Monday, 11 March 2013

Pared Planethood, or, Men and Women are From Earth

The existence of vague boundaries is normal: most of us are neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. Sexual
physiology is unusually abrupt in its divisions. (Ian Hacking in Making Up People: 164)

RAW Story posted a news piece last month about an upcoming journal article called "Men and Women Are From Earth: Examining the Latent Structure of Gender". It's a quantitative study and the statistics are, as so often is the case in psychological literature, rather too dense to wade through without my SPSS bible to hand. You can access a early-publication copy of Carothers and Reis' article here.

Using a variety of secondary data sets, the authors undertake an analysis of a host of normative aspects of gender recognition (what they quite amusingly call "symptoms"). 

... it will be important to think of these variables as continuous dimensions that people possess to some extent, and that may be related to sex, among whatever other predictors there may be. Of course, the term sex differences is still completely reasonable. In a dimensional model, differences between men and women reflect all the causal variables known to be associated with sex, including both nature and nurture. But at least with regard to the kinds of variables studied in this research, grouping into “male” and “female” categories indicates overlapping continuous distributions rather than natural kinds. (17, accessible here.)

I find myself particularly intrigued by the efforts of academics from different disciplines to enter in the gender debate. I'm so firmly ensconced in queer theory on these matters that it's quite easy to lose myself in the abstraction of Butler's philosophy. She argues that we are all in the midst of a matrix of cultural intelligibility, perceiving one another through an inescapable framework of normativity. It's nice to have some numbers that, whilst certainly not explicity backing up my beliefs, feed into the wider argument that gender is much more fruitfully thought of as a dynamic continuum of existences.

nb.  the title of this post comes from a hilarious quip tweeted by indefatigable humourist Megan Amram last month.

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