Monday, April 7, 2014

Equality Does Not Mean Sameness

Are men and women equal or are they the same? These days too many people think that equal means same, thus, that men and women are not just equals, but that they are the same.

It flies in the face of science, but ideologues do not answer to facts.

Larry Cahill opens his excellent article on the science of gender with a simple observation. When science tests a drug like Ambien only on men and if it assumes that men and women are the same, it advises physicians to prescribe the same dosages for men and women.

In 2013, however, the FDA discovered that, biochemistry being what it is, the correct dosage for a female should be half the dosage given to a male. Thus, Cahill explains: “despite extensive testing prior to the drug's release on the market, millions of women had been overdosing on Ambien for 20 years.”

Cahill’s article deserves a close reading. Using the latest scientific research he definitively refutes the aberrant notion that men and women are really the same. Persuasively, he rejects the arguments that gender is a social construct.

He explains:

Crucially, animal research clearly demonstrates that mammalian brains in particular are filled with sex influences that cannot be explained by human culture. Thus animal research proves that the human mammalian brain must contain all manner of biologically based sex influences-from small to large-that cannot be explained simply   by human culture (even though there are certainly cultural contributions in many cases). Animal research has torpedoed the "it's all human culture" ship that ruled the academic seas since the 1970s when it came to sex differences.

In terms of brain function, the differences are clear:

One recent landmark study came from investigators from the University of Pennsylvania. They used a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) called diffusion tensor imaging (a way to measure the brain's white matter, or axons by which neurons connect) in a large sample of men and women (428 males and 521 females, ages 8 to 22 years).9 Across a number of different analytic approaches, they found a striking and consistent result: The brains of women exhibit significantly stronger patterns of interconnectivity across brain regions-including across the hemispheres-than do the brains of men, which conversely exhibit significantly greater average connectivity within local brain regions (what the authors refer to as modularity).

Where the social constructionists argue that the brain is plastic, and thus susceptible to cultural influence, Cahill responds:

First, it is false to conclude that because a particular behavior starts small in children and grows, that behavior has little or no biological basis. One has only to think of handedness, walking, and language to see the point. Second, this argument presupposes that human "cultural" influences are somehow formed independent of the existing biological predispositions of the human brain. But third, and most important, is the key fallacy in the plasticity argument: the implication that the brain is perfectly plastic. It is not. The brain is plastic only within the limits set by biology.

The idea that we should use the brain's plasticity to work against inborn masculine or feminine predispositions in the brains of children is as ill conceived as the idea that we should encourage left-handed children to use their right hand.

… It is decidedly not the case that environmental experience can turn anything into anything, and equally easily, in the brain. The specious plasticity argument invoked by anti-sex difference authors appears to be just a modern incarnation of the long-debunked "blank slate" view of human brain function, the idea that all people's brains start out as blank slates, thus are equally mold-able to become anything through experience.

Cahill also argues against those who conflate equality with sameness:

At the root of the resistance to sex-influences research, especially regarding the human brain, is a deeply ingrained, implicit, false assumption that if men and women are equal, then men and women must be the same. This is false. The truth is that of course men and women are equal (all human beings are equal), but this does not mean that they are, on average, the same. 2 + 3 = 10 - 5, but these expressions are not the same. And, in fact, if two groups really are different on average in some respect, but they are being treated the same, then they are not being treated equally on average.

Here, one might question Cahill’s use of the concept of equality. Unless I missed something, human beings are born with certain innate capacities and dispositions, and these, alas, are not distributed equally.

If equal treatment means treating all people fairly, those who treat women as though they were men, and vice versa, are treating them unequally.

In his words:

Women and men are not being treated equally, because by and large women are being treated as if they were the same as men. 

6 comments:

Dennis said...

If we are the same then what was/is the purpose for having two sexes? It would be illogical for GOD, Mother Nature, evolution, et al to maintain both sexes if there were not differences that are required for the continuation of the species. In fact the requirement for two sexes, for almost all living things, seems to be the preferred condition for survival.
Am I missing something here by noticing a pattern in species prepetuation? This all seems simple to me if I stop and think how would I create a being capable of survival with a large number of challenges? Our inherent differences, strengths, requirements and responsibility is what undergirds our ability to survive and prosper.
None of our differences make either one of us better or more important. We are meant to use our differences to work for a better life for all.

n.n said...

With respect to nature, women and men are equal but complementary. With respect to human enterprises, women and men are equal. The two orders which rule our world need to be reconciled. The current effort to reconcile these positions only engenders a progressive dysfunction.

Sam L. said...

Feminists want to be treated equally, but as more equal than men.

Sam L. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

And to think that "equality" was obtained through the commission of an unprecedented human rights violation. They, and their "friends with benefits", are like children who lack the capacity for self-moderating, responsible behavior. However, with feminists, their immature behavior is a choice. Throw another clump of cells on the barbie, feministas.

Make life, not abortion.

Ares Olympus said...

Reminds me of a line from the children's book "A wrinkle in time", i.e. "Like and equal are not the same thing", and the same meaning I think - humans are more alike than different, but differences are there, so if you want to really treat people "equally", you have to take account of their peculiarity rather than force them to conform to the average.

Of course dividing men and women as homogeneous categories is just one step, and, for instance, its also vital to consider people's racial backgrounds for treatments as well.

OTOH, that's apparently what a lot of experts see in the future - specialized medical treatments that are empirically tested on people like you, or even based on actual genetic variations, and that takes you down a different rabbit hole, even if you have all the data, you have no ultimately idea which combinations of variations define your needs, so in the end, there's no such thing as "correct treatments", but the ability to make a good first guess, and adjust based on subjective and objective feedback for all individuals.

More information does seem overwhelming responsibility and there's never enough, all because we think we can do better than nature, if we spend enough money. And then you can mix in the placebo effect and enter into a completely different twilight zone!