How to Minimize “Emotional Labor” and “Mental Load”: A Guide for Frazzled Women

A comic strip in the Guardian recently alerted me to the fact that many women are exhausted from the “Mental Load” of thinking about things and need their husbands to pitch in and help. Go ahead and read it.

Whew. There’s a lot to unpack here:

  1. Yes, you have to talk to men. DO NOT EXPECT OTHER PEOPLE TO KNOW WHAT YOU ARE THINKING. Look, if I can get my husband to help me when I need it, you certainly can too. That or you married the wrong man.
  2. Get a dayplanner and write things like “grocery lists” and doctors appointments in it. There’s probably one built into your phone.

There, I solved your problems.

That said, female anxiety (at least in our modern world) appears to be a real thing:

(though American Indians are the real untold story in this graph.)

According to the America’s State of Mind Report (PDF):

Medco data shows that antidepressants are the most commonly used mental health medications and that women have the highest utilization rates.  In 2010, 21 percent of women ages 20 and older were using an antidepressant.  … Men’s use of antidepressants is almost half that of women, but has also been on the rise with a 28 percent increase over the past decade. …

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. … Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one‐third of sufferers receive treatment. …

Medco data shows that women have the highest utilization rate of anti‐anxiety medications; in
fact, 11 percent of middle‐aged women (ages 45‐64) were on an anti‐anxiety drug treatment in
2010, nearly twice the rate of their male counterparts (5.7 percent).

And based on the age group data, women in their prime working years (but waning childbearing years) have even higher rates of mental illness. (Adult women even take ADHD medicine at slightly higher rates than adult men.)

What causes this? Surely 20% of us–one in 5–can’t actually be mentally ill, can we? Is it biology or culture? Or perhaps a mismatch between biology and culture?

Or perhaps we should just scale back a little, and when we have friends over for dinner, just order a pizza instead of trying to cook two separate meals?

But if you think that berating your husband for merely taking a bottle out of the dishwasher when you asked him to get a bottle out of the dishwasher (instead of realizing this was code for “empty the entire dishwasher”) will make you happier, think again. “Couples who share the workload are more likely to divorce, study finds“:

Divorce rates are far higher among “modern” couples who share the housework than in those where the woman does the lion’s share of the chores, a Norwegian study has found. …

Norway has a long tradition of gender equality and childrearing is shared equally between mothers and fathers in 70 per cent of cases.But when it comes to housework, women in Norway still account for most of it in seven out of 10 couples. The study emphasised women who did most of the chores did so of their own volition and were found to be as “happy” those in “modern” couples. …

The researchers expected to find that where men shouldered more of the burden, women’s happiness levels were higher. In fact they found that it was the men who were happier while their wives and girlfriends appeared to be largely unmoved.

Those men who did more housework generally reported less work-life conflict and were scored slightly higher for wellbeing overall.

Theory: well-adjusted people who love each other are happy to do what it takes to keep the household running and don’t waste time passive-aggressively trying to convince their spouse that he’s a bad person for not reading her mind.

Now let’s talk about biology. The author claims,

Of course, there’s nothing genetic or innate about this behavior. We’re not born with an all-consuming passion for clearing tables, just like boys aren’t born with an utter disinterest for thing lying around.

Of course, the author doesn’t cite any papers from the fields of genetics or behavior psychology to back up her claims–just like she feels entitled to claim that other people should read her mind and absurdly thinks that a good project manager at work doesn’t bother to tell their team what needs to be done, she doesn’t feel any compulsion to cite any proof of her claims. Science says s. We know because some cartoonist on the internet claimed it did.

Over in reality-land, when we make scientific claims about things like genetics, we cite our sources. And women absolutely have an instinct for cleaning things: the Nesting Instinct. No, it isn’t present when we’re born. It kicks in when we’re pregnant–often shortly before going into labor. Here’s an actual scientific paper on the Nesting Instinct published in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior:

In altricial mammals, “nesting” refers to a suite of primarily maternal behaviours including nest-site selection, nest building and nest defense, and the many ways that nonhuman animals prepare themselves for parturition are well studied. In contrast, little research has considered pre-parturient preparation behaviours in women from a functional perspective.

According to the university’s press release about the study:

The overwhelming urge that drives many pregnant women to clean, organize and get life in order—otherwise known  as nesting—is not irrational, but an adaptive behaviour stemming from humans’ evolutionary past.

Researchers from McMaster University suggest that these behaviours—characterized by unusual bursts of energy and a compulsion to organize the household—are a result of a mechanism to protect and prepare for the unborn baby.

Women also become more selective about the company they keep, preferring to spend time only with people they trust, say researchers.

In short, having control over the environment is a key feature of preparing for childbirth, including decisions about where the birth will take place and who will be welcome.

“Nesting is not a frivolous activity,” says Marla Anderson, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour.  “We have found that it peaks in the third trimester as the birth of the baby draws near and is an important task that probably serves the same purpose in women as it does in other animals.”

Even Wikipeidia cites a number of sources on the subject:

Nesting behaviour refers to an instinct or urge in pregnant animals caused by the increase of estradiol (E2) [1] to prepare a home for the upcoming newborn(s). It is found in a variety of animals such as birds, fish, squirrels, mice and pigs as well as humans.[2][3]

Nesting is pretty much impossible to miss if you’ve ever been pregnant or around pregnant women.

Of course, this doesn’t prove the instinct persists (though in my personal case it definitely did.)

By the way, estradiol is a fancy name for estrogen, which is found in much higher levels in women than men. (Just to be rigorous, here’s data on estrogen levels in normal men and women.)

So if high estradiol levels make a variety of mammals–including humans–want to clean things, and women between puberty and menopause consistently have higher levels of estrogen than men, then it seems fairly likely that women actually do have, on average, a higher innate, biological, instinctual, even genetic urge to clean and organize their homes than men do.

But returning to the comic, the author claims:

But we’re born into a society in which very early on, we’re given dolls and miniature vacuum cleaners, and in which it seems shameful for boys to like those same toys.

What bollocks. I used to work at a toystore. Yes, we stocked toy vacuum cleaners and the like in a “Little Helpers” set. We never sold a single one, and I worked there over Christmas. (Great times.)

I am always on the lookout for toys my kids would enjoy and receive constant feedback on whether they like my choices. (“A book? Why did Santa bring me a book? Books are boring!”)

I don’t spend money getting more of stuff my kids aren’t interested in. A child who doesn’t like dolls isn’t going to get a bunch of dolls and be ordered to sit and play with them and nothing else. A child who doesn’t like trucks isn’t going to get a bunch of trucks.

Assuming that other parents are neither stupid (unable to tell which toys their children like) nor evil (forcing their children to play with specific toys even though they know they don’t like them,) I conclude that children’s toys reflect the children’s actual preferences, not the parents’ (for goodness’s sakes, it if it were up to me, I’d socialize my children to be super-geniuses who spend all of their time reading textbooks and whose toys are all science and math manipulatives, not toy dump trucks!)

Even young rhesus monkeys–who cannot talk and obviously have not been socialized into human gender norms–have the same gendered toy preferences as humans:

We compared the interactions of 34 rhesus monkeys, living within a 135 monkey troop, with human wheeled toys and plush toys. Male monkeys, like boys, showed consistent and strong preferences for wheeled toys, while female monkeys, like girls, showed greater variability in preferences. Thus, the magnitude of preference for wheeled over plush toys differed significantly between males and females. The similarities to human findings demonstrate that such preferences can develop without explicit gendered socialization.

Young female chimps also make their own dolls:

Now new research suggests that such gender-driven desires are also seen in young female chimpanzees in the wild—a behavior that possibly evolved to make the animals better mothers, experts say.

Young females of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda, use sticks as rudimentary dolls and care for them like the group’s mother chimps tend to their real offspring. The behavior, which was very rarely observed in males, has been witnessed more than a hundred times over 14 years of study.

In Jane Goodall’s revolutionary research on the Gombe Chimps, she noted the behavior of young females who often played with or held their infant siblings, in contrast to young males who generally preferred not to.

And just as estradiol levels have an effect on how much cleaning women want to do, so androgen levels have an effect on which toys children prefer to play with:

Gonadal hormones, particularly androgens, direct certain aspects of brain development and exert permanent influences on sex-typical behavior in nonhuman mammals. Androgens also influence human behavioral development, with the most convincing evidence coming from studies of sex-typical play. Girls exposed to unusually high levels of androgens prenatally, because they have the genetic disorder, congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), show increased preferences for toys and activities usually preferred by boys, and for male playmates, and decreased preferences for toys and activities usually preferred by girls. Normal variability in androgen prenatally also has been related to subsequent sex-typed play behavior in girls, and nonhuman primates have been observed to show sex-typed preferences for human toys. These findings suggest that androgen during early development influences childhood play behavior in humans at least in part by altering brain development.

But the author of the comic strip would like us to believe that gender roles are a result of watching the wrong stuff on TV:

And in which culture and media essentially portray women as mothers and wives, while men are heroes who go on fascinating adventures away from home.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in the Bad Old Days of the 80s when She-Ra, Princess of Power, was kicking butt on TV; little girls were being magically transported to Ponyland to fight evil monsters: and Rainbow Bright defeated the evil King of Shadows and saved the Color Kids.


If you’re older than me, perhaps you grew up watching Wonder Woman (first invented in 1941) and Leia Skywalker; and if you’re younger, Dora the Explorer and Katniss Everdeen.

If you can’t find adventurous female characters in movies or TV, YOU AREN’T LOOKING.

I mentioned this recently: it’s like the Left has no idea what the past–anytime before last Tuesday–actually contained. Somehow the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s have entirely disappeared, and they live in a timewarp where we are connected directly to the media and gender norms of over half a century ago.

Enough. The Guardian comic is a load of entitled whining from someone who actually thinks that other people are morally obligated to try to read her mind. She has the maturity of a bratty teenager (“You should have known I hate this band!”) and needs to learn how to actually communicate with others instead of complaining that it’s everyone else who has a problem.



Testosterone metabolization, autism, male brain, and female identity

I began this post intending to write about testosterone metabolization in autism and possible connections with transgender identity, but realized halfway through that I didn’t actually know whether the autist-trans connection was primarily male-to-female or female-to-male. I had assumed that the relevant population is primarily MtF because both autists and trans people are primarily male, but both groups do have female populations that are large enough to contribute significantly. Here’s a sample of the data I’ve found so far:

A study conducted by a team of British scientists in 2012 found that of a pool of individuals not diagnosed on the autism spectrum, female-to-male (FTM) transgender people have higher rates of autistic features than do male-to-female (MTF) transgender people or cisgender males and females. Another study, which looked at children and adolescents admitted to a gender identity clinic in the Netherlands, found that almost 8 percent of subjects were also diagnosed with ASD.

Note that both of these studies are looking at trans people and assessing whether or not they have autism symptoms, not looking at autists and asking if they have trans symptoms. Given the characterization of autism as “extreme male brain” and that autism is diagnosed in males at about 4x the rate of females, the fact that there is some overlap between “women who think they think like men” and “traits associated with male thought patterns” is not surprising.

If the reported connection between autism and trans identity is just “autistic women feel like men,” that’s pretty non-mysterious and I just wasted an afternoon.

Though the data I have found so far still does not look directly at autists and ask how many of them have trans symptoms, the wikipedia page devoted to transgender and transsexual computer programmers lists only MtFs and no FtMs. Whether this is a pattern throughout the wider autism community, it definitely seems to be a thing among programmers. (Relevant discussion.)

So, returning to the original post:

Autism contains an amusing contradiction: on the one hand, autism is sometimes characterized as “extreme male brain,” and on the other hand, (some) autists (may be) more likely than neurotypicals to self-identify as transwomen–that is, biological men who see themselves as women. This seems contradictory: if autists are more masculine, mentally, than the average male, why don’t they identify as football players, army rangers, or something else equally masculine? For that matter, why isn’t a group with “extreme male brains” regarded as more, well, masculine?

(And if autists have extreme male brains, does that mean football players don’t? Do football players have more feminine brains than autists? Do colorless green ideas sleep furiously? DO WORDS MEAN?)


In favor of the “extreme male brain” hypothesis, we have evidence that testosterone is important for certain brain functions, like spacial recognition, we have articles like this one: Testosterone and the brain:

Gender differences in spatial recognition, and age-related declines in cognition and mood, point towards testosterone as an important modulator of cerebral functions. Testosterone appears to activate a distributed cortical network, the ventral processing stream, during spatial cognition tasks, and addition of testosterone improves spatial cognition in younger and older hypogonadal men. In addition, reduced testosterone is associated with depressive disorders.

(Note that women also suffer depression at higher rates than men.)

So people with more testosterone are better at spacial cognition and other tasks that “autistic” brains typically excel at, and brains with less testosterone tend to be moody and depressed.

But hormones are tricky things. Where do they come from? Where do they go? How do we use them?

According to Wikipedia:

During the second trimester [of pregnancy], androgen level is associated with gender formation.[13] This period affects the femininization or masculinization of the fetus and can be a better predictor of feminine or masculine behaviours such as sex typed behaviour than an adult’s own levels. A mother’s testosterone level during pregnancy is correlated with her daughter’s sex-typical behavior as an adult, and the correlation is even stronger than with the daughter’s own adult testosterone level.[14]

… Early infancy androgen effects are the least understood. In the first weeks of life for male infants, testosterone levels rise. The levels remain in a pubertal range for a few months, but usually reach the barely detectable levels of childhood by 4–6 months of age.[15][16] The function of this rise in humans is unknown. It has been theorized that brain masculinization is occurring since no significant changes have been identified in other parts of the body.[17] The male brain is masculinized by the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, which crosses the blood–brain barrier and enters the male brain, whereas female fetuses have α-fetoprotein, which binds the estrogen so that female brains are not affected.[18]

(Bold mine.)

Let’s re-read that: the male brain is masculinized by the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen.

If that’s not a weird sentence, I don’t know what is.

Let’s hop over to the scientific literature, eg, Estrogen Actions in the Brain and the Basis for Differential Action in Men and Women: A Case for Sex-Specific Medicines:

Burgeoning evidence now documents profound effects of estrogens on learning, memory, and mood as well as neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative processes. Most data derive from studies in females, but there is mounting recognition that estrogens play important roles in the male brain, where they can be generated from circulating testosterone by local aromatase enzymes or synthesized de novo by neurons and glia. Estrogen-based therapy therefore holds considerable promise for brain disorders that affect both men and women. However, as investigations are beginning to consider the role of estrogens in the male brain more carefully, it emerges that they have different, even opposite, effects as well as similar effects in male and female brains. This review focuses on these differences, including sex dimorphisms in the ability of estradiol to influence synaptic plasticity, neurotransmission, neurodegeneration, and cognition, which, we argue, are due in a large part to sex differences in the organization of the underlying circuitry.

Hypothesis: the way testosterone works in the brain (where we both do math and “feel” male or female) and the way it works in the muscles might be very different.

Do autists actually differ from other people in testosterone (or other hormone) levels?

In Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions, researchers surveyed autistic women and mothers of autistic children about various testosterone-related medical conditions:

Compared to controls, significantly more women with ASC [Autism Spectrum Conditions] reported (a) hirsutism, (b) bisexuality or asexuality, (c) irregular menstrual cycle, (d) dysmenorrhea, (e) polycystic ovary syndrome, (f) severe acne, (g) epilepsy, (h) tomboyism, and (i) family history of ovarian, uterine, and prostate cancers, tumors, or growths. Compared to controls, significantly more mothers of ASC children reported (a) severe acne, (b) breast and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths, and (c) family history of ovarian and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths.

Androgenic Activity in Autism has an unfortunately low number of subjects (N=9) but their results are nonetheless intriguing:

Three of the children had exhibited explosive aggression against others (anger, broken objects, violence toward others). Three engaged in self-mutilations, and three demonstrated no aggression and were in a severe state of autistic withdrawal. The appearance of aggression against others was associated with having fewer of the main symptoms of autism (autistic withdrawal, stereotypies, language dysfunctions).

Three of their subjects (they don’t say which, but presumably from the first group,) had abnormally high testosterone levels (including one of the girls in the study.) The other six subjects had normal androgen levels.

This is the first report of an association between abnormally high androgenic activity and aggression in subjects with autism. Although a previously reported study did not find group mean elevations in plasma testosterone in prepubertal autistic subjects (4), it appears here that in certain autistic individuals, especially those in puberty, hyperandrogeny may play a role in aggressive behaviors. Also, there appear to be distinct clinical forms of autism that are based on aggressive behaviors and are not classified in DSM-IV. Our preliminary findings suggest that abnormally high plasma testosterone concentration is associated with aggression against others and having fewer of the main autistic symptoms.

So, some autists have do have abnormally high testosterone levels, but those same autists are less autistic, overall, than other autists. More autistic behavior, aggression aside, is associated with normal hormone levels. Probably.

But of course that’s not fetal or early infancy testosterone levels. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to study fetal testosterone levels in autists, as few autists were diagnosed as fetuses. However, Foetal testosterone and autistic traits in 18 to 24-month-old children comes close:

Levels of FT [Fetal Testosterone] were analysed in amniotic fluid and compared with autistic traits, measured using the Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT) in 129 typically developing toddlers aged between 18 and 24 months (mean ± SD 19.25 ± 1.52 months). …

Sex differences were observed in Q-CHAT scores, with boys scoring significantly higher (indicating more autistic traits) than girls. In addition, we confirmed a significant positive relationship between FT levels and autistic traits.

I feel like this is veering into “we found that boys score higher on a test of male traits than girls did” territory, though.

In Polymorphisms in Genes Involved in Testosterone Metabolism in Slovak Autistic Boys, researchers found:

The present study evaluates androgen and estrogen levels in saliva as well as polymorphisms in genes for androgen receptor (AR), 5-alpha reductase (SRD5A2), and estrogen receptor alpha (ESR1) in the Slovak population of prepubertal (under 10 years) and pubertal (over 10 years) children with autism spectrum disorders. The examined prepubertal patients with autism, pubertal patients with autism, and prepubertal patients with Asperger syndrome had significantly increased levels of salivary testosterone (P < 0.05, P < 0.01, and P < 0.05, respectively) in comparison with control subjects. We found a lower number of (CAG)n repeats in the AR gene in boys with Asperger syndrome (P < 0.001). Autistic boys had an increased frequency of the T allele in the SRD5A2 gene in comparison with the control group. The frequencies of T and C alleles in ESR1 gene were comparable in all assessed groups.

What’s the significance of CAG repeats in the AR gene? Apparently they vary inversely with sensitivity to androgens:

Individuals with a lower number of CAG repeats exhibit higher AR gene expression levels and generate more functional AR receptors increasing their sensitivity to testosterone…

Fewer repeats, more sensitivity to androgens. The SRD5A2 gene is also involved in testosterone metabolization, though I’m not sure exactly what the T allele does relative to the other variants.

But just because there’s a lot of something in the blood (or saliva) doesn’t mean the body is using it. Diabetics can have high blood sugar because their bodies lack the necessary insulin to move the sugar from the blood, into their cells. Fewer androgen receptors could mean the body is metabolizing testosterone less effectively, which in turn leaves more of it floating in the blood… Biology is complicated.

What about estrogen and the autistic brain? That gets really complicated. According to Sex Hormones in Autism: Androgens and Estrogens Differentially and Reciprocally Regulate RORA, a Novel Candidate Gene for Autism:

Here, we show that male and female hormones differentially regulate the expression of a novel autism candidate gene, retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-alpha (RORA) in a neuronal cell line, SH-SY5Y. In addition, we demonstrate that RORA transcriptionally regulates aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. We further show that aromatase protein is significantly reduced in the frontal cortex of autistic subjects relative to sex- and age-matched controls, and is strongly correlated with RORA protein levels in the brain.

If autists are bad at converting testosterone to estrogen, this could leave extra testosterone floating around in their blood… but doens’t explain their supposed “extreme male brain.” Here’s another study on the same subject, since it’s confusing:

Comparing the brains of 13 children with and 13 children without autism spectrum disorder, the researchers found a 35 percent decrease in estrogen receptor beta expression as well as a 38 percent reduction in the amount of aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.

Levels of estrogen receptor beta proteins, the active molecules that result from gene expression and enable functions like brain protection, were similarly low. There was no discernable change in expression levels of estrogen receptor alpha, which mediates sexual behavior.

I don’t know if anyone has tried injecting RORA-deficient mice with estrogen, but here is a study about the effects of injecting reelin-deficient mice with estrogen:

The animals in the new studies, called ‘reeler’ mice, have one defective copy of the reelin gene and make about half the amount of reelin compared with controls. …

Reeler mice with one faulty copy serve as a model of one of the most well-established neuro-anatomical abnormalities in autism. Since the mid-1980s, scientists have known that people with autism have fewer Purkinje cells in the cerebellum than normal. These cells integrate information from throughout the cerebellum and relay it to other parts of the brain, particularly the cerebral cortex.

But there’s a twist: both male and female reeler mice have less reelin than control mice, but only the males lose Purkinje cells. …

In one of the studies, the researchers found that five days after birth, reeler mice have higher levels of testosterone in the cerebellum compared with genetically normal males3.

Keller’s team then injected estradiol — a form of the female sex hormone estrogen — into the brains of 5-day-old mice. In the male reeler mice, this treatment increases reelin levels in the cerebellum and partially blocks Purkinje cell loss. Giving more estrogen to female reeler mice has no effect — but females injected with tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, lose Purkinje cells. …

In another study, the researchers investigated the effects of reelin deficiency and estrogen treatment on cognitive flexibility — the ability to switch strategies to solve a problem4. …

“And we saw indeed that the reeler mice are slower to switch. They tend to persevere in the old strategy,” Keller says. However, male reeler mice treated with estrogen at 5 days old show improved cognitive flexibility as adults, suggesting that the estrogen has a long-term effect.

This still doesn’t explain why autists would self-identify as transgender women (mtf) at higher rates than average, but it does suggest that any who do start hormone therapy might receive benefits completely independent of gender identity.

Let’s stop and step back a moment.

Autism is, unfortunately, badly defined. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one autist, you’ve met one autist. There are probably a variety of different, complicated things going on in the brains of different autists simply because a variety of different, complicated conditions are all being lumped together under a single label. Any mental disability that can include both non-verbal people who can barely dress and feed themselves and require lifetime care and billionaires like Bill Gates is a very badly defined condition.

(Unfortunately, people diagnose autism with questionnaires that include questions like “Is the child pedantic?” which could be equally true of both an autistic child and a child who is merely very smart and has learned more about a particular subject than their peers and so is responding in more detail than the adult is used to.)

The average autistic person is not a programmer. Autism is a disability, and the average diagnosed autist is pretty darn disabled. Among the people who have jobs and friends but nonetheless share some symptoms with formally diagnosed autists, though, programmer and the like appear to be pretty popular professions.

Back in my day, we just called these folks nerds.

Here’s a theory from a completely different direction: People feel the differences between themselves and a group they are supposed to fit into and associate with a lot more strongly than the differences between themselves and a distant group. Growing up, you probably got into more conflicts with your siblings and parents than with random strangers, even though–or perhaps because–your family is nearly identical to you genetically, culturally, and environmentally. “I am nothing like my brother!” a man declares, while simultaneously affirming that there is a great deal in common between himself and members of a race and culture from the other side of the planet. Your  coworker, someone specifically selected for the fact that they have similar mental and technical aptitudes and training as yourself, has a distinct list of traits that drive you nuts, from the way he staples papers to the way he pronounces his Ts, while the women of an obscure Afghan tribe of goat herders simply don’t enter your consciousness.

Nerds, somewhat by definition, don’t fit in. You don’t worry much about fitting into a group you’re not part of in the fist place–you probably don’t worry much about whether or not you fit in with Melanesian fishermen–but most people work hard at fitting in with their own group.

So if you’re male, but you don’t fit in with other males (say, because you’re a nerd,) and you’re down at the bottom of the highschool totem pole and feel like all of the women you’d like to date are judging you negatively next to the football players, then you might feel, rather strongly, the differences between you and other males. Other males are aggressive, they call you a faggot, they push you out of their spaces and threaten you with violence, and there’s very little you can do to respond besides retreat into your “nerd games.”

By contrast, women are polite to you, not aggressive, and don’t aggressively push you out of their spaces. Your differences with them are much less problematic, so you feel like you “fit in” with them.

(There is probably a similar dynamic at play with American men who are obsessed with anime. It’s not so much that they are truly into Japanese culture–which is mostly about quietly working hard–as they don’t fit in very well with their own culture.) (Note: not intended as a knock on anime, which certainly has some good works.)

And here’s another theory: autists have some interesting difficulties with constructing categories and making inferences from data. They also have trouble going along with the crowd, and may have fewer “mirror neurons” than normal people. So maybe autists just process the categories of “male” and “female” a little differently than everyone else, and in a small subset of autists, this results in trans identity.*

And another: maybe there are certain intersex disorders which result in differences in brain wiring/organization. (Yes, there are real interesx disorders, like Klinefelter’s, in which people have XXY chromosomes instead of XX or XY.) In a small set of cases, these unusually wired brains may be extremely good at doing certain tasks (like programming) resulting people who are both “autism spectrum” and “trans”. This is actually the theory I’ve been running with for years, though it is not incompatible with the hormonal theories discussed above.

But we are talking small: trans people of any sort are extremely rare, probably on the order of <1/1000. Even if autists were trans at 8 times the rates of non-autists, that’s still only 8/1000 or 1/125. Autists themselves are pretty rare (estimates vary, but the vast majority of people are not autistic at all,) so we are talking about a very small subset of a very small population in the first place. We only notice these correlations at all because the total population has gotten so huge.

Sometimes, extremely rare things are random chance.

On Socialization

As a parent, I spend much of my day attempting to “socialize” my kids–“Don’t hit your brother! Stop jumping on the couch! For the umpteenth time, ‘yeah, right!’ is sarcasm.”

There are a lot of things that don’t come naturally to little kids. Many of them struggle to understand that these wiggly lines on paper can turn into words or that tiny, invisible things on their hands can make them sick.

“Yes, you have to brush your teeth and go to bed, no, I’m not explaining why again.”

And they definitely don’t understand why I won’t let them have ice cream for dinner.

“Don’t ride your bike down the hill and into the street like that! You could get hit by a car and DIE!”

Despite all of the effort I have devoted to transforming this wiggly bunch of feral children into respectable adults (someday, I hope,) I have never found myself concerned with the task of teaching them about gender. As a practical matter, whether the children behave like “girls” or “boys” makes little difference to the running of the household, because we have both–by contrast, whether the children put their dishes away after meals and do their homework without me having to threaten or cajole them makes a big difference.

Honestly, I can’t convince them not to pick their noses in public or that broccoli is tasty, but I’m supposed to somehow subtly convince them that they’ve got to play Minecraft because they’re boys (even while explicitly saying, “Hey, you’ve been playing that for two hours, go ride your bike,” or that they’re supposed to be walking doormats because they’re girls (even while saying, “Next time he pushes you, push him back!”)

And yet the boys still act like boys, the girls like girls–statistically speaking.

“Ah,” I hear some of you saying, “But you are just one parent! How do you know there aren’t legions of other parents who are out there doing everything they can to ensure that their sons succeed and daughters fail in life?”

This is, if you will excuse me, a very strange objection. What parent desires failure from their children?

Wed. Open Thread: Ruminants

Some data/graphs/research I came across while researching pastoralism:






And on the subject of hunting, from… oh crud I can’t remember which study this is excerpted from:


Some interesting links:

Cold Winter Theory in Non-Human Animals:

With regards to birds, brain size and ecology, there is a problem. Birds living in the high latitudes must either adapt a migrating behavioral pattern or learn how to survive in the winter. Most birds take the first route, but some don’t. However, to fly long distances, it helps to be lean, so there is strong selection against extra weight such as a larger brain. For this reason, bivariate latitude x brain size comparisons might show the opposite pattern than expected. One must account for the solution to the, well, cold winter problem. Some amphibians have an analogous tactic: hibernation. Many insects have yet another analogous solution: they only live in the summer (single year life spans). As far as I understand, fish do not have issues with the water temperature in the winter, so they don’t face the problem. Except for possibly hibernation (which sometimes does require planning ability e.g. in squirrels), these strategies would not seem to select so strongly for intelligence, and so one would not expect the higher latitude species to smarter, less aggressive and so on.

In general, therefore, it seems best to focus on animals that tackle the cold winter problem head-on instead of avoiding it somehow (migrate, hibernate, or single-year lifespans). Among birds, the smartest birds are of the Corvidae family — in particular crows, ravens and magpies — and they generally don’t migrate in the winter. Of the non-Corvidae, I think the smartest birds are some of the parrot species. These also often don’t migrate. (See also bird intelligence.) …

Exposure to Junk Food is Causing Obesity in Siberian Tribes:

The first-ever cases of obesity have been recorded among nomadic Arctic reindeer herders, after they became exposed to instant noodles and other junk foods.

Russian scientists are warning about the dramatic change in the Nenets and Khanty peoples on the icy Yamal peninsula in northern Siberia, who for centuries had eaten only traditional foods.

A diet based on venison and fresh river fish meant that obesity was unknown among these indigenous peoples, but now outside influences are changing everything. …

Human Behavior as a Long-Term Ecological Driver of Non-Human Evolution:

Due to our intensive subsistence and habitat-modification strategies—including broad-spectrum harvesting and predation, widespread landscape burning, settlement construction, and translocation of other species—humans have major roles as ecological actors who influence fundamental trophic interactions. … Clear examples of anthropogenic effects on non-human morphological evolution have been documented in modern studies of substantial changes to body size or other major traits in terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants in response to selective human harvesting, urbanized habitats, and human-mediated translocation. Meanwhile, archaeological records of harvested marine invertebrates and terrestrial vertebrates suggest that similar processes extend considerably into prehistory, perhaps to 50,000 yr BP or earlier. These results are consistent with palaeoenvironmental and other records that demonstrate long-term human habitat modification and intensive harvesting practices. …

Comment of the Week goes to BaruchK:

For a personal narrative of what happens when a very refined and compassionate culture encounters such starvation that mothers eat their own children, you can look at our Book of Lamentations.

It makes for very hard, heartbreaking reading, but necessary.

… G-d certainly has compassion. The way we understand the degradation described in the Book of Lamentations is that it is a just punishment and reflection for spiritual degradation we imposed upon ourselves through idolatry (more on this below).

> In Carthage “[child] sacrifice in the ancient world reached its infamous zenith.”

Perfect example of why r/k is not a good model for people. Also see Stove’s Evolutionary Fairytales (available online in pdf for free.) People are not cod fish or elephants.

Allow me to make a counter-proposal.

The Carthaginians, Aztecs etc. were not welfare troglodytes. They were not Russian peasants, who had had their grain requisitioned. And they were not the besieged and starving population of Jerusalem. They were a highly refined society with an aristocracy, literacy, and a high investment in their upper classes. They were also cruel and vile people. They did not sacrifice their children out of physical need, but rather out of idolatry, which is to say, the projection of one’s own egotistic desires and fears upon an external object which represents an imaginary deity, which is supposed to serve you. …

And Jefferson and FlockofLambs left good thoughts on Cost Disease:

J: There is a more explicitly anthropological argument to be made here, as well. All of the institutions, cultural artifacts, and policies that could be conserved grew up over centuries of agriculture. We haven’t really developed solid cultural tools to deal with industrialization, and we’re already done with it. The left plays the “it’s not relevant anymore” game, and discards important tools, but we don’t have anything to replace them with. …

FoL: So i think Scott simplified Baumol’s Cost Disease, and it gets simplified further here. The point isn’t that “the cost of things goes up” but “when the productivity of some things goes up, the cost of things with similar inputs goes up, even if their quality does not.”

Sorry I finished this late, but I hope you guys are having a great week!

Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories

I’ve been thinking about the progression of ideas about natural categories, such as “men” and “women,” “cows” and “mules,” “English” and “Polynesian.” Not exactly our high philosophical progression, but a somewhat commoner one.

It seems that 100 years or so ago, most people would have explained the differences between things with a simple, “Because God wanted them to be that way.” And if God wants it that way, then the way they are is good and you should leave them alone.

I have heard my [sibling] wax practically poetic about the way God made mules and horses for farm work, and why you should not yoke together an ox and a donkey. (One of the interesting parts of meeting my siblings for the first time as an adult was realizing that dorkiness is genetic.)

The evolutionary perspective is that evolution created things (or, as we like to call it around here, GNON, the God of Nature and Nature’s God.) Gnon and God are functionally rather similar, for Gnon also made things in natural categories, and while we may refrain from deeming them “good” in quite the same way as religious people, we certainly believe that each group’s features serve purposes that have helped members of that group survive where others did not.

The conservative creationist denies the role of evolution, but he does not deny that categories exist. He merely disputes their method of creation. To quote Answers in Genesis:

So, a good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created kind. …

As an example, dogs can easily breed with one another, whether wolves, dingoes, coyotes, or domestic dogs. When dogs breed together, you get dogs; so there is a dog kind. It works the same with chickens. There are several breeds of chickens, but chickens breed with each other and you still get chickens. So, there is a chicken kind. The concept is fairly easy to understand.

But in today’s culture, where evolution and millions of years are taught as fact, many have been led to believe that animals and plants (that are classed as a specific “species”) have been like this for tens of thousands of years and perhaps millions of years. So, when they see things like lions or zebras, they think they have been like this for an extremely long time.

From a biblical perspective, though, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s Ark, only about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variation has occurred since the Fall due to genetic alterations.

For all that people accuse the Answers in Genesis folks of being crazy, and for all that they are trying awfully hard to re-invent the wheel, this is an unobjectionable approach to species and hybridization.

By contrast, the liberal creationist, since she cannot fall back on God in his rejection of Gnon, asserts that the categories themselves do not exist. “Race is a social construct. Gender is a social construct.” etc. Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, who is definitely not a crazy Creationist with no respect for science, writes:

When people talk about the differences between men and women they are often drawing on sex – on rigid ideas of biology – rather than gender, which is an understanding of how society shapes our understanding of those biological categories.

Gender is more fluid – it may or may not depend upon biological traits. [bold mine.] More specifically, it is a concept that describes how societies determine and manage sex categories; the cultural meanings attached to men and women’s roles; and how individuals understand their identities including, but not limited to, being a man, woman, transgender, intersex, gender queer and other gender positions. …

The sociology of gender examines how society influences our understandings and perception  of differences between masculinity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “man”) and femininity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “woman”). We examine how this, in turn, influences identity and social practices. We pay special focus on the power relationships that follow from the established gender order in a given society, as well as how this changes over time.

And the New York Times writes:

Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in South Africa.

Answers in Genesis understands genetics better than the New York times or people with doctorates from actual universities. That is pretty damn pathetic.

crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct
crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct

Of course, some of our ideas about what “men” and “women”  or “blacks” and “whites” are like are cultural (especially any that involve technology, since technology has changed radically over the past 100 years.) As an amateur anthropologist, I am quite aware that different cultures have different ideas on these subjects. This does not negate the fact that “maleness” and “femaleness” are basically biologically-driven. Female interest in babies and male interest in violence has its roots in biology, not culture. Genetics have a huge effect on personality. Likewise, races are absolutely real, biological categories, which no doctor attempting an organ transplant can afford to ignore.

The idea that races don’t exist in some kind of genetic way is absurd. Let’s just take the EDAR gene:

Ectodysplasin A receptor (EDAR) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the EDAR gene. EDAR is a cell surface receptor for ectodysplasin A which plays an important role in the development of ectodermal tissues such as the skin.[3][4][5] …

A derived G-allele point mutation (SNP) with pleiotropic effects in EDAR, 370A or rs3827760, found in most modern East Asians and Native Americans but not common in African or European populations, is thought to be one of the key genes responsible for a number of differences between these populations, including the thicker hair, more numerous sweat glands, smaller breasts, and dentition characteristic of East Asians.[7]… The 370A mutation arose in humans approximately 30,000 years ago, and now is found in 93% of Han Chinese and in the majority of people in nearby Asian populations. The derived G-allele is a mutation of the ancestral A-allele, the version found in most modern non-East Asian and non-Native American populations.

Most East Asians and Native Americans (that is, the greater Asian Race,) have the G-allele of EDAR. Most non-Asians have the A-allele.

World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes
World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes

If you don’t have some form of causality to explain how the world’s variation came to exist, I guess you fall back on “it’s totally random and meaningless.”

What are TERFs?

TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist–feminists who don’t like trans people.


Well, you know how radical feminists have a reputation for being man-hating Nazis?

That’s basically true, except for the Nazi part. Radical feminists don’t like men all that much and don’t want men at their events or in their conversations.

The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic "papers." H/T @RealPeerReview
The three abstracts in this post hail from real, peer-reviewed, academic “papers.” H/T @RealPeerReview

Radfems believe that “gender is a social construct,” by which they mean that the oppressive, patriarchal society made up this idea of “femininity” and then “socialized” young, biologically female people into believing it. (Society also made up the idea of “masculinity” and “socialized” biological males into believing it.) In essence, they think society is gaslighting people into believing that there are personality differences between men and women, with the result that men are taught to be aggressive, rapey assholes, and women are taught to be demure, doormat victims.

I... I am sorry this exists
I… I am sorry this exists

To radfems, “women” have two things in common: their physical bodies and their oppression by men, and their primary focus is on liberating their physical bodies from male control, as manifest in things like abortion restrictions, rape, body shaming, marriage, or any claim that males and females are different in any way besides anatomy.

So what about trans people?

From the TERFs’ POV, most trans people are either oppressive, patriarchal men pretending to be women, or women who think there’s something wrong with being female and so are trying to become patriarchal oppressors. TERFs don’t want men or wannabe men in their spaces. They don’t want to explain, yet again, that you can never understand what it is like to be female because you were not socialized as a child into believing that “femininity” exists and you were never oppressed by society for being female. Male-to-female transsexuals don’t menstruate, can’t get raped, can’t get pregnant, and can’t be denied an abortion. You cannot become “female gendered” because “female gender” is just a thing society made up to oppress women, and buying into it is only going to further oppress women.

The whole idea of being trans doesn’t make sense within a radical feminist framework. There is no reason at all why you can’t just be an “effeminate” person who is biologically male or a “masculine” person who is biologically female–the only reason you think you can’t is because society lied to you and told you that you can’t.

ctosyoiwcacm9dtEven if you are sympathetic to trans people, it remains a fact that women-who-are-biologically-women have different practical concerns than they do. Trans folks have very specific concerns about discrimination, anti-trans violence (especially incarcerated trans people), related medical conditions, and of course hormonal therapies and surgery. (There is of course some overlap–trans people can get raped and some can get pregnant, for example.)

TERFs believe that when trans people enter their spaces, trans issues, instead of women’s issues, begin to dominate the discussion, and the women who originally created these spaces in order to escape male oppression are yet again being oppressed by men. EG: Why we Must Stop Calling Menstruation “A Women’s Issue”:

Ame: People can be more inclusive of trans people who also experience menstruation by talking about the topic in a non-gendered way. Realising that bodies and body parts are not gendered would help to normalise the idea that you do not have to be a woman in order to menstruate, and also that not all women are capable of menstruating. A simple change in language, such as saying “people who menstruate” rather than “women” goes a long way in terms of having inclusive discussions, rather than discussions which isolate certain subgroups of people.

Sapphire: Stop the whole “lady parts” cis feminist discourse.

Teddy: I think better education, and more accessible resources online is going to be the way forward; I think magazines aimed at “men” and “women” should make people aware of health conditions that affect all body types, about health issues in general, and how to deal with them. There would likely be some pushback, but removing strict gendering of health issues is important.

Yes, Men’s Health and Maxim should totally start running articles about male menstruation, and Cosmo can run articles about the importance of getting your prostate checked–I’m sure that’ll send their sales through the roof!

As far as TERFs are concerned, trans people are free to have their own discussions in their own spaces, but they are not having a conversation about how “men menstruate too.”

Note that I have no dog in this fight, as I am neither a radical feminist nor trans. I think radfems are basically wrong–“gender” is primarily a manifestation of genetic differences between men and women–and that most trans folk I’ve met have an actual medical intersex condition. However, I think most trans people would be better off if they believed the radical feminists and declared to themselves that it’s fine to like things culture has traditionally deemed appropriate to the opposite sex instead of going through all the trouble of transition.

Which states are Electoral-Gender Battlegrounds?

Feel free to take and use
Feel free to take and use

I made a map! Based on these Five-Thirty-Eight poll maps that you’ve probably already seen:

cuhvs9jueaaptsd cuhvs9sukaa753g

States where both men and women are voting Trump: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming.

Almost Nebraska.

States where both are voting Hillary: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.

Almost Maine.

Reminder: some people actually think this way
Reminder: some people actually think this way

States where they differ: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin.

Are these states strife with marital discord? How do election views play out in the dating market?

Unsurprisingly, there are zero states where Trump is popular with women but not men, or where Hillary is popular with men but not women.


Why do women love cupcakes?


One of my kids enjoys watching YouTube cooking videos, and they’re nearly 100% women making cakes.

Women’s magazines focus exclusively on 4 topics: men, fashion, diets, and cupcakes. You might think that diets and cupcakes are incompatible, but women’s magazines believe otherwise:

Picture 5 Picture 6 Picture 8

Just in case it’s not clear, that is not a watermellon. It is cake, cleverly disguised as a watermellon.

(YouTube has videos that show you how to make much better cake watermellons–for starters, you want red velvet cake for the middle, not just frosting…)

Picture 10 Picture 11Magazines specifically aimed at “people who want to make cakes” are also overwhelmingly feminine. Whether we’re talking wedding cakes or chocolate cravings, apple pastries or donuts, sweets and women just seem to go together.

If men’s magazines ever feature food, I bet they’re steak and BBQ. (*Image searches*)

Picture 19 Picture 18 Picture 14 Picture 16






The meat-related articles do appear to be a little more gender-neutral than the cupcake-related articles–probably because men don’t tend to decorate their steaks with tiny baseball bats cut out of steak the way women like to decorate their cakes with tiny flowers made out of frosting.

It’s almost as if women have some kind of overwhelming craving for fats and sugars that men don’t really share.

I was talking with a friend recently about their workplace, where, “All of the women are on diets, but none of them can stay on their diets because they are all constantly eating at their workstations.” Further inquiries revealed that yes, they are eating sweets and pastries, not cashews and carrots, and that there is some kind of “office culture” of all of the women eating pastries together.

The irony here is pretty obvious.

Even many (most?) specialty “diet” foods are designed to still taste sweet. “Fat-free” yogurt is marketed as a health food even though it has as much sugar in it as a bowl of ice cream. Women are so attracted to the taste of sweet sodas, they drink disgusting Diet Coke. Dieting websites advise us that cake topped with fruit is “healthy.”

When men diet, they think “eat nothing but protein until ketosis kicks in” sounds like a great idea. When women diet, they want fat-free icecream.

I don’t think it is just “women lack willpower.” (Or at least, not willpower in the sense of something people have much control over.) Rather, I think that men and women actually have substantially different food cravings.

So do children, for that matter.

Throughout most of human history, from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists, the vast majority of women have specialized in obtaining (gathering, tending, harvesting,) plants. (The only exceptions are societies where people don’t eat plants, like the Inuit and the Masai, and our modern society, where most of us aren’t involved in food production.) By contrast, men have specialized in hunting, raising, and butchering animals–not because they were trying to hog the protein or had some sexist ideas about food production, but because animals tend to be bigger and heavier than women can easily lift. Dragging home and butchering large game requires significant strength.

I am inventing a “Just So” story, of course. But it seems sensible enough that each gender evolved a tendency to crave the particular kinds of foods it was most adept at obtaining.

Exercise wears down muscles; protein is necessary to build them back up. Protein fuels active lifestyles, and active lifestyles, in turn, require protein. Our male ancestors’ most important activities were most likely heavy labor (eg, building huts, hauling firewood, butchering game,) and defending the tribe. Our female ancestors’ most important activities were giving birth and nursing children (we would not exist had they not, after all.) For these activities, women want to be fat. It’s not good enough to put on weight after you get pregnant, when the growing fetus is already dependent on its mother for nutrients. Far better for a woman to be plump before she gets pregnant (and to stay that way long after.)

Of course, this is “fat” by historical standards, not modern American standards.

I suspect, therefore, that women are naturally inclined to eat as much as possible of sweet foods in order to put on weight in preparation for pregnancy and lactation–only today, the average woman has 2 pregnancies instead of 12, and so instead of turning that extra weight into children and milk, it just builds up.

Obviously we are talking about a relatively small effect on food preferences, both because our ancestors could not afford to be too picky about what they ate, and because the genetic difference between men and women is slight–not like the difference between humans and lizards, say.

Interestingly, gender expression in humans appears to basically be female by default. If, by random chance, you are born with only one X chromosome, (instead of the normal XX or XY,) you can still survive. Sure, you’ll be short, you probably won’t menstruate, and you’ll likely have a variety of other issues, but you’ll be alive. By contrast, if you received only a Y chromosome from your parents and no accompanying X, you wouldn’t be here reading this post. You can’t survive with just a Y. Too many necessary proteins are encoded on the X.

Gender differences show up even in fetuses, but don’t become a huge deal until puberty, when the production of androgens and estrogens really cranks up.

Take muscle development: muscle development relies on the production of androgens (eg, testosterone.) Grownups produce more androgens than small children, and men produce more than women. Children can exercise and certainly children who do daily farm chores are stronger than children who sit on their butts watching TV all day, but children can’t do intense strength-training because they just don’t produce enough androgens to build big muscles. Women, likewise, produce fewer androgens, and so cannot build muscles at the same rate as men, though obviously they are stronger than children.

At puberty, boys begin producing the androgens that allow them to build muscles and become significantly stronger than girls.

Sans androgens, even XY people develop as female. (See Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which people with XY chromosomes cannot absorb the androgens their bodies create, and so develop as female.) Children produce some androgens (obviously,) but not nearly as many as adults. Pre-pubescent boys, therefore, are more “feminine,” biologically, than post-pubescent men; puberty induces maleness.

All children seem pretty much obsessed with sweets, far more than adults. If allowed, they will happily eat cake until they vomit.

Even though food seems like a realm where evolution would heavily influence our tastes, it’s pretty obvious that culture has a huge effect. I doubt Jews have a natural aversion to pork or Hindus to beef. Whether you think chicken hearts are tasty or vomitous is almost entirely dependent on whether or not they are a common food in your culture.

But small children are blissfully less attuned to culture than grownups. Like little id machines, they spit out strained peas and throw them on the floor. They do not care about our notion that “vegetables are good for you.” This from someone who’ll eat bird poop if you let them.

The child’s affection for sweets, therefore, I suspect is completely natural and instinctual. Before the invention of refined sugars and modern food distribution systems, it probably kept them alive and healthy. Remember that the whole reason grownups try to eat more vegetables is that vegetables are low in calories. Grownups have larger stomachs and so can eat more than children, allowing them to extract adequate calories from low-calorie foods, but small children do not and cannot. In developing countries, children still have trouble getting enough calories despite abundant food in areas where that food is low-calorie plants, which they just cannot physically eat enough of. Children, therefore, are obsessed with high-calorie foods.

At puberty, this instinct changes for boys–orienting them more toward protein sources, which they are going to have to expend a lot of energy trying to haul back to their families for the rest of their lives, but stays basically unchanged in females.

ETA: I have found two more sources/items of relevance:

Calorie information effects on consumers’ food choices: Sources of observed gender heterogeneity, by Heiman and Lowengart:

When it comes to what we eat, men and women behave differently: Men consume more beef, eggs, and poultry; while women eat more fruits and vegetables and consume less fat than do men. … The gender differences in preferences for healthier foods begin in childhood. Previous literature has found that girls choose healthier food and are fonder of fruits and vegetables than are boys. Boys rated beef, processed meat, and eggs as more desirable than did girls. …

Sensory (taste) differences between the genders are the second most widely ventured explanation for the differences in food choices, although it is not clear that such genetic differences actually exist. While the popular media argue that females prefer sweetness and dislike bitterness, while males may enjoy bitterness, academic literature on this matter is less conclusive. The bitter taste receptor, gene TAS2R38, has been associated with the ability to taste PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil),
one source of genetic variation in PROP and PTC taste. Individuals who experience bitterness strongly are assumed to also experience sweetness strongly relative to those who experience PROP as only slightly bitter. While previous studies found that inherited taste-blindness to bitter compounds such as PROP may be a risk factor for obesity, this literature has been hotly disputed.

The distribution of perceived bitterness of PROP differs among women and men, as does the correlation between genetic taste measures and acceptance of sweetness. A higher percentage of women are PROP and PTC tasters, sensing bitterness above threshold. It has been suggested that women are more likely to be supertasters, or those who taste with far greater intensity than average.

(I have removed the in-line citations for ease of reading; please refer to the original if you want them.)



Well, I don’t remember where this graph came from, but it looks like my intuitions were pretty good. males and females both have very low levels of testosterone during childhood, and duing puberty their levels become radically different.

Is gender dimorphism a luxury good?

So I was watching this documentary the other day, set in Norway, about whether or not gender dimorphism among humans is real.

Of course it’s real, but that’s not the point.

The documentary happened to interview a number of Norwegian women about why they chose to work in stereotypically “female” professions (the “paradox” here is that in one of the most “gender egalitarian” countries in the world, women are choosing to go disproportionately into stereotypically female professions instead of into STEM.) Then they interviewed female students somewhere in Africa, IIRC, who professed a desire to go into STEM and related fields.

African countries are not generally thought of as bastions of female equality and empowerment, though perhaps they should be.

Anyway, the Norwegian women wanted to go into feminine careers because they found those careers more “interesting”–they just wanted to do things that involved people, say, instead of boring old numbers. The African students, by contrast, wanted to go into technical or medical fields because they perceived these as high-pay and useful.

To make a Mazlow’s hierarchy of professions, we might say that doctors and civil engineers are necessities for a functioning society, while doing things you find fun and interesting is a luxury.

Back in the day–that is, back more or less in my childhood and nearby years–the gender split in the children’s aisles wasn’t so extreme. We didn’t have purple “girl Legos” and black “boy Legos;” they were just Legos:

1960 Legos Add
1960 Legos Ad

The clothes have changed, too–these days, it is perfectly normal to send a girl to school wearing layers of sparkly fluff that would previously have been reserved for ballet recitals or Halloween. In my day, we just wore pants.

(There’s an obvious irony here, that the people who proclaim the loudest that male and female children [and adults] are neurologically the same and have the same preferences in jobs, toys, hobbies, etc., tend not to be the people who actually have children and have the most first-hand experience with their preferences.)

I was speaking with a friend recently, the youngest of five from a large extended family. They mentioned that as a kid, they always wore hand-me-downs; they received their first new piece of clothing (underwear excluded) at the age of ten. Which made me speculate that for poor people with several kids to clothe, clothing that could be worn by either gender might be seen as more useful than clothing that was obviously “for girls” or “for boys;” the same is true of toys, which are more useful if all of the kids are interested in them than if only one kid is interested in them. By contrast, rich people or people with only one kid may just get a specific item aimed at that kid.


Thus wealthier countries, despite their claims of egalitarianism, may use their wealth to indulge in more gendered behavior, goods, hobbies, jobs, etc., while less wealthy countries may focus their resources on high-utility, multi-use behaviors, goods, hobbies, jobs, etc.

Now, yes, I know that traditional societies did/do not dress their children in identical clothes; if you have 8 children, it is quite easy to have a set of dresses for four of them and a set of pants for the other four. But this is not necessarily any more gendered than our current clothing, and still leaves aside toys, jobs, etc.

Obviously I am just speculating; I’d be interested if anyone knows of any relevant data.

Transsexuals Prove That Gender is Real

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sex is biological; gender is a social construct.

Well, you should know my response by now: Sex is also a social construct.

X is a social construct does not mean “X is totally made up.” It means, “The word is defined however the hell people feel like using it.” This is true of all language.

200 years ago, people did not define “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes,” because no one knew about chromosomes, and yet they still had this concept of “biological sex.” For that matter, if you get right down to the nitty gritty of how “biological sex” develops in the fetus/young person, it is not just a matter of “Do you have a Y chromosome?” Biological sex does not work the same for all species, (eg, for crocodiles, the egg’s temperature determines whether the baby inside develops as male or female,) but even within humans, the process is complicated.

Diseases or medical conditions are the easiest way to highlight all the things that come together to determine one’s “biological sex”:

Klinefelter Syndrome: person is born XXY instead of XX or XY. People with KS have tiny genitals. The Y chromosome triggers male development, but the two Xs cause an over-production of female hormones. Most people with KS are infertile. KS occurs in 1:500 to 1:1000 live male births.

Given about 150 million men in the US, that comes out to between 300,000 and 150,000 Americans with Klinefelter Syndrome.

Some other obscure conditions with similar names are XYY, XXXX, and XXYY Syndrome. People with only one X chromosome and nothing else have Turner Syndrome. TS affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 females, or about 75,ooo to 30,000 Americans.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia “are any of several autosomal recessive diseases resulting from mutations of genes for enzymes mediating the biochemical steps of production of cortisol from cholesterol by the adrenal glands (steroidogenesis).

“Most of these conditions involve excessive or deficient production of sex steroids and can alter development of primary or secondary sex characteristics in some affected infants, children, or adults.”

The Wikipedia  recounts the potential first historical description of a CAH case:

“‘In one of the anatomical theaters of the hospital…, there arrived toward the end of January a cadaver which in life was the body of a certain Joseph Marzo… The general physiognomy was decidedly male in all respects. There were no feminine curves to the body. There was a heavy beard. There was some delicacy of structure with muscles that were not very well developed… The distribution of pubic hair was typical of the male. Perhaps the lower extremities were somewhat delicate, resembling the female, and were covered with hair… The penis was curved posteriorly and measured 6 cm, or with stretching, 10 cm. The corona was 3 cm long and 8 cm in circumference. There was an ample prepuce. There was a first grade hypospadias… There were two folds of skin coming from the top of the penis and encircling it on either side. These were somewhat loose and resembled labia majora.’

“De Crecchio then described the internal organs, which included a normal vagina, uterus, tubes, and ovaries. … He interviewed many people and satisfied himself that Joseph Marzo “conducted himself within the sexual area exclusively as a male”, even to the point of contracting the “French disease” on two occasions. “

CAH apparently varies in incidence; among the American Indians, 1 in 280; among whites, 1 in 15,000. Given 245.5 million whites and 3 million Indians, that works out to about 27,000 in those two groups. (Wikipedia doesn’t give numbers for blacks or Hispanics.)

Androgen insensitivity syndrome “is a condition that results in the partial or complete inability of the cell to respond to androgens. The unresponsiveness of the cell to the presence of androgenic hormones can impair or prevent the masculinization of male genitalia in the developing fetus, as well as the development of male secondary sexual characteristics at puberty, … these individuals range from a normal male habitus with mild spermatogenic defect or reduced secondary terminal hair, to a full female habitus, despite the presence of a Y-chromosome.”

The people in this picture have XY chromosomes, but developed as females because they have have AIS or related conditions:


The exact incidence is unknown, especially since XX carriers are basically unaffected by the condition, but Wikipedia lists estimates between 1 in 20,400 XY births and one in 130,000, or between about 7,000 and 1,000 affected Americans.

Kallman Syndrome isn’t so much an “intersex” disorder as an “asex” disorder. Kallmann syndrome is a genetic disorder in which, “the hypothalamic neurons that are responsible for releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH neurons) fail to migrate into the hypothalamus during embryonic development.”

The most prominent symptom is a failure to start puberty; oddly, one of the other common symptoms is an inability to smell. It affects both men and women.

Incidence: about 1 in 10,000, or about 32,000 Americans.

True hermaphrodites” are rare, but do exist–perhaps due to improper cell division in developing fraternal twins. See also “human chimeras“:

“The Dutch sprinter Foekje Dillema was expelled from the 1950 national team after she refused a mandatory sex test in July 1950; later investigations revealed a Y-chromosome in her body cells, and the analysis showed that she probably was a 46,XX/46,XY mosaic female. …

“Another report of a human chimera was published in 1998, where a male human had some partially developed female organs due to chimerism. He had been conceived by in-vitro fertilization.

“In 2002, Lydia Fairchild was denied public assistance in Washington state when DNA evidence showed that she was not related to her children. A lawyer for the prosecution heard of a human chimera in New England, Karen Keegan, and suggested the possibility to the defense, who were able to show that Fairchild, too, was a chimera with two sets of DNA.”

And as I have mentioned before, people exposed to Diethylstilbestrol–DES–a synthetic estrogen used as an anti-miscarriage drug between 1940 and 1971, (when they realized its major epigenetic effects included cancer,) seems to have triggered female brain development in male fetuses.

“An estimated 3 million pregnant women in the USA were prescribed DES from 1941 through 1971. … The number of persons exposed to DES during pregnancy or in utero during 1940–1971 is unknown, but may be as high as 2 million in the United States.” Or about 1 million men.

There are others, but I will stop here. It is difficult to give a total for such conditions, but folks estimate incidence of intersex conditions around 1.7% of births, or 5.4 million Americans. (By contrast, identical twins occur in only 0.3% of pregnancies.)

As I have mentioned before, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of “trans” people actually have some form of intersex condition–I base this suspicion on the lives of the trans  people I’ve actually talked to. According to LiveScience, about 700,000 Americans, or 0.2%, are trans–significantly less than the estimated number of people with intersex conditions.

Even though 98.3% of us probably don’t have any kind of intersex (or asex) condition, 5.4 million is a lot of people. In a country where we like to put weirdos on TV so we can laugh and point at them, really obscure conditions can become quite well-known. Like octuplets.

Whether you want to call them “male,” “female,” “intersex,” or something else all has to do with your particular definition of “biological sex.” If you’d lived in 1800, your definition of “biological sex” would probably have something to do with genitals and maybe something to do with behavior, but certainly nothing to do with chromosomes or hormones or anything like that. Ten minutes ago, you probably defined “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes.” Now you’re probably wondering what the hell is up with crocodiles.

None of this changes reality. Reality doesn’t care what you call it.


On to Gender!

What does it mean when people say, “Gender is a social construct”?

I’m pretty sure the technical answer is, “Gender is the set of behaviors and social roles and things that people expect out of people based on their biological sex, and those expectations vary by society, ie, people in Uganda expect different things out of ‘men’ and ‘women’ than people in Japan. Heck, some societies even have ‘third genders’ and things like that.”

However, most of the time when people say, “Gender is a social construct,” what they actually mean is, “People don’t actually have gender; gender roles are a mass delusion created by the Patriarchy to oppress women that we are taught to hallucinate as little kids.”

Unfortunately, the belief that children are blank gender slates is not only common among many academics and feminists, but was a thing people really believed–leading to the surgical “correction” of intersex children born with incorrect genitalia, followed by attempts at raising them as whatever gender the parents picked. They usually picked female, because it is much easier to lop a bit off than to add on.

Imagine, for a moment, that you born with a small penis, so your parents just decided to have it chopped off, turned the nub into a clitoris, stuck a dress on you, and called you a girl.

No, it doesn’t work.

I don’t have any statistics, but I have read a lot of stories along the lines of, “My parents lied to me all my life that I was a girl and it turned out I was a boy and it was horribly traumatic and I was suicidal for most of puberty, etc., etc.”

Gender is a real thing, and even intersex kids can figure it out.

If the feminist “You learn gender roles from the patriarchical society around you” school of thought were correct, these kids would turn out completely normal members of the gender assigned to them and not have any issues at all.

If gender is a real thing, then trying to raise a kid as the opposite gender should result in exactly what we see: The kids are miserable, and then they assert that they are the gender they were born as.


But what about trans people who don’t have any kind of intersex condition? Given 7 billion people in the world, there are probably some. Again, if gender were nothing more than arbitrary social roles determined by our dumb patriarchical society, why would anyone bother changing their “sex” to match their “gender”? Remember that SRS is very expensive, painful, time consuming, and incurs significant social stigma. If I can just say, “hey, all this business with handbags and football is totally arbitrary; I’m just going to re-define football as a thing “women” like and handbags as something “men” like,”–which is exactly what the feminist theory of gender claims you can do–then why wouldn’t trans people just do that, and save themselves all of the effort?

Because trans people understand that gender is a real thing, not just a made up thing that they can re-define because it happens to suit them.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “trans people are actually just autogynophiliacs, and so that’s why they transition, not because they’re actually trans.”

To be honest, I consider this a weird story. For starters, half the trans people I know started as “female”, not male. Second, almost all of the trans people I know have really obvious intersex conditions. Third, most people into LGBTQ etc. sorts of things will NOT SHUT UP about their sexual interests. If these people had weird self-fetishes, they’d be talking about it all over the damn place. Like furries. Remember furries? No one was ever confused about furries’ sexual interests.

Now, could some trans people be autogynophiliacs? Sure. There are 700,000 of them in the country. That’s a lot of people. Some of ’em are probably into all kinds of weird things.

But there are about 1 million men who were exposed to DES in the womb. So DES sounds like a more likely cause of biological men who “feel female” than weird sexual fetishes.

However, I am willing to grant a chicken and egg potential: once a “man” starts believing that he really is a woman trapped in a man’s body, then he will of course begin thinking about himself as female, and want other people to treat him as female, and even fantasize about being treated like a normal female, being found attractive as a normal female, etc.

That is, I suspect the autogynophiliac hypothesis has the causation backwards. Believing that one is a female trapped in a man’s body leads to imagining oneself as female, not the other way around. The same probably holds true for trans folks in “female” bodies who decide that they are really men–they desire to be seen as attractive, too.

(I will note that a fair number of people with intersex conditions are asexual.)

Now, does that mean that Jenner or any other high-profile celebrity trans person is actually intersex and not just a weird attention whore? I have no clue, but if Jenner wants to be female, I don’t care.

But I don’t consider Jenner “brave” or “pioneering” or anything like that. Jenner has millions of dollars and a media three-ring circus to praise her every move. Meanwhile, I know people with actual, diagnosed chromosomal abnormalities who live in poverty because their families don’t believe in fucking genetics.


But anyway, why does this whole “Sex != Gender” thing get hauled out every time people start trying to explain transsexuals?

Eh, it’s because they’re gender non-conforming weirdos and so for a long time, the only people who would accept them were other gender non-conformists like radical feminists and gay people, and this whole “gender is a social construct” business has been the dominant catch-phrase of feminists out to re-define femininity for a long time. And I’m sure that for some trans people, it has given them some peace of mind to think that it’s okay, they can redefine gender how they want to include people like themselves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the reality of gender is what trans people are actually seeking.