[On the first historical appearance of racism:]
When the status of large numbers of people were depressed purely and simply because of their derivation from a denigrated ethnos, a line had been crossed that gave “race” a new and more comprehensive significance. According to Leon Poliakov, the French historian of antisemitism, the Spanish attitude towards the [converted Jews] that developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries implied that “Jews were evil by nature and not only because of their beliefs.” Thus, he contends, “sectarian hatred” became “racial hatred.”
The modern concept of races as basic human types classified by physical characteristics (primarily skin color) was not invented until the eighteenth century. The term for “race” in Western European languages did have relevant antecedent meanings associated with animal husbandry and aristocratic lineages…
The notion that there was a single pan-European or “white” race was slow to develop and did not crystallize until the eighteenth century. Direct encounters with Africans had of course made Europeans aware of their own light pigmentation, but in other contexts whiteness, as opposed to national and religious affiliations, was not a conscious identity or seen as a source of specific inherited traits. At a time when social inequality based on birth was the general rule among Europeans themselves, color-coded racism had little scope for autonomous development.
George M. Frederickson, Racism: A Short History
Whatever is said to be typical of women’s speech is also said to make women less well suited than men to occupy positions of power and authority. In traditional societies which value indirect, consensus-seeking speech-styles, those styles are associated with men: women are considered too direct to make good leaders. In the West, where public and leadership roles have been seen to demand direct and assertive ways of speaking, it has also been men who were thought to possess the necessary verbal skills, while women were considered insufficiently direct.
What is happening to [boys and girls between the fifth and sixth grade] is that they are beginning to participate in an emerging ‘heterosexual market.’ Although they are still pre-adolescent, and in most cases not yet interested in sex as such, their interest in the trappings of adult heterosexuality is driven by what Eckert points out is an overriding social imperative among children: the need to demonstrate maturity by moving away from the ‘babyish’ behavior of the past…
Thought both sexes are engaged in this project, it changes the girls’ lives more profoundly. Boys cultivate a more adult masculinity through the same activities that were important to them before- for instance, sporting activities that show off their physical strength and athletic skill. For girls, on the other hand, cultivating a more adult femininity means replacing the activities and accomplishments of childhood with a different set of preoccupations. In particular, they abandon physical play: instead of using their bodies to do things, they start to focus on grooming and adorning them. They watch boys’ games from the sidelines, or as Tannen notes, ‘simply sit together and talk.’
If handedness generates fewer soundbites than sex, that is probably because findings about it cannot be slotted into any larger narrative about the difference between right-handed and left-handed people. We don’t conceive of them as different species from different planets; we don’t see them as locked in an eternal ‘battle of the hands.’ Except perhaps in the domain of sport, we rarely think about them at all. Handedness, in short, is not significant for the organization of human social affairs: it does not determine a person’s identity, role, or status in society. An account of how left-handers differ from right-handers would therefore lack one of the crucial ingredients which draw us to accounts of how women differ from men: it would not serve the purpose of justifying institutionalized social inequality by explaining it as the inevitable consequence of natural differences.
In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker argues that… we can talk about biological sex-differences without compromising our commitment to gender equality. ‘The case against biology,’ he says, ‘is not a factual claim that humans are biologically indistinguishable: it is a moral stance which condemns judging individuals according to the average traits of certain groups.’
This is all well and good, but perhaps a little disingenuous. What Pinker is overlooking is the point I made before, that not all biological differences matter to us in the same way. People don’t usually come to the subject of sex-differences as ‘blank slates.’ They come with an agenda: they are looking to biology to justify certain views about society- how it is and how it should be… [M]ost people are susceptible to the argument that if a difference between men and women has a biological basis, it is inevitable (‘you can’t argue with nature’), desirable (‘what’s natural is good’), and the world should be organized around it.
Deborah Cameron, The Myth of Mars and Venus