Wednesday, May 6, 2009

women and power tools

This is an interesting study.

Researchers used brain scans to show that when straight men looked at pictures of women in bikinis, areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools, like spanners and screwdrivers, were activated.

Scans of some of the men found that a part of the brain associated with empathy for other people's emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures.


The finding confirms a long-suspected effect of sexy images on the way women are perceived, and one which persists in workplaces and the wider world today, Fiske said.

I'm not actually sure that it does, although I am willing to rethink my ideas. I find this study challenging for a number of reasons.

One, I would be curious to know under what other circumstances that part of the brain lights up. For instance,

The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women's bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex, which is involved in urges to take action. The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY. "It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies," Fiske said.

If this is simply a center of the brain that urges us to take action, then I would rather expect it to activate if a person was using power tools or sexually aroused. They are, after all, both actions. The quote also stands out to me; "It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies." The whole acting on the body screams of feminist theory. Now don't get me wrong, feminist theory and I are homies, but inasmuch as it is one framework for understanding the world, it has its limits, and I don't feel that the conclusion here (that women are objectified) is compelled by the evidence (that one region of the brain is activated under two different circumstances).

I am further bothered by the inclusion in this particular article, and I suspect in the discussion section of the original study, that scans of some men show regions of the brain associated with empathy shutting down after looking at these pictures. It is entirely possible that this is a valid research point drawn by the study; I don't know, since I couldn't find it within five minutes of Google searching, got bored and proceeded to look at porn. What percentage of men is some men? Were other random parts of the brain flicking on or off during these scans?

I'm sure part of what is bothering me is the synopsizing of this research for whatever the newspaper equivalent of a soundbite is. Here's my bent, though: I'm humanist enough to believe that people can generally separate out their fantasy lives from reality, and that for most people, even habitual users of porn (which I suspect is most people) this does not seriously impact their view of their fellow humans. Can fantasies be objectiying? Absolutely. Is porn frequently objectifying? I sure think so. But does this mean that images of women's bodies alone, within this culture, lead to overall objectification? That is where this article is pointing to, and I find myself dubious. To me it speaks of a lack of faith in the human ability to separate out their feelings, and generally a lack of faith in human complexity. But I dunno, audience, you tell me.

Now how do you feel about women?

No comments: