The basis for yesterday’s post has apparently created a little bit of buzz.
Neuroanthropology, a decent blog that encourages exchanges between anthropology, philosophy, social theory, and the brain sciences, discussed in detail their take on the NYT article discussed in yesterdays post.
I’m pleased to see that they agree with me.
Chivers is portrayed as arguing that women are existentially divided ‘between two truly separate, if inscrutably overlapping, systems, the physiological and the subjective,’ Diamond is made to stand in for the ‘female desire may be dictated… by intimacy, by emotional connection,’ and Meana stands in for the argument that women are narcissists desiring to submit. Whether or not these are accurate portrayals—and they might be—the model is prevalent in science writing: get characters to represent lines of thinking, even though many of us are not so clearly signed on with a single theoretical team. Here, we know the score: Diamond arguing women want intimacy, Meana that they want a real man to take them, and Chivers that women want it all, even if they don’t realize it and contradict themselves.
The irony is that, with such a tangle, the conclusion is foreordained: women will seem enigmatic, inconsistent, and irremediably opaque.
Irremediably opaque indeed!
What tickles me the most is Greg Downey’s commentary – his simple and irrefutable frustration with the article and the original author’s attempt to tie up the complex world of sexuality with a big, neat bow.
‘It was possible to imagine… a scientist blinded… would see just as well…’ Huh? What I’m getting at is not just to make sport of some tortured prose, but rather to suggest that Bergner, after reporting scads of findings highlighting a whole range of interesting phenomena connected to women’s sexuality and sexual desire, on a number of analytical levels, still wants to reach out for the brass ring, the one thing that ‘women want.’ He has to conclude that women’s desire is paradoxical, a ‘giant forest… too complex for comprehension,’ because there’s no simple answer.
One can imagine an article with the title, ‘What do diners want?’, which bemoaned the fickleness and impenetrable complexity of culinary preferences: Sometimes they want steak, and sometimes just a salad. Sometimes they put extra salt on the meal, and sometimes they ask for ketchup. One orders fish, another chicken, another ham and eggs. One day a guy ordered tuna fish salad on rye, and the next, the same guy ordered a tandoori chicken wrap, hold the onions! My God, man, they’re insane! Who can ever come up with a unified theory of food preferences?! Food preferences are a giant forest, too complex for comprehension. What do diners want?!
You get my drift. The line of questioning is rhetorically time-tested (can we say clichéd even?) but objectively and empirically nonsensical. So many of these experiments seem to be testing a series of different, related, but ultimately distinct questions: With whom do women mate? With whom do women have sex? With whom do women say they would have sex? What causes women’s bodies’ automatic arousal responses (and under what conditions)? What type of guys do women like in soft porn stories? What type of guys do women like in photographs? Do certain women get aroused by a particular type of porn movies? Does a particular woman realize or acknowledge that she is getting aroused by a particular stimulus? What affects women’s self-reported sense of sexual identity as it changes over time in women who say they are lesbian, bisexual or not sure? They’re all good questions, some better than others, and they’re all about ‘sex,’ but they are testing a whole range of different things. Can they all be glossed as, ‘What do women want?’ Yeah, sort of, but you’re going to get a hopeless answer.