11 11 2013
Sex or Gender
Alan Pease, author of a book titled “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps”, believes that women are spatially-challenged compared to men. The British firm, Admiral Insurance, conducted a study of half a million claims. They found that “women were almost twice as likely as men to have a collision in a car park, 23 percent more likely to hit a stationary car, and 15 percent more likely to reverse into another vehicle” (Reuters).
Yet gender “differences” are often the outcomes of bad scholarship. Consider Admiral insurance’s data. As Britain’s Automobile Association (AA) correctly pointed out – women drivers tend to make more short journeys around towns and shopping centers and these involve frequent parking. Hence their ubiquity in certain kinds of claims. Regarding women’s alleged spatial deficiency, in Britain, girls have been outperforming boys in scholastic aptitude tests – including geometry and maths – since 1988.
On the other wing of the divide, Anthony Clare, a British psychiatrist and author of “On Men” wrote:
“At the beginning of the 21st century it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that men are in serious trouble. Throughout the world, developed and developing, antisocial behavior is essentially male. Violence, sexual abuse of children, illicit drug use, alcohol misuse, gambling, all are overwhelmingly male activities. The courts and prisons bulge with men. When it comes to aggression, delinquent behavior, risk taking and social mayhem, men win gold.”
Men also mature later, die earlier, are more susceptible to infections and most types of cancer, are more likely to be dyslexic, to suffer from a host of mental health disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and to commit suicide.
In her book, “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man”, Susan Faludi describes a crisis of masculinity following the breakdown of manhood models and work and family structures in the last five decades. In the film “Boys don’t Cry”, a teenage girl binds her breasts and acts the male in a caricatural relish of stereotypes of virility. Being a man is merely a state of mind, the movie implies.
But what does it really mean to be a “male” or a “female”? Are gender identity and sexual preferences genetically determined? Can they be reduced to one’s sex? Or are they amalgams of biological, social, and psychological factors in constant interaction? Are they immutable lifelong features or dynamically evolving frames of self-reference?
Certain traits attributed to one’s sex are surely better accounted for by cultural factors, the process of socialization, gender roles, and what George Devereux called “ethnopsychiatry” in “Basic Problems of Ethnopsychiatry” (University of Chicago Press, 1980). He suggested to divide the unconscious into the id (the part that was always instinctual and unconscious) and the “ethnic unconscious” (repressed material that was once conscious). The latter is mostly molded by prevailing cultural mores and includes all our defense mechanisms and most of the superego.
So, how can we tell whether our sexual role is mostly in our blood or in our brains?
The scrutiny of borderline cases of human sexuality – notably the transgendered or intersexed – can yield clues as to the distribution and relative weights of biological, social, and psychological determinants of gender identity formation.
The results of a study conducted by Uwe Hartmann, Hinnerk Becker, and Claudia Rueffer-Hesse in 1997 and titled “Self and Gender: Narcissistic Pathology and Personality Factors in Gender Dysphoric Patients”, published in the “International Journal of Transgenderism”, “indicate significant psychopathological aspects and narcissistic dysregulation in a substantial proportion of patients.” Are these “psychopathological aspects” merely reactions to underlying physiological realities and changes? Could social ostracism and labeling have induced them in the “patients”?
The authors conclude:
“The cumulative evidence of our study … is consistent with the view that gender dysphoria is a disorder of the sense of self as has been proposed by Beitel (1985) or Pf