Nature and Nurture | Letters | Chicago Reader

Nature and Nurture 

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Michael Solot reveals his true agenda in the final sentences of his review of John Colapinto's book [June 2], when Solot asks whether Reimer has "any special insight into the feminine mind." Since when is there such a thing as "a" feminine mind, some set of beliefs or feelings or attitudes or behaviors that all women--or all "true" women, Solot might say--share? There isn't such a thing, any more than there's a "masculine" mind. But that's only Solot's last mistake.

His first mistake is to not recognize, presumably because it would disturb his neat worldview, that many feminists--and many academics and progressives, for that matter, as well as many who wouldn't fit Solot's labels--recognize that there are, indeed, biological bases for human behavior, but that these bases aren't determinants. But perhaps such complexity and such subtlety is beyond him. (Solot also apparently fails to recognize that some feminists, so-called "difference" feminists, actually stand with him in declaring--mistakenly, in my opinion--that men and women are "naturally" different. Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice is perhaps one of the most famous outlines of aspects of that position.)

Don't get me wrong--the evil that John Money perpetrated was unconscionable. But what Solot fails to recognize is that one of the arguments that many feminists and others have been making for more than a century is that rigid sex roles hurt everyone. Such rules demand and enforce obedient behavior, and provide peers with tools to torture those who don't fit within the narrow confines of those rules. If the rules weren't so rigid, then Reimer's parents may not have felt such pressure to make their son be one or the other.

In other words, while there are biological bases for our gendered and other behavior, identifying causal paths from biology to any given behavior or set of behaviors--a difficult undertaking at best, and one of uncertain usefulness--is impossible without also examining the ways in which we live together: our cultures, what we make of our biology. For example, even a cursory historical examination will show that we have not always drawn the lines in the same ways or in the same places--even about the biology itself, suggesting that how we understand our bodies and our sex is more important than Solot is willing to recognize. I would suggest Donna Haraway's Primate Visions and Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex as two places to start.

There are other points to be made--is all government overspending or funding of unworthy projects the result of the "audience" of feminists, academics, and progressives? Would that explain exorbitantly overpriced items in the defense industry? Or might it have something to do with the way power accrues, and the way people can misuse it?--but the most important is just this: at least some utopias have people following their interests, and their talents, without regard to whether their genitalia match those interests in some role-prescribed way. This does not deny the influence of biology, but neither does it assume that the presence or shape of a particular piece of tissue determines what one will prefer as toys or, later, as one's life work.

Carla Hess

N. Dearborn

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