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Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Helena Cronin: the Marxist-Feminist Position on Sex-Differences

When the "socialisation" (or environmentalist) position is put, it seems very stark in the light of contemporary biological and genetic findings and research:

“… the ‘socialisation’ claim is that, left to their own devices, males and females would react identically to the same environments; and that the only reason why they systematically behave differently is that they are systematically exposed to different environments."

If you forget all the feminist - and indeed anti-feminist - noise, you can see that the claim that "males and females would react identically to the same environments" seems very strong. It's a claim that if females weren't treated differently, then they would act the same as males. Thus all differences can be accounted for in terms of different environments or different kinds of socialisation. So although females have breasts, different hormones, menstrual cycles, have babies, are generally smaller, etc., all their behavioural differences having nothing to do with biology or genes. That is, bodily differences don’t result in behavioural differences. Only environmental differences result is behavioural differences. Not even the different hormones of females would result in behavioural differences if females were brought up in exactly the same environments as males.

The English philosopher Helena Cronin strongly disagrees with this environmentalist position on female behaviour. She offers research and evidence for her position:

“There is scant evidence that parents, for example, do treat little boys and girls as claimed. Indeed, meta-analyses of studies in North America and Europe reveal that, if anything, parents discourage behaviour such as rough play and risk-taking more in young boys.”

Actually I’m a little surprised by the claim that parents in North America and Europe don’t treat their boys differently from their girls. My own experience tells me otherwise. For instance, girls are given different types of clothes and toys than boys. They're spoken to differently and different kinds of thing are expected of them. Parents may discourage "rough play and risk-taking more in young boys" than girls; though that may be because they don’t really need to discourage such things in girls: they're not likely to indulge in rough play or risk-taking. This would back up Cronin’s position on inherent sex differences between boys and girls.

According to Cronin, all that evidence shows us that boys aren't always taught or trained "to be boys" in Europe and North America. Now she argues that girls and boys act differently in the same environments:

“… girls and boys, even new-born babies, react differently when exposed to the same environments – unsurprisingly, given the scrupulous care with which natural selection has shaped them differently, from bodies to brains.”

It’s a shame that Cronin doesn’t give us any examples (at least not here) of "girls and boys, even new-born babies" reacting "differently when exposed to the same environment". Perhaps girls are more fearful than boys from the very beginning. Perhaps they take fewer risks and rarely play-fight. Perhaps girls even prefer the brighter colours of the same environments. Cronin isn’t surprised by these differences "given the scrupulous care with which natural selection has shaped them differently, from bodies to brains". That's the important bit – brains. Female brains are different; not just female bodies. Of course natural selection will treat "baby-growers" differently to boys and men. And it does so by changing both the bodies and brains of females.

Cronin then goes on to say that

“these sex differences occur in millions upon millions of other species, few of which even bring up their offspring at all, let alone teach them pink for girls and blue for boys".

The fact that strong "sex differences occur in millions upon millions of other species, few of which even bring up their offspring at all" should give Marxist feminists and environmental determinists pause for thought. Human beings are, after all, animals. Why should we be different - let alone radically different - to these "millions upon millions of other species"? The important point is that in most of these millions upon millions of other species the females aren't brought up at all; though they still behave very differently to the males of the same species. Perhaps male and female humans brought up on a desert island from birth would adopt male and female behaviour and roles - at least to some extent.

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