of the women in politics have been  involved in team sports, so they are not “Team Players.”

For non-Australian readers, you might need to know that:

1. The generation of men in power here come from a background where “Team Sports” means foot-egg and cricket.  This generation tends to like strong women as long as they are in a subservient position (daughter, deputy, etc.) BUT tends not to hear if they voice some new idea –  however, it will often be said again ten minutes later by a man, and then is greeted as a good idea (Personal observation, echoed by others involved in committees.)

2.  The Prime Minister’s team sports background is rugby – a variety of foot-egg where male players are noted for macho behaviour and objectification of women.

3. The status of female team sports is clearly demonstrated by their usual absence from the nightly TV news  “sport” section.  Most young women here have played some team sport – hockey, netball (the home of “here if you need”), basketball, lacrosse …   giving up part of the weekend for their team.   Generally, not foot-egg or cricket, though.  Why? Well, just ten years ago a girl in a State primary coeducational school was  told that she couldn’t sign on to do cricket in the Sports period.  When her family supported her complaint of unfair access to the sport, she was allowed to sign on – on the same basis as late-signing boys.  So, as she had not done the sport the previous year, she joined the “waiting list.” And took up hockey.  Women’s rugby and cricket are seldom reported, even if the teams are winning internationally.

4.  High – level business mentors find that women often subsume their ambitions to the leader’s claimed needs of their teams (personal communications.)  The social conditioning of female children in Australia strongly encourages the compliant/supportive behaviours over individualistic drives, and discourages challenging dominant males.  For example, I heard one older woman tell a teenager “Don’t show how clever you are – men don’t like women who are more clever than them.”

5.  The reality of politics is closer to Mungo MacCallum’s “How to be a Megalomaniac”  – this book is written by a senior and satirical journalist, and rings true to long-term Canberra watchers.

So: few women fit for Cabinet? Sure, it’s because they aren’t on the Women Pollies’ Hockey Team.

Yeah.  Nothing to do with the tendency of selection panels to choose “People like us” as the most capable, and the selection panel here being really not representative of the national demographic profile (i.e. being mostly older white male politicians.)  The link I give is to Mikki Hebl’s  “Subtle Biases in Job Selection,” from Rice University website, and includes the truths that

…there are other Biases we have:   Job/Gender Congruency.
1) In masculine-stereotyped occupations (i.e, sciences and engineering), men’s performance is evaluated more positively than is women’s, even after controlling for the performance itself. This bias shows up in scores of studies and is consistent (i.e., Glick, Zion, & Nelson, 1988; Top, 1991).
2) When women act in noncommunal ways, they are penalized by evaluators; however, when they act in communal ways, they don’t get the job (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 2001).

And many people read Miranda Devine for a “sensible” view of things.

Lit on a picket fence, indeed.

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.