Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Sex is a biological variable – in the brain too (nature.com)
62 points by apsec112 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

I agree that denying all sex differences in the human brain is just bad science. There is a long history of "men and women are biologically different therefore women can't ____." "Men and women are biologically different therefore women shouldn't ___." "Men and women biologically different, therefore women don't want ____." "Men and women are biologically different, therefore women prefer."

When biological differences are exaggerated to justify limiting a population of people, it doesn't surprise me that one response is to just flat out deny biology, when it is exaggerated and weaponized to justify limiting others (see historical arguments on why women shouldn't participate in running marathons, why women wouldn't make good medical doctors, how women have inferior/emotional reasoning, why women shouldn't be allowed into combat roles, why women don't like physics).

I think the question is, how do we as a society acknowledge these differences without being mentally lazy and applying "averages" to individual people? Until very recently women were denied combat roles because of biological arguments about the "average woman". Society used a "biology" argument to deny ALL women the opportunity, even to the ones who excel in these roles. Individual women demonstrated their biological abilities to excel in combat roles and were STILL denied the opportunity because of the "women on average...." and "men and women are biologically different...." arguments. Their very real abilities were "averaged out" and their opportunities to make the most of themselves were denied.

Of course men and women are different. The question is, when will we as a society be able to acknowledge those differences without unnecessarily screwing people over? People will stop denying biological truths when it isn't weaponized against them.

Until very recently women were denied combat roles because of biological arguments about the "average woman".

Reminds me of the discovery that pilots were incapable of safely flying a fast jet intended for the "average man", and each specific role - flying this particular fast jet - had to be finely tuned to each individual pilot [0]. None of us will ever meet an average person and any role designed for being filled by "the average" is asking for trouble.

[0] https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/when-us-air-...

These sex differences always conspire to keep women out of important social and economic roles. Such a coincidence!

That's not true. Teaching is a very important social role and it's very much dominated by women.

Of course there's the most important social role of all: parenting. Stay at home dads do not receive the support and admiration mothers do.

There is more to life than money, but the United States is a capitalist country, where nebulous concepts like "value" are measured in dollars. Teaching is an important role, but it is not valued. If it were valued in our economy, it would be backed by more dollars. So where does that leave women who work in these roles that are simultaneously "important" but not "valued"?

It's like when politicians say, "being a mother is the most important and difficult job", but then no one actually backs and elects women whose primary identity is being a mother. Isn't it strange that we don't want people with supposedly "the most difficult and important job" to represent us? It's because we as a society don't actually value it, we just pretend to. That leaves women economically poor and underrepresented in political decision-making.

Being economically and politically poor doesn't translate into happiness for women.

Every politician, ceo, leader... had a mother. Most of them were raised and shaped by that mother who helped them grow into the person they are today (good or bad). Being a mother is powerful because you shape the trajectory and tactics of all of your offspring, some of whom will go on to influence society at large.

The whole point is for the mother herself to directly influence society at large. Not wait around for 30-40 years to see if maybe her offspring agrees with some of the things that she cares about and maybe or maybe not implements it.

Fathers also influence and shape the trajectory of their offspring, and we don't have the notion that fathers should be preoccupied with "fathering" and wait around and see if their offspring influence society at large.

I think that's really short term thinking. The world doesn't need more workers (especially with automation coming), it needs better parents. Very few people will have an impact beyond their generation through work. All parents will though.

Just today there was an article on HN about the lack of jobs for STEM graduates:



> Note that neither teaching nor parenting are remotely lucrative. The opposite, in fact - my understanding is that much of the income gap is not from managerial discrimination (though that is a factor too, of course) but because of time women spend away from employment to have and support children. I agree that it’s arguably the most important social role but our economic system is upside-down in its valuation of it.

There's more to life than money. In fact the quest to make everyone an office drone has lowered salaries for all workers. It's also lowered women's happiness, eventhough their earning potential has greatly increased:


> Yes! Patriarchy harms us all.

Please don't do this here. No need to bring in gendered insults. Labeling something that harms men the "patriarchy" is nonsensical.

"Patriarchy" isn't a gendered insult, it's a description of the perceived traits of a social and economic system. But, if you'd prefer, feel free to substitute "Our social system and values" for the word. Regardless of the terminology, the idea that power is held disproportionately by one group in no way implies that every member of that group is purely benefitted by that imbalance. Even as many men reap the benefits of our system, many of us are also harmed by it, as you pointed out. The expectation that women will parent and men will earn money causes a lot of men to miss out on or feel undervalued in parenting roles.

> women denied combat roles

I see this argument a lot, yet the same people making the argument don't typically think that women should be included in the draft. And that makes sense, because women are biologically different than men.

However, I agree than women should be allowed to take combat roles if they're qualified, and men should be denied if they're not. I just don't think the ratio needs to be the same between the sexes.

The question is, when will we go far enough to prove that we've "solved" bigotry well enough that we can have the discussion about what the rules should be? There are very clear differences between men and women, but it feels like making that point is automatically considered bigoted.

I don't think the statement "men and women are different" is bigoted. It's what comes after that statement that matters. But I understand that the statement itself can put some people on guard, because it is very frequently followed with, "therefore [insert stereotype/generalization/justification for ____]". What is the specific purpose that the difference, rather than the similarity, between men and women is being highlighted? If it's to discuss real verifiable biological differences, sure. If it's to use "biology" to speculate and extrapolate on issues that effect someone's life directly (i.e. being able to participate on an equal footing economically, politically, and socially) then I can see why people find it upsetting. It's the intention, not the phrase itself.

On the topic of the draft. Actually, the same people complaining about women being denied combat roles are the same people who think women should be included in the draft. There was a HackerNews thread on this here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19242191

To summarize, in 2016 an amendment to include women in the draft had broad support among Democrat and Republican leaders and women in both parties. However, it was fiercely opposed by conservative law makers, and ended up being stripped from the final bill in a procedural move.

You ask 'when', but all the examples of limits you give are in the past tense.

2018 was the first year that female Marines were allowed to attend the previously male-only entry-level course at the Marine Combat Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California.

2018 was also the year that Tokyo Medical School admitted changing exam results to exclude women.

2019 is the first year that Augusta National Golf Club held a Women's Amateur event. It wasn't that long ago that the club chairman said that the club would not be pressured into inviting women members “at the point of a bayonet.”

All of these examples are less than a year old. Do you really think that discrimination against women is all past tense? The combat role and golf club examples were all public policies of discrimination. As that becomes less common, we learn more about the private policies of discrimination like the Tokyo medical school example. Publicly changing policies doesn't make discrimination go away, it's just the first step in a years long process of socially accepting and integrating people whose denied membership was once accepted by members as good policy.

> Do you really think that discrimination against women is all past tense?

No. It will probably never be past tense. That doesn't mean the fewer and fewer remaining examples should be used to paint entire societies.

That brings me to my second point - societies, plural. Japan is not the same society as the US or Europe (Eastern or Western). See for example the much higher representation of women in medicine in Eastern Europe compared to the rest of the world: http://www.oecd.org/gender/data/women-make-up-most-of-the-he...

These examples are not being used to "paint entire societies". These examples are being used to: (1) demonstrate that discrimination is still a real problem, (2) show that discrimination is often justified by biological arguments that average out individual talents, and (3) that removing public policies of discrimination are only the first step.

I certainly celebrate the fewer and fewer examples of public policies of discrimination. I hope over time there are fewer and fewer private policies of discrimination, but that takes time. It also takes an honest conversation about how "biological averages" are applied to individuals.

> Until very recently women were denied combat roles because of biological arguments

until very recently physical strength was the definitive factor in war, and few brave women endeavored it. it's not just the attitudes that have changed

The fact that there’s a need to restate this obvious point is a signal of the absurd times we live in.

There’s no room for “obvious points to restate” in science. Only hypotheses that can be tested through experimentation.

Obvious, as in: obvious hypothesis confirmed by overwhelming experiment evidence.

restate this "scientifically supported" point

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact