May 7th, 2014

green leaves

Cultural nonsense about gender, and a hypothetical superhero story

A study about biological similarity between men and women gets spun as evidence of difference.
The New York Times reported that scientists had discovered 12 genes on the Y chromosome that play “high-level roles in controlling the state of the genome and the activation of other genes.” They “may represent a fundamental difference in how the cells in men’s and women’s bodies read off the information in their genomes.” The Huffington Post quoted one of the studies’ authors as saying that these “special” genes “may play a large role in differences between males and females.”

Yet what the Nature articles actually show is the exact opposite. The 12 genes residing on the Y chromosome exist to ensure sexual similarity. The genes are “dosage-sensitive,” meaning that two copies are needed for them to function properly. We’ve long known that those 12 genes exist on X chromosomes. Females have the 12 genes active on both of their X chromosomes. If males, who have just one X, didn’t have them on the Y, they would not have a sufficient dosage of those genes. Now we know they do. Just like women.

And in general, even when an article reports a difference that's a difference, I strongly recommend not caring unless they tell you how large the difference is and give you a chart showing the size of the overlap. Maybe you shouldn't care anyway-- there's a lot of pressure to overhype scientific results-- but at least see whether they're giving you enough information that there might be a little truth in it.

How male action heroes get fantasy bodies in the movies I knew that body builders actually weaken themselves by dehydration in order to look strong, but I hadn't thought about how extreme looking right gets for the movies.
The last-minute pump comes right before the cameras roll. Philip Winchester, the hero of Cinemax's action series Strike Back, recalls seeing the technique for the first time on the set of Snatch: "Hundreds of extras were standing around," he recalls, "and Brad Pitt would drop down and do 25 push-ups before each scene. I thought, 'Why is he showing off?' " Then Winchester figured it out. "I realized he was just jacking himself up: getting blood flowing to the muscles. I'd always wondered, 'How do actors look so jacked all the time?' Well, they don't. Now we ask: Is it a push-up scene? When I shot that Strike Back poster, I was doing push-ups like a madman, saying, 'Take the picture now! Take it now!' "

The end of the article implies that women are doing most of the body policing of men. I have no idea whether that's true.

I think the second link is at least somewhat about gender-- part of how superhero movies are structured is that ideal male and female bodies are very different.*

I will lay down a small bet that when there's a Doctor Strange movie, he will be considerably bulked up compared to the original comic book character.

*I've just imagined a superhero pair where she's somewhat more muscular than he is. Her superpowers have to do with leverage. She's short and wide and has extraordinary abilities to know what direction to apply force in. Her martial art is judo. She helps out in natural disasters that involve moving heavy objects and not setting off another landslide. She probably has tools (an exo-skeleton?) which aren't always available because plot.

He's a telepath. He's somewhat athletic because he's in fights now and then, but since he can tell what his opponent is going to do, he mostly needs to be fast enough to not get hit. He can wear an opponent down with strikes to vulnerable points.

Next project: Optimize a supervillain for them. Possibly a villain with brainfog powers so the challenge is to get close enough to act effectively.

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