Falling through the branches of the Ladybrain Tree

Years ago, back when New Labour were desperately trying to justify the invasion of Iraq, I remember the arguments being compared to a monkey falling from a tree. He clings to one branch (WMDs), but that branch breaks, so then he grasps on to the next (humanitarian principles). The branches keep on breaking but he keeps on believing that this one, the one in his hand right now, will hold firm. Crash, crash, crash. He does not learn from experience because it is not in his interests to learn. It is in his interests to cling on for as long as possible.

I’m reminded of this whenever the topic of male and female brains arises.

The belief that male and female brains are inherently different has been around for thousands of years. The same cannot be said for any proof. We know that there is another possible reason — perceived reproductive potential — for the construction of two social groups, male and female, with one dominating the other. But we don’t like to talk about that reason. It doesn’t seem a good enough justification for what men have done to women over the years. It makes men look bad. It makes women look exploited. There must have been better reasons, right?

So a whole ideology — gender — is constructed to make the case that what appears to be male dominance and female subjugation isn’t dominance and subjugation at all. Sure, ladies, it looks like we’re denying you the same freedoms we accord ourselves simply for our own benefit, but it’s not what it seems. Your brains might appear to be just as complex and unique as ours but they’re actually ladybrains, glitter-strewn and princess pink. You don’t believe that? But there is proof.

So much proof. The trouble is, said proof never stays the same.

And so, let’s take a quick tumble down the branches of the Ladybrain Tree, reason by reason (although I’m sure there are more — add your own! Everybody else does!):

Female brains are, on average, smaller than male brains. Smaller brain size means less intelligence. Except when it doesn’t.

SNAP

The female brain is in competition with the uterus. Women’s capacities are used up by the demands of reproduction, making them unfit for intellectual work and public life. Except when they demonstrably aren’t.

SNAP

The female subconscious envies the penis. In order for a woman to reach full maturity, she must regress, reject the clitoral stage, embrace her innate femininity and find true pleasure in masochism. Except this is such total bollocks it’s a wonder anyone thought of it to begin with.

SNAP

We used to be cavemen and cavewomen and our brains are still hard-wired to think we’re living in an episode of The Flintstones. Except our beliefs about cavepeople and gender are a projection of contemporary beliefs about gender, making this an entirely circular argument.

SNAP

Testosterone. Oestrogen. The hypothalamus. Oxytocin. Left and right hemispheres. MRI scans. Look, here’s some stuff that sometimes, when you squint a bit, looks different in one group than it does in another. So there. Except, as has been pointed out a million times, evidence of difference is not evidence of gendered difference. There is no “wifework“ section lighting up the female MRI scan. Believe me, we’d know if there was.

SNAP

Not everyone identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, hence some brains just “are” female. Except this demonstrates, not that gender is innate, but that dividing people into groups based on perceived reproductive potential tells us nothing about their personal preferences, desires and needs.

SNAP

….

SNAP

….

SNAP

Until we get to “unless you believe in the ladybrain, despite the enormous cost for you in doing so, other people who do believe in the ladybrain will die and that will be your fault.” This is the branch we’re on now. Eventually it will snap. We all know this but as long as it justifies a little more male entitlement and exploitation, it’s considered worth clinging on. God forbid we start to ask ourselves whether being on the tree is a good idea at all.

Just as it was decreed in 2003 that we DID have good reasons to invade Iraq, so it has long been decreed that men and women DO have innate differences which justify subjugation of one sex class. The specific reasons and differences might change but this doesn’t matter; as soon as one is found to be untenable, the dominant class will invent another. If your objective science is found not to be all that objective (oops, no WMDs! oops, no evidence of innate difference!) just switch to some cloying, bad faith morality which you can use to justify the exact same acts of dominance and privilege (but I’m only thinking of women in the Middle East! but I’m only thinking of marginalised people!).

Obviously you don’t have to do anything in practice to support these groups at all. They are a means to an end, a branch on your tree. As long as you remain the one above ground you just have to cling on to it until it breaks and then find something or someone else to use.

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