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Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine
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“Our sexuality is body, culture, age, learning, habit, fantasies, worries, passions, and the relationships in which all these elements combine. That’s why sexuality can change with age, partner, experience, emotions, and sense of perspective.”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“As I was editing this chapter, a survey of more than thirty-five hundred Australian surgeons revealed a culture rife with bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment, against women especially (although men weren’t untouched either). To give you a flavor of professional life as a woman in this field, female trainees and junior surgeons “reported feeling obliged to give their supervisors sexual favours to keep their jobs”; endured flagrantly illegal hostility toward the notion of combining career with motherhood; contended with “boys’ clubs”; and experienced entrenched sexism at all levels and “a culture of fear and reprisal, with known bullies in senior positions seen as untouchable.”68 I came back to this chapter on the very day that news broke in the state of Victoria, Australia, where I live, of a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report revealing that sexual discrimination and harassment is also shockingly prevalent in the Victorian Police, which unlawfully failed to provide an equal and safe working environment.69 I understand that attempts to identify the psychological factors that underlie sex inequalities in the workplace are well-meaning. And, of course, we shouldn’t shy away from naming (supposedly) politically unpalatable causes of those inequalities. But when you consider the women who enter and persist in highly competitive and risky occupations like surgery and policing—despite the odds stacked against them by largely unfettered sex discrimination and harassment—casual scholarly suggestions that women are relatively few in number, particularly in the higher echelons, because they’re less geared to compete in the workplace, start to seem almost offensive. Testosterone”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“contrary to the view that the brains of men and women are strikingly different, none of these differences were particularly substantial. Even for the very largest, the overlap between the sexes meant that about one in five women were more “male-like” than the average male.”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“the greater the gender equity of a country, the smaller the gender gap in the importance of the financial resources of a partner (as well as in the importance of other preferences, like chastity and good looks).36”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“As it happens, there’s a way of presenting data, called the funnel plot, that indicates whether or not the scientific literature is biased in this way.15 (If statistics don’t excite you, feel free to skip straight to the probably unsurprising conclusion in the last sentence of this paragraph.) You plot the data points from all your studies according to the effect sizes, running along the horizontal axis, and the sample size (roughly)16 running up the vertical axis. Why do this? The results from very large studies, being more “precise,” should tend to cluster close to the “true” size of the effect. Smaller studies by contrast, being subject to more random error because of their small, idiosyncratic samples, will be scattered over a wider range of effect sizes. Some small studies will greatly overestimate a difference; others will greatly underestimate it (or even “flip” it in the wrong direction). The next part is simple but brilliant. If there isn’t publication bias toward reports of greater male risk taking, these over- and underestimates of the sex difference should be symmetrical around the “true” value indicated by the very large studies. This, with quite a bit of imagination, will make the plot of the data look like an upside-down funnel. (Personally, my vote would have been to call it the candlestick plot, but I wasn’t consulted.) But if there is bias, then there will be an empty area in the plot where the smaller samples that underestimated the difference, found no differences, or yielded greater female risk taking should be. In other words, the overestimates of male risk taking get published, but various kinds of “underestimates” do not. When Nelson plotted the data she’d been examining, this is exactly what she found: “Confirmation bias is strongly indicated.”17 This”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“University of Otago social historian Hera Cook provides a beautiful illustration of exactly this point in her rich account of the sexual revolution.49 Cook notes that in eighteenth-century England, women were assumed to be sexually passionate. But drawing on economic and social changes, fertility-rate patterns, personal accounts, and sex surveys and manuals, Cook charts the path toward the sexual repression of the Victorian era. This was a time of reduced female economic power, thanks to a shift from production in the home to wage earning, and there was less community pressure on men to financially support children fathered out of wedlock. And so, in the absence of well-known, reliable birth control techniques, “women could not afford to enjoy sex. The risk made it too expensive a pleasure.”50”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“Here’s another example that some overworked mothers might find inspiring. We saw in Chapter 2 that being the one who produces
the sperm doesn’t dictate, by universal principle, that parenting is out of the portfolio. However, in the case of the rat (as with most
mammals), the balance of trade-offs make it more adaptive for males to leave parenting to the mothers. This might tempt us to take it for
granted that males, by virtue of their sex, therefore lack the capacity to care for pups. We might well assume that, through sexual selection, they lost or never acquired the biological capacity to parent: that it isn’t “in” their genes, hormones, or neural circuits. That it isn’t in their male nature. But bear in mind that one reliable feature of a male rat’s developmental system is a female rat that does the child care. So what happens when a scientist, under controlled laboratory conditions, simulates a first-wave feminist rodent movement by placing males in cages with pups but no females? Before too long you will see the male “mothering” the infant, in much the same way that females do. Feminism: 1. Sexual selection: nil.”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“A promiscuous man would need to have sex with more than 130 women just to have 90 percent odds of outdoing the one baby a monogamous man might expect to father in a year.”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“Consider, for example, a cichlid fish known as Haplochromis burtoni that comes from the lakes of East Africa.9 In this species, only a small number of males secure a breeding territory, and they are not discreet about their privileged social status. In contrast to their drably beige nonterritorial counterparts, territorial males sport bold splashes of red and orange, and intimidating black eye stripes. The typical day for a territorial male involves a busy schedule of unreconstructed masculinity: fighting off intruders, risking predation in order to woo a female into his territory, then, having inseminated her by ejaculating into her mouth, immediately setting off in pursuit of a new female. Add to this the fact that territorial males boast significantly larger testes and have higher circulating levels of testosterone than submissive nonterritorial males, and a T-Rex view of the situation seems almost irresistible. These high-T fish are kings indeed, presumably thanks to the effects of all that testosterone on their bodies, brain, and behavior. With a large dose of artistic license, we might even imagine the reaction were a group of feminist cichlid fish to start agitating for greater territorial equality between the sexes. It’s not discrimination, the feminist fish would be told, in tones of regret almost thick enough to hide the condescension, but testosterone. But even in the cichlid fish, testosterone isn’t the omnipotent player it at first seems to be. If it were, then castrating a territorial fish would be a guaranteed method of bringing about his social downfall. Yet it isn’t. When a castrated territorial fish is put in a tank with an intact nonterritorial male of a similar size, the castrated male continues to dominate (although less aggressively). Despite his flatlined T levels, the status quo persists.10 If you want to bring down a territorial male, no radical surgical operations are required. Instead, simply put him in a tank with a larger territorial male fish. Within a few days, the smaller male will lose his bold colors, neurons in a region of the brain involved in gonadal activity will reduce in size, and his testes will also correspondingly shrink. Exactly the opposite happens when a previously submissive, nonterritorial male is experimentally maneuvered into envied territorial status (by moving him into a new community with only females and smaller males): the neurons that direct gonadal growth expand, and his testes—the primary source of testosterone production—enlarge.11 In other words, the T-Rex scenario places the chain of events precisely the wrong way around. As Francis and his colleagues, who carried out these studies, conclude: “Social events regulate gonadal events.”12”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society
“Or consider a study of male marmoset monkeys, a monogamous species in which fathers are actively involved in parenting. Researchers measured T response to the ovulatory odors of unfamiliar females, and found that it depends on the male’s family status. Single males showed testosterone elevations (as well as penile ones) in response to the sexually enticing smell. But to “family” males (those pair-bonded with offspring), this same stimulus apparently had little effect—perhaps because it represented a distraction rather than an opportunity—and their T levels remained unresponsive.53 In”
Cordelia Fine, Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society