Gonads and Gadgets

A Freddical View

June 22, 2008

I have concluded that both sexes are grave mistakes, and constitute a sort of festering biological schizophrenia (if schizophrenia can fester), but they seem to be errors of different sorts. I wonder whether men and women live in quite the same mental world.

It would be fascinating to get Zogby to run a poll which would ask the following questions:

What does a camshaft do?

What is a vertical flyback interval?

What role does expansion play in refrigeration?

What does an address bus do?

Timed delay of arrival is the basis of what common technological service?

What is the role of a CCD in a digital camera?

Name any spacecraft now in orbit around anything.

What does TCP/IP stand for?

What is the purpose of a torque wrench?

The questions measure, I think, the degree to which people understand the physical world in which they live. Now, I may be wrong (almost inconceivable, I know, it has to happen sometime, like an asteroid strike) but I will bet that anyone scoring perfectly on the foregoing will be male. In fact, anyone coming close will be male. Should this prove true, the conclusion must be that men and women inhabit utterly different head-spaces.

The difference (if it exists) is not primarily tied to intelligence. I know blazingly smart women whose knowledge of cars stops with suspecting that “Whirrr” is better than “Clank-clank.” They could understand cars. They could understand almost anything. They just don’t care.

Men find this curious. I for one cannot imagine living in a world none of whose functionings I understood. Think of a bushman transported to Manhattan. Would not everything seem magical to him until familiarity dulled astonishment? (Though of course the uneducated of either sex are pretty much in that position.)

Is the difference cultural, or innate? I don’t know, but I’ll bet on innate. It should be easy to find out. Many more women than before are going into such fields as medicine and the sciences. Interesting question: Does a female pediatrician know as much about unrelated technologies as does a male pediatrician? Maybe she does: I don’t know. She will be able to name the peptide pituitary hormones, but will she understand how a phased-array works or know what parasitic capacitance is? Such knowledge might reasonably be expected of a guy who majored in the sciences. Certainly we talked about them in my dorm.

Again, perhaps I err, but it seems to me that women are intensely practical, learning what they need to get the job done, whereas men have a wider range of curiosity. A comparative examination of bookshelves would be informative.

A frequent observation today is that boys do poorly in school, by which is meant that they do not finish, make low grades, or do not go to college. True enough, though it is recent and, I suspect, a result of feminization of the schools. The disparity is often attributed to dullardry. (If that wasn’t a word, it is now. What does Microsoft know?)

But note that boys score better both on tests of aptitude and achievement (National Merit, SATs, GREs). This would seem to suggest a greater interest in substance than in grades. Girls, I think, are the other way around.

Men seem much more interested in politics, if one may judge by the content of conversations. This is curious, since women vote in greater numbers. Greater dutifulness, perhaps. My impression is that bright men read history, and bright women, literature. A large generalization but (I think) generally true. Zogby might also ask questions such as What happened in Iran in 1953? In 1979? What countries border Iraq? What is the principle of a shaped charge?

Abstract truculence characterizes men, but not women. Men like the idea of fighting, almost as a form of fun. They like tournaments, like to wear buckets on their heads with eye holes, and poke people they don’t know with pointy sticks while riding on horses. They believe this makes sense. As far as I can tell, women find it bafflingly stupid.

While I suspect that men know more about war and politics, this is not to say that their political judgement is better: The judgement of men is quickly that we need to nuke somebody, or bomb somebody, and they use their superior knowledge (if it is) to construct elaborately fallacious reasons for being murderous fools. (“We have to get Them before They get us. They want to kill us. If we don’t stop them there…etc.”) Women would rather shop. Different head spaces.

If women have less interest in attacking people they can’t see, they seem to be personally meaner. In a divorce, the man wants to get away; the women, to get even. A (female) divorce attorney once told me that men always are happy to let the woman see the kids, but women will frequently try to withhold them from sheer vengefulness. This is probably better than nuking China, but it suggests a different sort of mind.

I have never asked women about the psychological effects of size, though I have tried to imagine being five-three and 110 pounds instead of five-ten and 180. I have been in biker bars where I was viewed with suspicion and could not possibly have won a fight. It is not a comfortable feeling. Men do not worry about being raped. Women, I gather, very much do. Does the world therefore seem to them a more hostile place than it does to men, engendering their profound concern with security?

These differences may have consequences. The influence of women grows everywhere and in some fields—the schools, public relations, publishing—amounts to control. This seems to be leading to a diminished focus on excellence and greater focus on pleasantness and security. Television, highly feminized, carries less news of substance, and more heartwarming stories of a man giving hydrotherapy to his arthritic dog. The female impulse not to put cities to the sword is also the impulse not to worry about results as long as everyone is happy. You could argue that more happiness and less performance is not a bad idea. I agree. But it isn’t the male way.

I hear that Aeromexico offers a discount to lynch mobs, but by the time the crowd arrives, I’ll be safely in hiding.

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