07 May 2011


Hard to find someone who'll argue this person isn't handicapped:

Butch Lumpkin is one of the approximately 5,000 [Thalidomide] survivors world-wide.  Born with what he calls “short arms,” he really has what amounts to no functional arms at all.  Three fingers extend from his left side in a flipper like manner, and his right arm ends before the elbow with three fingers that point backward toward his body. 

If your tears of pity are flowing, dry them watching Butch enjoy a round of golf followed by a brisk set of tennis.

Or this person--handicapped?

Three years ago Oscar Pistorius had never stepped onto a track, let alone run a race.  Today he is an athletics sensation - holder of world records in the 100m, 200m and 400m events.  His coach, Ampie Louw, says Oscar is "a natural champion - born that way". [...] But Oscar's Olympic bid is like no other - he is a double amputee.

I'd say so.

What about this person?

Sara Blakely had been selling fax machines and office copiers door-to-door for seven years when she had an idea for a clothing line that would transform her from an employee into a successful entrepreneur.  In 2000 she began selling Spanx in major department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. […]  Today, Spanx, based in Atlanta, Ga., is a $150 million company with 55 employees and 100 different styles.

Handicapped?  She probably doesn't think she is.   In this day and age, most people probably don't.

I do.

Because I have the same handicap she does. 

Can you guess what it is?

We both have a chromosome pair that looks like this:  XX.

That's our handicap.

In 2005, Larry Summers, president of Harvard University, gave a speech in which he had the temerity to suggest that men and women--hang onto your armrests--might be biologically different from each other.

Larry Summers was soon out of a job.

Some were outraged at his dismissal; others cheered it.   Those cheering, presumably, hold to the following scientific position:   Nature may well have woven biological differences into men and women, but those differences are stopped, by a sort of magic force field, from reaching the brain.  

"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," is said to be written over the gates of Hell.

"Abandon belief in biology, all ye who enter here," is, for some, written over the gates of The Human Brain.

Like Butch Lumpkin, I'm handicapped.  And like him, I'm not wasting too much time crying about it.

Compared to the average man, I am less able to:

  • rotate figures in my head
  • perform mathematical reasoning tests
  • spatially navigate a route
  • guide or intercept projectiles (target-directed motor skills)
  • think abstractly

I am also less independant, less dominant,  and less prone to risk-taking or to displaying rank-related aggression.  And if that weren't enough, I am more attracted to children, respond to them with more intense emotion, and get more satisfaction from nurturing them.


Happily for me, despite all these handicaps, I have so far been able to put food on the table, a roof over my head, have satisfying personal relationships, and lead a life rich in discovery, meaning, and joy.

In a word, yes, I'm handicapped, and no, it doesn't have me crying into my beer.

I'm perhaps comforted by the thought that those on the other side of the gender divide are themselves handicapped.  For example, compared to me, the average man is less able to:

  • recall words (verbal memory)
  • find words that begin with a specific letter (verbal fluency)
  • recall objects and their locations within a confined space, such as in a room
  • perform certain precision manual tasks
  • read other people's emotional cues

In addition, all that natural aggression and risk-taking with which men are so generously endowed can prove a handicap for the poor fellows as well, as a quick comparison of male and female violent crime rates will attest.

The sociologist Charles Murray famously asked,

Try a thought experiment: Suppose that a pill exists that, if all women took it, would give them exactly the same mean and variance on every dimension of human functioning as men—including all the ways in which women now surpass men. How many women would want all women to take it? Or suppose that the pill, taken by all blacks, would give them exactly the same mean and variance on every dimension of human functioning as whites—including all the ways in which blacks now surpass whites. How many blacks would want all blacks to take it? To ask such questions is to answer them: hardly anybody. Few want to trade off the unique virtues of their own group for the advantages that another group may enjoy.

I am a woman, and as such am cognitively and physically handicapped.  But as a woman, I am also uniquely cognitively and physically blessed.  If tomorrow you put into my hand that magical pill, to give it all up and become a man, will I take it?

I will not.

But I will also not deny that those handicaps exist, and that my group faces certain challenges because of them.  We can get around them, a healthy society that has members of my group in it can get around them.  We can even take advantage of some of them.  

But not if we deny their existence.

I'll leave the last word to Steven Pinker, from The Blank Slate:

“Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Then why bother with HBD and concepts of "dysgenic" vs. "eugenics"? Let every inferiority be considered a handicap, and let all men and women alike struggle with them.