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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Hoo hoos, minkies, willies or winkies. . . alcohol doesn’t discriminate!

Phone rings. Number withheld. It’s a journalist who wants some expert insight into why it is that men get all ‘letchy’ (lecherous) after a drink. It’s for a magazine article aimed at young women. Of course what she doesn’t want to hear is that women get ‘lairy’ (loud) after a drink.  Why is that? I say ‘tomarto’ she says ‘tomayta’. . she says ‘letchy’. . I say ‘lairy’. . . oh let’s call the whole thing off. . . and move on to some hack who doesn’t quibble about gender differences. . .and has not expertise in anything except saying what journalists want to hear.

So why could it be that men get more ‘letchy’ or ‘flirty’ after a few drinks in a sexualised commercial environment such as a night club? Er. . . perhaps that would be the effects of getting drunk, exactly the same as for women. I know that ‘letchy’ and ‘lairy’ are exactly analogous . . but the point is that alcoholic lowers inhibitions irrespective of the contents of our undergarments. It can also make us more aggressive. Check out the police statistics. . .it’s not just the blokes who are kicking the living daylights out of each other on a Saturday night. . . no mere spectators. . . ‘Sisters are doing it for themselves’.

During the brief exchange, I was asked about body language in the context of ‘men getting letchy’ after a drink’. Well what’s the body language of anyone who has drunk so much that they have lost control of their cognitive and motor faculties. . . a quick lunge for anything they can get hold of before falling to the ground and rolling around in their own vomit!

Now I like the occasional tipple as much as the next ‘lairy letch’ (well maybe not that much). . . and I know that these gender stories may seem like a harmless bit of fun. . but such excursions in gender psycho-babble serve to over-emphasise the differences between men and women or create new differences that only really exist in the world of magazine sales. The fact is: when we get drunk we all make arses of ourselves! Binge drinking is a massive problem with both men and women, especially with alcoholic drinks designed to taste like soft drinks.

These one-sided gender-based stories are there just to raise a smile and fill up a bit of space, but in the process they fuel gender stereotypes. They create a ‘gender filter’ whereby we look for differences where there aren’t any. Of course the additional of a bit of ‘body twaddle’ (sorry I mean ‘body language’ ) always makes things look a bit more scientific. It’s interesting the most of the ‘leading lights’ in body language have no qualifications. Many of them offer conjecture and home spun, common-sense, back-porch, pseudo-Freudian waffle presented as ‘evidence’. Many of them confuse ‘biological sex’ with ‘social gender’ and over-emphasize sex and gender differences and seem oblivious to the fact that Western gender roles have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.  Whereas the evidence shows that predominantly, men and women have more things in common than things on which we differ. And surprise, surprise. . .Hoo hoos, minkies, willies or winkies. . . alcohol doesn’t discriminate!

Links:

Review August 2009: Top Five PsyCentral Posts

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

Too Much, Too Soon? The Facts of Life

Having been involved in SRE teaching in inner city schools I felt I just had to comment on the story that a new Government programme  is expected to be added to the curriculum that will require  primary schools to give all pupils sex education lessons under Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education.

In association with a theatre-based project I ran some workshops in schools to discuss the themes of  a play. We asked that the groups were no bigger than 20 but instead some schools insisted that the groups should be 50+. In effect it had become a mere tick-box exercise for some schools.

A new report from the  Family Education Trust argues “Making PSHE statutory would inevitably reduce the influence of parents over what is taught”. In the report “Too Much, Too Soon”, author Normal Wells (and director of the FET) argues that

“Schools are currently required to consult with parents with regard to their sex education policies and to be sensitive to their wishes.

“However, making PSHE part of the national curriculum would inevitably make schools less accountable to parents in what is a particularly sensitive and controversial”

Now while I agree that parents should be more involved with education, it has to be stated that all parents aren’t trained teachers.  And presumably Normal Wells and The Family Education Trust do not hold the same view of religious education in schools which is compulsory and it has to be said, fairly sensitive and controversial. Why don’t we give parents responsibility for their children’s religious education? However I doubt whether Mr Wells would agree with that as he claims that compulsory sex education in schools “raises the very real possibility that some schools would be forced to compromise their beliefs on controversial areas such as contraception, abortion and homosexuality in the name of consistency”. Ah! Never let the facts get in the way of a ‘good’ belief system, eh?

And exactly how are the topics of contraception, abortion and homosexuality connected? They are often trotted out, unchallenged, as the ‘unholy’ trinity. However, they are only connected when you adopt a particular moral standpoint. Then it’s not a question of ‘too much, too soon’ which suggests a developmental argument. The title of the report misdirects in order to sneak in a religious perspective. They are separate arguments, made to look like one.

And why should it be assumed that all parents are comfortable talking about sex when they may have had very little formal education on the topic. So, where’s the objection to balanced lessons on sex education being taught in the classroom, by qualified teachers with knowledge of key stages in learning development? That’s what they are trained for! Surely, professionally planned and delivered sex education will  enrich dialogues between young people and parents.

My own view is that psychology should also be on the curriculum especially developmental psychology so that young people gain some valuable evidence based insights. As an educator, ultimately, I have to be an advocate for education over ignorance every time. The reason why schools should deal with the subjects of  sex  (and religion) is that they can offer a much broader perspective and employ a host of teaching methods and resources. Sex education should not be a platform for moral crusades. What we need is education without the editorial. The facts of life should be about the facts of life.

Links:

My colleague Dr Petra Boynton has writtten an excellent piece on this topic.

Let’s Blame It On Our Hormones!

It’s often argues that hormones make men and women behave in radically different ways. It’s interesting that it’s part of the male gender stereotype that men sulk and this is blamed on their ‘male hormones’. By contrast, the female gender stereotype is that women ‘give the silent treatment’ and this is blamed on ‘female hormones’. Now don’t you think that these seem pretty similar outcomes for radically different hormones?

Fortunately, for us, our hormones don’t know they are supposed to be boys and girls. They just get on and do their jobs. Men and women have the same hormones. Women have testosterone and men have also have progesterone and oestrogens. In fact the old label of progesterone’ as a ‘female hormone’ actually got in the way of research into the hormone and its implication for the health of both women and men.

Links:

Flirting & the ‘Golden’ Age of Gender

In examining flirting tips from the various main stream pop-psychology books on body language I’m struck by the prevalence of gender stereotypes and the absence of the acknowledgement that not everyone is heterosexual and not everyone wants to have children. Surely flirting need not depend on these.

Many tips involve ‘men making themselves more masculine to attract ‘delicate’ women’ and ‘women making themselves more ‘delicate’ to attract ‘big strong, rugged, men’. This all presupposes that we all want the same thing. Some women like ‘skinny’ men who wear glasses and hate football. Some men, small in stature, like full-bodied, amply curvaceous women. Some, delicate, petite, perfectly made-up women, may prefer women in sensible shoes to a hunk in football boots. Some rough and tough, deep voiced, sporty men don’t necessarily fancy women at all. Yes I know it’s all very obvious, so why the hell don’t the pop-psychology books acknowledge it? One reason is that the classic body language books are from ‘the golden age of gender’ when the world was a very different place and, sadly, gender stereotypes do sell.

Different people are attracted to different things and gender roles have moved on enormously since the 1950s. So telling every women to become like a 1950s housewife or a screen siren from the golden age of Hollywood is hardly like to work for all. Telling every man that he needs to ‘butch-up’ and take up forestry  is hardly like to work either, unless of course you know someone who’s into that sort of thing.

Flirting is about having fun. Flirting is about putting yourself across in a ‘good light’. It’s not about aping outdated stereotypes and it’s open to all! So the best advice I can give is:

  • Relax
  • Be yourself but be your best
  • Smile and have fun
  • Avoid any flirting tips that get you to act out a stereotype unless that’s what you are really into.

Links (to other ‘gender-based’ posts):

Poem: The Anatomy of Doubt

(Thoughts on sexual and gender diversity)

Hoo-hoos, minkies, willies and winkies,
Who are the normals and who are the kinkies?
Are you heroic Brad or homely Janet,
Or a sweet transvestite from a diff-er-ent planet?
Is is straight down the line, or simply confusing?
Is it all in our genes or just something we’re choosing?
Is it just variation or unholy perversion?
Propagating the species or a fun diversion?
Are you bound by tradition or torn by the doubt,
That we’re the ones our parents warned us about?

From: Sex, Lies and Stereotypes: Challenging Views of Women, Men and Relationships, by Gary Wood, 2005. Published by New Holland (out of print).

Link:

Gender & the Social Consruction of the Sewing Machine