Bleier, Ruth. "Science and Belief: The Problem of Sex Differences," L&S Magazine 3 (Fall,

 

Bleier, Ruth. "Science and Belief: The Problem of Sex Differences," L&S Magazine 3 (Fall,
1985), pp. 11-15.

This is an excellent brief statement of the part played by social and cultural values in determining
"science." Bleier is particularly interested here in showing that contemporary biological sciences
have long provided data in support of the social position of men. Biology served social values in
proving the natural superiority of males. In this, science simply served its masters: it offered
proof for whatever was culturally necessary. In the 15th century, for example, developing
capitalism saw to the emergence of the new metaphor, Man is a machine, which was essential to
the development of capitalism. As Bleier puts it, "With this mechanistic view, values of order,
predictability, power and control - over machines, nature, people and society - could replace
older notions of uncertainty, disorder, skepticism, and unknowability." (p. 12) Our scientific
metaphors are socially useful.

Our biological models today are similarly socially useful. Primatology, for example, has provided
ethologists with "evidences" of male domination and superiority. In observed baboons, the male,
it was thought, was seen to develop his "harem." (The word was supposed to be descriptive of
the behavior of the beast.) Later, less biased observers could discern that no such grouping
existed but had been created by the observers.

Similarly, described sexual behaviors of baboons were shown to be very much a result of
observer bias, much of that bias cultural. "In areas of research having obvious implications for
gender and gender differences, methodological and conceptual biases have been permitted and
overlooked that would in other areas of science, have rendered the research unacceptable, if not
laughable."

Turning to research on humans, this physician suggests that biological reductionism is extremely
flawed. The assumptions are all interdependent and interrelated in such a way that hypotheses
become conclusions. For example, someone reports finding differences in brain functions for
males and females. (Actually we know so little about the brain's function that research in this
area is very shaky.) Lo and behold, someone else comes along and "finds" that this difference in
functioning can be used to explain female inferiority. Females use the whole brain, males, the
right side; therefore, it is the right side of the brain that promotes mathematical skills. Why
shouldn't it be that the whole brain provides skills? Answer: because the males have
mathematical skills and they only use the right side.

Bleier ends on a fascinating note suggesting that brain structure depends on environmental
stimulation and cannot be explained by genetic structure alone. There should be no dichotomy
between socialization and maturation, and those who use one are searching for simplicisms.