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.