Guilt: Like shoes and chocolate, it's a lady thing

Posted at 2:50 PM Mar 11, 2010

By Andrea Grimes


HAYYYYY LADIES! Rainbows and unicorns and babies and weddings! Shoes and chocolate! Fashion! The color pink! Romantic comedies! AND GUILT! That's right, guilt is now a ladything, along with all of these other listed things that we all know women are hard-wired to have affinities for. It's science, according to some people in Spain. (For the record, I am a cultural anthropologist and have to have my arm pretty much twisted entirely off before I will attribute any social or emotional behavior to human biology, because I believe the generalized attribution of behavior to biology is one of the best ways to oppress people and make them appear less-than. So you know.)

The NY Daily News has the essentialist scoop:

Women feel racked with guilt more often than men - but it's guys who need to shift their perspectives, experts suggest. A group of researchers in Spain queried 360 men and women from three different age groups, asking questions designed to measure level of guilt in certain situations, such as "You have forgotten that today is one of your friends' or relations' birthday and you know that this type of thing is very important to him/her, and that he/she likes people to remember."
The younger the people surveyed, the more likely women were to feel guilty in comparison to men. Once everyone gets to be old and decrepit, the guilt is pretty much evened out:

When men marry and settle down, their testosterone levels decrease and their oxytocin levels rise, making them more prone to empathy, which goes hand in hand with guilt. Later in life, the study suggests, men will exhibit a range of emotions more similar to females.

"We do not want to say there are differences," Shirtcliff told MSNBC, "but that does not take away from the fact that gender differences are staring us in the face."

Allow me to summarize: the only reason men feel empathy is if that they get their testosterone sucked away by marriage, which makes them girlymen. It is easier to attribute these differences in empathy to biological factors than social factors, and so that's what we're going to do. Men are mean and ladies are nice. See! It's science!

Cambridge University neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen writes in his book, "The Essential Difference," "The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems."

How is this Cambridge dude related to this study? We don't know. But he wrote a book. Called The Essential Difference. Boys do some things, and girls do other things. What does "predominately hard-wired for empathy" mean? Who knows. Trust us. Because everyone knows the opposite of empathy is building shit. Jesus, do we have to spell it out for you?

This is evident from a young age, MSNBC reports, as studies have proven that girl infants often begin crying when other infants in the nursery are crying. Likewise, both young male monkeys and young male humans are more likely to play with trucks and cars when stuffed animals and dolls are equally accessible.

Because young humans (and monkeys, who are basically the scientific equivalent if you're trying to prove something that can't be proven) in no way pick up on subtle social cues from their surroundings, parents, peers and culture, right? At least the study doesn't, as these things usually do, imply that it's only women who need to do something to change:

Though this new research may not have any affect [sic] on the way men and women are hard-wired to respond to guilt, the authors say their work "highlights the need for educational practices and socializing agents to reduce the tendency towards anxious-aggressive guilt in women, and to promote interpersonal sensitivity in men."

You know, I just see the term "hard-wired" and I want to start drinking to make the pain go away. I am completely bored by studies that want to attribute something like guilt to some kind of brain trigger, and ignore what seem to me to be far more obvious sources of the female guilt apparent in this survey: the vast and generalized oppression of women associated with particular socio-cultural expectations in conjunction with their marginalized status, sexual and sexuality expectations, the beauty myth, etc. The fact that men seem to only experience some kind of equivalent emotion as they get older indicates to me that men are perhaps slower at emotional development, which I attribute entirely to the way we raise boys to be vs. how we raise girls. The fact that it evens out in the end signals to me not that it's some kind of biological issue (don't women's hormones change as we age, too? Shouldn't that do something to old-lady guilt, if it's biological?) but a socio-cultural one.

Good thing I'm writing this post from a bar. More Shiner, please.


Jennifer said:

Hey Andrea — you say: "I am a cultural anthropologist and have to have my arm pretty much twisted entirely off before I will attribute any social or emotional behavior to human biology."

I majored in Cultural Anthropology, and while I don't feel that biology should ever be used as an excuse for oppression, I do think it's crazy to ignore the influence that biology has in human cultural evolution. Are you disputing that fact?

Andrea said:

Jennifer -

I would not begin to argue that biology and culture are not related. My problem is that, at least in academia, these disciplines are so separated that, very often, the one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. The result is that science is reported or considered as being something true or accurate and responsible for human behavior. Certainly biology influences culture and the other way around, but biology seems to take precedence because it has this particular privilege. Positivistic results are more difficult to dispute in the popular discourse, and so these kinds of studies are used to reinforce learned behaviors, which I find problematic.

I think that was pretty good for a drunk response.

Eye-Roller Lass said:

The name of the Cambridge neuroscientist is Baron-Cohen.
Baron. Dash. Cohen.
It'll probably take the man a few Nobel Prizes to give back any kind of credibility to that name. Certainly he'd have to do better than some hack gender-essencialist book.

Tania said:

"girl infants often begin crying when other infants in the nursery are crying" oh come on EVERY infant starts crying when other infants around him/her do. I mean have they ever been to the nursery? I have and I know for sure it's such a b's*it what that guy wrote.

Julia said:

Well that was fast,,at least I read it fast. All sounds so familiar doesn't it? I started liberating myself. I follow Rori Rayes insructions on how to make myself work properly in a romantic relationship so that I get what I need and want - I need a manual for it since I never saw or learnt the tools for a successful love life. I use Burt Goldman's simple 'Monk Triangle' to keep all of the colorful parts of myself connected and headed in the same direction. I watch Ziegiest,The Union, Wake Up and The New american century to keep up to date on all the ways we've been chained, shackled and put in the dark. i donate time and money to make up for the money I spend on shoes and now I eat chocolate. Alot of it. It's cold pressed. Was a regular feature in a Dr.s medicine bag,, back in the day before they turned into candy. I'm a size 5 and content,, before I started eating it, I was a size 15 and facing hormone replacement therapty. No Guilt,,guilt free chocolate - I'm so happy about that.

C O'Reilly said:

I would never have believed that children were 'hard-wired' to think a certain way and make particular choices until my second child was born with a severe learning disability. From the start she showed a marked preference for traditional girly things - anything pink and sparkly. Chocolate is her favourite food and half-dressed girl bands are her choice of music video to watch!

© 2016 Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved. | Privacy Policy