Female Friendships and Rivalries Are Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous

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Jem and the HologramsWhen girls are in groups, they form coalitions of best friends, two against two, or two in edgy harmony with two. A girl in a group of girls who doesn’t feel that she has a specific ally feels at risk, threatened, frightened. - Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier


I recently spent a couple of hours watching Saturday morning cartoons from the 70s and 80s with a bunch of strangers. A local group (in Vancouver) puts on cartoon parties every few months. They show period commercials and PSAs in between cartoons, and have trivia contests. They sell plastic bowls of sugary cereal (one dollar discount if you bring your own bowl). The emphasis is on fun and nostalgia. But watching a program when you’re not part of the target audience - even if you once were - is hugely educational. Any work of art that finds an audience says something about that audience - their priorities, their values. And the episode of Jem they showed that day slid quite neatly into a few things I’ve been reading about feminine psychology.


the MisfitsFirst, a quick recap of the show. Jem (1985 - 1988) tells the story of two rival girl bands: Jem and the Holograms - the good ones, and the Misfits - the bad ones. Most episodes feature some kind of contest between them. Jem and the Holograms always win, despite the Misfits’ dirty tricks. And winning means making the bigger hit record, and garnering the most love from the public.


The episode shown that day was The Bands Break Up. Jem’s younger sister and bandmate Kimber feels unappreciated when the group won’t listen to the lyrics she’s been working on. She leaves a recording session in a huff. The same thing happens across Kimber and Stormertown with Stormer of the Misfits. The two end up at the same bar (where they order, respectively, a “peach shake - thick, real thick,” and a “vanilla cola, make it a double, and a hot fudge sundae, three scoops, with a banana!”). They trade hostilities before being invited on stage by club’s emcee, grudgingly coming together for an impromptu performance. They combine the songs their own groups wouldn’t play, and the crowd loves it. The two unexpectedly become friends, rejecting their former bands, performing and recording exclusively with each other. They’re soon signed by a nefarious businessman who wants to finagle a controlling interest in Starlight Music - Jem’s record label. The Misfits also try to sabotage the new partnership. The evil businessman’s plans come to light, and Jem and the remaining Holograms help Kimber and Stormer record and promote their album. Soon they have a hit, and Starlight Music is saved.


So what does this say about feminine psychology? In the Kosmic Consciousness interviews, Ken Wilber talks about psychological types, and how differences in type colour The book one’s experience of the world. One example of contrasting types is feminine and masculine. Citing the research of developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan and her book In a Different Voice, he describes the feminine type’s emphasis on care, relationship and responsibility. Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine corroborates this in her book The Female Brain, saying: “In the brain centres for language and hearing, for example, women have 11 percent more neurons than men. The principal hub of both emotion and  memory formation - the hippocampus - is also larger in the female brain, as is the brain circuitry for language and observing emotions in others.” She describes how women get a rush of oxytocin and dopamine when they feel they’re communicating, saying it’s “the biggest, fattest neurological reward you can get outside of an orgasm.” These impulses particularly intensify towards the teenage years, when “every trait established in the female brain during girlhood - communication, social connection, desire for approval, reading faces for cues as to what to think or feel - will intensify. This is the time when a girl becomes most communicative with her girlfriends and forms tightly knit social groups in order to feel safe and protected.”


Here are a few bits of dialogue from various scenes in The Bands Break Up that highlight how these themes of care, relationship and social groups play out in entertainment aimed at an audience with these priorities:


KimberKimber: You really don’t think my opinions count.

Jerrica: Kimber, we love you! And we do care about your opinions.

Kimber: Yeah? Sure!


Stormer: You don’t care about anything I say!


Stormer: You never cared. I hate you all!


Pizzazz: Without us, you’re nothing. You’ll come crawling back!

Stormer: Hmm. The Misfits just want to exploit me. At least your group cares about you.

Kimber: I care about you, Stormer. Friends?

Stormer: Friends forever. Against the world.


The song Kimber and Stormer create in their first stage appearance is titled I'm Okay. It forms a recurring motif in the episode, and continues these themes:


StormerSometimes I feel so alone and resent

Sometimes don’t know where to turn

Or who to call my friend


But I’m okay (I’m okay)

I’ve got faith in myself

I’m okay (I’m okay)

I’m gonna make it through the day

I’m okay


The performance shows Kimber and Stormer playing and singing together, quite strongly there for each other. It’s clear they both know who to call their friend now.


The storms of relationships are powerful forces in women’s lives. As Brizendine says:


When a relationship is threatened or lost, the bottom drops out of the level of some of the female brain’s neurochemicals - such as serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin (the bonding hormone) - and the stress hormone cortisol takes over. A woman starts feeling anxious, bereft, and fearful of being rejected and left alone. Soon she begins to jones for that good intimacy drug, oxytocin. She gets a feeling of closeness from the flood of oxytocin, which is boosted by social contact. But the minute that social contact is gone and the oxytocin and dopamine bottom out, she’s in emotional trouble.


Woman: An Intimate GeographyStress can bring on something which is often denied to have any relation to females: aggression. In her book Woman: An Intimate Geography, New York Times biology writer Natalie Angier explores feminine aggression:


If you are or have ever been a girl, you know that the first job of being a girl is learning to survive in a group of girls. And girls in groups are not little Joni Mitchell tunes made particulate. Girls in groups are... how shall we say it, what’s the word that we persist in thinking has a penchant for boys? Aggressive. Of course they’re aggressive. They’re alive, aren’t they? They’re primates. They’re social animals. So yes, girls may like to play with Barbie, but make the wrong move, sister, and ooh, ah, here’s your own Dentist Barbie in the trash can, stripped, shorn, and with tooth-marks on her boobs. If you are or have ever been a girl, you know that girls are aggressive.


But female aggression doesn’t take usually take the obvious form of punching and kicking. Relational aggression is far more common - exclusion, insults (in every degree of intensity from veiled to overt), gossip, undermining a rival’s friendships and reputation. Angier continues:


A girl who is angry often responds by stalking off, turning away, snubbing the offender, pretending she doesn’t exist. She withdraws, visibly so, aggressively so. You can almost hear the thwapping of her sulk.


Here’s a bit of dialogue from The Bands Break Up that shows this dynamic at work between Kimber and her sister Jerrica (Jem):


Jerrica: Why don’t you talk to me, sis?

Kimber: Got nothing to say.

Jerrica: You going out?

Kimber: Any problem with that?

Jerrica: No, of course not. But where are you going?

Kimber: You don’t really care what I do or think, so why are you asking me all these questions?


The Bands Break Up concludes with Kimber returning to being a member of the Holograms, in gratitude for their help, and accepting their apology for having taken her for granted. Jem extends the olive branch to former rival Stormer:


Jem and the HologramsJem: You can be a part of our company, Stormer. How about joining the Holograms?

(the Misfits suddenly arrive.)

Pizzazz: Stormer! They don’t really need you. Please Stormer, come back to the Misfits. We need you.

Chrissie: Yeah, it’s true.

Stormer: It’s true, Jerrica - you don’t need me. But they do.

Pizzazz: You mean it? You’ll come back? Yay!!

Stormer: I will, but you’re gonna have to listen to me also, from now on. I’m an equal partner, right?

Pizzazz: Oh... right. right.


The relationships are preserved (both friendly and rival), and the episode is resolved with a bit of dialogue that got a laugh at the cartoon party for being so ridiculously on the nose:


Kimber: It was fun, Stormer!

(they hug for the rest of the exchange)

Stormer: It was more than fun, Kimber. We learned a lot about each other.

Kimber: Yeah. And a little bit about life.


Obviously, an episode of Jem can only be a simplified painting of the picture. It is a cartoon, after all, whose intended audience would have been girls age 7 - 11. But the fact All About Evethat it was a popular show in its day, still remembered by those nostalgic for the icons of their 80s childhood, says to me that it hit home with many. And those same themes of female alliances, rivalries, care, relationship and aggression appear in Margaret Atwood’s novels Cat’s Eye, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Robber Bride, in Sex and the City, Gossip Girls, Mean Girls, Heathers, Âll About Eve, Mermaids, Thelma and Louise, The Poisonwood Bible and many other works that continue to speak to women.


It’s an idealistic notion that relationships between females are exclusively coloured by harmony and nurturing. In the world of women - a strata of life to which men are largely oblivious - there’s turbulence and uncertainty, competition and alliance, acceptance and shunning, fierce love and bonding.


And now I suppose it behooves me to watch and analyze an episode of GI Joe or The Transformers to show how a masculine oriented cartoon of the 80s shows the values Wilber describes as being important to that type: freedom, rights and justice.



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  • Comment Link Dr. Michael Margaretten Monday, 30 August 2010 16:43 posted by Dr. Michael Margaretten

    The more we (guys) learn about women, the better or relationships with them will be.

  • Comment Link chris Monday, 30 August 2010 19:52 posted by chris

    Oh please, analyze "He-Man and te Masters of the Universe" next. It was one of my favorite 80s cartoon shows. Besides, it demonstrates the importance of weightlifting, a core integral virtue. :-P

  • Comment Link Robin Olson Tuesday, 31 August 2010 14:22 posted by Robin Olson

    As a women, I love that you take time to listen, read and think about us. I missed out on the 80's cartoon stuff as I was already in my 20's but so much of the culture hasn't changed. I love watching MAD MEN to see and remember my childhood and a time where everything women did was for men because in the culture before MY MOTHER, MY SELF their's were the only opinions that mattered.

    It took me awhile but I have found my girl group. There are four of us(and there is something about that 4 thing) who are moms and actors it is our place to feel supported and understood. A must whenever we meet, is bringing our "bag of laughs" because even more thatn vegan carbs and yoga we need that.

    Ps. thanks for THE WIRE. I am in season 5

  • Comment Link Elizabeth Debold Thursday, 02 September 2010 15:30 posted by Elizabeth Debold

    I really like this entry, TJ. I was too old for Jem, so I missed this expression of girl culture. One thing, though, is in the cartoon, and much of tv drama, everything works out okay. But between women and girls, it's often not the case. The number of teen women I have interviewed who had their best friend betray them (mostly by making out or sleeping with their boyfriend) and yet still had that girl as a BFF, while knowing that she wasn't trustworthy...whew! A lot of the time, our relationships with each other are double--there's the "Oh, yeah, sure, I didn't mean it and I really love you" sugar coating on top and then the mistrust and all KINDS of yucky stuff underneath. Just like the cereal you were eating during your cartoon fest! :-)

    My sense is that the discussion about "type" in the integral world is a bit thin. It's a convenient catch-all to deal with gender differences and it, like much of gender research (including Brizendine), doesn't factor in developmental level or stage. Being very focussed on relationship, and making one's life choices based on whether or not you will rock the relationship boat, is, in most developmental theories, a fairly low level of development. Gilligan, who was my mentor in grad school, wrote "In a Different Voice" to make the argument that there was a separate line of development for women, who do tend to be less autonomous and more relational. After a lot of thought about this for over two decades, I am not so sure that there is a separate line of development for the "feminine type." We just actually may be lagging behind in our capacity to be autonomous and directed by our own creative force, still clinging to relationships to give our lives meaning and direction. Not surprising, and nothing to be ashamed of, we women just haven't been in the cultural position to bear the responsibility for creating new ways of working and living and developing at the edge that takes us beyond the status quo.

  • Comment Link Sarah Beuhler Sunday, 05 September 2010 17:26 posted by Sarah Beuhler

    Oh man, another article to add to the pile that explains differences between men and women as biological. In feminist theory this is called the myth of biological essentialism.
    At least one of the studies you quoted has been convincingly debunked. Louann Brizendine'a book claims that women are better at emotional mirroring and are more intuitive because of their brains (not because of the socialization). Her evaluation of neuroscientific studies is flawed and was rebutted by one of the authors of the study she bases most of her work on. There is no credible evidence for better mirror neuron functioning in female human beings.
    Polarized gender constructs act on infants at birth - it's not surprising that babies start to show stereotypically "gendered" behaviour as early as 6 months.

    You do women and men no favours when you uncritically accept the assertion that biological differences account for differences in behaviour, especially when one of those groups has typically been exploited and marginalized.

    Using 80s cartoons to exemplify women's behaviour is almost laughable but not really. I realize you were trying to be tongue in cheek but your result is sadyl, reductive and borderline offensive.

    You should look into reading: Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine.

    You should also look into getting a feminst editor so you stop spreading this kind of misinformation.

  • Comment Link Juma Sunday, 05 September 2010 22:26 posted by Juma

    So Sarah,

    Do you have something constructive to add, or is this take-down just a deconstructive backlash, adding little to the conversation, but taking much away from it?

    What we are trying to do here is exchange ideas, and do it in light. If that's hard, you'd be better served frequenting another site, or risk being labeled a troll.



  • Comment Link Sarah Beuhler Monday, 06 September 2010 19:17 posted by Sarah Beuhler

    Oh my goodness, Juma, I didn't realize that I was breaking the site rules by pointing out that the neuroscience this article based its premise on is flawed. My mistake. Is there a how-to comment section around here somewhere?

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Monday, 06 September 2010 20:35 posted by TJ Dawe

    Sarah - thanks for your comments. Could you provide a link about that neuroscientist refuting Louann Brizendine's interpretations of their study? Flawed science, or inaccurate descriptions of science should definitely be corrected. Curious to know your thoughts on Natalie Angier's book as well. Do you believe that varying levels of hormones like oxytocin and testosterone play no role whatsoever in influencing behaviour and psychology? Neither of those writers asserts that biology controls all behaviour, and culture definitely plays a strong part. In the Kosmic Consciousness interviews, Ken Wilber says "biology is not destiny". In the Female Brain, Louann Brizendine says: "If you’re aware of the fact that a biological brain state is guiding your impulses, you can choose not to act or to act differently than you might feel compelled. But first we have to learn to recognize how the female brain is genetically structured and shaped by evolution, biology and culture. Without that recognition, biology becomes destiny and we will be helpless in the face of it."

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 07 September 2010 02:33 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Sarah, I would say that Juma was not concerned with the fact that you made a critical rebuttal (that’s fantastic, exceedingly welcomed), but rather with the caustic and rigid nature of your remarks. The problem you bring up is a substantial and important one, but the way you approached us at the site leaves little if any room for discussion or inquiry into the topic together. There are plenty of sites on the web where people are arguing their staunch positions in an oppositional and aggressive manner, and we want to explore a different communicative space here. Rigorous debate is great, but hopefully we can approach it in a civil and mature manner that allows for listening, genuine dialogue, and (if done well) the evolutionary unfolding of ideas. As for myself, I am long familiar with the arguments you're making. I took a few women’s studies courses in university, most of my close female friends were either women's studies majors or impassioned feminist minded thinkers, and my graduate thesis advisor was a feminist scholar with whom I debated/discussed this topic at length. So for you to come on here and assume that we’ve never before encountered the points you make is unfortunate. But I’m sure glad you did, because I find the anti-essentialist stance of feminist theory to be deeply problematic. A few points. Firstly, just because feminist theory has a concept of ‘the myth of biological essentialism’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an accurate concept or that I must accept it. Marxist theorists (for instance) have all sorts of concepts, but this doesn’t mean that I must thus accept them all at face value. But this leads to one of my other longstanding concerns with feminist theory/theorists in general, and esp. on this issue, which is the belligerent attempt to end all debate on issues held dear and to aggressively police the thought of anyone who attempts to explore topics deemed to be permanently off the table. The tone and manner of which you made your points here is very typical of those holding your views, and I’ve heard it almost verbatim (tone included) many times before. It’s true that specious biological reductionist/essentialist claims about women have been made in the past, and that women have been the subject of serious harm as a result of these erroneous views (a repugnant history that I of course reject), but to then jettison ALL future discussion of how biology may or not affect human behavior seems rash, overzealous and potentially harmful. I’m interested in finding out what’s real, not what I’d like to be real, and if our evolutionary-biological inheritance is to some degree affecting our behavior, then we need understand (and hopefully overcome! I’m a Nietzschean at heart) that pronto. The fact that we have habits/desires/behaviors that we’ve inherited and retained during/from our long evolutionary history seems to me so obvious and basic that to claim otherwise seems like the more outrageous claim. Culture is important, but to claim that it’s the central source of all of our behavior is reductionist in another direction. I’m interested in a hybrid + - we have biologically inherited instincts/inclinations that press upon us for consummation, we’re raised in cultures that imprint upon us a whole spectrum of constructed behaviors/orientations, and we have a dimension of ourselves that is free of all that and is the potential source of our liberation from it. If you would like to enter into a dialogue with me on this topic, maybe even a formal email exchange that could be reprinted on this site, I think that would be fantastic. Who knows, maybe by the end of the discussion I’d be a convinced anti-essentialist too! I love your passion, hopefully we can find other ways to dig into these important topics. Thanks for getting this key thread started.

  • Comment Link Juma Tuesday, 07 September 2010 03:36 posted by Juma


    What Trevor said and...sorry if I met your gruffness with gruffness. Your point did indeed get lost behind the aggression and dismissive tone. You're no fool, clearly. But as Trevor said, this argument is neither new, right, nor wholly wrong. So, where does it fit? That's a better conversation, a potential dialectical dance, with the added bonus of being in good faith.
    And to my original point: it would be much more interesting to hear what you think, rather than what you don't think.

  • Comment Link Juma Tuesday, 07 September 2010 03:48 posted by Juma


    Your comment is ripe with potential topics.
    The first question that comes up: assuming a common stage (or depth as I prefer), does your experience/research tell you that there is no difference between Men & Women? If so, should we indeed chuck masculine/feminine typologies? If not, what intelligence intrinsic to the feminine might be better leveraged to accelerate ones development/growth? And to throw a wrench in the whole thing: does your experience/research suggest that feminine/masculine typologies exist prior to a certain depth, and then can be/are discarded as irrelevant?


  • Comment Link Lindsay Tuesday, 07 September 2010 22:38 posted by Lindsay

    This piece and the research/science that inspired it, does not suggest that biology is the only factor that influences behaviour and gender roles. It is however an addition to a complex, important, and beautiful topic. I understand being suspicious of the motivation behind such an article, but I can say with certainty that the main motive here is to provide further understanding and insight. As do all the articles on this site.

    If you believe that biology plays some part (even a very small part) in human behaviour, and you feel passionately on the topic of human and cultural development, gender roles and feminism, and you already have an understanding of social constructs, then these types of ideas and information is valuable to you. Does it make things more complicated? Probably in the short term, but opening up all aspects of this discussion, as opposed to closing them, is the best way to proceed and progress.

    On a personal note, I'm thrilled and relieved to know that there is more to me, my behaviour and my femininity than social constructs. My biology, and knowledge of it, in part allows me feel like a living, breathing human creature connected to the earth and nature. And that's a beautiful thing.

    There's a great article, "A Boy's Life" - The Atlantic Monthly, that contributes well to this conversation. I'd like to quote it in part, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It's on the topic of transgendered children who'd (who) showed very early signs of wanting to be the opposite sex. This article focuses on Brandon, a child who was born in a small town where "gender roles are NOT very fluid..." and as toddler he acted strictly against social conventions.

    "In 1967, Dr. John Money launched an experiment that he thought might confirm some of the more radical ideas emerging in feminist thought. Throughout the ’60s, writers such as Betty Friedan were challenging the notion that women should be limited to their prescribed roles as wives, housekeepers, and mothers. But other feminists pushed further, arguing that the whole notion of gender was a social construction, and easy to manipulate. In a 1955 paper, Money had written: “Sexual behaviour and orientation as male or female does not have an innate, instinctive basis.” We learn whether we are male or female “in the course of the various experiences of growing up.” By the ’60s, he was well-known for having established the first American clinic to perform voluntary sex-change operations, at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. One day, he got a letter from the parents of infant twin boys, one of whom had suffered a botched circumcision that had burned off most of his penis.

    Money saw the case as a perfect test for his theory. He encouraged the parents to have the boy, David Reimer, fully castrated and then to raise him as a girl. When the child reached puberty, Money told them, doctors could construct a vagina and give him feminizing hormones. Above all, he told them, they must not waver in their decision and must not tell the boy about the accident.

    In paper after paper, Money reported on Reimer’s fabulous progress, writing that “she” showed an avid interest in dolls and dollhouses, that she preferred dresses, hair ribbons, and frilly blouses. Money’s description of the child in his book Sexual Signatures prompted one reviewer to describe her as “sailing contentedly through childhood as a genuine girl.” Time magazine concluded that the Reimer case cast doubt on the belief that sex differences are “immutably set by the genes at conception.”

    The reality was quite different, as Rolling Stone reporter John Colapinto brilliantly documented in the 2000 best seller As Nature Made Him. Reimer had never adjusted to being a girl at all. He wanted only to build forts and play with his brother’s dump trucks, and insisted that he should pee standing up. He was a social disaster at school, beating up other kids and misbehaving in class. At 14, Reimer became so alienated and depressed that his parents finally told him the truth about his birth, at which point he felt mostly relief, he reported. He eventually underwent phalloplasty, and he married a woman. Then four years ago, at age 38, Reimer shot himself dead in a grocery-store parking lot.

    Today, the notion that gender is purely a social construction seems nearly as outmoded as bra-burning or free love. Feminist theory is pivoting with the rest of the culture, and is locating the key to identity in genetics and the workings of the brain. In the new conventional wisdom, we are all pre-wired for many things previously thought to be in the realm of upbringing, choice, or subjective experience: happiness, religious awakening, cheating, a love of chocolate. Behaviors are fundamental unless we are chemically altered. Louann Brizendine, in her 2006 best-selling book, The Female Brain, claims that everything from empathy to chattiness to poor spatial reasoning is “hardwired into the brains of women.” Dr. Milton Diamond, an expert on human sexuality at the University of Hawaii and long the intellectual nemesis of Money, encapsulated this view in an interview on the BBC in 1980, when it was becoming clear that Money’s experiment was failing: “Maybe we really have to think … that we don’t come to this world neutral; that we come to this world with some degree of maleness and femaleness which will transcend whatever the society wants to put into [us].”

    Diamond now spends his time collecting case studies of transsexuals who have a twin, to see how often both twins have transitioned to the opposite sex. To him, these cases are a “confirmation” that “the biggest sex organ is not between the legs but between the ears.”

    See the full article here:


  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Wednesday, 08 September 2010 03:51 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Wow, great to see this juicy dialogue happening on one of my favorite topics!:)

    I plan to write more extensively on this topic in the future for this site, but I wanted to throw in some preliminary remarks here just to add to the discussion.

    First of all, I would definitely say that brain differences and biological factors do play a role and I think it is a mistake, from an integral perspective, to discard biology. That said, from all the work I have read, the actual research on brain differences between men and women seems to be still largely inconclusive.

    There has been a big fervor of books coming out on the female brain and how it is different, but other research suggests that there is much more variability in the brain than a simple black and white picture. In other words, not all men or women have the same kinds of brains--it is a bit more of a continuum, much like gender itself. (I often share the story of my gay roommate who is really ten times more emotionally sensitive and communicatively oriented than I am. Seriously, he always jokes that I'm the man in the house:)

    Also, there is more and more research coming out suggesting that the brain is much more malleable than we once believed it to be and also that our hormones tend to even out in older age, which I think will challenge some of these theories in the future...

    I am cautious about overly focusing on the UR quadrant of biology as the main focus for gender theorizing only because I find that in the integral world, when it comes to theorizing gender, we've gotten overly focused with a static view of the UR quadrant and often tend to reduce a lot of cultural and societal factors to biological differences. I think it is often an innocent attempt to overcome the extreme social construction theories of postmodernity, which makes sense. We don't want to exclude the UR quadrant of biology, but I might challenge you a bit TJ, to notice that you mentioned very little about the historical cultural factors that have contributed to shaping the way that women relate to one another and even how those factors may have come to shape our brains. That to me would have fleshed out more of a complex evolutionary perspective.

    In regards to the whole debate about the masculine/feminine typology.. hmmm... I'm going to have to write a longer article on this because it is such a subtle and nuanced discussion. I appreciate that Elizabeth teased this one out because I too think this typology is massively over-simplified in the integral world and has consequences that need to be named, particularly in the way that they can stereotype and categorize gender norms in ways that are actually counterproductive to an evolutionary view.

    more to come...

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Wednesday, 08 September 2010 03:55 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Oh, and I also just wanted to add that I thought the article was really cool as far as teasing out the realities of women's conditioning and I commend you for entering this tense territory as a male, TJ :)

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Wednesday, 08 September 2010 15:31 posted by TJ Dawe

    Vanessa, Lindsay - thanks for your comments. Lindsay, the article you reference brings up a very important point - how do transsexuals fit in the equation? or homosexuals, for that matter? Vanessa - I agree, it is a continuum - something David Deida emphasizes by using the terms masculine and feminine rather than male and female, saying a woman might have stronger masculine energy than feminine, and vice versa. And I also agree this blog piece doesn't emphasize social conditioning enough. There are two books that have been on my reading list for a while: The Plastic Mind, by Sharon Begley, and The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, both about how changeable the brain really is. I'll have to read both before I write a follow-up GI Joe article. Do you have any other recommendations for reading on this topic? Also, could you post a link to any of the research you mentioned that says that brain differences between men and women are still largely inconclusive?

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Wednesday, 08 September 2010 16:09 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hey TJ,

    Check out: Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps by neuroscientist, Lise Eliot. And yes, I too still have to read The Brain that Changes Itself!

    Also, I feel like I need to write an entire blog about Deida :) In my option, I really don't feel that Deida is the greatest resource for understanding gender in a highly complex postmodern/integral world. For one, he posits the masculine and feminine "essences" as if they are a priori ontological realities outside of history and culture. Yes, he says that the masculine and feminine develop, but he is still positing their "essence" as a priori ontological givens. This for me results in a lot of confusion about what is innate to women as their "feminine essence" rather than pulling out the full complexity of the social and historical conditioning that has shaped women's ways of being. Yes, I realize Deida says that the masculine and feminine are not synonymous with male and female, but if you read his books, he is constantly conflating them! (Tell me that a title like "The Superior Man" doesn't have some evaluative statement about what the better man is like--i.e., masculine). Also, we need to keep in mind that Deida is a sexual yogic practitioner, not primarily a gender theorist, nor does he need to be. I just think that in the integral world we need to stop conflating the two. For some interesting articles on this topic you might want to check out the writing of Rebecca Bailin on the Integral Life site (just search her name). Elizabeth Debold has also done some great articles on this topic in EnlightenNext magazine.
    I'm loving this engagement by the way!

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Wednesday, 08 September 2010 17:17 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    here is a direct link to Bailin's most comprehensive article: Male, Female, Masculine, Feminine in Integral Space

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 09 September 2010 02:09 posted by TJ Dawe

    Thanks Lindsay and Vanessa for these article links. Lindsay - the Atlantic article brilliantly brings up the question of how and why some children identify as the opposite gender in the face of all social conditioning - without purporting to give us the answer. There's still so much more to find out. The Toronto doctor's explanations sound weak to me. Homosexuality and transgender...ers... also bring into question the biological basis for gender. As the article says: "Milton Diamond says his study of identical transgender twins shows the same genetic predisposition that has been found for homosexuality: if one twin has switched to the opposite sex, there is a 50 percent chance that the other will as well. But his survey has not yet been published, and no one else has found nearly that degree of correlation. Eric Vilain, a geneticist at UCLA who specializes in sexual development and sex differences in the brain, says the studies on twins are mixed and that, on the whole, 'there is no evidence of a biological influence on transsexualism yet.'"

    Vanessa - it seems I've committed the mistake of conflating gender and sex in this piece's title. Here's an excerpt from Rebecca Bailin's article I particularly liked: "As we develop, particularly spiritually, the hold of assumptions about our identity loosens. We take more and more sophisticated perspectives and our identity becomes freer and more encompassing. The identification of lower levels is not abandoned; it becomes seen as true but partial as we evolve. As we develop our ego/self line, identification becomes more free and fluid. What was subject at a given level becomes the object of the subject of the next level; we are able to “see” who we were as object. We attain freedom and fluidity as
    we evolve. A second-tier practitioner can freely enact amber, orange, and green altitudes without mistaking it for who she or he is. A second-tier practitioner enacts ever more free and fluid forms of identification and achieves ever-widening disidentification. The challenge, then, for the integral community is to achieve that same second-tier sophistication in regard to the coupling of gender and sex." Indeed.

  • Comment Link Sarah Beuhler Saturday, 11 September 2010 16:53 posted by Sarah Beuhler

    I generally comment (and moderate) on sites with a clear-ish set of commenting rules that also allow for fairly rough-and-tumble exchanges so I'll have to make a conscious adjustment if I come back.

    That said, my philosophical and politcal starting point is that there is equality between men and women, male and female, human beings. Our givens may be different in this regard. I someone who knows that the sexes are equal essentialist arguments in the hands of those attempting to "explain" women are generally, either consciously or unconsciously, reducing the behaviour of women without doing the same thing for men.

    Biological essentialism arguments in regards to women are vulnerable to critique in that they almost exclusively focus and report on the social relationship patterns of middle to upper-class white women in developed Western countries.

    For arguments based on biology to succeed they must prove better than any evidence that exists at this time that they transcend race and class lines.

    Speaking of race, a social construct based on a meaningless difference in the phenotype of certain genes, I would like to ask if the author would the author be comfortable making those kind of generalizations about African women? Iranian? Basque? I am going to assume that no, you would find it abhorent to make generalizations around cultural patterns and behaviours. Why is it acceptable to caricature women and not say, Jews? Or African Americans?

    Based on that criteria I rarely even read further into these kind of arguments. Time and time again, writers and proponents of these theories are shown to be either consciously or subconsciously seeking to normalize stereotypes that have a lot of currency in our culture. That these stereotypes also happen to reinforce existent patterns of power and privilege is too great to be a coincidence.

    I have only read excepts of Cordelia Fine's work but she convincingly refutes the studies that claim neuronal imbalances between sexes quoted by Louann Brizendine. The studies were in general too small, methodologically flawed or quoted out of context by Brizendine.

    The other point I would make is that the spectrum of behaviours as assigned to gender constructs is so broad as to encompass the majority of each – the variations between the overlap almost completely, leaving only a tiny sliver on either extreme. There is a great Venn diagram that illustrates this phenomenon. Attempting to reduce a sub-set of these behaviours to biology ignores the diversity of so-called “gendered attributes”, again raising suspicions that proponents are attempting to make the evidence fit into their own ideas of what gender should be.

    This is why I have a problem with any system of personality taxonomy that assigns individual characteristics a feminine or masculine aura or aspect. Because those type of classifications have been manipulated and accepted uncritically by the many people in our society, reducing them to biology is extremely suspect. Assigning nurturing or kindness to a feminine side of the spectrum reinforces this – it’s all well and good to say that there is no particular gender or sex, that masculine and feminine energies or qualities mix, but why then polarize them this way? To me, it seems like this is a way to enforce, in a non-traditional way, traditional ideas about gendered behaviour. I also think it is completely unfair to men.

    The amount of gender conditioning in *our* society is so overwhelming that looking for other explanations seems suspect.

    I don’t know that I would say that hormones have “nothing” to do with development but the variations between people are much more significant than the variations between sex/gender. Interesting reading: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2009/12/08/prejudice-vs-biology-testosterone-makes-people-more-selfish-but-only-if-they-think-it-does/

    Regarding trans sexuality, the arguments that trans people have a “biological” sex that is desperate to get out is not settled, Harpers articles on children who underwent sexual assignment surgery notwithstanding. There is a whole world of commentary and examination on trans issues, I’ll settle for now by saying that nothing about choosing to be or feeling desperate identification with a gender you weren’t born to by itself negates the social construction of gender.

  • Comment Link Sarah Beuhler Saturday, 11 September 2010 16:56 posted by Sarah Beuhler

    @ Juma

    A quest for knowledge must also clear away the dead brush of outmoded ideas and dead ends. If you and your compatriots are going to wade into the debate on gender (and I would assume racial, since they are almost inextricably linked) essentialism and determinism I would suggest you allow the author of the piece to respond before you employ an argument based on tone.

  • Comment Link Sarah Beuhler Saturday, 11 September 2010 17:02 posted by Sarah Beuhler

    @ Trevor. I have one suggestion for you - replace feminist with Jewish or Black and see if you still feel comfortable employing the terms thought police. Calling feminists shrill and aggressive is such an old canard I'm surprised you can use them with a straight face, but again, pretend an angry man came into here because you were implying his racial inheritance came with a certain set of behaviours. I suggest you would be much more ready to listen without employing arguments about tone.

    I was invited to comment on this article by a friend of mine concerned with the lack of women contributing to or commenting on your blog. A more welcoming atmosphere might work wonders.

  • Comment Link Rebecca Bailin Sunday, 12 September 2010 03:26 posted by Rebecca Bailin

    Hi all,
    Vanessa Fisher sent me the link.

    Thanks for the quote from my article. Vanessa said much of what I felt when reading the original piece. I always worry when academic research on controversial subjects like “the female brain” (if there is one) is popularized. The soundbites often seem to mislead.

    @Sarah – bravo. The way we talk about gender and sex is so deeply embedded that it is often transparent. Often, the only way to make it “opaque” (to see it) is to explore analogies with race and ethnicity.

    I was moved to read again about Dr. Money. I saw a documentary years ago about David Reimer, the male raised as a female who ended up committing suicide. As a postmodern feminist who focused heavily on the social construction of gender, the horrifying results of Dr. Money’s work really pulled me up short and forced me to appreciate the powerful role of biology.

    But what I came to, after lots and lots of thought and introspection, is that I don’t know how much is biology and how much is social construction. Are we really trying to find the answer as to the whether we are nature or nurture? And are we really convinced that the relationship between these two is static over the arc of evolution? Can we maybe rest in “I don’t know?”

    Let’s say for the sake of argument (and I don’t believe it’s true) that there is some “essence.” So what? We are still constantly making meaning of it. What if David Reimer had lived in a social setting that, instead of being violently binary in terms of sex, was fluid? What if transgendered people grew up in a language without sexed pronouns? Maybe Reimer’s case would be just as tragic. I don’t know.

    What I find disturbing in the conversation about the role of biology is that evolution seems to get lost. Yes, we have primitive brains and fight/flight but as we’ve evolved the way we make meaning and interact based on those primitive impulses has changed radically. All the oxytocin hoo-ha makes me want to take a nap.

    And as far as the shocking revelation that women and girls can be aggressive…really?

  • Comment Link OV Sunday, 12 September 2010 22:16 posted by OV

    Or heaven forbid that you should call them defensive, or mention that they doth protest to much.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Monday, 13 September 2010 14:38 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Or perhaps we are all just creating some great evolutionary tension for each other:)

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Monday, 13 September 2010 15:07 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    I also wanted to add to that we wouldn't even be having this conversation unless TJ had taken the risk to write this post, and I appreciate him for doing that and don't want to discourage him from taking that risk in the future. I've also seen all the guys on this site, including TJ, be very open to feedback and critical reflection so I don't think we have to fight to be heard here, which is what I can sometimes pick up in the responses from women.

    Secondly, in response to Sarah's point about the lack of women responding on this site. I might suggest not to jump to the conclusion that this is because women's voices are being intentionally excluded (if that is what is being assumed), but rather might also ask why so few women are choosing to put in the effort to engage these conversations. What I know if the Beams and Struts guys is that they are totally open to the female perspective, so it begs the question of why so few women show up? Just to turn the question on its head...

  • Comment Link Sarah Monday, 13 September 2010 21:44 posted by Sarah

    I'm not saying they are anti-women but I am saying that if they do want more participants who are women a more reflective approach to posting might be warranted.
    I have heard through the grapevine that some of the 7 have wondered why there is little participation by women on this website. I offer a suggestion.
    And also - anger is a perfectly legitimate response to sexism, racism homophobia et al - those who attack the tone or the person and not the argument are rarely interested in engaging anyway.


  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 14 September 2010 00:01 posted by TJ Dawe

    I can't speak for the other contributors, but my concern hasn't been so much the lack of women commenting, but the lack of people commenting. This site is young (four and a half months), and we're still counting our hits on individual articles in the hundreds. The comments on this post have more than doubled the next highest one, so thanks to everyone who's commented and helped make this a lively discussion. As a Vietnam vet interviewed in the documentary Winter Soldier said, the best way to evolve is to interact with people who have different points of view from you. I especially appreciate a discussion where the goal is to get as close as possible to the truth, rather than to win - hence my frequent requests to supply links to back up things people have read. An assertion without a link or reference carries the underlying statement "it's so because I said so". An assertion with a link or reference says "check it out for yourself, and draw your own conclusions".

    To answer an earlier point, Natalie Angier frequently cites studies that go beyond white middle class women and go beyond the human race altogether, describing studies of rats, bonobo chimpanzees and other animals, showing that males and females of other mammalian species behave in patterns recognizable to researchers. Why would humans be entirely exempt from this?

    I also agree entirely that our culture plays a tremendous part in shaping our mentality, behaviour and social structure. And that our political and social systems have been pretty much exclusively designed and maintained by men, leaving women undervalued, ignored, marginalized, brutalized, raped, tortured and executed. It's extremely important that oppressive currents in our thoughts, actions and laws be identified and addressed.

    Using the completely informal research tool of asking women friends questions, in person or through posting questions on Facebook, I've found many people do believe biology plays no part whatsoever in our psychology and actions, that all behaviour is 100% socially conditioned. Maybe there's a reluctance to accept that humans are animals, and there are aspects to our make-up that predate our rational minds and society. I believe biology and social conditioning coexist in each of us, but it fits in better with our image of ourselves that our actions are rooted the genteel world of language, politics and culture, and that we've outgrown the influence of the amygdala, the hippocampus, oxytocin and testosterone. That was the framework I was coming from in writing this article - hence the emphasis on biology and not social conditioning. But by no means did I mean to imply any kind of biological determinism. Natalie Angier readily acknowledges the interplay of biology and culture in chapter eleven of Woman: An Intimate Geography: "Women do not have sex more often during ovulation than they do at any other time of the month, unless they're consciously on the fertility quest. But the completion of a behavior tells you little about the subliminal provocations of that behavior. If you plot the incidence of intercourse among couples, you'll see an amazing statistical high point, and it's called the weekend - not because people necessarily feel sexy each Sunday, but because people have sex when it's convenient, when they're not exhausted by work, and when they have the whole day to toy with. A hormone may lead you to water, but it can't make you drink."

    I do think aggression between women is worth exploring. Again, in conversations with women friends, many have stories to tell on this subject, but our popular entertainment is still largely made by and for men, with women relegated to supporting roles, in both senses of the word. The tactics of exclusion, inference and insult aren't considered as dramatic as gunfire, fist fights and car chases, and don't get as much play on the big screen. I find women still idealized and marginalized in the world of entertainment as caring helpers, screaming victims and sexy prizes. The brutally honest light someone like Margaret Atwood shines on the subtly aggressive interactions between women fascinates me, and I think the topic deserves more exploration and discussion.

    Sarah - seeing from your blog that you're a Vancouverite, I hope you get a chance to see a show at the Vancouver Fringe called Raunch, by Alice Nelson and Jacqueline Russell, which I dramaturged. It's based on Ariel Levy's book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture - I'd be interested in hear your take on the politics of it. It's playing at the False Creek Community Centre, Tuesday Sept 14 - 9:00, Friday Sept 17 - 8:15 and Saturday Sept 18 - 11:50

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 14 September 2010 03:00 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    First of all, I just want to thank Elizabeth, Vanessa, Sarah and Rebecca for all the nuanced and intelligent discussion around this (sensitive) topic. You’ve left me with at least a couple of months worth of material to digest and integrate, so thanks for deepening my understanding of the subtle issues involved.

    Sarah, just a few words of response to your comment addressed to me personally. Firstly, not only would I be comfortable employing such terms with the groups you mentioned, but I’ve done so in the past. Let me be clear where I’m coming from just so you know what’s motivating my line of address. I’m in many ways upholding the classic and crucial modernist value of free speech, not simply for the sake of individual freedom, but so that open and living debate can continue to happen in our society. There were many currents in the postmodern world that strenuously tried to censure debate, that tried to take many ‘politically incorrect’ issues off the table. I don’t care if it’s environmentalists, left liberals, pro-choice or pro-life folks, or whomever, if they’re trying to stop discussion on any topic, I will object. It’s been my own experience that postmodern feminists have been some of the worst offenders in this area, and as a philosopher I resent being told what I can and cannot philosophically investigate. My general description of the postmodern feminist is far from a ‘canard’, it’s simply a phenomenological description of my own life experience. I realize that, as you say, many sites on the web are full of ‘rough-and-tumble’ styles of debating, but I honestly find this a giant waste of human energy. It feels more like egoic game playing, tigers ripping each other to shreds under the lights of the coliseum, and it usually goes nowhere. Two of the other writers on this site have been writing online for a few years now, and report to me that very rarely have they seen anyone change their position in comment section debates. Well, what’s the point of all that then? Who or what is it serving? In general and in my experience, the postmodern communicative atmosphere has been one pervaded by aggression, oppositionalism, intolerance and righteousness, and I think this has to change if we truly want to create a different future together. Towards that end, your long paragraph below is exemplary, as has been the discussion in general here. This is new for all of us here- most of us have spent years marinating in the culture of attack and debate- so there’s bound to be fits and starts and blown tires as we try and enact a post-postmodern culture of communication. However, it is our intention to open up that new intersubjective space here, which is why issues of tone and communication style have also surfaced in this thread on gender and biology.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 14 September 2010 03:01 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    For a longer academic study of the history of evolving communication styles, see Olen Gunnlaugson’s paper “Establishing Second-Person Forms of Contemplative Education: An Inquiry into Four Conceptions of Intersubjectivity” here- http://bit.ly/cd2x8f. Here’s a key paragraph from that paper: “Scharmer locates the conversational norms of argument and debate culture within the second field. Here participants can easily get locked into polarized and expressive views, followed by reactivity and combative listening (Scharmer, 2000). This culture of conversation risks various forms of breakdown (Isaacs, 1999) as individuals become overly identified with their perspectives and felt needs to impart or express their views. In my experience, moving from talking tough to reflective dialogue depends in part upon being more attentive to one’s judgments, thoughts and psychological processes through the practice of “suspension” (Bohm, 1996). Suspension of one’s judgments or reactions requires learning to bracket one’s views and embrace competing perspectives as important partial illuminations of the larger gestalt of the group subject or issue. Shifts within the second field of conversation take place when participants who are otherwise locked into advocacy begin to collectively practice suspension”. Olen has generously offered to write a short summary of the four intersubjective fields for this site, which will essentially act as our view for discussion guidelines here at Beams. In light of this current discussion I’ll ask him if we could have that as soon as his time permits, which should make our intentions here a little more explicit.

  • Comment Link Robert Sunday, 04 December 2011 19:38 posted by Robert

    The requirement that dissent to group prejudice be expressed in subservient nice nicey niceness (Juma and Trevor to Sarah above) is a primary feature of the group narcissism here, and it embodies an entire reactionary politics that "integral" will always serve to cover up.

    Like unhealthy enneagram nines, you all believe that "nice people are right" and that "the person who disturbs my opiate equanimity is evil."

    Kudos to critics who have some teeth, even if they'll generally be prevented from posting here, or required to reformat their comments into a saccharine gingerbread house adequate to the culture of Boulder. Their occasional breakthrough into the comment section here is an inspiration to readers who can think. Thanks Sarah!

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Sunday, 04 December 2011 21:22 posted by TJ Dawe

    hey Robert - thanks for being part of the conversation here. Our goal at Beams, above presenting ideas, is to discuss them. Our only rule is against disrespectful comments (see the commenting policy on the bottom menu bar), and in the heat of the moment the voice of vociferous intellectual disagreement can sometimes be mistaken for a swing with a broken bottle.

    The last thing we want is to be blinded by our own prejudices, so if there are any ideas on the site you disagree with, or think an article or discussion you see as missing an important nuance, please let us know. No one advances through exclusive interaction with those who share 100% of their views.

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Sunday, 04 December 2011 21:29 posted by Juma Wood

    Thanks for being sweet and giving this twit a thread of credibility, but I won't.

    What the hell are you talking about Robert?

    Say it in plain language, and grow a pair and post your last name.

    What do your useless words add to this article and the general conversation?

    That have enough teeth for you?


  • Comment Link Robert Sunday, 04 December 2011 21:58 posted by Robert

    There's the sense of entitlement and aggression that rests behind all the saccharine PR about dialogue on this site. And it takes only the smallest challenge to bring it out.

    It's amusing to see how the hypercivility enjoined on critics and outsiders is not required of insiders.

    Thanks for the demonstration, Juma.

  • Comment Link Juma Wood Sunday, 04 December 2011 22:18 posted by Juma Wood

    You're welcome Robert (insert last name here).

    What's evident is that you haven't spent any quality time on this site and/or you went diving into archives to confirm an already decided opinion.

    Conversation here is often fierce. See Trevor and Chris' exchange last week. And these two are good friends. See almost any conversation involving Paul Paddon, particularly with Bergen last week.

    Not sure where the Boulder reference came from. Virtually nobody who is on this site regularly makes their home in Boulder.

    The 'integral' reference is also strange considering the host of critical pieces on integral of late.

    I'm not posting links to any of these articles or comments because if you had spent any quality time on the site actually figuring out what it is that is going on here, and what is being strived for, you would have already come across them.

    Did I mention a piece on Facebook this week that took a shot at four quadrant framing? Check it out at our Facebook page.

    There is indeed a lot of good dialogue that takes place on this site, and if you disagree, I'm sure there are websites available that would better serve your agenda. But cherry-picking an article and comment thread that occurred in the very infancy of this project seems, well, in bad faith.

    So, because by your initial tone, it was clear yours is a mind made up, I gave zero time to trying to win you over. You wanted teeth, that's what you got. Oh oh, but then you turn those teeth into wounding and claim some unseen rot and decay at the tooth's root.

    A sad demonstration of manipulation and wanting it both ways. Come on in with your teeth sharpened, into a recent thread preferably, and take a bite. But don't then cry foul if you are bitten back.

    That's cowardly, and that's how you come off in this exchange.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 05 December 2011 01:46 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Hi Everyone,

    As this has gotten a little enflamed, I just want to step in and clear a few things up.

    1. Everyone who participates on the site is asked to hold to the commenting policy. Everyone. In that light, as per our policy some of us talked with Juma and felt that his first comment violated our policy (specifically personal attacks). On behalf of the site I apologize to Robert.

    That being said, I don't think therefore Robert's argument that this site is somehow hypocritical in the applications of its standards holds any water.

    2. I do think Juma's point that whether Robert you have actually engaged in our site in good faith or in any depth is a valid one. Your comment does not inspire confidence in me that you are so engaging. I thought as well that your comment read as someone whose minds was already made up.

    For the record then (and anyone interested), here are some links where you can easily see plenty of disagreement between us:

    This piece (which Juma referenced) where Trevor and I got into it:


    This one where Bergen jumped in to ask Trev and David to cool it down (which they agreed with him and did):


    Andrew and I have gone various rounds over political points of view.

    I believe Juma is also correct that Robert's reference to Boulder is really off (and just plain weird) given the recent critical piece written by actual Boulder resident (as opposed to us editors who are not Boulderites by any stretch) Jason Digges:


    Relatedly, there are the twin pieces by Juma and I that show our esteem as well as critiques in relation to integral theory more broadly:



    Those are just a sampling-others could be brought forward. I hope we now return to regularly scheduled comment policy-abiding (respectful but fierce) debate.

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