Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Male Feminist as Henry Higgins

You will jolly soon see whether she has an idea that I havnt put into her head or a word that I havnt put into her mouth. I tell you I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden [...]

The good news is that most of Matthew Yglesias's liberal commentariat reacted strongly against his preposterous argument that studies showing men and women are looking for different things in their mate search must be false because they aren't counter-intuitive enough. Subtle points aren't really necessary here, but some were made. One good point (and one relevant to our discussions of the Lancet study) is that if you can show a statistically significant effect with a small sample size, then the underlying effect is likely to be large. Everyone knows the die is loaded, but if you can figure it out after 10 throws than the loading is rather less subtle than if it requires 100.

Everyone quickly realized that the more interesting question is why someone as intelligent and analytical as Yglesias would try to dispute such an obvious point. Many a biological reductionist speculated that he was trying to ingratiate himself with young feminists with high indicia of fertility. Although no sensible feminist should dispute that male and female sexuality differ from each other (if they didn't, the feminist concentration on regulating male sexual aggression would make no sense), social constructionism is the party line, and it doesn't pay to deviate from it.

I suspect there's something to that explanation, but it misses something. The idea that gender differences in sexual behaviour and preferences for cleanliness could be overcome by new socialization has to be deeply appealing to young hetereosexual men. As Henry Higgins pointed out, it is downright inconvenient that women are ... women.

Of course, that means that the male and female feminist aren't really dreaming of the same utopia at all. They each hope that, in time, the other will become like themselves. Good luck with that one.

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