Today a paper which is the almost certain winner of the Third Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award (First winner; Second winner). Discovered by reader Nate Winchester, we have the peer-reviewed “Naturalizing Gender through Childhood Socialization Messages in a Zoo” by Betsie Garner and David Grazian in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.
The shocking discovery: “adults mobilize zoo exhibits as props for modeling their own normative gender displays in the presence of children”. In other words, normal parents teach normal kids facts about normal animals. Which is unacceptable, evidently, when the parents could have taught their kiddies about transsexual aardvarks and homosexual snakes.
For a long time, I was at a complete loss how to explain this paper. I decided finally to let the authors speak for themselves.
Social psychology reminds us that parents and other adults transmit socialization messages to children about the ideological meanings associated with social distinction and boundary-making in everyday life.
[A]ccomplishments of human behavior, models of masculinity and femininity appear natural because gendered individuals adhere to an institutionalized set of myths they learn through everyday forms of socialization in their formative years of development from birth through preschool and elementary school. Children learn how to “do gender” by participating in “activities that cast particular pursuits as expressions of masculine and feminine ‘natures'”.
Myths? Myths? Myths? Or maybe children “do gender” because there is such a thing as boys and girls, and their minds have not yet been addled by fanatical adults.
Now what the authors did was to set loose spies at a zoo to surreptitiously watch families. Here are some of the observations the authors thought horrifying (all emphases original; I wish I could show them all).
One mother at an ape pavilion pointed to a gorilla and said to her daughter, “See how his hands look just like our hands? Well, they are bigger. They are like Daddy’s hands, I guess.”
…a mother pointed out a wandering peahen and peacock. “That’s the female and that’s the male,” she said. Her daughter was not so sure, and asked, “That’s the boy? And that’s the girl? I don’t think so.” The woman explained, “No, I’m sure. The males are the pretty, bright ones, and the females are the plain ones. You would think the pretty one would be the female, but it isn’t.”
…one father pointed to a group of river otters and said to his two toddler boys, “Look, it’s the momma and the papa and their babies!” without verifying whether the animals were actually related in that way.
In the zoo’s primate house, a mother held her young daughter up to see the orangutans and compared the mother ape to herself: “That’s like you and me. The mommy is taking care of the baby.”
Now comes the theory.
As family-friendly public spaces that simulate the wild, zoos provide a convenient site for observing adults as they draw on the symbolic power of nonhuman animals and their staged environments to quite literally naturalize hegemonic gender ideologies when interacting with children. We identified three instances in which families and other groups of adults with accompanying children make use of the zoo’s specific spatial and symbolic resources to transmit socialization messages to children according to naturalized models of hegemonic gender difference.
Gender ideology ranks as one of mankind’s most idiotic intellectual creations, if not reaching that abyss. But it is obviously false. A man can decide he is a woman, and say so. Gender ideology says he is a biological man and a “gendered” woman. But how does he know what a woman is to claim he is one? There has to be a referent.
He must be referring to a biological woman and not a “gendered” woman, else his identification falls into infinite regress. Think about it. If our first man thinks he is a woman based on his notion of a second man’s “gendered” woman status, that second man must have got his notion of woman from actual biology, or he must have got it from a third man’s “gendered” woman status, and so on. Somewhere down the line there necessarily had to be a biological notion of woman. Therefore, the biological man in calling himself a “gendered” woman, and who is in earnest, must really think he is a woman, which is impossible. Therefore the man is insane.
But his insanity is only of a mild grade, of the same kind suffered by men who think they are Napoleon. Worse is the utter madness of people like Garner and Grazian, who not only pretend with the man calling himself a woman, but who insist you do so, too.
A skeptical critic of our analysis might argue that our observations of gender socialization simply reflect empirical differences between boys and girls rather than their social construction. Yet our ethnographic observations in their totality do not bear this out. As we have illustrated throughout this article, we observed numerous (albeit far less frequent) cases in which both parents and their children contradicted such expectations, thus confirming that the differences we did observe in parent-child interactions reflected normative regimes of gender socialization and accomplishment rather than the natural order of things.
This is the ripest Bovine Spongiography, an example of the rottenest inference you can imagine. Because some parent or kid acted differently than the norm therefore the norm isn’t the norm? This is like saying that if your car broke down the idea of smoothly running cars is “functioning socialization” rather than the natural and expected order of things.
Sociologists have long understood gender to be a cultural artifact, but so too have they lamented the persistence with which biological determinism is credited with explaining gender differences.
Sociologists have not long understood gender to be a cultural artifact. That disease is a modern invention.