Yesterday, a couple of news outlets reported that a neuroscientist, Prof. Gina Rippon, claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times (annoyingly paywalled) that the differences between the brains of men and women are overstated, and that neuroscientists are often naive about the damaging effects their research can have when hyped up by newspapers – there’s a particularly interesting debate on the subject between her and Prof. Robert Winston from the Today Programme if you’re interested. So far, so reasonable. After all, she’s hardly the only person who’s made that claim lately.
Today however The Daily Telegraph carries not one but two attempted rebuttals of Rippon’s claims: “Why would society want men to be blind to their worn socks?” by Michael Deacon, and “Do men and women really think alike?” by Cristina Odone. Who are these people? Science journalists? Renowned neuroscientists? Leading psychologists?
Both articles are utterly dreadful. Deacon’s is a list of borderline-offensive stereotypes about men – all men get manflu, all men are messy, all men are lazy and have no sense of adventure, all men can remember the Leeds United midfield from 91-92 – which he claims society has played no part in creating since there’s no benefit in doing so (quite why evolution would select for these “harmful” features instead, Deacon never explains). Perhaps unsurprisingly given that he’s a TV correspondent, Deacon’s article opens with a large picture of the cast of Mad Men, since that’s popular at the moment, dontchaknow. The picture however bears the caption “The characters in Mad Men are clear sexual stereotypes“, which makes me think the sub-editor in charge of that picture choice has never actually seen Mad Men, and certainly hasn’t noticed that the whole point of the show is the conflict between people’s personalities and the stereotypes they try to live up to.*
Odone’s meanwhile starts “Pity the scientist. Locked up in labs, handling vials full of toxic liquids, surrounded by white mice and white coats – no wonder she sometimes loses her common sense“, and then goes downhill from there. Odone complains about feminists with an “equality fetish”, and claims no woman can ever be satisfied with living “the masculine way” – i.e. being single, having sex and not having children – all the while wilfully misrepresenting Rippon’s position as “Men and women think exactly alike” instead of “Differences in psychology between men and women are societal, not biological”.
So why would The Telegraph run two articles attacking this claim?
* There’s one tiny, unrelated thing about Deacon’s article I want to mention, by the way:
Why would society want us to empty the loose change from our pockets on to the nearest household surface every evening, rather than simply spend it, like women do? (A while ago, a male colleague got round to counting the coppers he’d unthinkingly deposited around his flat during the past couple of years. They came to more than £200. That’s what home is to a man: a madly disordered bank vault.)
I’m going to call shenanigans on that anecdote. £200 in coppers would weigh over 70 kilograms – as much as an average adult man – and to have that many pennies lying around, he’d have to have paid on the order of at least £20,000 in cash over the two years – £27 per day – on products costing 99p; more expensive products – CDs that cost £9.99 for instance – would push that even higher.