Well, ok, it’s mostly about one crap science article and another not-crap science critique of said article.
Recently The Times Magazine of the New York Times ran an article about female scientists studying female sexuality. As we are jaded media watchers here at Gender Goggles, you’ll not be surprised that it was a pile of sexist crap. And badly done science. And and badly reported science. Basically it is what you might expect; scientists apparently argue that women either want emotional intimacy, or want a Manly Man™ to submit to. Either way, women are so mysterious! Even women don’t know what women want! Here we have scientists basically doing science badly then pronouncing that our sexist culture has been right all along. There are a number of problems with the science in the article in question, as well as a number of problems with the article itself, with how science is packaged and the possible results re-written to make better headlines. A number of feminist blogs have already picked apart the sexist parts, so I want to highlight people who also picked apart the crappy science parts. In particular, I wish to point out that science done well, even when done by people who may not call themselves feminists, will be science that is not sexist. That if one is actually objective (inasmuch as we can be), then science starts to sound downright feminist.
I’ve noticed this in my academic career – articles and research that didn’t necessarily seem to be overtly feminist and yet still carried a feminist message. This neuroanthropology blog shows us an example with their critique of the Times Magazine article. I’ve just discovered that blog so I actually have no idea if the author of this piece is a feminist or not – but I did note that the he attended seminars by Anne Fausto-Sterling (commence coo-ing with envy now). Regardless of how he self-identifies, Greg Downey has written a good scientific critique of both the article and the research in question that produces a feminist result. He notes the faulty sexist logic of the research/article thusly: The logic goes sort of like: ‘A number of things turn women on; therefore, we don’t know the one thing that women want. Damn, women are inscrutable.’ And then goes on to argue that the research is actually about a fair number of different, but related, things, and as such could not possibly return a simple, comprehensive answer:
The irony is that, with such a tangle, the conclusion is foreordained: women will seem enigmatic, inconsistent, and irremediably opaque. As I’ll suggest in this, I think that the conclusion is built into the way the question is being asked. If a similar question were asked about nearly any group, in nearly any domain of complex human behaviour, and then a simple single answer were demanded, the questioner would face nearly identical frustration.
While there is a detailed critique of the research, I noticed that it was women in the comments that noted that a big part of the problem with the research is that the scientists assumed that increased vaginal blood flow automatically equals arousal, regardless of what the female test subjects said. That was certainly the part that stood out for me when I read it. You know, and I may just be going out on a limb here, but maybe the female physiological sexual response isn’t exactly like the male? Certainly there are great similarities – our bodies are not really all that different. But there’s some faulty assumptions being made in measuring arousal in this manner. At the very least, all sorts of things might lead to increased blood flow, not just arousal.
Anyways, I could go on about what he says but you really should just go and read it. Neuroanthropology also has a couple of good critiques of evolutionary psychology that are well worth the read, with the fun example of research that actually shows the opposite of what the article headline claims! Go Journalistic Integrity!
I also think that these articles can tie in to what Smadin posted lasts week at Shakesville, that turning words like “feminist” or “racist” into nouns creates a separation between the person and the action. If one called out for saying something that is racist, one might defensively reply “but I’m not a Racist!” thus distancing themselves from the racist action. I think the opposite can be true as well; someone who may not identify as a Feminist can still say something that is actually pretty feminist.
And now that we’ve all been kind of bummed out and annoyed by sexist scientists and sexist reporters, we can turn it around and read Sady at Tiger Beatdown because she critiques it and will make us laugh.
You’ll note, Sady, that I am covering the covering of the coverage of the article. :-p
p.s. has anyone else noticed that my blogarounds are regular ol’ posts in disguise?