Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Monday, October 09, 2006

My Male Brain

(Image of my high 4th-to-2nd digit ratio, to be uploaded as soon as $@!# Blogger lets me.)

Some of the course material I cover in one of the classes I teach deals with testosterone and its role in social dynamics. I have become obsessed with testosterone because I am convinced that I have more than the average woman's share of it.

To wit:
1. One outwardly observable sign of greater exposure to androgens during gestation is a markedly longer ring finger than index finger. Unlike most women, whose ring and index fingers are about the same length, my ring finger could KO my index finger in a single round.

2. I have two older brothers. Recent research suggests that the mother's body "remembers" carrying male fetuses and that this somehow results in greater exposure to androgens in later pregnancies. Homosexuality, which has been associated in research with androgenic action during gestation, is significantly more prevalent among boys with older brothers than first-born boys. I'm not sure if the same association appears for girls, but the pattern fits so I'm sticking to it.

3. One of my older brothers is a textbook case of Asperger's syndrome. Musical genius with a hyperlexic talent for punning and poetry, he can't maintain eye contact for the life of him and misinterprets people's intentions as fluently as other people breathe. Consequently, he's a total social outcast and can't hold down a job. The "systematizing" (as opposed to empathizing) aspect of autistic-spectrum disorders like Asperger's is likened to "extreme male brain." One of the researchers advancing this theory is Simon Baron Cohen. His cousin is comedic actor Sascha Baron Cohen. Neat, huh? Anyway, autistic-spectrum disorders appear to be hereditary.

4. I'm by no means autistic or Asperger-y myself, but I have always found female social dynamics a mystery. I'm forever missing some subtle cue that, I'm told, I "should have" automatically picked up on at the moment. This has pissed my mom off countless times and resulted in an obsession with two reality shows, the defunct Sorority Life and the very much funct America's Next Top Model, because they're all about female social dynamics. I'm not saying they represent all women, just that they allow me to observe the way some groups of women interact without actually having to put myself in harm's way. Need I mention that I wasn't in a sorority myself? I prefer to view the animals from the safety of the zoo.

5. My right, or spatial, brain craves activity. After my high school calculus grade went from an A to a D (due to a rift with my teacher over nasty comments he made about my oldest brother and his homosexuality), I figured I'd never take math again. When I went to grad school it was with much trepidation that I enrolled in the first of eight required statistics courses. It was revolutionary, like someone was finally speaking to me in my native tongue.

6. Greater-than-usual exposure to androgens during gestation is also associated with left-handedness (I'm ambidextrous).

7. I have no boobs. I realize this doesn't prove anything, especially given how many men I see with boobs these days, but it too fits the pattern so I'm sticking to it.

8. I love--LOVE--trains. And football season. (But not the Three Stooges. I didn't say I WAS a guy.)

Here's the thing: There is NO overlap, barring serious clinical hormonal imbalance, in the amount of testosterone men have and the amount women have. None. Men have, like, 40 times as much testosterone as women. But the differences, emotionally and behaviorally, between high- and low-testosterone women and high- and low-testosterone men are quite similar.

Compared to most women I know, I feel like a guy in borrowed woman-skin (ah, soft, silky borrowed woman-skin). Like I'm "passing" in the world of women. Among them but not entirely of them. I've always chalked this up to being tall and having no boobs, but now that I know a little more about the biology behind sex hormones, I think it runs deeper than that.

It can get lonely here. But I take comfort in knowing that if I ever need to get out, I'll have excellent spatial skills to guide me, which is good because I won't be asking for directions.


Blogger Jonniker said...

This is fascinating. And I'm not sure I fit into the high-testosterone woman category (normal ring finger, and my math aptitude is pathetically low. I have come to accept this, despite a desire to the contrary - my eyes literally glaze over and I become disoriented at the sight of too many numbers), but I will say that female dynamics ARE a mystery to me, at least the negative ones. And not a lot of people like to hear me say this, but I was in a sorority, and it was bar-none, one of the worst experiences of my entire life, and one of the few past events that I still harbor a twinge of bitterness towards.

10:13 AM, October 10, 2006  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Very interesting indeed.

I can relate to what you say, since many times I have been told that I have the 'soul of a man.' Not sure whether this is a compliment or an insult, I take it to mean that I am very male like in my thinking and responses to whatever is around me.

Now, you know I am a petite woman, so truthfully, I envy you having your index and ring finger being almost the same size!!

Fi is so adorable, and almost as tall as I am today.


2:41 PM, October 10, 2006  
Blogger Bela said...

Are you proud of or concerned about your 'male brain'? I would have thought one got enough aggro from men without wanting to claim male characteristics for oneself, but maybe I don't have enough respect for men and their specific qualities.

I'm very happy to be a woman with a female brain: I find communicating with people who lack tact, empathy or compassion very difficult.

9:46 PM, October 11, 2006  
Blogger WinterWheat said...

J - had I been in a sorority, you'd have been the sister with whom I'd most want to room. :-)

B - coming from a man, probably a compliment; coming from a woman, possibly an insult. ;-)

B - neither. That would be like saying I'm "proud" or "concerned" about having brown eyes. This really is a biological thing I'm pondering. I can't imagine purposely allying myself with the 49% of the population who commit 95% of the crimes. What's to be gained? On the other hand, I used to hate my brother for always "purposely" misinterpreting people's subtle nonverbal cues until I accepted the possibility that he doesn't "get" them like other people. Compassionate behavior can be taught, but for some people it's simply not as intuitive as it is for others.

Interestingly, some autistic-spectrum people show more than the average non-autistic. Temple Grandin, an autistic animal sciences professor who specializes in livestock handling, made a name for herself by spearheading a movement to make restraining and slaughter facilities as humane (that is, trauma- and pain-free) as possible.

Perhaps genuine compassion is revealed in the effort to understand and accept people for who they are, and to work toward behavior change within the confines of that.

3:16 AM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Bela said...

One might very well be proud of characteristics that are genetic/biological and completely out of our control: someone asked what colour people's eyes were on the Frag Board once, and I noticed an incredible number of people saying their eyes were 'green' - many more than one would expect, considering that, if I'm not mistaken, green is the least common eye colour. Those people probably had brown eyes with a greenish fleck or two and it was quite obvious they were saying their eyes were green because they thought brown was boring whereas green was unusual and they were 'proud' of that fact (even if it wasn't true, LOL!).

Men do not just get first prize for violence, etc. and in spite of what I may have said here and elsewhere, I can see that one might want to emulate them in certain intellectual respects and maybe dissociate oneself from more (possible clich├ęd), female qualities.

I am aware that someone who's autistic, or has Asperger's syndrome, is not being difficult on purpose, but, in my experience, it doesn't lessen the frustration one might feel when trying to communicate with that person.

Anyway, you misunderstood me: when I wrote, 'I find communicating with people who lack tact, empathy or compassion very difficult,' I wasn't talking about people with autism I was talking about men. LOL!

10:29 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger katiedid said...

K, my local PBS station aired an episode of a show called Secrets of the Sexes from the BBC not too long ago. Very timely subject to read here, since they just aired one that talked about how we may have "male" and "female" regions of the brain that developed depending on the mother's fluctuating hormone levels. Really interesting. I'm sure it'll depend on your own PBS station's budget, but if they air it where you live I think you'd really dig it. Love the idea of the finger thing - I forget the name of the guy who researched that, but he's got a curious theory there...

7:15 PM, October 17, 2006  
Blogger mireille said...

I'm out of my depth here, philosophically androgen-wise ... but I found this fascinating. Although I have always found you -- in interactions and photos anyway -- to be womanly. Statuesque, Diana-the-Hunterish womanly. Just my opinion (and really, whose opinion besides yours re your woman-quotient counts, huh?) xoxo

5:48 PM, October 21, 2006  

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