Pop neuroscience has long been fascinated with uncovering secret biological differences between male and female brains. The question of whether men and women have innately different brains rarely fails to get people riled up. Just last year, the Google engineer James Damore caused an uproar after publishing a manifesto detailing the various ways women were biologically different from men.
But Lise Eliot, a professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, says that anyone who goes searching for innate differences between the sexes won’t find them.
“People say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but the brain is a unisex organ,” she said onstage Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
That’s a bold statement, and one science is divided on. It seems to depend on what exactly is being measured. For example, a large study in the U.K. found that many regions of men’s brains were larger than women’s, and that women on average had thicker cerebral cortices. What does that mean for how the brain works? Unclear. Another study found that “averaged across many people, sex differences in brain structure do exist, but an individual brain is likely to be just that: individual, with a mix of features,” as New Scientist reported in 2015.
But there’s no doubt that whatever their brains look like, behavior and school performance differences between men and women are strongly shaped by socialization.
Eliot said that Damore has a misunderstanding of neuroscience and that his letter overstated the role of testosterone in male and female bodies. While testosterone is linked to aggression, it doesn’t offer a universal explanation for male behavior. Eliot also said that everyone, regardless of sex, can be competitive or aggressive, but males and females might have different ways of expressing those traits based on social norms.
Eliot blames academia and the media in part for the cycle that leads to the ongoing argument over biological brain differences. Because most scholars know that any small statistical difference between men and women will make headlines, academics, desperate for funding and attention, often focus studies on gender disparities. “You go back to data, analyze it for sex, and if you find a difference, then guess what: You have another paper,” Eliot said.
She said that even scientifically indisputable differences, such as the oft-cited statistic that male brains are 10 percent bigger than female brains, don’t mean anything. All of men’s organs are bigger on average, but that doesn’t mean they function differently.
If scientists and academics were to begin with the premise that men and women are equally capable, Eliot said, their studies would result in radically different conclusions.
For instance, many, including the then–Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, have used a 1970 study that showed men outperformed women 13 to one on the math portion of the SAT to explain why there aren’t more women at the top of STEM fields. “People said brilliance in math is a male phenomenon,” Eliot said.
Of course, it turned out women were being discouraged from pursuing STEM. Once more programs were put in place to foster this type of learning, the ratio dropped to three to one, Eliot said, and is now on its way to closing.
A federal appeals court judge just made it a lot easier for the pornography industry to abuse and exploit children for profit.
The Aug. 3 legal decision, which has received far less media attention than it deserves, represents the most significant blow to opponents of child porn in decades. We believe it could lead to a sharp increase in the number of underage performers being exploited due to the removal of legal oversight and penalties for uploading or distributing images that feature minors.
We’ve been studying the business of porn for years, as scholars, advocates and experts in legal battles. In fact, we provided expert testimony in 2013 in a related court case and endured two hours of grilling from the judge and porn industry lawyers.
The industry is now celebrating its landmark victory. To us, it is a sign of porn’s growing power to fight legal battles and free itself from regulatory constraints as its business model rapidly changes in the internet age.
The case revolves around U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2257, which requires porn producers to keep stringent records on the ages of performers and allows federal agents to inspect them at any time.
The penalties for failing to do so are harsh, including large fines and up to five years imprisonment for a first offense. In the most famous case, the company that produced the “Girls Gone Wild” video series was fined US$2.1 million for 2257 violations. Although there have been few prosecutions, the potential penalties provide an important deterrent.
Over time, the Justice Department expanded the definition of producers subject to the regulations to include “secondary producers,” which includes internet distribution, and set out detailed guidelines for how the records should be organized and indexed.
Judge Michael Baylson of the U.S. 3rd Circuit of Appeals ruled that most of 2257’s record keeping requirements were unconstitutional on First and Fourth Amendment grounds. The ruling allows primary producers to fulfill age verification obligations by using a form developed by the Free Speech Coalition, the industry association that brought the lawsuit against 2257. In the most far-reaching and troublesome change, the decision completely exempts major distributors (termed secondary producers), from any record-keeping requirements.
While the production and distribution of child pornography remain illegal, the law is toothless without record keeping. The requirement provides the only way to verify and track performers’ ages and serves as a major incentive for businesses across the complex supply chain to monitor content.
The regulations came in response to the public outcry that ensued when Penthouse magazine featured a 15-year-old Traci Lords in its September 1984 edition.
Research and evidence demonstrate clearly that children who are exploited in the making of porn suffer from a range of devastating and long-lasting effects.
Four years later, Congress enacted the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act, which included Section 2257 and criminalized a wide range of transactions involving the use of minors in pornography, including the electronic transmission of visual images.
The rapid growth of pornography on the internet led lawmakers to pass the Child Pornography Prevention Act in 1996, which extended the provisions to include any digital image that “is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”
The porn industry has fought these regulations ever since they were first passed in 1988 and founded the Free Speech Coalition just three years later to coordinate the industry’s lobbying and legal strategy and to share expenses related to it. Prior to this month’s decision, its biggest victory was overturning the 1996 restrictions in a 2002 Supreme Court decision that permitted images of young-looking girls, as long as the performers were actually over 18.
The decision made the reporting requirements more vital that ever, as it was otherwise impossible to know the real age of performers who were made to appear very young. Nonetheless, the coalition filed many lawsuits over the years challenging 2257, claiming that the regulations placed an undue burden on pornographers’ free speech and violated Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure.
While different courts have struck down various parts of 2257 and then upheld them on appeal, overall the regulations have largely remained intact – until now.
In the 2013 case in which we served as expert witnesses, the Free Speech Coalition challenged 2257 by claiming that there was hardly any porn featuring young-looking females.
Constitutional cases often turn on whether a compelling public interest – such as protecting children from exploitation – is greater than any resulting regulatory burdens that might infringe on another group’s rights – in this case, keeping records.
Our research demonstrated that, contrary to the industry’s claims, “teen porn” and related genres featuring young-looking females have grown to be the largest single segment, representing about one-third of all internet porn in terms of both search-term frequency and proportion of websites.
The same Judge Baylson cited the strength of our research in his 2013 ruling to uphold the 2257 regulations. But in his decision this August, for reasons unknown to us, he appears to have changed his mind and sided with the industry over the protection of children. Indeed, the decision only considered injuries to porn businesses, not to children.
The Department of Justice might yet appeal, but most legal observers we have consulted with think that 2257 is in serious jeopardy.
The Free Speech Coalition claims that it has invested more than $1 million since 2005 to fight 2257 and is now asking for donations to cover outstanding legal debts.
Why is overturning 2257 so important to the porn industry?
The key reason, in our view, is that the regulations strike at the heart of the business model of the major corporate distributors of porn and particularly of MindGeek, which has become the largest multinational porn conglomerate in the world.
MindGeek and other distributors source porn content from a large number of fragmented low-cost producers, who are increasingly located around the globe. The growth of the market segment featuring young-looking females represented a potential legal threat. And distributors of porn – like other internet companies and social media platforms – want to avoid responsibility for content that could expose them to substantial legal and financial liabilities.
Although software solutions are available that could tag every picture and video with data on the performers, the complexity of distribution networks and the vast amount of product uploaded by third parties likely makes compliance with 2257 somewhat cumbersome and costly.
The porn industry has emerged as a powerful force that is trying to shape the regulatory environment to support its shifting business model. Compliance with age verification laws might cost the industry some money, but we believe this is a small price to pay to protect children from the predatory porn industry.
I was sickened to hear of the absolutely abhorrent rape and torture of a ten year old girl by Green Party activist David [Baloo] Challenor. My thoughts are with the victim. I am especially angry that the perpetrator pleaded not guilty, forcing this poor child to have to attend court and testify against him, drawing out the horrific process. I hope that she has access to adequate help and services having been so appallingly let down by so many thus far.
As a former Parliamentary Election Candidate of the Green Party. I am concerned about how the party has handled this. I have been let down by the party and personally experienced distress at the hands of bullies and procedural failings. Of course nothing on this scale could have been predicted but favouring certain individuals beyond criticism shows the beginnings of safe-guarding failings.
Until yesterday, Coventry Green Party listed their HQ as the Challenor home, where the crimes were committed. Coventry Green Party HQ is a crime scene and has been for over a year. Does this not require some explanation and apologies?
The local branch of Coventry Green Party have not released a statement. All the activists would have known David Challenor. Do they not wish to condemn the actions of their colleague?
Why has Aimee Challenor not been suspended? I feel that appointing an election agent who is awaiting trial for the rape and torture of a child breaks a number of procedural policies, not least bringing the party into disrepute.
I feel that the entire branch should be suspended pending a full investigation, I’m not convinced that the Green Party are taking this seriously. There could be more victims, the party needs to investigate whether other individuals were put at risk by this man being an election agent and resident at their Coventry HQ.
The Green Party did not offer any apology for wrong doing and did not reach out directly to the victim. They did not name male violence, rape, torture or paedophilia, instead using this distasteful term ‘gender-based violence’. A direct insult to the victim and the gender critical women who exposed Challenor’s membership of the party. They took an entire week to publish any statement at all and when it did emerge contained this line “There is no connection between these offences and Mr Challenor’s previous membership of the Green Party.” What on earth is meant by that? He was an activist for you, a suspected paedophile was out (presumably) knocking on doors on your behalf.
David Challenor an anti-feminist lobbyist who, alongside other members of the LGBTIQA+ Greens, have spent the last few years running a successful campaign of intimidation and hatred towards feminists. The main objectives of these activists has been to:
- Legalise prostitution
- Promote medical transition of children and adults
- Allow male bodied individuals access to women’s spaces
- Promote the idea of ‘gendered’ brains, an idea which has been used to subjugate women and girls
- Normalise sexual fetishes such as BDSM (violence) and AB/DL (which involves dressing up as a baby, often wearing a diaper)
- Silence women who disagree with the above agenda (some members of LGBTIQA+ Greens celebrated the violent attack of feminist, Maria Maclachlan).
Radical feminists campaign tirelessly against male violence. We disagree with BDSM, we do not think anyone can ‘consent’ to being beaten or physically harmed during sexual activity. We condemn anyone who gains sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on another human being. For this opinion we have been called ‘kink-shamers’ and ‘bigots’ as if being turned on by violence is akin to being homosexual and should not be criticised.
Radical feminists and lesbian feminists have been silenced, attacked, ostracised from the Green Party. I was suspended and subsequently expelled for naming a biological male as a ‘man’ on TV. The suspension within a couple of days of the incident, so we know they can move fast with their disciplinary motion when they want to.
My local party tried to resist the bullying of feminists with a motion condemning the behaviour ‘North Surrey Green Party reaffirms its commitment to free speech, and condemns all silencing, abuse, threats and physical violence against all radical feminists; and against all members regardless of sexuality.’ A complaint was upheld against the local group with the Green Party Disciplinary committee asked them to remove this motion on the basis that Radical Feminist = TERF. Well, Green Party of England and Wales, Radical Feminists are women who have the courage to question the misogyny which is rife within your party. Radical feminists are the women who condemn sexual violence, radical feminists are the women who promote the safe guarding of women and children above the feelings of men.
Both the LGBTIQA+ Greens and Coventry Green Party have sheltered this child rapist and actively pushed a misogynistic agenda. It has now become apparent what his motives for supporting this movement were. I am absolutely sure that the majority of members who have met or supported David Challenor are disgusted by his actions and sickened by having had contact with him. I ask them to speak out. I ask them to look at the motives of men within their movement and ask themselves who gains from normalising sexual violence and misogyny?
I await statements from LGBTIQA+ Greens, Coventry Green Party and further clarification from the Green Party of England and Wales.
Recently the NHS was called upon by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to preserve the fertility of young trans people by banking their sperm and eggs. Unreported was the bleak truth: if children take the puberty-blocking drug Lupron then proceed to cross-sex hormones they won’t have any fertility to preserve. Their gametes can’t mature enough to bank. Indeed if your natal puberty is blocked you may never orgasm or feel sexual desire. Imagine the outcry if, say, disabled children were effectively neutered at 11.
But where is the ethical debate and long-term research into how Lupron — a prostate cancer drug used “off label” on children — affects brain development at puberty? Or into the impact of massive, lifelong doses of testosterone on young natal women’s health? Or into where this enormous surge in children diagnosed with gender dysphoria (ie feeling they are in the wrong sex body) is coming from? In particular, why are 1,806 of the 2,509 adolescents (72 per cent) referred in 2017-18 to the Tavistock NHS gender identity service girls?
Such is the power of the trans lobby to damage academic careers with accusations of transphobia that few dare challenge new orthodoxies. Which makes research published this week in the peer-reviewed science journal Plos One by Lisa Littman of Brown University remarkable. As a public health expert, she addressed the rise in teenage girls with gender dysphoria like any other medical outbreak. This condition affects only 0.7 per cent of the population, so why were clinicians reporting clusters of trans cases in many high schools?
She questioned 250 parents whose teenagers (83 per cent girls) had shown no signs of gender dysphoria as children. The vast majority (63 per cent) had pre-existing mental health problems including serious psychiatric disorders; half self-harmed; half had suffered a traumatic event such as death of a parent/sibling, family divorce or sexual abuse. (One previously happy 16-year-old was raped and a few months later declared herself trans.) Such “coming out” invariably occurred after binge-consumption of online trans forums on Reddit or Tumblr. Many girls did so in tandem with peers: one parent reports how her 14-year-old daughter and three friends chose male names and announced they were trans boys.
This, says Dr Littman, has direct parallels with other “peer contagions” in teenage girl cliques such as bullying, drug use and anorexia. In person and on chatrooms, anorexic girls egg each other on to avoid doctors’ efforts to make them eat and compete to be the thinnest. “If similar mechanisms are at work in the context of gender dysphoria,” she notes, “this greatly complicates evaluation and treatment.”
Online trans activists, she notes, encourage young people to interpret their vaguest dissatisfactions as signs they are trans. Do you feel an outsider? Are you awkward in your body? One parent wrote: “I believe my child experienced what many kids feel on the cusp of puberty — uncomfortableness!” But the online world insisted she was in the wrong body. Such forums advised young people to edit their childhoods to persuade clinicians they had always felt trans to gain treatment. One girl who went through early puberty felt fat because she’d grown breasts: when she discovered that hating your breasts is a sign of being transgender she edited the text of her diary.
There are strong comparisons here, says Dr Littman, with “false memory syndrome”, a now-debunked theory among 1990s psychotherapists that ordinary problems, like struggling to form relationships, meant a person was repressing childhood abuse. In the course of therapy these wholly imaginary incidents were “recovered”.
In publishing this report, Dr Littman imperils her reputation. Trans groups will ask what the hell a parent knows about a child’s inner thoughts, or dismiss her respondents as bigots. (In fact more than 80 per cent support gay marriage and trans rights.) They will claim these kids are just realising their true trans identity, although the vast majority were reportedly less happy and stable after they “came out”. They will do anything but admit that what Dr Littman has termed “rapid onset gender dysphoria” among girls is a social contagion, because this undermines their key ideological principle, that gender is not constructed but innate.
The trans movement is mainly led by trans women, who never experienced the maelstrom of female puberty, its intense but fleeting certainties. Some transitioned late after fathering children. What do they care about the fertility of troubled girls? Meanwhile LGBT groups such as Stonewall lobby to expedite hormones and surgery, rather than urge diagnostic caution.
The vast majority of these cases involve lesbians, whose same-sex attractions are seldom clarified until late teens. By then they will be compelled towards blockers, testosterone and double mastectomies, with ovaries, as one endocrinologist put it, like “shrivelled raisins”. In this medicalised iteration of conversion therapy, these young lesbians will be transformed into heterosexual men. It’s time we stopped making it up as we go along.
QotD: “Before reading it … I thought of pornography as essentially a free speech issue; afterwards, I saw that it was a crime”
The book that changed my mind
Pornography: Men Possessing Women by Andrea Dworkin. Before reading it – and, admittedly, discussing it with its author – I thought of pornography as essentially a free speech issue; afterwards, I saw that it was a crime – and by no means a victimless one.
When young men and women come up against sexist stereotypes masquerading as science, Angela Saini wants them to be armed with the facts. “I call my book ammunition,” she says of her 288-page prize-winning work Inferior: The True Power of Women and the Science that Shows It. “There are people out there who insist that somehow the inequalities we see in society are not just because of historic discrimination, but also because of biology – the idea that there are factors within us that will cause men or women to be better at some things than others.”
She wrote Inferior to demonstrate that “actually, science doesn’t support that point of view. I think it’s important we understand these scientific facts. We need that ammunition to counter the weird mistruths that are circulating within and outside science about sex difference”.
To female scientists fed up with being treated as though their brains are the odd exceptions among their sex, Inferior is more than just a book. It’s a battle cry – and right now, it is having a galvanising effect on its core fanbase. On 31 July a crowdfunding campaign to send a copy of Inferior to every mixed secondary school in England with more than 1,000 pupils was launched by Dr Jessica Wade, a British physicist who writes 270 Wikipedia pages a year to raise the profile of female scientists. Within two days the campaign had raised £2,000. Yesterday it reached its original £15,000 target and was powering its way towards £20,000 – a figure which would allow the book to be sent to every state school in the country.
“There’s nothing you want more than for people to be inspired by your work,” says Saini, 37, a multiple award-winning science journalist, who first became intrigued by sex difference research when she wrote about the menopause for the Observer. “What Jess is doing means such a lot to me. I hope if my book can empower her, it can empower other young women, and men, too.”
The key message she hopes her readers will take away is that nothing in science suggests equality is not possible. “We are not as different as the inequalities in our society makes us believe we are. Even now, there are people saying we shouldn’t be pushing for gender equality because we’re never going to see it for biological reasons.” For example, many people think there are large psychological differences in spatial awareness, mathematical reasoning or verbal skills between men and women. “Actually, those differences are tiny, a fraction of a standard deviation,” says Saini. “Psychologically, the differences between the sexes are not enough to account for the inequalities we see in our society today.”
Inferior is not a children’s book by any stretch of the imagination. It includes a firsthand account of female genital mutilation and deliberately examines a large number of academic studies in painstaking detail. But, like recent bestselling children’s books Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, it could play a valuable role in breaking down gender stereotypes for the next generation of would-be scientists and mathematicians, and Saini is confident many teenagers will engage with it. “Girls and boys aged 13 or 14 upwards have really responded to the message, and the earlier we can get this message to them, the better.” She was the only girl in science and maths classes at school. “Even if it’s not overtly stated to you, just being in a minority – especially a minority of one – makes you think maybe there are some differences between the sexes.”
Researching and writing the book has totally changed how she feels about herself, destroying her own “subconscious stereotypes” about women. “It made me look at the world differently. That’s the power of science.”
In one of the most shocking chapters, Saini relays a letter written by Charles Darwin in which he argues that women are intellectually inferior to men. “He was looking at society. He saw women weren’t achieving as much and he treated us almost the way you would treat observations of lions or peacocks in the wild. He thought: this reflects the biological facts.”
Even at the time, contemporary female intellectuals pointed out that this theory ignored a lot of obvious historical and cultural factors, but Darwin failed to take on board their arguments. “It was quite lazy of him, which is surprising, because he wasn’t a lazy scientist. He was usually so painstaking and thorough.”
But she still admires him for everything he got right. “Even the best scientists can fall into this trap of looking at the world around them and thinking: things are the way they are because of nature.” After all, she points out, assuming 19th-century scientists could be biased but 21st-century scientists never are makes no sense. “That’s why, in the book, I look not just at the science, but at the scientists.”
These range from Kristen Hawkes, whose research suggesting postmenopausal women played a vital role in increasing the human lifespan has been met with dogged resistance from some male scientists, to Robert Trivers who, Saini shows, used evidence from a flawed 1948 experiment on fruit flies when he famously argued that men are more naturally promiscuous than women. “A lot of people – especially scientists – view science as perfectly objective and rational. But the questions researchers choose to ask, and the answers they come up with, are heavily affected by their prior assumptions.” At times, the book shows a staggering lack of respect from male scientists towards the work of their female contemporaries. “Science won’t improve unless we understand that we all have biases and those biases affect research,” says Saini.
Paedophiles who download or share child abuse images should receive the same punishment as those who abuse children themselves, according to the solicitor general.
Robert Buckland QC said downloading and sharing such images was just as “insidious” as direct sexual abuse, as he announced plans to extend the unduly lenient sentencing scheme to indecent images offences. Under the scheme, victims and members of the public can challenge tariffs handed down to offenders.
“We have got to make sure that it’s fully understood that use of the internet to download and share images of child abuse is as insidious a crime as direct sexual assault,” Buckland, the MP for South Swindon, told the Daily Telegraph.
“I do hear that the weight of cases is a challenge but that shouldn’t detract from the seriousness of this type of offending and the fact that too many children and young people are being exploited, in many cases for the gratification of people living hundreds of miles away.”
One in four convictions for child abuse images result in custodial sentences, with the rest given community sentences, fines or suspended sentences, according to official figures.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said: “As set out in the manifesto commitment, we are working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to look at extending the scheme further. No decisions on future extensions have been made.”
In response to Buckland’s remarks, an MoJ spokesperson said: “Online child sexual exploitation is sickening, and offenders who take or distribute indecent images already face 10 years in prison – with record numbers given custodial sentences in 2017.
“Last year, we also made it illegal to communicate sexually with a child, and we will shortly set out further measures to protect child victims in our victim’s strategy. However, sentencing is a matter for independent judges who make decisions based on the full facts of each case.”
The government has introduced various pieces of legislation relating to child sexual abuse and exploitation during its time in office. A new offence of revenge pornography has been created, it is now an offence to possess a “paedophile manual”, and a specific offence of communicating sexually with a child has also been introduced.
Three members of a Rochdale grooming gang face possible deportation to Pakistan after court of appeal judges upheld a decision to strip them of their British citizenship.
Abdul Aziz, Adil Khan and Qari Abdul Rauf were among nine men jailed in May 2012 for their part in a grooming ring which plied vulnerable girls with drink and drugs so they could “pass them around” for sex.
The court heard that some of the victims, who were aged in their early teens, were raped and physically assaulted and some were forced to have sex with “several men in a day, several times a week”.
Following their conviction, Aziz, Khan and Rauf were informed by the Home Office in 2015 that they would be stripped of their British citizenship, after which the home secretary would consider deporting them to Pakistan.
They were told: “British citizenship is a privilege that confers particular entitlements and benefits, including the right to a British passport and the right to vote in general elections.
“It is not in the public interest that individuals who engage in serious and/or organised crime, which constitutes a flagrant abuse of British values, enjoy those entitlements and benefits.”
The men challenged the decision at the first tier tribunal (FTT), arguing that removing their citizenship would breach their right to a family life under the European convention on human rights, as they have children living in the UK.
The FTT ruled against the men, concluding that “depriving the appellant of his British citizenship would not in itself prevent him continuing his relationship with his family”.
The upper tribunal also rejected the men’s appeal, arguing that the serious nature of their crimes meant it was reasonable for the home secretary to view the removal of their citizenship as “conducive to the public good”.
The men then took their case to the court of appeal and represented themselves before three senior judges at a hearing in July. Adil Khan argued that he was innocent of any crime, something the judges dismissed.
In a ruling on Wednesday, Lord Justice Sales said: “Given the extremely serious nature of the offending by each appellant, there is no good ground for calling that conclusion into question. There was no error of law by the FTT.”
All three men, from Rochdale, were found guilty of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16 and trafficking for sexual exploitation following a trial at Liverpool crown court.
Aziz, who was one of the ringleaders of the grooming gang and referred to by some of the others as The Master, was jailed for nine years.
Married father of five Rauf was jailed for six years and Khan for eight years.
Outlining their offending, Sales said: “The sentencing judge described how in some cases the girls were raped callously, viciously and violently; and in some cases they were driven round Rochdale and Oldham to be made to have sex with paying customers.
“All the men treated the girls as though they were worthless and beyond all respect. They were motivated by lust and greed.”
Under the British Nationality Act 1981, the home secretary has the power to strip an individual of their British citizenship – as long as it would not leave them stateless – if it is seen as “conducive to the public good” or they obtained their British citizenship fraudulently.
Depriving a person of citizenship for the public good can be done on the grounds of “involvement in terrorism, espionage, serious organised crime, war crimes or unacceptable behaviours”.