As new research finds that men’s brains may be just as well suited to parenthood as women’s, Neil Lyndon says he’s tired of the feminist agenda behind ‘brain sex’ studies
Well, let’s all troop to the bottom of our stairs. A scientific study has shown that men’s brains work in exactly the same way as women’s when they are looking after babies on their own. What next? Might somebody come up with the revolutionary finding that fathers can be just as good as mothers at being parents?
The study - at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel - has found that “the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren’t unique to women, or activated solely by hormones, but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent. […] The experience of hands-on parenting, with no female mother anywhere in the picture, can configure a [male] caregiver’s brain in the same way that pregnancy and childbirth do.”
This marks a unique moment in the long and dodgy history of brain sex – that voodoo study of the human brain to find inbuilt differences between men and women. Not only is it the first such work to suggest that women’s brains might not be uniquely fitted-out by nature to care for infants, it’s also extremely unusual in finding that men and women are equally human.
All previous efforts in this field have tended towards the conclusion that the brains of women are dominated by their left-side which endows them with every desirable, civilised trait (sensitive; intuitive; empathetic; emotionally literate and so on) while cloddish men with their simian, right-sided brains turn out – surprise, surprise - to be barely sub-human but may occasionally be good with footballs, artillery and navigation.
The earliest outcrop of this execrescence on the body scientific was a 1953 book called The Natural Superiority of Women by Ashley Montagu which asserted that the “superiority of woman is a biological fact”. That outpouring of snake oil has been succeeded over the last half-century by a torrent of works flowing in the same direction, such as the 1989 Brainsex by Anne Moir and David Jessel which claimed that boys’ and girls’ brains are doused with different hormones in the womb and, therefore, come into the world “with their minds made up”. Naturally, the girls’ minds are sweetly scented by the hormone equivalents of sugar and spice and all things nice; while the boys have been splashing in a gutter full of snails and puppy-dog tails and…you know the rest.
The overall objective of this hokum has been to provide what passes for scientific proof that all men are the same (bastards!) who only manage to keep control of the superior sex by brute force and the conscienceless exploitation of their advantages.
One of the biggest holes in that Havarti of crumbly cheese which constitutes the feminist-led storyline of our time has been – over recent decades – the growing number of men who are looking after children on their own. Of the two million single parent households in the UK, 300,000 now contain a man alone caring for his children. There are 2.6m such men in the USA, where male single-parent households have become a leading demographic trend.
Unlike their female counterparts, these guys are given scant attention, no hand-wringing from earnest politicians and no reverential honour on Woman’s Hour; but there appears no reason to think that the emaciated children of such households live in squalor, regularly bunk off school to rob blind pensioners and go on to eat their own offspring. So far as it is possible to tell, the men who are in that situation seem to care for their children just as well, just as effectively and just as lovingly as single mothers.
Why wouldn’t they? It may be a merciless, non-stop grind; it may be full of lonely nights racked with anxiety and stress; it may make finding a new girlfriend slightly awkward but looking after children is, essentially, such a straightforward business that even a simian klutz with only an intuitive feel for gunnery can probably get away with it. Caring for a teenager, for instance, largely entails being a systematically organised servant who spends a large part of every weekend looking the other way.
I know whereof I speak. When he was 15, my son ran away from the alcoholic mother to whom the courts, in their majestic wisdom, had awarded his custody after she abducted him to Scotland. And I then had to move to Scotland to make him a home and see him through his school years until he went to university.
So far as brain sex is concerned, then, I’m with the specialist who was on BBC R4’s Today programme some years ago and was asked about a new twist on the old left-brain/right-brain jive. She dismissed it with a groan of barely concealed contempt, saying “What might be different between men and women’s brains is far less significant than the immense preponderance that they have in common.”
If only that could be the guiding motto of our age. If only it could be inscribed above the porticoes of Bar-Ilan University and read aloud as a statement of principle before every edition of Woman’s Hour.
(Except, of course, that it would logically lead to the conclusion that fathers ought, also, to be treated equally in law.
And that, of course, would be far too much to ask).
@3 months ago
Credit: By Neil Lyndon. 10 Jun 2014.
20 years ago, Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’. But now a new, more extreme, sex- and body-obsessed version has emerged.
In a development which will probably have him running to the mirror yet again to search anxiously for lines, this year the metrosexual leaves his teens and turns 20.
How quickly your children grow up. Although it seems only yesterday, I first wrote about him in 1994 after attending an exhibition organised by GQ magazine called “It’s a Man’s World”. I’d seen the future of masculinity and it was moisturised.
Metrosexual man, the single young man with a high disposable income, living or working in the city (because that’s where all the best shops are) is perhaps the most promising consumer market of the decade.
Two decades of increasingly out and proud – and highly lucrative – male vanity later, and the metrosexual remains the apple of consumerism’s rapacious eye. In a recent report, HSBC drooled all over his “Yummy”-ness, pointing out how mainstream metrosexuality has become.
This was of course old news to anyone with eyes to see the extremely image-conscious and product-consuming men around them – or in bed with them. Or the way that the glistening pecs and abs of men’s health and fitness magazines have been outselling the “lads’ mags” for several years.
Or indeed anyone who saw the news last year that men in the UK now spend more on shoes than women.
From the perspective of today’s fragranced, buffed, ripped, groomed, selfie-adoring world, it’s hard to believe that the metrosexual had to struggle to be heard in the early 1990s. Most people were in “New-Lad” denial back then about what was happening to men and why they were taking so long in the bathroom.
Just as male homosexuality was still stigmatised and partly criminalised back then, the male desire to be desired – the self-regarding heart of metrosexuality – was scorned by many. Narcissism was seen as being essentially feminine, or Wildean – and look what happened to him. The trials of Oscar Wilde, the last dandy, at the end of the 19th Century helped stamp a Victorian morality over much of the 20th century. Male vanity was at best womanish – at worst, perverted.
The end of the 20th century, the abolition of the last laws discriminating against male homosexuality, and arrival of the preening dominance of celebrity culture with its Darwinian struggle to be noticed in a visual, “branded” world finally blew away the remnants of Victorianism.
To illustrate this, I only have to say two words: David Beckham, the working-class England footballer who became more globally famous for his attention-seeking haircuts, unabashed prettiness and rampant desire to be desired than for his footballing skills. Once the sari-wearing midfielder was outed in 2002 (by me again, sorry) as the ultimate metrosexual, everyone suddenly “got it”. All that Nineties denial turned into incessant Noughties chatter about metrosexuals and “male grooming”. But still people failed to understand what was really going on with men.
In fact, the momentous nature of the masculine revolution that metrosexuality represents has been largely obscured by much of the superficial coverage it got. Metrosexuality is, in a paradox that Wilde would have relished, not skin deep. It’s not about facials and manbags, guyliner and flip flops. It’s not about men becoming “girly” or “gay”. It’s about men becoming everything. To themselves. Just as women have been encouraged to do for some time.
This uptake by men of products, practises and pleasures previously ring-fenced for women and gay men is so normal now – even if we still need to be reassured with the word “man” or “guy” emblazoned on the packaging, like a phallic pacifier – that it’s taken for granted by young men today who really have become everything. So much so that it can be too much for the older generation of metrosexuals.
With their painstakingly pumped and chiselled bodies, muscle-enhancing tattoos, piercings, adorable beards and plunging necklines it’s eye-catchingly clear that second-generation metrosexuality is less about clothes than it was for the first. Eagerly self-objectifying, second generation metrosexuality is totally tarty. Their own bodies (more than clobber and product) have become the ultimate accessories, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity – one that they share and compare in an online marketplace.
This new wave puts the “sexual” into metrosexuality. In fact, a new term is needed to describe them, these pumped-up offspring of those Ronaldo and Beckham lunch-box ads, where sport got into bed with porn while Mr Armani took pictures.
Let’s call them “spornosexuals”.
But unlike Beckham’s metrosexual ads of old, in which his attributes were possibly artificially enhanced, today’s spornosexuals have photoshopped themselves in real life. Think Towie’s Dan Osborne in a pair of glittery Speedos (and then have a lie down).
Glossy magazines cultivated early metrosexuality. Celebrity culture then sent it into orbit. But for today’s generation, social media, selfies and porn are the major vectors of the male desire to be desired. They want to be wanted for their bodies, not their wardrobe. And certainly not their minds.
I suspect Wilde might have approved.
@3 months ago
Credit: Mark Simpson. 10 Jun 2014.