Real Science: Men and Women Not Totally Different After All!

by Shaker Moderator and Navy Veteran Aphra_Behn

[Trigger warning for institutionalized sexism; gender essentialism; nonsexual and sexual violence.]

Just when I've learned from awesome evo-psych pseudo-science that Ladybrainz are totally hard-wired for crying and emotion and shit, while Manbrainz are from Mars, and hard-wired for aggression and sex and stuff, NO DOY...

...just then, some Real ScienceTM has to come along and do a university-sponsored, peer-reviewed, carefully controlled academic study that suggests something quite different:
In what is believed to be the first published study on the topic, researchers affiliated with the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) believe female military service-members from Operation Enduring Freedom OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) may be as resilient to combat-related stress as men.... "Contrary to our hypothesis that associations between combat-related stressors and post-deployment mental health would be slightly stronger for women than men, only one of 16 interactions achieved a conventional level of statistical significance and this interaction suggested a stronger negative association for men rather than women," explained lead author Dawne Vogt, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at BUSM and researcher at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the VA Boston Healthcare System. "This finding is important because it appears to suggest fairly comparable levels of resilience to combat-related stressors for women and men, at least during the timeframe evaluated in this study," she added.
This is very significant. Even before this study, VA researchers suggested that the apparent gender difference in rates of PTSD might result from non-combat factors, like previous trauma. But others predictably turned to things like tired old evo-psych to explain that women responded to combat differently because evolution!
For example, male rats are more prone to develop memory impairments in response to stressors...In addition, women have been shown to ruminate over nontraumatic negative events more than men, who tend to use more distraction-based coping techniques. While these behaviors may pose evolutionary advantages for each sex, they also may contribute to the increased incidence of PTSD in women.
(Disclaimer: I am not a behavioral scientist, but I do know that (a) humans aren't rats and (b) instead of saying that military women "ruminate" too much over "negative" events, we might consider that they experience negative events like rape and sexual assault at a higher rate than do military men. Just sayin'.)

It's been 110 years since the founding of the US Army Nurse Corps, and military women say with depressing frequency that they still get told "women don't belong here" and that they are "taking men's jobs." There's a Facebook group (sorry, not linking) named "Women Don't Belong in the Military." There's a tremendous amount of cultural energy in the U.S. and elsewhere devoted to conflating military service with essentialist masculinity, and that has shifted depressingly little over the 20th and 21st centuries.

But the military is an outcomes-based organization, and sometimes, just sometimes, enough evidence piles up to promote change. The argument against women's participation in ground combat has already been rendered ridiculous by the actual performance of women in combat situations. Military commanders routinely subvert the prohibition on ground combat, because, quite bluntly, they need women to do the job. When your patrol goes through a rural Afghan village, American women have a much better chance of talking to Afghan women than American men do. As for why this matters: Women on the frontlines still don't serve officially in combat units and that limits their careers and promotions.

Another harmful result of the old attitude that only cis men are fit for military service is that it stigmatizes men with PTSD, specifically by feminizing them. U.S. culture already has problems admitting that men need to tend to their psychological health; in the U.S. military there is even further stigma. To be blunt, a man with PTSD is "like a woman." This study helps remove some of the stigmatizing associations between feminized "weakness" and PTSD, and that's a win for both men and women who need treatment.

Real ScienceTM! It's pretty darn useful.

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