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[whitespace] Illustration Women and Men

By Annalee Newitz


SOME GUY came to figure out what was wrong with the thermostat in my office. It so happens that the main temperature control device is next to my desk, so he and I started geeking out about the difference between digital ventilation systems and ones run by air pressure (we have an old-fashioned air-pressure one). Curious about atmosphere regulation in the corporate world, I asked him about typical temperatures in office buildings. Did some corporations prefer it colder than others?

I imagined that giant multinationals would be chilly inside; their thermostats would promote the meteorological equivalent of corporate missions. But apparently that wasn't the case. Temp Control Boy informed me that almost every company he'd worked with over the past 30 years had requested temperatures between 70 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything under 70 was unheard of.

Instantly, I was filled with Logan's Run-esque visions of zillions of people in climate-regulated offices scattered across the globe, all experiencing precisely the same weather. It's as if humans live on two planets. There are the ones who live on planet Corporation (always 70-74 degrees!) and ones who live on planet Earth (temperatures vary by location).

But that's when Temp Control Boy hunkered down next to me, looked deeply into my eyes and asked, "Would you like to know what I've learned about temperature?"

"OK," I replied.

"I've noticed that women always like it to be a little warmer than men," he said in a soft, creepy way. "I think that men must be producing more heat than women." Then he stared at me weirdly. Filled with loathing, I couldn't think of a polite rejoinder. So I pretended I was a character in a 1950s science fiction movie.

"It must be all that photonic radiation making the men so hot, eh?" I speculated gravely.

"Why, yes, I think that's it," he said as I turned back to my computer screen and ignored him.

People will accept the stupidest pseudoscientific shit in the galaxy if you tell them it proves that men and women are somehow biologically different. Seems like everybody wants to believe that there's this profound, natural division between the sexes--something to explain the gender war, to justify why we argue with our opposite-sex partners, to make it seem like having a "boy's night out" is an activity validated by lab experiments.

My favorite new example of this trend is the story that bounced all over the headlines last week about how the so-called female brain is "wired for emotion." The study, conducted by a team of psychologists at SUNY Stony Brook, used 12 women and 12 men as subjects. That's 24 people, folks. Quite the cross-section of global civilization, eh? And the way they studied the "emotional hardwiring" was even better--they showed their subjects "emotionally charged pictures" and then asked them to recall the pictures three weeks later. Women had 10-15 percent more accurate recall than the men. Voilà, we can prove that women are more emotional than men, which is--not surprisingly--in keeping with traditional stereotypes.

There are so many things wrong with this study I can't even begin to do justice to them all. Let's just touch on a few simple problems. One, why does this prove that women have a better "emotional" memory? Maybe it just proves that the specific women in this study had slightly better memories than the men in the study. Maybe it proves that the pictures were boring and forgettable. Plus, why is "emotionality" measured in one's capacity to remember a picture that some researcher thinks is emotionally charged?

And finally, why is this moronic study of 24 people deemed "scientific," while Alfred Kinsey's famous 1940s survey of thousands of people's sexuality has recently been deemed "scientifically inaccurate" because it revealed that 10 percent of the population is homosexual? Kinda makes you wonder what's motivating these charges of accuracy and inaccuracy. Even more important, why doesn't anyone conduct studies that prove men and women have the same capacities? After all, even the "emotional brain" study shows that men and women have the same allegedly emotion-related memories roughly 90 percent of the time.

Once again, it seems that science is in the eyes of the beholder, and when it comes to gender, that beholder is generally a sexist twat. Or maybe we're all just suffering from too much photonic radiation.


Annalee Newitz (twat@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd whose brain feels less emotion than yours.


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From the August 1-7, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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