PsyCentral Top Ten from 2009

Here are the top ten PsyCentral posts from 2009:

  1. Who Says So? Gender and the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine (& Other Power Tools)
  2. Dematerialization: Crystals & Car Keys
  3. The Dangers of Social Networking: Are We Frying Our Brains?
  4. Myth Busting Human Sexual Anatomy Quiz
  5. Body Language Myth: The 7% – 38% – 55% Rule
  6. Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions
  7. The Clitoris, the Penis, Political Correctness & Biological Fact-ness
  8. Celebrity Body Language: Fact or Flim-Flam?
  9. Sex and Gender are NOT the Same Thing!
  10. Gender, Cave People & an Apology for Psychology
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Review August 2009: Top Five PsyCentral Posts

Here’s a list of the top five PsyCentral posts for August 2009:

The Clitoris, the Penis, Political Correctness and Biological ‘Factness’

In my previous post, The Myth-Busting Sexual Anatomy Quiz, one of the answers in particular prompted comments and questions. I stated that the clitoris is not a mini-penis as it is often described but rather, biologically speaking, the penis, is an enlarged clitoris? But how can this be and does it really matter?

Book Cover: The Psychology of Gender by Dr Gary Wood

The Psychology of Gender looks at our biology, history and culture to consider the impact of gender roles and stereotypes, and addresses the ‘dilemmas’ we have regarding gender in a post-modern world (see UK / USA).

Of course, the statement was meant to be contentious and spark discussion. And, I discuss it fully in my book The Psychology of Gender (see UK / USA).  When we talk about sex and gender we are storytelling. And, how we set the scene for our stories is key. So, by describing the clitoris as a ‘mini-penis’ we set up a chain of assumptions, By describing the clitoris ‘in terms of the penis’ we assume that the penis comes first (pause for sniggering). There’s also the not-so-subtle implication that the clitoris is an underdeveloped penis and therefore an inferior organ. These assumptions are biologically incorrect.

The part of the story often omitted is that male development requires hormones to suppress female development and further hormones to enhance male development. This makes female anatomy the platform for male development and so technically the penis is an enlarged clitoris. It sounds provocative because it goes against the ‘received wisdom’ or ‘gender spin’ – the story that gives primacy to the penis.

If we compare the female and male genitalia we can see how the embryonic tissue developed down the two routes:

ovaries = testes

labia majora (outer lips) =scrotum

labia minora (inner lips) = underside of the penis

glans (head of clitoris) = glans (head of penis)

shaft (erectile tissue) of clitoris = shaft (erectile tissue) of penis)

vagina = no comparable structure in male.

It’s notable that the word ‘vagina’ is used for female genitals where in fact this only applies to the birth canal. So in describing the female anatomy in everyday language, we put the emphasis on reproduction. The collective term for female genitalia is the vulva, which includes the clitoris, the only organ in the human body solely for sexual pleasure. The everyday use of ‘vagina’ for female genitalia is more gender spin as it keeps the emphasis on penetration and again ‘sidelines’ the clitoris. Again, it’s how we edit the story.

Then there’s the G-Spot to contend with. That’s it, let’s get the emphasis back up the vagina in a quest for the orgasmic grail. There is certainly not universal agreement that the G-Spot really exists. Supposedly located on the anterior wall of the vagina, no structure has been identified and evidence is largely anecdotal. Academic research suggests that:

the special sensitivity of the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and movement of clitoris’ root during a vaginal penetration and subsequent perineal contraction.

Pic: Social Psychologist Dr Gary Wood on TV discussing gender stereotypesThis research counters the story of the ‘clitoris as tiny penis’. In fact,  its root extends deep into the body. So what some women experience as the G-Spot may be a by-product of the movement of the clitoris. More evidence, if any were needed, that the clitoris is not an inferior penis, and females are not ‘incomplete’ males.

For a fuller discussion of how to tell better (and more accurate) gender stories, see The Psychology of Gender (For US click, For UK click ).

Post updated: 29 May 2019

If you found this post interesting:

Other popular sex and gender posts by Gary Wood include:

Link:

 

Myth Busting Human Sexual Anatomy Quiz

Pic: Dr Gary Wood - Author of Sex, Lies & StereoypesWe have many taken-for-granted assumptions about the biology of men and women. So, I offer this, provocative, human anatomy quiz. It’s aimed at unpacking the assumptions we make when telling stories around sex and gender.

The Questions:

  1. True or false? Women are biologically the weaker sex.
  2. True or false? Men have male hormones and women have female hormones.
  3. True or false? Women have testosterone.
  4. True or false? The anus has an erotic capacity for both men and women.
  5. True or false? The anus has an erotic capacity irrespective of sexual orientation.
  6. True or false? The correct name for the female genitals is the vagina.
  7. True or false? A clitoris is like a tiny penis.
  8. True or false? The clitoris is the only organ in the human body with the sole function of sexual pleasure.
  9. True or false? The ovaries and the testes are formed from the same embryonic tissue.
  10. True or false? Biologically, the ‘default’ value of humans is female.
  11. True or false? Women are incomplete men.
  12. True or false? Men and women are so different that they may as well be from different planets.

The Answers:

For a fuller discussion of sex and gender see my book The Psychology of Gender (For US click, For UK click ). In the meantime, here are the answers:

  1. False. Men are biologically the weaker sex  (on account of the Y chromosome which means it doesn’t protect the male so well from hereditary diseases)
  2. False. Men and women have the same hormones; it is only the relative levels that differ. Furthermore, men differ from other men and women differ from other women in terms of hormone levels.
  3. True. Women have testosterone. Men also have progesterone and oestrogens.
  4. True. The anus has an erotic capacity for both men and women. As the genitals and the anus share much of the same musculature and nerve endings, it is often difficult to tell where an impulse originates.
  5. True. The anus has an erotic capacity irrespective of sexual orientation (gay, straight, bi or indifferent).
  6. False. The vagina is the birth canal; the collective term for the female genitals is ‘vulva’.
  7. False. A penis is an enlarged clitoris. See also answer 8.
  8. True. The clitoris is the only organ in the human body with the sole function of sexual pleasure.
  9. True. The ovaries and the testes are formed from the same embryonic tissue.
  10. True. Biologically, the ‘default’ value of humans is female. That is why the penis is an enlarged clitoris and also why men have nipples.
  11. False. More accurately, men are women who made a bit of a detour (in the earlier stages of development)
  12. False. From biological evidence, the similarities between men and women are greater than the differences.
Book Cover: The Psychology of Gender by Dr Gary Wood

The Psychology of Gender looks at our biology, history and culture to consider the impact of gender roles and stereotypes, and addresses the ‘dilemmas’ we have regarding gender in a post-modern world. (For US click, For UK click ).

So where does this take us?

Well, in the direction of a twelve point personal research plan to check out the answers and then consider how these facts impact on our social interpretation of biological sex, that is our gender roles (and our attitudes to sexuality).

[Material adapted from Sex, Lies and Stereotypes, by Gary Wood]

Updated: 29 May 2019

Links:

Who Says So? Gender and the Social Construction of the Sewing Machine (and other power tools).

All attempts at theorizing social life are, at the same time, works of autobiography

– William Simon, 1996

As we read a text. . . we produce something different, another text which is a translation

– Ian Parker, 1999

Pic: Sewing Machine - GO FASTER! GO FASTER!

Pic: Sewing Machine – GO FASTER! GO FASTER!

I was watching a re-run of the Australian version of Changing Rooms, one of the many home improvement shows conveniently gathered together on one Cable channel. An ‘expert’ was initiating his acolyte into the mysteries of the jig-saw. The expert explained ‘It’s like a sewing machine only a bit more manly’. I was immediately struck by the similarity of the sewing machine and the ‘more manly’ jigsaw. However, both are essentially power tools.

Thinking about the arbitrary nature of gender labels I recalled two questions from performance artist Laurie Anderson‘s film of her show Home of the Brave. In it she asks ‘Which is more macho: Pineapple or knife? Which is more macho: Light bulb or school bus? I’ll let you ponder those questions for a while. Read on. . .

At about the age of four or four and a half I was watching my mother on her sewing machine. It all looked a little space age to me, like something from a science fiction film. I was enthralled by this alien contraption with its roaring engine,and the sense of danger and excitement it evoked, and the little spotlight on the side. I remember saying to my mother ‘When I’m a girl, I’m going to have a sewing machine’ to which she replied quite flatly ‘You’re never going to be a girl’. Boy! She sure knew how to spoil the fun. I took this to mean that I would never own a sewing machine of my own. I was destined to a be one of life’s spectators. Now I cherished this little story for my years as early evidence of my gender transgression. It helped to explain why I never liked football. As Oscar Wilde says’ It’s a game for rough girls not delicate boys’.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I found myself drawn to Yoko Ono‘s ‘Painting for a Broken Sewing Machine’ in her book Grapefruit:

Place a broken sewing machine in a glass tank ten or twenty times larger than the machine. Once a year on a snowy evening. place the tank in the town square and have everyone throw stones at it

At the time I was working in a very dull insurance office and decided to impart the sagely wisdom from Grapefruit. One person got very annoyed trying to understand the ‘sewing machine piece’, of course, fuelled by me re-reading it and placing the emphasis on a different word each time and nodding in a ‘knowing way’. Eventually I was told ‘just get on with your work’. I suppose with the ‘sewing machine piece’ you either get it or you don’t. The people who did get it at the time were perhaps the ones who realized there wasn’t really anything to get. Writing this now, I’m struck by how the work I get on with and the time-wasting have in many ways traded places.

Over the years I’ve told my ‘gender transgression sewing machine story’ countless times. However, it wasn’t until I realised that it might be read as ‘text’ and therefore capable of translation that made me begin to question my interpretation.  My original translation was based on my prior conviction that my behaviour was somehow inconsistent with my assigned gender. It was time to take my sewing machine story out from under the glass (gender lens) or at least throw a few stones at it.

Having studied gender in great depth I realized how the concept ofgender constancyputs a very different spin on things. It’s not until about 5 to 7 years that children realize that they are stuck in a particular gender for life. Up until then they think it’s possible to cross back and forth.

I tried to remember what I liked about my mother’s sewing machine and I realized it was all about the speed. I liked the foot pedal and how it revved the engine. I remembered shouting ‘go faster, go faster’ and getting very excited by it all. Hey I was four and we didn’t have a car, so what’s a boy to do? So, far from being evidence of my gender transgression, the story could equally be one of gender conformity. Boys like fast cars, don’t they?

Still glued to the home improvements channel, a guy referred to the sewing machine foot pedal as ‘the accelerator’ and then another asked ‘where’s the clutch?’ In an episode of Naked Chef, ‘new lad’, Jamie Oliver justified his preference for his turbo-charged six-burner cooker over his mother’s ‘old-world range’ on account of  ‘being a boy’.

The need to ‘re-gender’ our power tools says a great deal about the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes. Such attempts re-iterate the deeply ingrained belief in the sanctity of binary gender and are, to a degree, apologies for gender transgression. Part of gender conformity is to learn the art of knowing what is macho and what is not. According to Laurie Anderson, a pineapple is more macho than a knife and a school bus is more macho than a light bulb. Of course they are arbitrary distinctions and I have tried these questions with students. The ‘correct’ answers are usually met with an indignant ‘who says so’? Invariably when attempting to ‘gender; objects, the discussion most often centres on the similarities to the penis. So that long, sharp, pointy powerful thing must be a boy. This exposes the societal blueprint that objects and emotions are gendered by ‘virtue’ of their similarity to the shape of genitals. Think about it: men are seeing as more ‘outgoing’, and women are seen as more’ inward looking’ or men wield and women yield, according to the stereotype. Are we just trying to live our lives according to the contents of our pants?

So, given that both the sewing machine and jigsaw are both power tools, which is more macho?

To this day I have never owned a sewing machine nor a car, nor a jigsaw. Furthermore, I’m happy to say that I still don’t like football!

The fabric often tears along ragged, often hastily sutured seams

– William Simon, 1996

Link:

Gender & Seven Deadly Sins