Dangerous Chemicals

Testosterone has been much in the news of late. Word has leaked out that Caster Semenya’s “gender test” showed her to have abnormally high levels of testosterone in her body. No one is accusing her of taking supplements. The assumption is that she was born with some sort of abnormality that caused this. I note that if she had been born abnormally tall, abnormally strong, abnormally graceful or with any of the other abnormalities that it takes to be a really world-class athlete, no one would have batted an eye. But because she was allegedly born with abnormally high testosterone she gets branded a cheat.

Testosterone was also featured in the financial press as a result of a study that suggests women who do well in banking are successful because they too have abnormally high levels testosterone. The Independent runs out all the usual dismissive stereotypes, but The Economist is a little more thoughtful. The fact that testosterone encourages risk taking is well known and has been a matter of concern recently given where risk taking by bankers has got us in recent months. Here’s a good overview of the issue.

Estrogen is also well known to have physical effects (for example encouraging breast growth) and is also believed to affect mood.

Why am I interested in this? Well, apart from the fact that testosterone can be pretty dangerous at times, I’m thinking about gendered behavior. Hard line feminists insist that gender is purely a learned behavior. And yet here we have pretty clear evidence that certain chemicals affect not only the physical appearance and abilities of humans, but also their behavior as well.

6 thoughts on “Dangerous Chemicals

  1. And if it had nothing to do with cognition and behavior, that would give a lot of FTM folks’ stories the lie…


  2. V:

    I don’t think that the likes of Germaine Greer would be bothered much by the thought of calling transsexuals liars. Indeed, they do it all the time.

  3. So, should somebody do some experimenting on aggressive, hard line feminists to see if they have high levels of testosterone, and if injecting them with some estrogen would make them a little less hard line, and if they would still agree it’s all learned…? 🙂

  4. I think you would have to be pretty extreme to be 100% essentialist or 100% constructivist. But the links between testosterone and behaviour are still rather speculative, so unpicking nature from nurture will take a while yet.

  5. But the links between testosterone and behaviour are still rather speculative.

    Right, and evolution is “just a theory”.

    The problem is not the science. The problem is people who have backed themselves into a political corner (all be it for very good reasons) and now have hard and fast beliefs that they refuse to allow to be challenged.

  6. Hmmm, not sure how this turned into a political discussion, but I have to agree with the theme of the article.

    I think testosterone does increase aggressive behavior in men and women.

    Sometimes this can be a good thing, and other times not.


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