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98% chimp, how about you? - Tactical Ninja

Dec. 22nd, 2010

09:12 am - 98% chimp, how about you?

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For pombagira. A study has found that within a group of chimps, playing with sticks as if they were dolls (ie carrying them around, making pretend beds for them) happens roughly twice as much amongst female juveniles as it does amongst male juveniles. It's interesting because all the chimps seem to stop doing it by the time they hit puberty, therefore unlike sticks-for-aggression or sticks-as-tools-for-food, it's not a behaviour they learn by copying adults. There seems to be an aspect of peer learning going on, which emerges as gender-differentiated play behaviour. But there's also the possibility that this is a biological difference. Some male chimps do it, but nowhere near as many as females.


It has only ever been observed in this one group of chimps, out of all the chimps ever observed. And let's face it, tool-related behaviour is one of the things people studying chimps have observed a lot, because it's one of the things they think will give clues to the evolution of human behaviour.

So my conclusion from reading the study was "Hmm, interesting. Why would one isolated group of chimps exhibit this behaviour, and how do we find out if there's something inherently different between female and males in this group or if it's a unique form of peer-learning? Clearly it needs more research." And off I went, lalala.

Enter the OMGSCIENCE!* brigade, waving an article from that esteemed academic journal, MSNBC, which sports the headline "Female chimps play with stick dolls". By the third paragraph, this article is taking the isolated result from one study and extrapolating it to humans. "There is something innate that predisposes girls and boys to react differently to the same objects", one of the writers is quoted as saying.

Further down, the article talks about how female vervet monkeys play with cooking pots and how this is further evidence to suggest there's a biological basis for human sex differences. Yes really. Even though cooking pots have no use among wild monkey populations, this 'science' takes it to mean that gender roles may be biologically based in humans.

*sigh* This happens every single time. Last week it was the stress/learning thing as 'proof' that women are more sensitive, and people extrapolating that to mean women shouldn't be allowed to go into stressful situations. etc etc ad infinitum. Pick a study about gender, I guarantee you'll find people using the result to tell me I'm inferior in some way and "shouldn't *insert whatever you like here*"

This is the problem with gender science. It's not the science itself, it's the way it's used to reinforce gender roles in humans. And maybe it's coincidence (but I don't think so) that the gender roles the science is always taken as validation for are the ones that disadvantage women (read: me). You know, call me a scary militant feminazi** cynic, but when someone says "Look, wild monkeys play with cooking pots, you belong in the kitchen, make me a sammich!" I generally suspect there's an agenda. I have yet to figure out what the agenda is, why it exists and why some people put so much effort into finding 'proof' to back this agenda.

It's actually one of the big confusions of my life - why are some people so invested in convincing me and all my XX peers that we are biologically inferior? What exactly are these people afraid of if they go "Hey, we're all more or less the same, let's get in the kitchen and make that sammich together!" Why is it important to 'prove' that I can't drive as well as you? I'm still going to drive and your 'proof' is not going to stop me from being better at parallel parking than you. And your 'proof' that some group of chimps somewhere in Africa play with sticks like they're dolls is not going to make me go "Oh, well then. I guess I'd better give up my career to have babies." I will have babies if I so choose, and under no other circumstances. I do not assume that my gender makes me naturally better at child-rearing than a man, and I expect a man having contact with children to do so as competently as he as an individual is capable.

Because my agenda is not disempowerment of the opposite gender.

* These are the people who will grasp onto anything they see that could be construed as OMGSCIENTIFICPROOF! of innate gender differences in behaviour, and trumpet it from the rooftops like it's some kind of victory. For any of those type of people reading this (which is unlikely but you never know), I'd just like to point out a couple of things:

1. I am wondering why so much effort is going into trying to prove that male and female humans are biologically different in the brain. What does it achieve?
2. I can only assume that proving these differences will somehow validate the different treatment and expectations of behaviour applied to females vs males.
3. I don't understand why it's so important to be validated in this different treatment.
4. I have no problem with the idea that males and females are inherently different. The problem I have is with the use of inherent differences as a 'reason' to force women into gender-related roles that disadvantage them.

** Because expecting to be treated like a human being is totally the same as invading Poland.


Today is my last day at work. We finish at lunchtime. Blogging may get a bit sporadic over the holidays but that's normal, right? Meanwhile, I only need a two day window of fine weather to get the last sheep done. Please make this happen.

Comments:

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From:tatjna
Date:December 21st, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
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Poland will never get laid again.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 21st, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
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Poland should stop trying to be an artist, get a job as an accountant and cough up the diamonds then.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:31 am (UTC)
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Poland is most definitely not on a horse.
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From:pombagira
Date:December 21st, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
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i am so going to have to check that linkage out betters when i get home.. *nods*

*smiles*
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From:tatjna
Date:December 21st, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
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It's a pretty short study as these things go, will probably only take about 5-10 minutes to read, provides links to the raw data as well.

;-)

Jane Goodall has a lot to answer for.
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From:morbid_curious
Date:December 21st, 2010 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Reminds me of the following comic, which is true more often than it should be:
http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1174
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:December 22nd, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
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In answer to 1. I guess some people want to explain the observed cultural differences in terms of biology, possibly because for them it's easier than trying to explain them in terms of sociology and cultural reinforcement of stereotypes.

While the discussion about cooking pots is ridiculous, I don't necessarily see female juvenile chimps playing with sticks like dolls as any evidence of inferiority. There might be a disposition to nurturing, but basing judgements on a chimps a ability to do stuff on this wouldn't be any more useful than basing it on, say, male juveniles more frequently fighting each other. Because fighting sure is useful for a productive societ... oh wait (BTW, I made up this fact, I have no idea if they do or not). Of course having a disposition for something, doesn't mean we are automatically better at it - except that when we do things more often we do develop some skill on the experience.

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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 01:41 am (UTC)
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You're absolutely right.

On the hitting each other with sticks thing, young male chimps do do it more, and young female ones are generally more efficient at getting termites and honey with sticks - but these traits have been observed widely throughout chimpdom and have been established to be the product of social learning from adult chimps. This is one of the things that makes the playing dollies behaviour exhibited only by this one group so interesting.

It's good to know that there are a growing number of people who think like you out there - who realise that potential and predisposition are nothing more than that. The problem is the train of thought that goes:

Girl chimps play with dollies --> females are more nurturing --> women should do all the nurturing, not just of children but of everybody --> women shouldn't be allowed to do anything but nurturing because that's all they're good at --> gee, why are the women so angry? they're doing exactly what they were born for!

I am surprised anyone still thinks like this but enough people do that I still see comments on every gender-related scientific study to that effect. And it makes me ranty.



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From:paulmakepeace
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)

Occam's razor

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I think inferring innate preferences should necessarily hinder or shape our pursuits is the broken piece as you pointed out. To be fair though, I think some people are trying to explain behavior in terms of biology because (wait for it) it might actually have some basis in biology ;)

Given mens' & womens' bodies are different it's often struck me as hilarious (given the extraordinary effort to show otherwise) that our brains aren't obviously different as well...

It's definitely hot when a chick makes me a sammich in any case :)
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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)

It's definitely hot when you kiss my arse too

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Hi, I've no idea who you are, but you're obviously new here. Women are not referred to as 'chicks' here and I'd suggest you get to know me better before diving in with the type of comment that Happy up there (who has known me for years) can use as a joke and have it understood as such. Yes I'm referring to the sammich comment. Please don't.

Having got that out of the way, it's not the idea that women and men are inherently different that I (and other feminists) have a problem with. It's the way in which any differences are taken as reinforcement for ideas and expectations of the role of women that are ultimately detrimental to the women.

If folks would stop doing that, you'd probably find the feminists wouldn't be quite so noisy about minimising any biological difference.
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From:paulmakepeace
Date:December 23rd, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)

Re: It's definitely hot when you kiss my arse too

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Here's a pic I took for you yesterday,

double rainbow

I hope it cheers you up a little bit!
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From:tatjna
Date:December 23rd, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)

Re: It's definitely hot when you kiss my arse too

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Aww, thanks!

I would love to reply with the double rainbow vid that ferrouswheel made last time we were at Castlepoint, but sadly it's disappeared into the ether. Double rainbows are magical, see.

I'm not angry, btw. It's just good to get the boundaries set at the start.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:43 am (UTC)
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I have a photo of me somewhere (on a horse no less), stark naked with a cooking pot on my head, holding a giant meat cleaver.

Because that's what I'm biologically predisposed to use cooking utensils for.
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From:lovehoney_hella
Date:December 22nd, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
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Brava! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this after a tip-off from Filament Mag.

Have sent you a friends request. I don't update my LJ often and then it's work x-posting, but I'll definitely be back to read more of your diatribes ;)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 22nd, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
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I'm here from the filament link too. Nice post! The existence of Matriarchal societies means we aren't hard wired to devalue women, that's just our cultural heritage. I think we need some matriarchal notions and lifestyle options in our society to redress the balance.

Jake
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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting idea and one I hadn't thought of. I'm not sure what you mean by matriarchal though - I'm assuming not simply the reverse of patriarchal?

My style of feminism is mostly about agency for all people to choose to do and be whatever they desire without redress or having to battle powerful opposition from society because of their gender.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 29th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
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I'd love to see that. No not a simple reversal. but an awareness that matriarchy does exist and let that existence
lean on our patriarch notion of society to open peoples minds to other options and achieve change.
Here's the Mosuo tribe in China http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoTrARDa8BU

Here this lifestyle option is called single mums and is regarded as a state of failure.
Even when the mum runs a house, has 5 kids by different fathers who all contribute
time, money and friendship after their lover phase has passed. Saw a documentary
about an artist in Wales who did this mainly because she liked to live with her sapphic partners,
and let her male lovers be fathers. If matriarchy is a credible force in our society then the woman
in Wales isn't a failure but a success because she is a success. Hope that isn't too rambly and makes sense.
Sometimes I later read stuff I've written and have to change it but you can't here.

Jake

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From:tatjna
Date:December 22nd, 2010 08:31 pm (UTC)
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D'aww, thank you! Going to check out your blog now!
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From:mkcs
Date:December 23rd, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
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Brilliant post. Really good.
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From:mkcs
Date:December 23rd, 2010 07:14 am (UTC)
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The other thing this sort of discussion tends to lack is recognition of the idea that even if a majority of females of a particular species do have a tendency to engage in a particular behaviour, if it's not *all* the females, then one can't usefully assume that any particular female is going to have that tendency unless one has extra information about her particularly.

That is, even if most girls like dolls and most boys don't, that doesn't mean all girls like dolls, that boys shouldn't like dolls, that no boys like dolls, that any particular girl is going to like dolls, or that it's a good idea to say in any child's hearing that 'girls like dolls' or 'she likes dolls because she's a girl'.
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From:tatjna
Date:December 23rd, 2010 07:30 am (UTC)
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Yeah, the scientists who did the study took pains to point out the incidences of male chimps also playing with dolls, yet for some reason this has been ignored in the commentary.
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