Tag Archives: gender

The Benefits and Limitations of Rhyming and Alliteration

Smoky Sunrise Aug 2017

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-rhyming and I’m not anti-rap.

Truth is, I think rhyming slogans are pretty darn cool. Ask my students, I use them all the time. Here are a few that have been known to slip out my mouth and into a class lecture from time to time:

  • A pill is not a skill.
  • Get curious, not furious.
  • Your goal should be within your personal control
  • To function to the best of your ability, you should embrace your multicultural humility
  • An alcoholic drink, will not help you think (better)

The benefits of rhyming (and I daresay, alliteration) is that messages emerge with might and mass, which makes them more memorable. What I meant to say here before my alliterative self took over is that rhyming produces a powerful and memorable message. That’s the good news.

The “less good” news (as us therapist types like to say) is that rhyming and alliteration, although clever and appealing, usually don’t capture ALL OF THE TRUTH, and, are often misleading.

All this initial commentary is my way of leading up to my recent critique of the liberal use of a couple of F-words (nope, I’m not talking about “Fire and fury” although that could be an alliterative example of something that’s simply not soothing the simmering psyches of people who need to settle down). Instead, the target of my critique today is the all-too-common utterance, “Fight or flight.”

What follows is an excerpt of a slight rambling rant that was included in my keynote speech at the Montana Prevent Child Abuse Conference this past April.

The context: I had just shown a video of a Harvard professor who happened to mention (without checking with me first) the clever and popular phrase, “fight or flight.” Here’s what came next:

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You may not be aware of this, but I’m an official, self-appointed member of the counseling and psychotherapy theories police. I don’t have a badge, but I’ve got a book. What this book means is that I’ve done a little background reading on lots of theoretical concepts, like “Fight or Flight.” “Fight or Flight” – We hear that a lot, even from, as my older daughter would say, that fancy Harvard guy on the video.

The problem with most rhyming concepts is that they tend to oversimplify whatever it is we’re talking about. Take for example, “No pain, no gain.” There’s some truth to that, but that statement probably doesn’t hold for everyone, everywhere.

Well, the troubling truth is that fight or flight isn’t really all that accurate. Stress doesn’t just trigger two behavioral options. There are other behaviors activated by stress, some of which also start with an F, but don’t rhyme so neatly.

There’s Faint. And there’s Freeze. Chronic stress can also increase Feeding; some of us know that first-hand. My favorite stress food comes from places that rhyme with Fakery, so I guess that’s another F word. But, then again, stress can also dull your appetite, so the feeding thing isn’t a universal response.

Then there are the “P” words, like poop and pee. High stress can affect those, sometimes rather dramatically.

But what most people—even fancy Harvard guys—don’t tell you or don’t know, is that much of the Fight or Flight research was conducted on White Males.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the research was actually conducted on White, Male, Rats.

After re-analyzing old data and new studies focusing on female rats and female humans, years ago, Shelly Taylor and her research colleagues at UCLA discovered that for females of the species, there was a tendency toward a different set of rhyming words. The females coped with stressors using a strategy referred to as “Tend and Befriend.” And to further complexify the situation, sometimes males do the tend and befriend thing too. . . although not quite so frequently as the white, male, rats.

The point . . . I know I’ve strayed from it, is that financial and workplace interventions are very good for decreasing child abuse, but IMHO. . . interventions that increase social support and connection (the tending and befriending as methods for helping highly stressed families cope) are equally important . . . and that brings us right back to you and what you can do to prevent child abuse.

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Today’s blog is just a reminder that although powerful and memorable communication is remarkably powerful and memorable, it’s usually incomplete, not always accurate, and a function of the speaker’s need or desire to be powerful and memorable. This is just as true when I say “a pill is not a skill” or when other people say other things that make use of rambling and reckless rhetoric of the alliterative or rhyming ilk.

To finish, I’ll leave you with what Shelly Taylor said back in the year 2000, as excerpted from our forthcoming textbook, Counseling and Psychotherapy in Context and Practice (John Wiley and Sons, 2018). This particular excerpt ends with brief comments from us that also, in case you are wondering, might be relevant to the recent Google manifesto brouhaha.

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Stress researcher and social psychologist Shelly Taylor made a similar contribution when researching the well-known fight or flight phenomenon (Taylor et al., 2000). She and her colleagues wrote:

A little-known fact about the fight-or-flight response is that the preponderance of research exploring its parameters has been conducted on males, especially on male rats. Until recently, the gender distribution in the human literature was inequitable as well. Prior to 1995, women constituted about 17% of participants in laboratory studies of physiological and neuroendocrine responses to stress. (2000, p. 412)

Reanalysis of existing data and new research revealed significant differences in the ways in which females and males respond to stressful situations. Taylor and colleagues (2000) concluded:

We propose a theory of female responses to stress characterized by a pattern termed “tend-and-befriend.” Specifically, we propose that women’s responses to stress are characterized by patterns that involve caring for offspring under stressful circumstances, joining social groups to reduce vulnerability, and contributing to the development of social groupings, especially those involving female networks, for the exchange of resources and responsibilities. We maintain that aspects of these responses, both maternal and affiliative, may have built on the biobehavioral attachment caregiving system that depends, in part, on oxytocin, estrogen, and endogenous opioid mechanisms, among other neuroendocrine underpinnings. (p. 422)

The preponderance of the research suggests that in fact, that White male ways of being aren’t always normative for females, or even for all males. There are physical and psychological similarities between females and males, but there are also differences. In this case, it would be inappropriate to make the case that a typical male fight-or-flight response is superior to a typical female tend-and-befriend response. There is likely an evolutionary benefit to both stress-related behavior patterns (Master et al., 2009; Taylor & Gonzaga, 2007; Taylor & Master, 2011). Sometimes differences are just differences and there’s no need to advocate for one sex-related pattern as superior over another (although if they feel threatened by this information, white male rats are highly likely to fight for their position…or run and hide in little holes in our cupboards). In this case it seems clear: Neither behavior pattern represents psychopathology…and neither will always be the superior response to threat.

 

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Boy Brains, Girl Brains, and Neurosexism

Black White Bikes

Sorry to say, I’ve been irritable the past couple days. If you don’t believe me, just ask my internet provider . . . or my editor . . . or ask me about my upcoming book deadline. There’s evidence everywhere for my irritability and impatience. You might even see evidence for it in this short excerpt from our forthcoming Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy textbook. In fact, you should read this now, because I’m pretty sure it will get censored before appearing in our text.

Here you go.

You may be aware of popular books describing and delighting in the differences between female and male brains. Here’s a short list, along with my snarky comments:

  1. The essential difference: Male and female brains and the truth about autism (Baron-Cohen, 2003). Baron-Cohen is an autism researcher. His book allegedly, “. . . proves that female-type brains are better at empathizing and communicating, while male brains are stronger at understanding and building systems-not just computers and machinery, but abstract systems such as politics and music.” Comment: It’s so good to finally understand why most of our politicians are smirky White males who look like Baron-Cohen (heads up, this statement is sarcasm).
  2. The female brain (Brizendine, 2006): Brizendine is a neuropsychiatrist. Her book is touted as bringing “. . . together the latest findings to show how the unique structure of the female brain determines how women think, what they value, how they communicate, and who they love.” Comment: In Delusions of gender (2011), Cordelia Fine reduces Brizendine’s arguments to rubble. Nuff said.
  3. Teaching the female brain: How girls learn math and science (James, 2009). Comment: It’s hard to know how this book could be more than two pages given that there’s extremely sparse scientific evidence to support what this book’s title implies.
  4. Female brain gone insane: An emergency guide for women who feel like they are falling apart (Lundin, 2009). No comment. I couldn’t bring myself to read beyond this book’s title.
  5. The male brain: A breakthrough understanding of how men and boys think (Brizendine, 2011). Comment: The main breakthrough finding is that when you sell a million+ copies of your first book, a sequel, with similar drama, but equally slim scientific support, is essential.
  6. Unleash the power of the female brain: Supercharging yours for better health, energy, mood, focus, and sex (Amen, 2014). Comment: Better health, energy, mood, focus, and sex? I want a female brain!

The dangers of over-stating what’s known about the brain is significant, but nowhere are the dangers bigger than when you’re talking about sex and gender. Over time, physical differences between females and males have nearly always been used to justify systemic mistreatment of females (and limitations for males, as well). Some examples:

Plato didn’t think women were created directly by God and so they didn’t have had souls.

Aristotle thought women were deficient in natural heat and therefore unable to cook their menstrual fluids into semen.

Gustav Le Bon (1979) concluded that women’s intellectual inferiority was so obvious that no one could contest it. He wrote: “All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man” (see Women’s Brains by S. J. Gould). Le Bon purportedly based his ideas on Broca’s measurements of 6 female and 7 male skulls. Not surprisingly, Le Bon strongly opposed the whole idea of educating women.

More recently, over the past 30 years, I’ve seen and heard and read many different descriptions and explanations about female and male brain differences. Nearly always, there’s the same old story: Women are more “right brained” and intuitive and less “left brained” and rational. Of course the actual brain hemisphere research is sketchy, but the take home messages are much like Baron-Cohen’s and Brizendine, which happen to be much like the philosophy of the Nazi Third Reich, which is that girls and women are well-suited for working in the kitchen and the church, and especially good at caring for children, but that women had best leave politics and the corporate world – where steady rationality is essential – to the men.

All this reminds me of the time my daughter, then a senior in high school, was shown a film in her science class depicting the female brain as structurally less capable of science and math. She came home in distress. We showed up at school the next day. What do you suppose happened next? We’ll leave that story to your imagination.

Genderizing the brain marginalizes and limits females, but it can also do the same for males. Take, for example, this quotation from “Dr.” Kevin Leman.

“Did you know that scientific studies prove why a woman tends to be more ‘relational’ than her male counterpart? A woman actually has more connecting fibers than a man does between the verbal and the emotional side of her brain. That means a woman’s feelings and thoughts zip along quickly, like they’re on an expressway, but a man’s tend to poke slowly as if he’s walking and dragging his feet on a dirt road.” (pp. 5-6).

Just FYI, even though my emotional quotient is just barely dragging along Leman’s dirt road, I can quickly intuit that what he wrote is sheer drivel. It’s not partial drivel because . . . as Cordelia Fine might say, “He just made that shit up.”

Seriously? Am I making the claim that male and female brains are relatively equivalent in terms of empathic processing? Yes. I. am.

Using the best and most rigorous laboratory empathy measure available, empathy researcher William Ickes found no differences between males and females in seven consecutive studies. However, based on a larger group of studies, he and his colleagues acknowledged that there may be small sex-based differences favoring women on empathy tasks. It should be noted that he and his research team (which includes females who may be more limited in their scientific skills than Baron-Cohen) offer at least two caveats. First, they believe that females being raised in social conditions that promote a communal orientation may account for some of the differences. Second, females are especially likely to be better at empathy when they’re primed, directly or indirectly, to recall that they (women) are better at emotional tasks than men. The converse is also true. When men are primed to think all men are empathic dullards, they tend to perform more like empathic dullards.

What all this boils down to is that females and males are generally quite similar in their empathic accuracy, not to mention their math and science and language abilities. It appears that the minor observable differences between females and males may be explained by various environmental factors. This means that if you want to stick with scientific evidence, you should be very cautious in making any conclusions about brain differences between females and males. To do otherwise is to create what has been eloquently termed, a neuromyth.

In summary, the safest empirically-based conclusions on sex- and gender-based brain differences are:

  1. The differences appear to be minimal
  2. When they exist, they may be largely caused by immediate environmental factors or longer-term educational opportunities
  3. To avoid mistakes from the past, we should be cautious in attributing female and male behavioral or performance differences to their brains
  4. If and when true neurological differences are discovered, it would be best if we viewed them using the Jungian concept of Gifts differing (Myers, 1995).
  5. Consistent with Cordelia Fine’s excellent recommendation in Delusions of Gender, we shouldn’t make things up—even if it means we get to sell more books.

Women’s Cleavage and the Man’s Package in Professional Counseling and Psychotherapy

In 2013, for the first time in the history of counseling and psychotherapy textbook writing (at least our history), Rita and I included a section heading titled “Straight Talk about Cleavage” in the 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing. This section was inspired by comments posted on the Counselor Education and Supervision Listserv (aka CESNET). Now, we’re working on the revision for the 6th edition (affectionately referred to as CI6). For CI6 we solicited reactions from students, professional counselors, and professional psychologists. Not surprisingly, we received some fun, stimulating, and challenging responses.

For your reading pleasure, here’s the first draft of the revised section on cleavage. You’ll notice that it begins with a section on “Self-Presentation.” That’s because the cleavage and related content is a subsection of the self-presentation section.

This is a draft . . . and so please feel free to message me (or post) your comments and reactions. Thanks for reading.

Self-Presentation

You are your own primary instrument for a successful interview. Your appearance and the manner in which you present yourself to clients are important components of professional clinical interviewing.

Grooming and Attire
Choosing the right professional clothing can be difficult. Some students ignore the issue; others obsess about selecting just the right outfit. The question of how to dress may reflect a larger developmental issue: How seriously do you take yourself as a professional? Is it time to take off the ripped jeans, remove the nose ring, cover the tattoo, or lose the spike heels? Is it time to don the dreaded three-piece suit or carefully pressed skirt and come out to do battle with mature reality, as your parents may have suggested? Don’t worry. We recognize the preceding sentences are probably pushing your fashion-freedom buttons. We’re not really interested in telling you how you should dress or adorn your body. Our point is self-awareness. If you’re working in rural Texas your tattoo and nose ring will have a different effect than if you’re an intern in urban Chicago. Even if you ignore your physical self-presentation, your clients—and your supervisor—probably won’t.

We knew a student whose distinctive style included closely cropped, multicolored hair; large earrings; and an odd assortment of scarves, vests, sweaters, runner’s tights, and sandals. Imagine his effect on, say, a middle-aged dairy farmer referred to the clinic for depression, or a mother-son dyad having trouble with discipline, or the local mayor and his wife. No matter what effect you imagined, the point is that there’s likely to be an effect. Clothing, body art, and jewelry are not neutral; they’re intended to communicate, and they do (Human & Biesanz, 2012). An unusual fashion statement can be overcome, but it may use up time and energy better devoted to other issues (see Putting It in Practice 2.3). As a therapist your goals is to present yourself in a way that creates positive first impressions. This includes dress and grooming that foster rapport, trust, and credibility.

In one research study (albeit dated), Hubble and Gelso (1978) reported that clients experienced less anxiety and more positive feelings toward psychotherapists who were dressed in a manner that was slightly more formal than the client’s usual attire. The take home message from this research, along with common sense, is that it’s better to err slightly on the conservative side, at least until you’re certain that dressing more casually won’t have an adverse effect on your particular client population. As a professional colleague of ours tells her students, “A client should not walk away from your session thinking too much about what you wore” (S. Patrick, personal communication, June 27, 2015).

Straight Talk about Cleavage
Although we don’t have solid scientific data upon which to base this statement, our best guess is that most people on the planet don’t engage in open conversations about cleavage. Our goal in this section is to break that norm and to encourage you to break it along with us. To start, we should confess that the whole idea of us bringing up this topic (in writing or in person) makes us feel terribly old. But we hope this choice might reflect the wisdom and perspective that comes with aging.

In recent years we’ve noticed a greater tendency for female counseling and psychology students (especially younger females) to dress in ways that might be viewed as provocative. This includes, but is not limited to, low necklines that show considerable cleavage. Among other issues, cleavage and clothing were discussed in a series of postings on the Counselor Education and Supervision (CES) listserv in 2012. The CES discussion inspired many of the following statements that follow. Please read these bulleted statements and consider discussing them as an educational activity.

• Female (and male) students have the right to express themselves via how they dress and should be able to dress any way they want.
• Commenting on how women dress and making specific recommendations may be viewed as sexist.
• Agencies and institutions have some rights to establish dress codes regarding how their paid employees and volunteers dress.
• Despite egalitarian and feminist efforts to free women from the shackles of a patriarchal society, how women dress is still interpreted as having socially constructed messages that often, but not always, pertain to sex and sexuality.
• Although efforts to change socially constructed ideas about women dressing “sexy” can include activities like campus “slut-walks,” a counseling or psychotherapy session is probably not the venue for initiating a discourse on social and feminist change.
• For better or worse, most middle-school males and middle-aged men (and many “populations” in between) are likely to be distracted—and their ability to profit from a counseling experience may be compromised—if they have a close up view of their therapist’s breasts.
• At the very least, we think excessive cleavage (please don’t ask us to define this) is less likely to contribute to positive therapy outcomes and more likely to stimulate sexual fantasies—which we believe is probably contrary to the goals of most therapists.
• It may be useful to have young women watch themselves on video from the viewpoint of a client (of any sex or gender) and then discuss how to manage sexual attraction that might occur during therapy.

We don’t have perfect answers to the question of cleavage during a clinical interview. Guidelines depend, in part, on interview setting and specific client populations. At the very least, we recommend you think about this dimension of professional attire and hope you’ll openly discuss cleavage and related issues with fellow students, colleagues, and supervisors.

Minding the Body for Males
It’s inappropriate to stop our discussion about sexuality and sexual perceptions without addressing the other end of the sexuality and gender continuum. To start, we should emphasize that, to a large extent, our cautions about cleavage aren’t really about breasts; instead, these are comments about cultural messages pertaining to sex and sexuality and how clients are likely to perceive and react to seeing too much of certain portions of their therapist’s skin. Back in Freud’s day and setting, viewing women’s ankles was reportedly rather titillating. This observation begs the question: “Is it possible for individuals who identify as being on the male end of the sexual identity continuum to dress in ways that might be described as titillating?” When we tried to experiment with this in a group counseling class, mostly the feedback was that the males were being “gross” and “disgusting.”

Despite the fact that our students reacted negatively to the idea of males exposing their skin, we should note that throughout the history of time, therapists who engaged in inappropriate, unethical, and illegal sexual behavior with clients have been disproportionately male. This leads us to conclude that our cautions about females showing cleavage is at the least ironic and at most sexist. Consistent with feminist theory, when men sexualize a woman’s body, it shouldn’t be viewed as the woman’s fault.

These issues are obviously laden with cultural stereotypes, norms, and expectations. In an effort to balance our coverage (no pun intended) of this topic, we went online and asked professionals and colleagues to give us feedback about the “Straight Talk about Cleavage” section. A summary of this feedback is included below.

Feedback on Cleavage
A warning to male therapists: Male therapists need to watch their own flirtatious behavior. They might consult with a female therapist friend to check out anything that might be questionable. I know, most males don’t have cleavage issues, but they sometimes do make provocative comments, such as, “You know, you should take that lovely sexuality of yours and use it to your advantage.” I’m not making this up. Also, they might want to rein in, “You are so pretty. I’ll bet this gets the guys going.” I’m not making this up either. (J. Hocker, personal communication, June 27, 2015).

Extending the conversation to male therapists: I do think part of the unfairness in professional attire for women vs. men is that men’s work wear is simply “easier.” But a woman doesn’t have to dress like a man in order to be taken seriously as a professional. Curiously, I do find that the conversation regarding appearance needs to take place with men; for example, male students who want to wear flip flops, large jewelry, or “muscle” shirts. We also talk about whether or not to wear things that reveal tattoos, hair styles, and so on – so I think men are now as much a part of the conversation as women (S. Patrick, personal communication, June 27, 2015)

A Message from a Licensed School Counselor: I know professionals in counseling and teaching who exhibit poor hygiene, dress, and might toss some cleavage out from time to time. Students do notice, and it’s not cool. In my profession I want students to see me as casual, clean, and someone they’re drawn to for a good ear and safe space. I don’t want them to see cleavage ever. It’s a distraction. Cleavage is sexy and draws attention no matter what. I’m not drawn to women sexually but I’m super distracted by cleav! I can’t imagine how a person attracted to females would react! I find that when I’m not at work there are dates and social functions available that allow me to find my sexy self, but that self doesn’t fit into the school counseling profession. Yes, women should be able to wear what they want, but the reality is if you sport cleav you’ll receive notice by everyone and there’s a time and place to celebrate our cleav; work may not be the place. (M. Robbins, personal communication, June 30, 2015)

The Man’s “Package”: I noticed there’s no mention of a man’s “package” or the open seating posture many men use that gives quite a clear view of any crotch bulging that may be had. I think this deserves to be discussed as well, and not just as an afterthought – it is at least as important as cleavage to the imagination and distraction.

One thing that seems to go on in common discourse is an acceptance of the idea that men are more sexually focused than women. This is problematic on a couple fronts, I think. Although research shows some increased arousal for men from visual stimuli compared to visual stimuli for women BOTH men and women have been shown to be aroused by visual stimuli. BOTH women and men want sex for physical pleasure, not just as a relational tool. The difference is in degree to which these things are acknowledged by each sex, perhaps, but I haven’t seen compelling evidence that there’s actually a difference in the degree to which men and women can be sexually distracted by physical bodies. It’s neither then men’s nor women’s job, then, to “protect” clients from that distraction more than another (C. Yoshimura, personal communication).

Monitoring Flirtatious Behavior
Behavior standards for mental health professionals are high. This is partly true for being a professional of any type. However, mental health professional standards for dress and flirtation are higher than most other professions. If you think about the setting and process, the high standards make sense. Personal disclosures and conversations that happen during clinical interviews and other mental health-related encounters naturally involve non-sexual intimacy. It follows that deep emotional disclosures and exchanges between client and therapist might arouse feelings related to sexual intimacy in clients and/or therapists. It’s perfectly natural for non-sexual intimacy to sometimes trigger feelings of sexual intimacy . . . and so maintaining professional boundaries in this area is essential. All ethical codes that pertain to professional counselors, psychologists, and social workers prohibit sexual contact between therapist and client. The bottom line is that it’s your responsibility, as a mental health professional or student therapist, to closely monitor your attire and behavior to make certain you’re not directly or indirectly communicating flirtatiously with your clients.

What I Learned About Male Sexuality Today

Learning is cool. As Rylee and I work on our boys and sexual development project, we get to do lots of reading. Even better, lots of the reading is about sex.

As you may recall, last week Rylee and fell in love with Cordelia Fine’s Myths of Gender. Today, I had a different experience reading a 2007 book titled “7 Things He’ll Never Tell You {but you need to know}” written by Kevin Leman, a psychologist and “New York Times best-selling author.”

Here are a few of “Dr.” Leman’s comments and tips . . . combined with some clearly spiteful commentary from Rita and Rylee.

“The wise woman realizes that a man is wired to want things now. [Rita stops me here and says, “Wait. That’s me! I’m the one who wants things now!] And she will realize that a man who is constantly thwarted in his desires will begin to look for gratification elsewhere.” (Leman, p. 35)

Right now I’m thinking about raspberry pie. If Rita doesn’t get it for me NOW, I’ll be looking elsewhere . . . I hope she recognizes that. This is pretty good stuff. No more thwarting . . . or else! [Rylee says, “Or else you’ll get it yourself.”]

Then he says:
“. . . men . . . are not relationally centered. They identify more with things. They are visually stimulated by looking. That means whatever your guy sees is imprinted on his mind. So if he sees a sexy woman in a red dress on the subway, he may see that same woman in his thoughts again later that night, a week later, even a month later. . . . Men, on the average, have 33 sexual thoughts a day” (p. 104)

Oh my, 33 sexual thoughts a day. And how many sexual thoughts a day does a woman have. He doesn’t really address this directly, but at the end of the book he has a little quiz and one of the items goes like this: “How much does a man think about sex? . . . 33 times as much as you” (p. 177).

This is a serious math problem. And so if Rita has 5 sexual thoughts in a day, it means I’ll have 165? Now we’re talking!

On p. 106, Leman writes: “It’s been said that women need a reason for sex. Men only need a place. Men really need sex and are designed to need sex, to think about it, and to pursue it. A physically healthy married man cannot be fulfilled without it.” (p. 106) [Rylee says: Only for married men? What about all those monks? No fulfillment for them?]

Hmmm . . . sounds like sex is pretty important for guys. No fulfillment . . . period? Nothing else is fulfilling? Well, I guess if I’ve got 165 sexual thoughts in a day, maybe there’s no time to think of anything else fulfilling. Even though this isn’t really all that consistent with any other psychological theories, especially existentialism, I guess if Dr. Leman says it, it must be true.

And here’s the coup de gras . . .

“Sex is the great equalizer in a man’s life. If he meets with the accountant and is short on funds for his income tax or he got a bad job review, coming home to a willing wife makes it all better. It’s amazing what things great sex can cure for men—everything from viruses, bacterial infections, impetigo, chicken pox, the flu, and most importantly, any problem in marriage. For example if he has a fight with his wife and later that day they have sex, all of his issues are gone. They’ve resolved themselves. The problem is that for the other half of the relationship—the female—the issues aren’t resolved until they’re talked about!” (p. 107)

So sex cures the chicken pox. [Rita says: “But only for men?”] I say I wish I’d known that last summer when I had the coxsackie virus. [Rita says, “Like that was gonna happen.”] [Rylee says: “So women can cure men by sacrificing themselves to whatever disease a man has.”] [Rita says, “Women are true healers.”]

See, you learn something new every day. And sometimes it’s actually useful . . . or true.

My New Favorite Book (for now) and Why I Love Quiche

In elementary school in the 1960s, my reading almost exclusively included comics. I didn’t just love Captain America, I wanted to BE Captain America.

Unfortunately, I was in high school in the early 1970s, when reading books was apparently in disfavor. We used the SRA Laboratory Reading System and the only real “book” I recall reading in all of high school was “The Andromeda Strain.” Of course, the problem was likely partly due to my preoccupation with athletics over academics, but that’s a different story.

What this means is that most of my book reading has occurred after 1975, which is when my football buddy Barry and I read, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” The problem with that was that I happened to like quiche . . . a lot . . . and consequently, rather than questioning my sexual identity, I began questioning what society tells real men that they should do and not do.

This leads me to my book pick of the week.

As some of you already know, I’m working on a writing project related to sexual development in young males. This work led me to discover the book “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, Ph.D. Dr. Fine is a psychologist in Australia and has written an absolutely awesome book that slices through many of the silly connections people are making between neuroscience and gender. For example, as an opening to chapter 14 “Brain Scams,” she wrote:

“My husband would probably like you to know that, for the sake of my research for this chapter, he has had to put up with an awful lot of contemptuous snorting. For several weeks, our normally quiet hour of reading in bed before lights out became more like dinnertime in the pigsty as I worked my way through popular books about gender difference. As the result of my research, I have come up with four basic pieces of advice for anyone considering incorporating neuroscientific findings into a popular book or article about gender” (p. 155).

You’re probably wondering, what is her excellent advice for those of us considering writing in this area? Well, I’m resisting the temptation within my male brain to type out her advice, other than her fourth piece of advice, which reads: “Don’t make stuff up.”

But that’s exactly what many writers are doing. Here’s an example I found recently. It’s titled, “7 things he’ll never tell you” and written by “Dr.” Kevin Leman. He wrote, “Did you know that scientific studies prove why a woman tends to be more ‘relational” than her male counter part? A woman actually has more connecting fibers than a man does between the verbal and the emotional side of her brain. That means a woman’s feelings and thoughts zip along quickly, like they’re on an expressway, but a man’s tend to poke slowly as if he’s walking and dragging his feet on a dirt road.” (pp. 5-6).

Of course, this is sheer drivel . . . or as Dr. Fine might say, “He just made that up.”

Or as I might say: He’s really just talking about himself here . . . and it’s likely caused by the fact that he didn’t eat enough quiche growing up.

So what’s the evidence? If we look at one of the best relational factors upon which women are supposed to be better than men–empathy–what does the research say?

Well, as it turns out, using the best and most rigorous laboratory empathy measure available, empathy researcher William Ickes found no differences between males and females in seven consecutive studies. And then, when he did find differences, he found women did better only in situations where they are primed by “situational cues that remind them that they, as women, are expected to excel at empathy-related tasks.” (Fine, p. 21).

Anyway, it’s late and I’m going to stop writing . . . but not before I put in a link to a Cordelia Fine speech you can watch online. Here it is:  http://fora.tv/2010/10/02/Cordelia_Fine_Delusions_of_Gender

Now I’m off to bake myself a quiche.