We all know how much I adore pop-science articles that brainwash our anti-science population with talk of brain wiring. (I even blogged about it on my very first day as a blogger.) Volumes of actual science have been published disproving the sexist claims of these brainless brain wirers. Still, they keep publishing their rubbish and ignoramuses keep eating it right up because it fits in so neatly with their expectations of clear-cut gender differences.
Here is one of the most recent examples of such a piece. It tries to convince us that vaginas are more compassionate than penises, even though the bearers of said vaginas and penises disagree:
Mercadillo and his colleagues describe an experiment featuring 12 women and 12 men. As the participants viewed a series of 100 photographs, their brains were scanned using fMRI technology. Every second image was one that evoked compassion (according to previous research). Examples included sad human faces, war scenes and depictions of famine. “No gender differences were observed in the frequency of reported compassionate experiences,” the researchers report. However, what was happening in the participants’ brain told a different story. As the compassion-evoking photos were viewed, activity was observed in two areas of the brain — the thalamus and the putamen, part of the basal ganglia — in women but not in men.
I'm not going to provide a detailed analysis of why this so-called study conducted on an extremely representative sample of 24 people in a scientifically backwards and profoundly sexist country is idiotic. Echidne's Blog has done this beautifully already. I just want to call your attention to how both genders are degraded in the concluding lines of this fascinating piece of journalistic stupidity:
So ladies: When the men in your life seem insensitive to suffering, try not to respond with scorn. The problem, it seems, is one of brain circuitry. It shouldn’t be hard to take pity on them; after all, you have an enormous capacity for compassion.
Men are presented as not entirely human here. They have to be pitied and condescended to by women who do have the capacity of experiencing the full range of human emotions. At the same time, just like centuries ago, women are still being exhorted to be understanding and forgiving with men. Five hundred years ago, we were supposed to do that because it was our God-given duty. Today, we are still expected to condescend to men because we are told that this is how our brains work. Some things don't ever seem to change.