So Greg Laden was on a panel concerning gender differences at Convergence.  There is an interesting conversation about it on Cristina Rad’s blog.  During the panel, Greg used the term “broken” and “damaged” by testosterone to refer to developmental gender differentiation of males.  Stephanie Zvan has since attempted to clarify his use of these words.

You don’t have to deny the science to criticize Laden’s word choice.  It was out-of-this-world abysmal.

However you want to dress it up in ultra-literalism, irony, or could “have been a little more complete”, he still used an incredibly charged derogatory term that obfuscated the science more than illuminated it.

Update: This is a nice read, also in response to Zvan, explaining some of the science.  It also addresses something that Dadabhoy said during the panel.

I’m not going to do the thing where people assume there is parity.  Because of cultural norms and history, it is not quite the same to insult women as it is to insult men.  However, that lack of parity doesn’t magically make it okay to insult men.

Also, doing the egg-shell walk when you discuss negatively connotative female-typical traits or biology while being brash and stupid when it comes to negatively connotative male-typical traits or biology is an insult to women.

It’s saying that women can’t handle the truth while men are emotionally invincible.

Women have, on average, smaller brains.  That shouldn’t insult anyone.  It’s just true.  Here is an article about it.  Notice how patronizing the author feels she needs to be to the “ladies” reading the article.

It would be ridiculous for her to start her article with – “Women have pea-brains!  What’s up with that?  Wacka-wacka”  However, making a whole paragraph that mostly apologized for admitting something that is a matter of direct measurement – hardly something up for debate – is bizarre.

There is another perspective on this that is being missed.

I assumed he was referring to testosterone having the effect of breaking neural connections.  I couldn’t find a source for that and I haven’t had a chance to ask him if that was, indeed, what he was talking about.  So, I’m just entertaining the notion that what he said might be, in a completely denotative and limited sense, true.

This benefit of the doubt doesn’t excuse his word-choice, however.

I have a son with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), as in, actually honest to goodness injury to his brain.  He was in a car accident.  Nobody uses the phrase brain “damage”.  On none of the pages and pages of official documents, reports and evaluations, do they say brain “damage”.  Of the dozen or so doctors and specialized educators he has had – none of them have used the phrase brain “damage”.  I suspect the reason is that “brain damage” has been used as an insult for so long, and is so incredibly vague, as to make the phrase undesirable due to stigma and lack of utility.

So, you can imagine how the if you stand on your head, it is sort of literally true bit seems pretty forced from my perspective.

Trying to normalize the use of the word “damaged” to simply mean that something is developing doesn’t fly either.  Even though it has this sort of interesting Shiva vibe to it – using it as a way to defend him is sort of wacky.

He also called men “broken women”.

YEAH – calling men “broken women” with a transgender man (who most likely takes testosterone to maintain transition) sitting right next to you has to be a comedy – right?  haha – funny funny <sarcasm>  How is that not messed up?  I mean – really messed up.

He also made an analogy to dogs being “broken wolves” to clarify this.

This buys directly into the whole domestication complex of some masculinists, as well as the toxic assessment of men as “dogs” who cannot be responsible for their bad behavior toward women.  At least that was just an analogy – still *face palm*.

Making the mistakes in the first place is not good.  Constructing excuses for it and labeling those who point out the problem as sitting in a different camp – is really really not cool.  Wouldn’t it have been easier and more honest – to simply say his word-choice had something to be desired?

Look, I’m not going to assume that Laden is some sort of man-hater and I’m not going to conclude what his motivations for using charged words were.  However, it makes no sense to defend his language.  It’s counter productive.

You can defend him, and clarify the science, without defending his unfortunate word choices.