Telegraph columnists are from Mars, facts are from Venus

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?

Err, no. Odone writes on “families and faith”, while Deacon is The Telegraph‘s TV Features editor.

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?

Surely it has nothing to do with the fact that many of the sort of misleading reports Rippon complains about appear in The Telegraph, right?

* 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.

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  1. #1 by wickedday on Tuesday, 14th September 2010 - 17:04 UTC

    All either of these stories illuminates, then, is how invested in traditional stereotypes the writers for the Telegraph are.

    Also, surely Deacon’s logic is completely backwards? How does behaviours being basically purposeless mean that therefore they must be innate? I would’ve thought it’d be the other way around – traits without an obvious biological source/purpose are probably societal.

    And finally, there is absolutely a purpose to *internalising* these behaviours (if not strictly to the behaviours themselves) – a good command of one’s expected gender lets you fit safely into the in-group.

    Whereas as Deacon & Odone so ably demonstrate, men who aren’t {lazy/messy/stubborn about their health/sport nerds} and women who like {science/sex/childlessness/independence} are constructed as an out-group, and therefore acceptable targets for ridicule even in a relatively civilised broadsheet. Can’t entirely blame anyone for wanting to escape this sort of shit.

    Also, seriously, “equality fetish”? I’ll cop to an equality fetish any day. Feminist boys are hawt.

    • #2 by atomicspin on Tuesday, 14th September 2010 - 18:10 UTC

      Very good point on internalisation. Both articles have a sort of boastful tone to them- “Look at me, and how many of my expected stereotypes I fulfil, even when they harm me!” – which I think demonstrates your point quite nicely. Both writers certainly want people to know how well they perform their given gender roles.

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