Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Stereotype Threat

As the title suggests, this is a post about stereotypes and the negative effect they can have on people. As a rule, this topic is covered quite well by mainstream media, so I will try and keep the blindingly obvious to a minimum.

You’ll find that most cultures, if not all, make sweeping generalisations about male and female differences. To supplement these generalisations, we allow for ‘anomalies’ i.e. people who breakaway from their pink or blue mould.

We observe average differences between sexes; on average women are more likely to wear make-up. Yet these differences are tiny compared to the differences between people and even cultures; if you compare Germany and England for example, English women are more likely to wear make-up. If you then turn to England and compare female athletes with female bar tenders,  you’ll probably find that more bar tenders wear make-up. As you can see, the number of women wearing make-up is diminishing quite rapidly. And let’s not forget that plenty of men wear make-up too: Actors, presenters, musicians, politicians, in fact many men in the public eye are indeed wearing make-up. I have, perhaps unwisely, chosen an easily and widely observed gender difference, but it is nevertheless apparent how frequently these so-called gender differences are wrongly assumed.

If we turn once again to intellectual differences, we can see how scientists fall prey to generalisations; ‘there are a lot of pressures that result in scientists looking for a simpler picture. That’s kind of what science is meant to be about; we’re meant to be able to discover some rules that let us predict things, so there’s a tendency to want to simplify things in order to discover rules and predict things, and in most fields that works fine. But it doesn’t work well in fields where people already have stereotypes, because the stereotypes become the rules’ (Melissa Hines, Professor of Psychobiology at Cambridge University). Hence we have a tendency to explain things in gender specific terms, rather than through more critical analysis of our observations. (1)

This issue is not helped by the assumption that biological explanations are the latest thing, hot off the press, read all about it. Many scientists and journalists alike, give the impression that they are bravely publishing these modern ideas in the face of opposition. An American journalist recently said, ‘we’ll probably never know how great a role biology plays in gender differences, because feminists try to prevent anyone from researching it’(2). Au contraire Mr Journalist, ‘neuroscientists are by no means being prevented from researching the biology of sex differences. It’s hard to think of any topic that has been getting more study recently.’ (3)

I will be writing a post entitled ‘The Blue Taboo?’ that will go into more detail about whether or not feminists really are preventing scientists and the media from stating biological gender differences. Right now however, I should note that it is important for dissenting voices to be heard, for when biological differences fall into disrepute the stereotypes that remain in their wake can be devastating.

There are an increasing number of studies on how the expectations placed on the groups to which we belong can affect our performance as individuals. One of the first studies of this kind was published in 1999. Three psychologists, Steele, Spencer and Quinn, gathered male and female undergraduates to take maths test in which women had previously been seen to do worse than men. They split the women and men into two groups: men and women in the first group were told that in the past, there had been clear gender differences in performance. The second group was told that women and men had performed equally on this test in the past. The results showed that women in the first group performed worse than the men, whereas in the group which had been told that women and men had performed equally in the past, the sex difference in attainment was eliminated. (4)

What makes this study even more interesting is that the psychologists found the stereotype did not need to be ‘activated’ for women to perform less well. If told nothing about attainment, men still out performed the women; if told that gender differences had never been seen, women once again performed just as well as the men. (5)

It seems obvious to me that minds struggling with negative stereotypes and anxious thoughts, are not in a psychologically optimal state for taxing intellectual performance (6). It is important to note that these nervous and tentative states of mind are not characteristic of the female brain, but of anyone suffering from ‘stereotype threat’.

Unfortunately stereotype threat hits the people who want to succeed in quantitative domains hardest. People who feel they have the most to lose by doing badly (e.g. reinforcing a stereotype, losing a job, letting people down etc.) are hit hardest by stereotype threat. There is also the problem that as a female mathematician for example, climbs the career ladder, she finds herself increasingly outnumbered by men. This in itself is enough to trigger stereotype threat, and a woman in this position may grudgingly come to believe that females are indeed worse at maths. (7)

The good news is that people are becoming increasingly aware of stereotype threat. If you type ‘women worse at maths’ into google search, you will be drowned by articles saying ‘it’s not true!’, ‘studies reveal women are as good at maths’, ‘they‘re lying to you!‘ etc. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way, but the difficulty lies in establishing where it’s really needed.

What concerns me most about stereotype threat is that it can reduce interest in cross-gender activities. Mary Murphy and her colleagues at Stanford University devised two groups consisting of both female and male MSE majors (advanced maths, science and engineering) and played them an advertising video for a conference. There were in fact two videos, both with about 150 people depicted in them. One video approximated the actual ratio of men and women with MSE degrees: 3 men to every 1 woman, whereas the other video featured men and women in equal numbers. Physiological reactions (heart rate, skin conductance) of the students were recorded, to give a measure of arousal. After viewing the video, women and men expressed to what degree they felt they belonged to the conference in question. (8)

The women and men who saw the gender-equal video reported equal interest in the conference, sense of belonging and very similar physiological reactions were detected. This was not the case for women viewing the realistically imbalanced version: they became more aroused - an indicator of physiological vigilance, and they expressed far less interest in attending the conference. After seeing an accurate impression of current male dominance in such sectors, they were no longer so sure that they belonged. (9)

An example for men is childcare. It’s not only unusual for men to be seen in this profession, but there are an awful lot of horrible assumptions made about men who work with children. They are likely to be viewed with suspicion by both parents and by colleagues. You could be the most caring, honest and compassionate man in the world, and all you want is to work with children… but what man wants to step into that kind of environment?

So there you have it. Stereotype threat. That’s why people raise hell when Topshop or other popular retail outlets release clothes with sexists slogans such as ‘I’m too cute for maths’. Taken out of context these are innocent enough statements, but these statements cannot be taken out of context when you live in a society surrounded by stereotypes.

I suppose it could be worse. They haven’t released an ‘I like to play with my son’ t-shirt for men yet. If they did, I doubt the backlash of people saying ‘it’s just a joke, you’re making a fuss about nothing’ would be quite so severe, when it’s that obvious.

(1) Melissa Hines, Professor of Psychobiology at Cambridge, ‘Brain Gender’, 2004
(2) Christ Caldwell, ‘Taboos that Undid Summer’ Financial Times, 24th Feb 2006
(3) Mark Liberman, ‘More functional neuroanatomy of science journalism’, Language Log, 18th March 2008.
(4) Spencer, Steele and Quinn, ‘Stereotype threat and women’s math performance’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 1, (1999), 4-28
(5) As described in ‘Living Dolls’, Natasha Walter 2010 p. 206
(6) Cordelia Fine, ‘Delusions of Gender’, 2010 pp 33 -34
(7) Schmader, Johns & Barquissau, 2004
(8) Murphy, Steele & Gross, 2007
(9) As described in ‘Delusions of Gender’, 2010, pp 42-43

Monday, 25 June 2012

What am I?

I've taken a little break from the blogs as I'm a tad short of time at the moment. To keep you entertained, I've written a quick poem...

Am I just a piece of meat?
A pair of breasts with hands and feet.
Dare I think and dare I speak,
For fear of being told I’m weak?

Am I just a lovely bum?
A doting wife and loving mum.
Intelligence, well I have none -
All I want from life is fun.

Am I just a pretty doll?
As beautiful as I am droll.
Here to do just what I’m told,
Discarded when I get too old.

Do I even need a face,
A history, a home or race?
Or am I just a piece of meat?
A pair of breasts with hands and feet.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


Once upon a time in a little country called England, women were timid creatures and men were sexual beasts. Women thought this was very unfair but most of them kept quiet because it was normal, and they thought they were being over-sensitive for making a fuss about it.

-insert social change here-

We have progressed. Women are no longer the shy kittens of the 1900s, they are sexual forces to be reckoned with. This is both a positive and a negative thing. Positive because we're no longer pretending that only men want sex, women can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want, divorce, remarry, all those empowering things.

Did I say empowering? Yes, being able to make those decision in your own life is certainly empowering, compared to the good ol' days. But there are two, rather disempowering negatives:

The first, as I'm sure you're all aware, are the negative connotations of a promiscuous woman. She's a slut, a hussy, a whore, a slag, a slapper, a tart etc. A promiscuous man is just having a good time. I personally think we've seen progress on this issue. While women are still being referred to by all these terms, the terms themselves aren't necessarily derogatory. A lot of men want a 'slut', and a lot of women are happy to be of assistance. Rather than sexist slurs, these terms have taken on a whole positive connotation - because men want hussies and we want to be them! How empowering.

The second negative aspect of women being able to express their sexuality, has pretty much caused 'slut' to take on it's more attractive connotation. Not so very long ago, strip clubs and lap dancing lounges were considered to be extremely seedy places. Even models wouldn't want to be seen dead in them. But now women are so sexual, (WAHAAAY GUYS!) it's OK to go to a strip club. Those  women want to work there, it's their choice! Can't argue with that logic can ya? Now that women like going out on a Saturday night with their tits out, we can justifiably fill our lad mags with that very thing. Women are for sex. Women want to be for sex. And just so women don't think we're only interested in their body, let's stick an occasional pretty face on too. (1)

And women, seeing what men want, seek to be that person (what a choice, eh?) Our culture has exceeded women and men meeting in the bedroom on equal terms, and has become hypersexual. Short of women walking out naked in the middle of the day, with a bag over their heads, there's not a lot further we can push it.

- insert reality here -

If that's the case, if this is what we all want and why it's doing so well, how do you explain one particularly interesting aspect of men being chosen over women in the work place? Ladies and gentleman, I give you: XXX-clusion

Legal scholar Michael Selmi suggests that 'our perceptions of discrimination may have changed more than the reality, and there is certainly strong reason to believe that intentional and overt discrimination remains a substantial barrier to workplace equality  for women'. His conclusion is based on a review of class-action employment cases, from the nineties to the early years of this century. (2)

So on the subject of discrimination, it's not ground-breaking to suggest that gender stereotypes contribute to claims that 'women want dead-end jobs'. It's not alien to hear the newspapers say, 'women start out very keen but by their mid-twenties they just want to have kids and settle down, they don't want a job on the top rungs.' It's not difficult to see how these conscious decisions on behalf of other people are having a knock-on effect on women looking for work; assumptions are made long before women have the chance to decide for themselves. This is not what I want to talk about however, there are enough studies and workforce reviews that prove this is going on. You don't need me to spell it out.

Beyond gender stereotypes, there is something far less obvious happening in our society. 'Homophily' (a psychological tendency captured by the adage 'birds of a feather flock together') is creating barriers against minority workers. Wall street professionals revealed that organisations made-up primarily of white men, prefer to deal with other white men, and that they were taking this for granted. Can you imagine a client organisation employing predominantly white men, having a business meeting with a client organisation made-up of physically disabled workers, or workers from an ethnic minority, or women? It doesn't happen very often. Wall street revealed that women and nonwhite men were 'concentrated in jobs without client contact and in client-contact jobs that generate less revenue'.(3)

Social exclusion is holding women back in a large range of domains. The Athena Report found that women in corporate SET jobs were missing out on important insider information required to get ahead. A major player in the technology industry gave herself a male alias and discovered that emails sent to her male alias 'Finn' received the 'scoop', while 'Josephine' received completely different e-mails, consisting of essentially useless information.  The Athena Report also revealed that men were failing to respect working women and didn't know how to communicated with them: 'One focus group participant described a recent uncomfortable experience. A male colleague walked up to a group where she was the only female. The man shook the hand of every man but avoided contact with her. "I could feel his anxiety in assessing how to handle greeting me," she noted. "But he also didn't think I was important. So in the end he just chose not to deal with me." (4)

Unfortunately social exclusion does not begin and end in the office. In fact, it's getting worse rather than better. I would hazard a guess that most of you have never considered how much a game of golf and a trip to the local lap-dancing club have in common. One is an old-man, sock wearing sport, while the other involves naked women rubbing their genitalia against male nether-regions. Furthermore if you're as young as I am and have yet to enter the corporate world, you may not be aware that out-of-office socialising is key to developing a good personal relationship with the client in business-to-business sales, and that golf courses and strip clubs are the two most popular client-entertaining venues.

To this day, people still think there is something unnatural about women playing golf at the same time, or alongside, men. This is further amplified through different tee boxes so that even when women and men can play together, these gender divided tee boxes succeed at keeping them somewhat separate. 'Many women reported that men used the different tee boxes to leave them behind on the course or to require them to ride in a different golf cart... In essence, they used the different tees as a way to exclude women even when playing with them', University of Michigan, sociologists L Morgan and K Martin studying the experiences of female sales professionals. (5)

Morgan and Martin found, unsurprisingly I think, another popular entertainment venue creating 'enormous challenges' for women. That's right, strip clubs. Mind blowingly, male colleagues and clients are reluctant to have woman from the office at such venues. Women are expected to go home, where they can't possibly remind men that a woman is more than a body for them to look at. In this study, saleswomen 'described over and over again being told not to come, not being invited, and even being deceived as the men snuck out to the strip club'. This male reluctance strikes me as odd if we are to believe that our modern hypersexual culture is so acceptable, desirable and all about 'choice'. If the women are so keen to accompany the men on these business outings (for the sake of their careers), surely men are admitting that their behaviour is not universally appealing and acceptable by disallowing women from doing so. What's more, women who were able to accompany the men described it as extremely awkward for them ('they felt different, out of place, and embarassed'). (6)

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten lap-dancing clubs. A UK survey revealed that it is 'increasingly normal', expected even, for clients to be entertained at these kinds of venues. A leading businessman reasoned that if a city has 'aspirations to be a major business area, then it has to have a quality adult entertainment area, and that would include a lap-dancing club'. (7) In the scathing words of Cordelia Fine, 'how on earth did men ever manage to get business done in the days before establishments where they can pay to have their penises massaged by the genitalia of a naked women?' (8)

Stringfellows clubs, renowned for their 'world famous nude dancing clubs', has a webpage
devoted to corporate entertaining: 'OK so you've just done the big deal, or you're about to do the deal but they need that little extra push. So tell me, where are you going to take them to clinch the deal???' Promptly followed by a picture of 'your perfect private party table'. The said table has a pole rising up from its centre, rather than more conventional tables. It is to the delight of all female investment bankers I think, that they can conveniently prepurchase with their company credit cards Stringfellows Heavenly Money (depicting a nude woman clasping a pole) to tuck into the garter of the naked woman gyrating between the salt and pepper pots. She can network with important clients, all the while enjoying the view of some other woman's genitals. Perfect. What woman didn't spend years at business school, studying for this? (9)

Whether you're for or against strip clubs, it is clear that using them as corporate entertainment serves to exclude women. A saleswoman working in the sector said, 'they will never have a woman work in that group because part of their entertainment is to take people to these topless bars'. Approximately 80% of male city finance workers are visiting strip clubs for work, 'woman in the world of business... are confronting a new glass ceiling created by their male colleagues'. Lap-dancing establishments don't ban women, they simply intimidate them. (10)

I could go on, but I want to reach my final example of female exclusion in the workplace before this blogpost turns into a book. Sexual harassment is as rife today as it was in 1869, and it's manifesting itself in ever more extreme forms. Whereas women in 1869 faced opposition in the form of paper missiles, tinfoil and tobacco juice, women of the 20th Century find their backsides are repeatedly fondled, they are obliged to network clients in strip clubs, or even have their clothes masturbated upon by male colleagues. By comparison, a bit of tinfoil in the hair seems almost gentlemanly. (11)

The Athena Factor report found that 56% of woman in corporate science jobs, and 69% of women in engineering, had experienced sexual harassment, (12) and almost all of the 99 female medical residents at Southern University interviewed by sociologist Susan Hinze reported experiencing 'sexual harassment that makes the workplace intimidating, hostile, or offensive'. (13) Surgery, the most prestigious branch of medicine, offered by far the most hostile environment to women. Yet the recurring theme of Hinze's interviews was not that these women were victims, but whether or not they were being too sensitive to this sexist and demeaning treatment. One surgery resident described the experience of discovering in the restrooms an explicit cartoon of herself, bent over, and her mentor engaged in sexual intercourse. Another resident had added an arrow and the comment that he wished he could be in the latter's position. The woman recalled to Hinze:

I thought, this just really sums up... my position in the department of [name removed] surgery, something I've worked for, for a lot of years, not my whole life, but a lot of years, and they reduced all my hard work and all my sacrifice and my brains and my technical abilities and everything that I've done to this, you know, like this is how they perceive, you know. Me. [R. becomes visibly upset and begins crying]. (14)

She, like countless women before who have experienced sexual harassment, did not register a complaint. Instead she looked to herself to adapt to this hostile environment. Hinze's report included accounts of female surgeons finding their behinds patted repeatedly by physicians and wondering whether their discomfort was a sign of them being too sensitive. These experiences are not anomalies. Women are finding themselves the victim of sexual harassment all too frequently, and blaming themselves for feeling degraded. I personally have been subject to sexual harassment and have ignored it rather than dealt with it appropriately. I understand completely what it's like to blame yourself, rather than the person who's touching you/referring to you etc. inappropriately. Because surely, if it were considered unacceptable behaviour, they wouldn't be doing it? (15)

(1) Dave Read, Neon Management
(2) Selmi 2005, pp. 41 and 25
(3) Roth 2004, p.630
(4) Hewlett, Servon et al., 2008, pp. 7 and 8
(5) Morgan and Martin, 2006, p. 121
(6) Morgan and Martin, 2006, p. 116, 117, 118
(7) Quoted in D. Valler, Business visitors expect this on the agenda. Coventry Evening Telegraph, Nov 9, 2005, p. 8
(8) Fine, 2010
(9) Barnyard & Lewis, 2009
(10) According to the court testimony of one London financial executive, cited by Lynn, 2006
(11) Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Nov 8, 1869. Quoted in Morantz-Sanchez, 1985, p. 9
(12) Hewlett et al., 2008, p.7
(13) Hinze 2004, p. 105, referring  to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission definition of a hostile environment
(14) Hinze 2004, pp. 114-115
(15) Hinze 2004, p. 111

Friday, 22 June 2012

We the Believers

Why is it we want to explain gender differences through biology rather than attribute anything to social constructs? If the fact that women are better at empathising, and men are better at reasoning is purely urban legend, why do we still believe it? Most people are not interested in hearing about the vast amount of research that says gender differences are insignificant. Why not?

Yet again, it isn’t complicated. We see gender differences. We see women gossipping and hear men talking about cars. All our observations are telling us that ‘yes, these gender differences are highly apparent. They have a large impact on us’.

Hasn’t history taught us anything? Our observations and the reality do not always correlate. Once upon a time, scientific evidence proved that the world was flat. We could see that it was flat. People from across the globe knew that it was flat, and people who suggested otherwise were killed. This is an extreme example, but it highlights how fallible we humans really are. We can get it so wrong.

I don’t think we have forgotten that though. I think we do admit that humans can make mistakes, and that we’re far more likely to do so nowadays than we were in our respective Classical/Hellenistic/Gupta etc. periods*.  If our current society rigidly believes in something so contentious, there must be more to it than our faith in human observation.

A possible answer to this question is relationships. The majority of us have relationships, whether they are family, intimate, professional etc. with the opposite sex. Furthermore, most of us have experienced difficulties in our relationships. We attribute it to all kinds of things; lack of communication, misunderstanding, incompatibility, but we explain all of these things by categorising them under gender specific headings. We’re fascinated in finding out why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. It’s a very simplistic idea, it fits in nicely with our observations and we can use it to explain why we’re not getting along. Of course, the fact that humans are so different to each other explains this just as neatly (with more evidence to support it) but gender categorising got there first, and it works for us. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

When someone like me does try to fix it, it makes people feel very uncomfortable. The psychological term for this is ‘cognitive dissonance’:

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect that core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit with the core belief.” – Frantz Fanon

That’s why the media is so keen on reporting anything that enforces gender differences, and why it’s so reluctant to report the multitudes of research that does not. It doesn’t want to make society uncomfortable because that would be a really dumb thing for a newspaper to do.

Another stance on biological determinism is, that although some people are highly sceptical of modern neuroscienctific studies, they attribute everything to Paleolithic humans. Apparently our 'hunter/gatherer' roles are 'proof' that gender differences are biologically determined. I've started looking into this debate because, although I believe social/sexual divides may have been necessary for survival, I want to know why we are still encouraging them now it's no longer about life or death. What has fascinated me about this topic is a 'Paleolithic glass ceiling', I had only half contemplated before. Men didn't simply hunt while women reared children and picked berries, it's a lot more complicated (actually, a lot more sensible) than that. I will follow this up with an appropriate blog post.

Whether you believe one way or the other, it’s important to hear both sides of the discussion equally. We should be having this debate publicly, with all ideas being considered without bias. Then, as a society, we can make an informed decision. Maybe nothing will change, who knows? But there’s definitely a bigger picture and people aren’t letting us see it.

*Roman Catholicism actually persuaded us that the earth was flat, even after we initially proved it wasn’t.

Brain Scams

To help with this post, I have taken the liberty of allowing the respected neuroscientist, Cordelia Fine, to offer us a few helpful hints when ''considering incorporating neuroscientific findings into an article about gender:

1. Unless you have a time machine and have visited a future in which neuroscientists can make reverse inferences without the nagging anxieties that keep the more thoughtful of them awake at night, do not suggest that parents or teachers treat boys and girls differently because of differences observed in their brains.

2. If you don't know what a reverse inference is..." ... Google will provide you with the definition: Reasoning from the outcome of a dependent variable to infer the state of an independent variable (or an intervening unobservable variable).

3. "Exercise extreme caution when making the perilous leap from brain structure to psychological function.

4. Don't make stuff up."

So here it is: my article about gender and the brain. I will endeavour to follow our distinguished neuroscientist's top tips. I am not the press, I do not gain anything from making things up.

Let's get a few of our faaave myths out of the way:

- Women use the left side of their brain more, while men use the right side more.

The media LOVE this one. Scans reveal this, scans reveal that. I'll tell you, from the very piece of research the media is 'quoting', what scans revealed:

''Rightward hemispheric asymmetry was found in the brains of 14 of 25 heterosexual males and 11 of 20 homosexual females, but in only 13 of 25 heterosexual females and 10 of 20 homosexual males."*

So in a TINY sample of 25 heterosexual and only 20 homosexual men and women (why is the sample size less for homosexuals? Someone please clarify this for me), scans actually say that it's pretty much 50/50. Professor Mark Liberman scrutinised this study in his paper 'Annals of Essentialism: sexual orientation and rhetorical asymmetry' and found, well, pretty much the same as not-a-professional I did; that even in an extremely small sample, there was great overlap between men and woman. He calmly explains (as only an aged Prof. can), ''I'm not arguing that this paper's results are scientifically meaningless, just that they don't mean what nearly everyone reading the media coverage — and the PNAS press release — thinks they mean."

My contribution to this debate: if it turns out that women do use the right side of their brain more, I have no doubt that this side will be forever associated with empathy and compassion. If it ever transpires that men do, in fact, use the right side of their brain more than women, I fully anticipate a fully-fledged media shift from empathy to aggression. If, however, it remains that both genders seem to use both sides pretty equally, with vast overlaps... Well, unless someone at The Daily Mail reads my blog and likes what they see, I don't foresee any immediate change to our current interpretation.

- Females have a larger corpus callosum, connecting both hemispheres of the brain

If you are unfamiliar with the term 'corpus callosum', you may be more familiar with 'grey and white matter'. People like to talk about how women have more grey matter than men, and how their white matter is concentrated (in their larger corpus callosum).

Many scientists like to interpret this as: when a female 'knows what to do, she's not as worried as a man might be about proving it with data'.**

A good question here might be, why should arriving at a solution to a problem through an analysis of data and proof require any less integration between hemispheres? Where does the assumption, that a lateralised brain will be worse at multi-tasking, come from?

Ironically, an experiment on chicks proved quite the opposite: that chicks with more lateralised brains were better at simultaneously pecking for food grains and looking out for predators.*** Now I'm personally a little sceptical when considering the nuanced neurological effects of a hormone, on an animal compared to a human (as was made quite obvious re. rats in my previous post), but I'm a little more convinced about the neurological effect of something, how can I put this? Entirely neurological.

Before I become too biased however, I intend to do some more research into both hormones and neurology, to assess, with how much validity, we can apply results obtained from less neurologically advanced animals to ourselves. Moving on...

... The really funny thing about this myth is, we're not even sure women actually have the larger corpus callosum. Assuming we do, it must mean we're better at multi-tasking and empathising. If it turns out that we don't, I expect it will be because we're not as logical or rational as men. What do you think?

The first piece of evidence to suggest that women do have the larger corpus callosum, was published in 1982.**** (Sorry, the asterisks are getting a little ridiculous but there's no referencing tool on blogger). In 1997, two scientists conducted a review of all the experiments re. the size of the corpus callosum. They discounted this experiment, and others of it's ilk, because it did not meet 'conventional scientific standards'. That's not to say they weren't equally critical of experiments falling to the other side of the debate; they scrutinised all the available research fairly and concluded that 'our review of a substantial literature on the human corpus callosum does not support any sex-related difference in the size or shape of the splenium, whether or not adjustments are made for whole brain or cortex size'.*****

It is important to note that no further research between 1997 and present day, has been able to prove otherwise.

It would be very convenient of me, if I neglected to mention a few experiments that may have uncovered legitimate gender differences. Physiological imaging has, undeniably I think, shown that women's brains contain more nerve cells and cellular connections than male brains.****** What science does, but what the media fails to do, is explain why this might be...

- Neurological differences between men and women are biological

You would assume so, wouldn't you? I would assume so anyway. I'm not sure why, seeing as everything us humans experience is neurological. I mean, pretty much everything is linked to our brain, isn't it? Whether it's biological or sociological, we're processing it all through the same piece of apparatus.

So when gender differences come up, valid or doubtful, significant or insignificant, we all assume that they are biological. It helps us express how alien we find the opposite sex. Imagine, for a moment, that the roles our genders have predominantly fallen in to, might have an impact on how our brains form, how connections are made, and areas expanded. Then take a look at this experiment conducted on London cab drivers:

''As all Londoners know, taxi drivers in London are required to learn The Knowledge, a thorough mental map of the city. The cab drivers in this test had spent an average of two years doing The Knowledge, and so had spent a significant amount of time building up their spatial memory. And when the structures of their brains were compared to those of a control group, it was seen that part of the brain, the posterior hippocampus, was larger among cab drivers than among the other men. The researchers therefore concluded that the posterior hippocampus was the area of the brain they relied on to store this encyclopaedic spatial understanding of London's streets. Those who support biological determinism might have jumped in to argue that it was the greater size of this part of the brain that had decided the men in favour of this career, but the researchers also found that the longer these men had been cab drivers, the bigger the posterior hippocampus, so that as they went on adding detail to their knowledge of the city, their grey matter grew. Since the volume of grey matter in this part of the brain correlated with the amount of time spent as a taxi driver, this suggested that the human brain can change physically in response to its environment, even during adulthood."*******

The brain we're born with develops from birth, right? In response to our experiences, right? So, quite viably, it can respond even to the stereotypes that we're reduced to. Certainly explains how, in the UK and USA where we believe women are worse at maths, women do indeed perform less well than men do. Did you know, women in the UK and the USA achieve some of the worst maths results in the entire world? Biological? I highly doubt it. ********

* Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Ivanka Savic and Per Lindström, "PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects", PNAS, (2008).
** Gurian and Annis (2008)
*** Rogers, Zucca & Vallortigara, (2004)
**** C Lacoste-Utamsing & R L Holloway, 'Sexual dimorphism in the human corpus callosum', Science, 216 (1982)
***** K M Bishop & D Wahlsten, ibid, p590
******* N Walter (2010)
******** Nosek et al (2009)

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


Time for me to step forwards with my hands in the air, I have a confession to make and it’s a pretty big one.

That’s right. I fell for it. I categorically stated ‘’…male testosterone levels can contribute to aggression. Yes, this is true.’’ And then I researched the topic myself.

We really do take this one as given, don’t we? I certainly did. Even in a blog about the misconceptions surrounding gender equality, where I’m trying to look at everything objectively, I read something in the newspaper, or a book, or maybe I heard it on TV… And I believed it.

I’ve spent the last two days trawling through scientific experiments. I’ve discovered that not only are the experiments that fit in with our current stereotypical beliefs favoured by the media, but it is these experiments, regardless of their scientific validity, that are in fact chosen for publishing over hundreds and hundreds of experiments that don’t ‘prove’ whatever it is we want to hear. These unpublished experiments will no doubt remain in the filing cabinets of Professors for years and years…

But I digress. What I wanted to tell you was this: the only experiment to directly correlate testosterone with aggression was an experiment carried out on rats.* Rats! Can you believe it? We have based one of our fundamental beliefs about humanity on an experiment carried out on rodents!

That’s not to say that we’ve never tried to relate testosterone with aggression in humans. There are scientific experiments that fall on both sides of the debate. So many on both sides that, if there is one conclusion we can draw from this, it is that there is no scientific consensus. It is a complete mystery to us. Something that we can see so clearly in rats, does not translate to the complexities of what is happening in humans, and this leads me on to another interesting experiment:

R. Tricker, ‘The Effects of Supraphysiological Doses of Testosterone on Anger Behaviour in Healthy Eugonadal Men’ - Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, and Metabolism, 81 (1996)

This is an experiment which was carried out in 2 stages. The first stage involved giving 43 healthy men either a high dose of testosterone or a placebo for ten weeks. It was a double-blind experiment, which means neither the administrators nor the subjects knew who was receiving the real drug.
Self-reports showed that those receiving the testosterone, but did not know it, did not experienced increased anger, or aggressive moods/behaviour. Furthermore, observers reports, including parents and spouses, suggested no changes in these areas either.

The second stage of the study involved giving the men a placebo and having them believe it was testosterone. In the self-reports, these men did describe greater anger, irritation and impulsivity. The observer reports endorsed this.

From these results, we can see that when we talk about so-called ‘masculine’ behaviour, i.e. aggression, we may not be talking about testosterone at all. It seems obvious from this experiment, and others like it, that our social expectations play a great role in how we subconsciously conform to our stereotypes. Expectations of ourselves can have a genuine impact on our behaviour, on our hormones and on our brain. As far as I’m aware, rats don’t have the same expectations affecting their brain patterns.

I was going to write up my brief study into oestrogen and oxytocin; the hormones we commonly associate with ‘female’ qualities, but it seems of little use repeating myself. When I looked into the wealth of scientific studies regarding these hormones, I found the same thing here as I did with testosterone. There is no scientific consensus. The media presents oxytocin as this wonderful happy, happy, happy hormone, but there are a lot of scientific experiments linking it to raised stress levels instead. Rather than explaining how women are so gloriously empathetic, oxytocin levels were higher in women suffering from chronic stress**. Another study looking at oxytocin levels in kissing couples, discovered that when kissing, the levels increased in men but decreased in women*** - another counter-intuitive experiment that went unheard.

* A Bartke, R E Steele, N Musto and B V Caldwell 'Fluctuations in Plasma Testosterone Levels in Adult Male Rats and Mice' Endocrinology, 92, 4 (1973)
** S E Taylor, G Gonzaga, L C Klein, P Hu, G A Greendale and T E Seeman ‘Relation of Oxytocin to Psychological Stress Responses and Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical Axis Activity in Older Women’, Psychosomatic Medicine, 68 (2006)
*** R A Turner, M Altemus, T Enos, B Cooper, B McGuinness, ‘Preliminary Research on Plasma Oxytocin in Normal Cycling Women: Investigating Emotion and Interpersonal Distress’ Psychiatry, 62, 2 (1999)

NB: Don't hesititate to contact me at: if you want to hear more about oestrogen, or if you would like any further detail about my sources.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Simon Baron-Cohen is a professor of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University, and in 2000 he published a book, where an experiment designed to observe biological gender differences in new-born babies (Jennifer Connellan – year unknown) was cited as key evidence to support his claim that the female brain is more suited to empathising with others.  He further concluded that ‘the fact that this difference is present at birth strongly suggests that biology plays a role’.

The experiment consisted of confronting babies with Jennifer Connellan’s smiling face, and also a hanging ball with human eyes painted on, in the wrong position. Baby boys looked for longer at the ball, while girls looked for longer at the face. These findings were summarised in The Guardian by Helena Cronin under the guise of biological gender differences, ‘even at one day old, girls prefer a human face, and boys a mechanical one’.

There are a few things that really surprised me about this experiment, regardless of the result. Firstly, it is not clear why a baby staring at something means that the baby has a ‘preference’ for it and therefore a ‘stronger interest’. Previous researchers (Kagan, Henker, Hen-Tov, Levine and Lewis) have offered us two equally viable reasons behind a pre-verbal baby’s gaze. One of them is indeed preference, and the other is disconcertion.  It seems convenient then, that scientists interpreting Jennifer Connellan’s experiment for the purpose of proving gender differences, are ignoring one pre-existing and perfectly viable scientific concept.

If I use myself as an example, I am more likely to look at a hissing cat for longer than I am going to look at a sleeping cat. This is because I am disconcerted by the hissing, not because I have a preference for it. In my opinion, we cannot measure ‘preference’ accurately by confronting people with two objects, and using how long we look at each of them to determine our conclusions. I don’t like cats at all, I’m allergic to them and a sleeping cat bothers me just as much as an angry cat: I am more afraid of my allergy than I am of being pounced on by a small, furry animal. My preference is to not be near cats at all. I, like the babies in the experiment, am not choosing what is being put in front of me. My personal, definitely-not-an-expert-opinion, is that preference does not necessarily come into it all. Perhaps disconcertion doesn’t either. I also think that unless the human we’re experimenting on can give us their explanation, we should be considering both possibilities, and more.

Secondly, no-one has ever repeated this experiment. It is absolutely vital that if we are going to present our ‘scientific findings’ as fact, that we create a replication of our experiment to ensure that our initial results were not purely down to chance. You learn that at about 12 years old. You can fail your GCSE science exam if you forget to do it. How on earth did this person get away with it? This constitutes an illegitimate result. It is really, really bad practice.

Thirdly, it is the only experiment of its kind to find this link between biology and gender differences in babies. Countless experiments of this kind have been conducted with the majority producing ambiguous results. A few produced results in the other direction, but I didn’t hear about any of them in the newspaper. Until one experiment finally comes along, claiming to prove what we all want to hear, we disregard all of the other ones.

Fourthly, she personally leant over the babies and smiled at them. She could have been communicating any number of things through micro-expressions that may have affected the outcome. Maybe she has a preference for girls. It is not impossible for her expectations to have had an impact on the experiment. Even her scent could have impacted. How anyone could take the experiment’s results as evidence that women are more empathetic is beyond me.

It would be foolish of me not to provide you with an alternative experiment.

Kagan, Henker, Hen-Tov, Levine and Lewis, carried out a study on innate gender differences, on four month old infants in 1966.  They chose four different objects: a regular face, a face with the features rearranged, a face with no eyes, and a face with the features removed. The results showed that all of the babies preferred the regular face as they smiled at it a lot more. The only difference to emerge between boys and girls was that the boys looked and smiled more at all of the faces. This result contrasts greatly with Jennifer Connellan’s, and it is probably important to note that a baby’s smile is a far more accurate way of measuring preference than a gaze, so perhaps it would serve Jennifer Connellan better to adapt her experiment for older babies. Also, this 1966 experiment was replicated, and the findings were the same. A gender difference was suggested but it was counter-intuitive to us, so we’ve glossed over it.

Another point of interest is, that if these results in 1966 really did highlight that boys are biologically more empathetic, why do the empathy tests we use to measure empathy in adults generally agree that women are more empathetic by nature? I'm not suggesting for a second that boys are biologically more empathetic, I'm simply raising an issue with stereotypes. Read my post, 'Stereotype Threat', as it shows how strongly we conform to our gender specific characteristics when we know they're being measured, and how remarkable the results are when we have no idea.

Biological Determinism

This is a post to explain the theory behind ‘biological determinism’, and to analyse it briefly. I’m going to publish subsequent posts that provide different examples of biological determinism, and finally a post that asks why humans have a preference towards this theory. It is probably best if these posts are read in conjunction. I don’t want you to feel as though I’ve neglected anything, or that I’m being too biased.

Biological determinism, as stated by Natasha Walter (journalist and broadcaster), is the theory that the differences we see between men and women are not created by social influences, but are laid down for them by the time they are born by genetic and hormonal differences.

In the 1970s, society took a socially orientated view of how sex differences are produced. The Needs of Children (1974), a publication aimed at anyone caring for children, said ‘the gender role is psychologically determined, first by parental and then by wider society’s expectations’. This publication reiterated a mainstream belief and it was highly reviewed at the time.

Today, we are far more likely to have everything explained to us through biology. If I tell someone I believe in gender equality, they will undoubtedly tell me that I can’t deny biological gender differences. They’re right; I can’t deny that I have a uterus. That is a biological gender difference. Point taken. People are also very fond of pointing out how male testosterone levels can contribute to aggression. Yes, this is true. The mistake we’re making with these facts is thinking that they are more significant than variance in human behaviour. Even after puberty, I am more likely to find a more aggressive man because he is a different person. I am quite an aggressive person and most of my male friends would rather avoid confrontation. This is not everyone’s experience however, so it is important to read my post titled 'Hormones' that will assess the situation more critically.

The biological argument falls down when it seeks to prove anything other than anatomical and hormonal differences. When it tries to categorise the brain’s nuances from infanthood for example, the results are so indecipherable that scientists can easily interpret them according to their bias. I will allow the following post to explain…

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Human Spectrum

There have been some pretty exciting developments in the World of Science recently. Not relating to gender differences, all that research has gone kind of backwards over the past 20 years, primarily due to media representation and the human desire to link our observations with actual science; even when we can't - but that will be another blog post.

Irrespective of that, we are finally coming to terms with the 'spectrum concept'. For example, we have only recently accepted that autism is a spectrum disorder, and by that I mean that people can suffer from autism to varying degrees. You have people with very mild autism at one end of the spectrum, and people with sever autism at the other, but in between are all kinds of different cases where people will require different kinds of assistance to suit the individual. I think it is quite a simple concept, and if you want to read about it in more detail, you can visit:, where Louise Nichols, a Psychology student at Bangor University discusses briefly whether or not it is useful, or more suitable to type cast people.

I hope you can see where I'm going at this. For years we've seen things in black or white, and as a direct result of doing so, we have neglected the PREDOMINANT grey area that lies between. We're missing out on the vast nuances of behaviour, and we're walking away with a very simplistic, and potentially damaging, view of the world (or the people in it). I hope you read this post to the end because I raise an interesting point about how this effects young boys more than it effects young girls.

I'm not writing this blog to deny that gender differences exist, but to discover whether or not they are significant and to find a more positive way of approaching them. At the moment we look at girls and boys as very separate things, and we make all sorts of claims about their differences in behaviour. *The reality is that only 1% of variance in behaviour between sexes can be attributed to gender differences (both social and biological). This means that the differences between human beings accounts for 99% of this variance. So if I meet a boy and he's more aggressive than me I can be 99% sure that this is because he's a different person, not because he's a boy. Similarly, if I meet a girl who's more aggressive than me, it is because she is a different person.

It is quite likely that at one end of the spectrum you will have a few more boys, and at the other end you will have a few more girls, but these numbers are virtually insignificant. In the middle of this, we have a complex mix of boys and girls, all over the spectrum, and we don't cater for them. We segregate girls and boys, we tell them they are more likely to behave a certain way because of their gender. They are not more likely to behave a certain way because of their gender, they are more likely to behave a certain way because they are a different person, because they have been brought up differently, because of non-gender related biology, and all sorts of factors that have nothing to do with being a boy or a girl. One sure-fire way to make a young boy or girl behave in a certain manner, is by telling them that's the way it is.

You can defend it all you like. You can pretend it doesn't matter what you say because their personality will out, but to a highly impressionable child this is generally not the case. You need to have an amazing sense of character to be so sure of yourself so early on. I wasn't. I truly believed boys behaved one way and girls behaved another, and therefore there was something wrong with me because people thought my behaviour was more 'masculine'. Luckily I was also an incredibly stubborn child, I wasn't going to stop acting in a particular way because I was a female, but I watched it happen to plenty of other girls my age. I remember girls trying to join in with the boys playing football, but after being teased because football 'wasn't meant for them', they quickly stopped joining in.

My saving grace was my femininity. As a female, however unusual it is, the 'tomboy' classification exists. I took the word and I clung onto it with my dear life. So-called 'tomboys' are not given an easy time, but it is reluctantly accepted that a young girl may demonstrate more 'masculine' qualities early on e.g. being sporty, aggressive, loud etc. Unfortunately, there is no male equivalent. Young boys are even more strictly confined by what it means to be a young boy, because there isn't even the smallest of alternatives. If we look at why this is, it is all too apparent.

For years and years, female traits have been associated with 'weakness'. Over time, society's attitude has shifted and we have acknowledged that, even though many of us still do it, it is wrong to make this association. Rather than eradicate this stereotype however, there is a general consensus that a strong women can break away from it. It is understandable why a woman would want to be free of this stereotype, so let them try. On the other hand, we take for granted the traits we impose upon males, because society deems them to be positive. It is difficult then for anyone to comprehend why a boy might adopt more 'feminine' characteristics. So he is persecuted. He is bullied at school. His parents tease him and they try to alter his behaviour. It takes a very special person to allow their son to take a pink pencil case to school.

The most important thing to remember here is that there is a bigger difference between people than there is between gender. Even though we may have more girls at one end of the spectrum, and more boys at the other, we are making an enormous mistake by focusing on this. This is not a distinction, these children are actually an exception to a rule that clearly demonstrates how varied and fantastically unique we human beings really are.

*Dr Janet Shibley Hyde - psychologist specialising in meta-analysis

I'm Sexy and I know It

Let's talk about our current, hypersexual culture. You know, where a women's worth is measured by sexual allure, and where sexual allure is associated directly with femininity? No? You hadn't noticed?

And let's start small. Make-up. I wear make-up occasionally. I don't think it's a really anti-feminist thing to do. I can see the appeal of dressing up, and I don't see wearing make-up as undermining anything I believe. Men can dress up, women can dress up. There is definitely something attractive about being able to alter ones' appearance.

What's sad is when people want to alter their appearance to conform with a specific view of 'male' or 'female'. As a female the current image is: thin, large breasted, nice arse, scrupulous hair and make-up, and designer clothing. We are constantly bombarded with air-brushed images of how we ought to look. Not only that, but we are wholly convinced that this is a positive thing. That it's all about empowerment, you know, because ''you're worth it''.

I'm sorry, can someone remind me why a women's self-worth is measured by her appearance?

And for many of us, we can't imagine that it was any other way. The media convinces us that this is how it was, and how it's going to remain. Don't speak up. Don't say, "actually, I'm a pretty cool person, I'd PREFER people to acknowledge that". Wear push-up bras, get a boob job, layers of make-up, fake tan, fake nails, hair extensions, fake eyelashes, go on extreme diets, spend your money on how you present yourself. You're a woman of the 21st Century and you are here to look pretty. Celebrate it.

If you look at, for example, post-WW1 memoirs, where women have discussed how they measure their self worth, appearance was not on that list. Studying hard was. Concentrating was. Being reserved was, and so was making moral decisions. There are plenty of things on those lists that were a result of oppression, but the interesting thing is how the concerns back then, compare to the concerns of today. Even I find it hard to believe. I cannot imagine a time when being a woman has not been defined by sexual allure. I feel under pressure to conform. I have spent hundreds of pounds on trying to sculpt my body.

And I've resolved not to do this anymore. It's not easy when people make you feel like the odd one out for not conforming, but my role as a woman is most definitely not to dress up as a sex object. Be sexy, that's fine, that's great! But don't be sexy BECAUSE you're a woman. Don't feel like that's your role in society, like that's some kind of power over men or something.

People constantly try to justify the way we feel by telling us it's our choice. It's hardly a choice when the alternative is to be isolated by society. If we don't feel like we have any real talent but we think it's acceptable, desirable and easy enough to make some money glamour modelling, you're not going to find very many women who are going to say no.

That's not a choice. It's a logical conclusion of a hypersexual culture... And it's pretty sick when you stop to think about it.

Who Bullies Our Boys?

My first brush with gender inequality was as a child. As a young girl growing up, I was plagued by TV and advertisements to play with pink things. Barbie, barbie, barbie. Cuddly toys. Betty Spaghetti.

Not gonna lie, I loved Betty Spaghetti. I also loved playing British Bulldogs, fighting and playing football. Very quickly I learnt these were boys' activities and I really ought to be skipping. But skipping was boring and it didn't hurt anyone, so I carried on fighting.

The fact that these were male activities remained with me however. For many years I labelled myself a 'tomboy', and for a few years I was convinced I should have been born a boy. My mum used to get angry with me for saying things like that. She said I liked football because I liked football, not because I was a boy or a girl.

I ignored that back then; I was generally accepted as a boy. Oddly enough my best friend was a male ballet dancer, he liked to dress up and he would skip whilst I rugby tackled. He didn't have it easy either. People called him gay, I'm not proud to say that I was one of them, and he had a hard time all round... But interestingly, his parents (not unlike mine) never discouraged him from playing in the manner he wanted to play. Oh, and he's not gay. He's just a gifted dancer.

It took me some length of time to realise that I was a female. With a pre-pubescent body there is nothing on the surface to distinguish you from the boys, apart from the toys you play with, and having long hair. It all changed when my primary school tried to expel me. My mother thought my male friends were a bad influence and at the age of 11, I was sent to an all-girls grammar school. I was horrified.

In retrospect, it was the best thing my mother could have done. I still resent the ethos of grammar schools; creaming off the most ''intelligent'' children, and removing them from comprehensives, but I quickly began to appreciate being in an all-female environment. I didn't get on well with very many of the girls, they had all grown up in the strict confines of what is girly and what is not, I found it hard to relate. Nevertheless, I learnt a valuable lesson: there is nothing I cannot achieve. For those vital years of education, I was not surrounded by people telling me boys are better at maths and girls are better at sewing. Either girls were good at it or girls were bad at it. We were all people and equals, it wasn't until I left that I realised the rest of the world was thinking about it in a very different way.

To begin with, my anti-single-sex-grammar-schools was fuelled partly by my belief that they're sexist, and partly by my belief that it's wrong to take children as young as eleven, brand them superior, and remove their contribution from the average classroom. I still believe the latter, but by going to a single-sex school I was never inhibited by gender stereotypes. I distinctly remember my textiles teacher telling me that I was her most hopeless student in all her 12 years of teaching. I didn't care. I was good at sport and maths... It never occurred to me that I shouldn't be.

We have a new wave of writing gender differences off as 'biological'. I think it was Newcastle University (correct me if I'm wrong) that published an experiment that claimed to prove that 'females are biologically hardwired to prefer pink because they would have picked berries in the wild'. The test consisted of males and females being confronted with a number of colourful rectangles and choosing which colours appealed to them most.

It seems strange then, that during the Victorian Era, pink was considered a masculine colour, and blue, a dainty, feminine one. Even princesses had their cots painted pink in anticipation of a baby boy. Isn't it amazing how our biological hardwiring can go ERAS without affecting us? Fascinating how a generation of women told to like pink, prefer reddish hues over bluish ones. I rather doubt the results would have been the same in the Victorian Era. The only newspaper to follow this article up with any kind of scepticism was the Guardian. Read 'Bad Science' for further information.

To conclude this blog post, I did not play with action men because I should have been born a boy. I just thought swimming and mountain biking were far more exciting pursuits than changing my outfit and brushing my hair. I'm not saying that gender differences don't exist bewteen girls and boys, but that we're just people. People have a spectrum of tastes and distastes, and it saddens me that we label them male or female, and then try to segregate the two. So maybe we do have more boys at one end of the spectrum and more girls at the other, but why are we denying everyone in between from being who they want to be? Why can't Tom dance and still grow up to be a man? Why are your children bullying him?

P.S. I did a spellcheck and apparently 'blog' isn't a word. Kinda funny that blogger hasn't acknowledged it yet.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Feminism or Gender Inequality?

The term 'feminism' has a lot of negative connotations these days. To paraphrase my friend Josh, "It's because so many feminists take an anti-male, almost militant stance. Feminism is alright, but too many feminists push almost for dominance, rather than equality."

Personally, I don't know any feminists who take on this so-called 'militant stance'. All the feminists I've met are intelligent males and females who believe in gender equality. The media does a fantastic job of convincing us that feminism is anti-male and militant, even butch and ''lesbian''. That's just not true. I think people have taken the example of Emily Davison running in front of King George V's horse... and gone a bit mad with it.

It seems a shame therefore, that feminism has been bridled with these ultimately imaginary claims. Feminine and masculine words are used commonly in many languages, indeed they are used to TEACH languages, without intentional misinterpretation of their meanings. It seems a little too convenient that we take the 'fem' in 'feminism' and make that a negative thing.

But (and I hate to start sentences with but) it's hard to get anywhere by fighting against people. So let's not call it feminism. Let's rebrand it. This Western Consumerist Culture loves that; so for the sake of the people we're dealing with, let's call it gender inequality.

After all, that's what feminism means.